What Determines Coat Color for Labrador Retrievers?

Updated: Oct 30

When it comes to coat color of Labrador puppies, there are three colors recognized by the American Kennel Club. Black Labs, yellow Labs, and brown Labs (often called chocolate Labs) are the three main varieties of Labrador retriever, however these puppies often exhibit different shades of black, yellow, and brown fur.

So with so much variation, what causes a difference in color?

Genetic information for Labrador puppies is autosomal, meaning all labs receive this information from parents in a way that’s unrelated to the sex of the puppy. Where it begins to get tricky is when we discuss the genetics of black labs and chocolate labs when compared to yellow lab.

Puppy Genes and Alleles

Before we go any further, let’s rewind to high school biology with a few key definitions:

  • Gene: The basic unit of heredity that occupies a specific location on a chromosome.

  • Allele: One of two or more versions of a gene.

When it comes to the coats of Labrador puppies, fur color is determined by one of two different genes, as well as a variety of alleles.

How Do We Get Black and Chocolate Labs?

When it comes to black lab puppies and chocolate lab puppies, both varieties inherit their fur color from a single gene, known as "Tyrosinase-related protein 1.” (TYRP1, as it’s commonly known.) This gene can present with one of four alleles, one dominate allele coding for black fur we’ll refer to it as “B”) and three recessive alleles coding for chocolate fur (which we’ll refer to as “b”).

To better understand, let’s take a look at the following scenarios:

  • BB. Here we have two dominant genes for black fur, obviously resulting in a black lab puppy.

  • Bb. In a situation in which either parent passes on the dominant allele and the other passes on the recessive, the lab puppy will still have a black coat.

  • bb. When both parents pass on the recessive allele, only then do we see a chocolate lab puppy.

Related Article:

The Science of Service Dogs: How Trained Service Dogs Help Veterans with PTSD

So, Where Does Yellow Come from?

Yellow Labrador puppies get their hair color from a gene entirely different from the gene that determines black or brown fur. But, that doesn’t mean yellow lab puppies don’t have the TYRP1 gene we talked about above—there’s a different gene that can override alleles at TYRP1 coding for black or chocolate puppies.

Melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) is the gene responsible for yellow lab puppies, but can still result in fur coats of black and brown. The three most common alleles at the MC1R gene are “E” (which still produces black and brown fur) and “e” (which produces yellow fur).

As you may have deduced, the allele for yellow lab puppies is recessive. To further explain, let’s look at a couple of scenarios.

  • EE. Both parents pass on dominant alleles for black or chocolate fur, resulting in a black or chocolate puppy.

  • Ee. One parent passes on a dominant allele for black/chocolate, while the other passes on the recessive allele for yellow fur.

  • ee. Only in a situation in which both parents pass on alleles coding for yellow fur is the TYRP1 gene overridden and yellow lab puppies are produced.

What is also interesting about the creation of yellow lab puppies is the fact that while their fur coat is without black or brown pigment, their skin will still exhibit the same color pigment as that of black or chocolate lab puppies.

Related article:

Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of Combat Trauma and PTSD

Where Does Project 2 Heal Come In?

At Project 2 Heal, we breed Labrador Retriever puppies for the purpose of donating these animals at 8 to 12 weeks of age to one of our partner organizations. From there, our puppies are trained extensively in service dog work and matched with an individual in need.

Our process begins with Early Neurological Stimulation, which are exercises conducted during the first two weeks of life—beginning at only 48 hours after birth!—that slightly stress the puppy's nervous system and allow them to become less reactive to novel stimuli as adults. This process includes the following:

  • Tactile stimulation: Stimulating puppy paws through touch our tickling.

  • Holding the head of the puppy erect.

  • Holding the head of the puppy pointed downward.

  • Supine position: Resting the puppy on its back in the palm of hands.

  • Thermal Stimulation: Placing feet of puppy on top of a cool, damp towel and allowing the puppy to move about.

Service Dog Scent Training:

Also occurring during the first 14 days, service dog training includes a process called early scent introduction. This training exposes dogs to smells it will encounter during working life. During this process, trainers pay close attention to the way puppies react to various smells. This helps identify which puppies may not be suited to work as a service dog.

Service Dog Clicker Training:

Championed by Karen Prior Academy, clicker training service dogs is a method that teaches puppies about associations. Puppies learn commands through a combination of rewards and clicking sounds. During service dog training, high-level tasks are broken into smaller tasks, after which puppies are rewarded with food and stimulated with sound from a handheld clicker.

Eventually food and clicking sounds are phased out so that puppies are able to execute tasks upon command.

Our mission is to reduce the cost and time necessary to place a service dog with a veteran, child with Autism, or adult with disabilities.

How Can You Help Further Our Mission?

When you donate only $5 per month, your contribution covers important expenses, including:

  • First vet visit for entire litter

  • 50 pounds of high-quality dog

  • 1 puppy eye exam

  • 6 bags of high-value reward training treats

  • 1 puppy-in-training service dog vest

As you can see, there are a number of ways that $5 monthly donations can make a real impact at Project 2 Heal. With an average cost of $5,000 to raise and train a puppy litter of puppies through the first 8 weeks of life, we'd love for you to join us on our mission.

Click below to become a donor at any level that works for you. We need your help to raise puppies and change lives.

$5 Monthly Donors

Our bread and butter (or should we say, "kibble?"), these donors cover items listed above, including first vet visits!

I Want to Cover Vet Visits!

$10 Monthly Donors

Each of our $10 monthly donors feeds an entire litter from birth to donation. (That's a lot of puppy food!)

I Want to Cover Vet Visits!

$25 Monthly Donors

$25 a month prevents fleas and ticks for a pup. With 30+ puppies expected in 2021, these donors mean the world!

Fleas and Ticks? Eww!