My family have become smitten with the idea of owning a chocolate labrador.
I like the idea myself, but am not encouraged by reports about their working ability.
Does a gun dog’s coat colour really make such a difference to how well it performs in the field?
JEREMY HUNT SAYS: While there have been clear reasons why chocolate labradors haven’t had a good reputation as working gun dogs, thanks to the efforts of devotees of this colour the chocolate labrador is now redeeming itself as a working gun dog.
The colour, varying from the darkest mahogany to an almost ginger-brown, occasionally cropped up in the early 1800s, but the pups were often culled.
Chocolate labradors started to be taken seriously in the 1930s by the Cookridge and Tibshelf kennels and the colour proved popular among some show breeders.
With increased exposure a ready market rapidly developed among the public looking for “choc” labradors as pets.
Colour alone fired this market, the sole aim being to produce chocolate pups irrespective of their pedigree.
Pet owners quickly jumped on the bandwagon and mated chocolate bitches to any local chocolate male they could gain access to.
The end result has been a poor gene pool of chocolate labradors, which, apart from those gun dogs bred by responsible show and working kennels, has been created purely on colour.
The few chocolate labradors from this mish-mash of bad genetics who did find their way onto to the shooting field understandably failed to demonstrate any natural working ability.
Along the way a band of sensible breeders with a penchant for the colour and knowledge of genetics began trying to produce chocolate labradors that could work, and their efforts are paying off.
In our own kennels we’ve had some good chocolate genetics behind the breeding of our black labradors and by chance – when mating black to black some years ago – produced our first chocolate pups.
They’ve certainly proved to me that this colour has plenty to offer as a working labrador, providing the breeding is there in the first place to provide the know-how.
Go ahead and buy a chocolate pup, but it’s absolutely essential that you do your research and tap into bloodlines that have proven working ability.
Several working kennels are now seriously involved in developing chocolate labradors as shooting gun dogs and one chocolate gun dog has already run in the retriever championship.
Finding a pup that has the right breeding, is bred from fully health-tested parents with good temperaments and from generations of gun dogs with proven working ability isn’t always as easy as you think.
Worryingly, hundreds of litters are now for sale online and it would be very easy for you to buy a chocolate pup from that resource.
If you are determined to buy a chocolate labrador pup to train as a shooting gun dog take your time about it.
Talk to as many established labrador breeders as you can and hopefully you will find a pup that will do the job in the field.