One of the most exciting parts of getting any pet is, without a doubt, seeing and selecting your future companion for the first time. Unfortunately, if you are looking for a purebred dog, you cannot always be sure that the seller is honest with you or, in the case of shelter animals, even knows everything about a puppy’s lineage.
A purebred lab has a coat in one of the recognized colors: black, chocolate, or yellow. There is still a heated debate among breeders on whether silver labs are purebreds or not. Furthermore, pure labs have an otter-like tail, a short, dense coat with a water-resistant undercoat, and a broad skull. Unfortunately, relying only on the visual assessment will not always lead to an accurate answer to whether a dog is purebred. Therefore, when there are no pedigree papers available, a DNA test is always the best solution.
In this article, you will find out why breed standards are not necessarily helpful for identifying a purebred puppy, and you will learn what to look for in a breeder you can trust.
What Are the Problems with Visual Assessments?
The difficulties in making sure of a dog’s heritage by purely using visual characteristics are twofold: firstly, there are purebred dogs that deviate significantly from the recognized breed standards, and secondly, crossbreeds can look a lot like purebred dogs.
In the case of labradors, some pure labs are not recognized as such is the difference in appearance and temperament between working labradors and show labradors.
While they are both technically the same species, it can make a big difference in a dog’s appearance, whether it comes from a long line of dogs that have been bred for work or show.
Most people expect labradors to be quite heavy and robust, but a lab from a line of working dogs can have a far leaner body and long skull and still be purebred.
When going by the officially recognized breed standards in a visual assessment, there is also the problem that these official standards tend to include mismarkings and colors that are not unheard of in pure labradors.
Most breed standards only include black, chocolate/liver, or yellow coats, even though charcoal, silver, or champagne labs are equally pure and often valued specifically for their unusual coloring.
Silver, charcoal, and champagne are dilute colors of chocolate, black, and yellow, respectively. Genes control coat colors, and some labradors carry dilute genes.
These genes are recessive, though, which means that when one labrador carries dilute gene mates with another that carries genes that ensure a full-strength color, the “pure” color remains dominant. For a puppy to be born with a dilute coat, both parents have to carry the dilute gene, making these colors so rare.
While breed standards exclude most mismarkings – except for one or more white patches on the chest, in reality, those are not too unusual for purebred labs.
Some pure labradors have tan points like rottweilers or dachshunds, big white chest spots, or a few white hairs under their chin or on their those. While this would likely get them qualified from a dog show, it does not mean that they are not purebred.
On the other hand, crossbreeds can also look like pure labradors when the looks of the lab parent are dominant.
Are the Breed Standards For Labradors Always the Same?
No, the breed standards for labs have changed over the years and vary slightly in different countries. This makes a visual assessment even more difficult since this always consists of checking how close a puppy adheres to the breed standard – and when this standard is not consistent, the answer to the question of purity is not very clear.
When lab breed standards first came into being, labradors were first and foremost working gundogs. This means that the breed standard was set to protect these traits that make a lab fit to work as a retriever.
In these times, members of the shooting community highly influenced the kennel clubs’ decisions.
In current days, the requirements of the show dog community take precedence. This means that instead of lean and energetic hunting dogs, the breed standard has shifted towards the stout, heavy, and short-legged labs that tend to be favored by the jury in dog shows.
Additionally, the breed standards are different depending on what country you are in. While in the official breed standard document of the American Kennel Club (AKC), the appearance of a working gundog is foregrounded.
This exemplifies how the standard is quite old since nowadays most Labradors are not bred as gundogs but as pets, show dogs, or service animals.
The breed standard of the UK Kennel Club varies from the American specifications in that they do not include a specific weight range a purebred lab has to adhere to.
Unfortunately, this enables the jury in dog shows to often favor labs that are close to overweight. Another difference is that the American standards are much stricter about any mismarkings, only allowing a single white spot on the chest, but the UK standards allow small white spots on the chest and feet.
How to Chose a Good Labrador Breeder
When you have your heart set on buying a purebred lab, you need to find a breeder you can trust. A responsible breeder is concerned with the health of their puppies, rather than just producing for profit.
Simply visiting local breeders and see them interact with their dogs can be a very helpful first assessment.
You can also look for breeders registered with recognized institutions like national kennel clubs or breed-specific organizations.
It is also a good idea to choose a breeder specializing in the kind of dog you want, whether a hunting dog, a show dog or simply a companionable pet.
If you can find other people who have bought puppies from the same breeder, it can be very helpful to talk to them about their experiences and their dog’s health and lineage.
Trustworthy breeders will also let you meet at least one of their puppies’ parents. Since many behavioral traits are inherited, this can give you a first glance at the kind of dog your puppy might grow up to be.
Lastly, a responsible breeder will be open about their puppies’ lineages and provide honest answers to all questions you have, and, ideally, be able to provide you with pedigree papers as well as statements of vaccination and other health examinations.
When you notice a breeder being evasive about how they treat their dogs, where the dogs live, and what kind of parental background they have, it is better to keep looking for a breeder you can trust.
This is not only important when you are looking explicitly for a pure lab puppy. Puppies are sold at the age of 8 weeks or older, which means that they spend the first two months of their lives at the breeder’s place.
If they are not treated well there, are not fed and socialized properly, and are not allowed to be with their mother, they will almost certainly have behavioral and health issues.
While the idea of saving a mistreated puppy is tempting, this is only something for a very experienced dog owner. If you are looking for a friendly family pet that trusts humans and can be trained, places like these will not provide you with what you are looking for.
Is It Important That a Puppy Is Purebred?
This depends on what you want your dog to be for. Generally speaking, it is only important for your lab to be purebred when you want to win award shows. In this case, any deviation from the breed standard will lead to disqualification.
Other than that, if you want a pet that has all the behavioral traits labradors are known for – friendliness, loyalty, high energy – you can get the same traits in puppies of a mixed lineage.
These things often have more to do with the individual character of a puppy, which can differ highly even in the same litter and whether a puppy has gotten used to people early on.
Instead of looking for a pure lineage, you should visit the puppy you consider adopting several times and play with them. A crossbreed can be as friendly and playful as any purebred lab.
When you want a hunting dog, getting a lab from a long line of gundogs can be helpful but unnecessary. What is important here is that your puppy is trained from a young age to be cooperative and calm in hectic situations.
Labradors are also a beloved breed of service dogs, and in this case, specific training is more important than a pure pedigree.
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