The Labrador retriever is the most popular purebred dog in the United States. This popularity has not always been good for the dogs. Black Labs with small white markings are often penalized or euthanized because they fail to live up to the breed standard.
Labrador retrievers have been the most popular purebred dog in the United States for over 20 years. Popularity comes with problems for the dogs when their appearance fails to live up to their breed standard. Black Labradors are ideally all black with a black nose, although one white spot on the chest is allowed in the show ring.
Labrador retrievers first appeared in the 1800s. They are decedents of the now extinct breed St. John’s water dog – which often had white markings.
Dogs are not photocopy machines. Neither are genes. There are many ways in which genes change. Even purebred parents will produce dogs with less than desirable coloration.
Black Labs have been and continue to be born with white markings or other “mismarks." These dogs are usually taken out of the breed’s gene pool – whether by neutering or by culling (killing newborn puppies just because they are not colored properly.) Although this practice is dying out, breeders still cull puppies that are discolored because the breeder will to be able to sell the puppy or get the puppy registered, lest the breeder risk his or her reputation to be smirched by producing such dogs.
White, ivory or pearl grey markings sprout up time and time again in purebred black Labrador retrievers, including white chins, individual white hairs scattered through part of the coat, on the chest or belly and white toes. Another marking is called a “bolo,” which is a white, round spot on the underside of the paw. It is extremely rare for a puppy to be born with large white splotches. It’s even rarer for such a puppy to be allowed to live or to get registered. Puppies can also be born with silver brindle markings or tan markings.
Old dogs will have grey to white muzzles and sometimes around the eyes. This is a normal for aging Labradors. If a black lab had an injury that left a scar, the hair may grow back white instead of black.
About Breed Standards
Purebred dogs are bred to resemble the breed standard. This standard is based on an idealized dog – not a dog that actually exists, but a dog that breeders hope to someday achieve. The breed standard is written by the breed’s national parent club – in this case the Labrador Retriever Club, Inc. Unless the parent club changes its standards, the standards are fixed in stone.
Anyone shelling out money for a purebred dog tends to want a dog that resembles the breed standard and looks over dogs that do not fit the standard – such as a black Labrador with white splotches or spots. The owner will assume the dog is not a purebred on the basis of the dog’s color. Dog show judges will also disqualify black Labradors with too much white or with silver and tan.
Hopefully one day dog breeders will concentrate on producing healthy, happy dogs without getting so hung up on color. A good dog is never a bad color. Sadly, many people refuse to believe this.