Why Are Chocolate Labradors Not Used As Guide Dogs?

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Many breeds are suitable to serve as guide dogs, but the most popular service dog is the Labrador Retriever. However, most Labrador guide dogs are either black or yellow. This leads some people to wonder why chocolate labs aren't used as guide dogs.

Chocolate Labs are not used as guide dogs as often as other colored Labs simply because they’re not as common. This is because chocolate fur comes from a recessive gene. Breeders focus more on temperament than color, so it's basic genetic probability that most guide dogs are yellow or black.

In this article, we’ll put on our scientist caps and look at this genetics issue in more detail. Understanding how the science of breeding works will help dispel many of the rumors associated with chocolate Labs and demonstrate how these pups are just as capable as their blonde and black-haired brethren.

In this article

Are Chocolate Labs Excluded From Being Guide Dogs?

For many of us Labrador lovers, it would be heartbreaking to learn that someone in need of a service dog may not have the opportunity for a chocolate Lab companion. However, that's not actually the case. Though, we may not see very many chocolate Labs serving in this role.

Chocolate Labs are not excluded from serving as guide dogs, they’re just rare to see. Some of the most prominent breeders in the country, Guide Dogs of America, Guide Dogs for the Blind, and Southeastern Guide Dogs, all breed Labrador Retrievers with no color specifications.

In fact, Guide Dogs of America has stated that their most successful breed has been the Labrador Retriever. However, they also breed Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. Southeastern Guide Dogs and Guide Dogs for the Blind exclusively breed Labs and Golden Retrievers, or a mix of the two.

According to Guide Dogs for the Blind, these breed choices have historically been based on:

  • Health
  • Temperament
  • Size
  • Coat type
  • Adaptability

Even though coat color is not one of the traits these guide dog breeders are typically interested in, the fact remains that most guide dogs are yellow or black Labs. 

Breeding & Color Genetics in Labrador Retrievers 

To better explain why you see so many guide dogs that are black or yellow Labs, we need first to discuss how simple genetics affects breeding practices for guide dogs. Just like humans, a Lab's coat color is due to its genes.

Each Labrador’s genetic makeup will determine its coat color, and even intentional breeding for a single color doesn’t guarantee that the puppies will have the desired coat. The only exception to this is if two yellow Labs mate, the offspring will all be yellow. Since yellow Labs are already quite common, it’s easy to understand how the cycle continues.

black vs. cream labrador

Yellow, Black, or Chocolate Lab

Even though there are many mixtures of Labrador colorations out there, genetically speaking, there are only three color types: yellow, black, or brown (chocolate). Additionally, these are the only three "official" Lab colors according to the American Kennel Club (AKC).

To understand how these color variations are passed from parents to pups, we first need to talk about genetics.

Simply put, genes can be dominant or recessive. When the genes from each parent come together, the combination of the genes will determine what the offspring's visible traits are. In the case of Labrador coats, there are two types of genes, and each puppy will inherit one gene from each parent.

Black coats result from the dominant "B" gene, and brown coats result from a recessive "b" gene. That means if the puppy inherits one gene from each parent, the possible combinations are: 

  • BB - Black coat
  • Bb - Black coat
  • bb - Brown coat

For yellow Labs, there is a different gene altogether that can "override" black and brown genes, resulting in a yellow coat. These genes are either dominant big "E" or recessive little "e" genes. Every Lab will inherit one "E" gene from each parent, but depending on if it's dominant or recessive, the pup may or may not be yellow regardless of the "B" or "b" genetic makeup.

To make this a little easier to understand, let's look at a table of each possible genetic combination and the resulting coat color:

Genetic Makeup Coat Color
EEBB Black
EEBb Black
EEbb Brown
EeBB Black
EeBb Black
Eebb Brown
eeBB Yellow
eeBb Yellow
eebb Yellow

Genetics & Color – The Bottom Line for Guide Dogs

When you look at the genetic information and color outcomes this way, it's easy to see that it's a simple probability that results in more yellow and black Labs than brown. Since guide dog breeders use their own breeding colonies based on temperament and health qualities, it's more likely that puppies will be a color other than brown, resulting in fewer chocolate Lab guide dogs.

And, because of how these genetic traits are passed between parent to puppy and the possibility of the masking ("E/e") gene, even if two chocolate Labs mate, there is still no guarantee that any of the pups in the litter will also be chocolate Labs. 

Why Chocolate Labs Make Great Guide Dogs

If a guide dog breeder is lucky enough to have a chocolate pup in the litter, it will receive the same training and opportunities as any other Lab. A chocolate Lab is an excellent choice for a guide dog or service animal because the breed is ideal for performing service work. Additionally, there are no personality differences among Labs based on the color of their coat.

Labrador Retrievers As Service Animals

As breeding, history, and current research has shown, Labs are one of the best-suited dogs for serving as guide dogs. In fact, most guide dogs in the U.S. are Labrador Retrievers.

One reason for this is because their size is perfect for the job. A guide dog must be tall enough for a handler to reach a harness comfortably. Also, a Lab's short coat is ideal because it doesn't require any special grooming as many long-haired dogs need, and they're better suited for those with allergies or other sensitivities to pet hair.

Probably the most important factors for Labs are their mild temperament and high intelligence. In addition, there is enough variation among the dogs to meet the various needs of those who require service animals. 

military dog

Chocolate Labs Versus Black or Yellow

There is still some stigma out there today surrounding the behavior of chocolate Labs. Contrary to these rumors and misinformation, chocolate Labs are no less intelligent than black or yellow Labs, nor are they more aggressive.

Research on the subject has shown that any variations in behaviors or physical traits of the dogs are related to whether they were "working dogs" versus "show dogs" rather than because of their coat colors.

All Labs, regardless of color, are some of the most versatile working dogs out there. They are hard-working pups, extremely eager to please, and highly intelligent. That's why Labs are used for such important jobs like leading the blind, performing search and rescue, sniffing for bombs or drugs, and therapy dog work.

Every dog has its own individual traits and personality, but no differences in character or ability are based on the Labrador's color. 

Final Thoughts

While you may not see them very often, chocolate Labs can be, and are, used as guide dogs. Labrador Retrievers are the most popular breed for guide dogs. However, the rarity of chocolate Labs serving in the role can lead to questions about their suitability for such an important job. 

Chocolate Labs are genetically less common than black or yellow Labs. This, along with the breeding practices for guide dogs, leads to a simple explanation of probability as to why there are so few chocolate Lab service dogs.