Last Updated on November 11, 2023 by Linda Richard
Labrador Retrievers are the most popular pet dog breed in the world today. How smart are labs, however, and are black labs smart compared to other dogs? And we do single out black labs for a reason as there’s a rather contested view among some people that black labs are smarter than their yellow and brown brethren. Is this true? Let’s find out below.
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Are Black Labs Smart?
Labrador Retrievers as a whole are indeed considered to be one of the smartest dog breeds out there. Most experts and rankings place them 7th in terms of their smarts and trainability, just behind the Shetland sheepdog, the Doberman pinscher, their Golden Retriever cousins, German shepherds, Poodles, and the undisputed chart-topper – the Border Collie.
So, are labs smart overall? With hundreds of other dog breeds beneath them in this ranking, Labrador Retrievers are very comfortable in this prestigious Top 10. Why are people singling out black labs over yellow and brown labs in terms of intelligence, however?
What Color Lab Is The Smartest?
You may have noticed that different lab colors are typically used for different things. The distinction usually goes like this:
- Chocolate labs are preferred as family pets
- Yellow labs are used as a guide and working dogs (as we as family pets too)
- Hunters prefer black labs
If the only difference between labs is their coat color, however, why are they chosen for different tasks? Are brown labs more social and kid-friendly? How smart are yellow labs? Are black ones easier to train and follow commands?
This is a highly debatable topic. Many breeders swear that black labs are both smarter and easier to train than brown and yellow labs. Yellow ones are also considered smarter than brown labs but not quite as much as black labs.
On the other hand, there isn’t much in the way of genetic justification for that – the only difference between the different lab colors is their color genes. Yet, it may be the very selection of lab colors for different tasks that have led to a slight difference in intelligence.
The Breeding History That Might Explain Things
The fact of the matter is that people have always preferred black labs for hunting, ever since the breed’s inception. This wasn’t really because they were “smarter” even then; however, it was rather because black is the dominant and most common color in Labrador Retrievers. Brown and yellow were considered as rare and undesirable deviations from the standard, and they are indeed rarer.
So, breeders would start selecting for black labs and – for a time – would actively try to breed out brown and yellow labs. As people started adopting and buying labs as family pets and not just for hunting, however, breeders realized that folks actually liked the yellow and brown color variations too. So, the attempts to breed those colors out stopped.
The stigma against brown and yellow labs among hunting dog breeders remained, however. Many people continued to view black labs as “better suited” for hunting, and so they are the dominant color among hunting labs to this day. Instead, breeders offered yellow and brown labs mostly just as family dogs. In later years, we also started using yellow labs as guide dogs too although we’re not exactly clear on why brown labs remained undesirable for this task as well.
Does This Mean That Black Labs’ Higher Intelligence Is Just Stigma And Myth?
Maybe, maybe not. While there’s no genetic evidence of such difference between the lab colors, the several centuries of selective breeding may have played a role in making some labs smarter than others. After all, while we bred yellow and brown labs for their social and gentle nature, we kept breeding black labs for their intelligence, trainability, and obedience.
So, it may be that black labs are smarter and easier to train than their yellow and brown brethren. Still, even if true, this is likely the case just in purebred hunting dog bloodlines. After all, as we outlined here, labs can give birth to dogs of different colors because of how their color dilution genes work. So, if your yellow or brown lab gives birth to a yellow, brown, and black puppy, don’t immediately assume that the black puppy will be smarter.
Even If There’s A Difference In Intelligence, Is It Significant?
Definitely not, not for family dogs in any case. Hunting dog breeders and trainers favor black labs because their job is to optimize for the absolute best possible outcome. So, even if it isn’t certain that black labs are genetically smarter, they still continue to favor them. However, for a family pet, there’s no meaningful difference between the coat colors.
All Labrador Retrievers are highly intelligent, very obedient, social, and easy to train. Most minor differences people notice can be attributed to the different colors’ selection and breeding and not to genetics. But even that perceived difference isn’t all that significant.
So, Are Black Labs Extra Smart, And Should This Matter In My Family’s Pet Choice?
Black labs are certainly smart, but so are yellow and brown labs. Some hunting dog breeders still believe that yellow and especially brown labs are “harder to train,” sure. Even those breeders would admit that this doesn’t matter for a family pet.
At the end of the day, the training a hunting, service, or guide dog has to go through has nothing to do with the basic obedience training and socialization needed for a family pet. If anything, the same view that puts black labs on top in terms of intelligence also views brown labs as more gentle and sociable. So, for a family pet, that would be a more desirable characteristic.
In short, if you’re looking for a hunting dog, most breeders would recommend black labs. They would also insist on their supposed superior intelligence. For family pets, however, it really doesn’t matter. Just make sure that the dog you get is healthy, has no hereditary issues, and that’s it. The rest is up to you and the way you train and socialize your pup.