The wavy-coated retriever is an important early retriever breed. It is the ancestral variety to both the golden retriever and the flat-coat, and it is an important out-cross to the Labrador retriever.
The wavy-coat descends from the St. John’s Water Dog, which may have had long-haired dogs in its type. This breed is credited with being ancestral to all retrievers, except the curly-coat, which was in development before this breed from the island of Newfoundland (the island part of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador) was imported to Britain. (The curly probably was crossed with this dog at some point, however). The wavy-coat was developed when the word retriever described a function rather than a breed. Any dog that picked up shot game could be a retriever. Collies, setters, pointers, land spaniels, and water spaniels were all probably used as retrievers and cross-bred. The St. John’s Water dog just happened to be a very good retriever dog, and it became the ur dog from which all retrievers eventually were developed.
The early retrievers looked something like this:
This picture comes from a bookby a British officer named William Nelson Hutchinson called Dog Breaking: The Most Expeditious, Certain, and Easy Methods, an early encyclopedia of training hunting dogs of all types. The dogs at the bottom are typical of early wavy-coats, while the dog at the top is probably a good clue about how the curly-coated retriever developed once the St. John’s Water Dog was imported. In the original, where I have put the word “St. John’s Water Dog,” the author had the word “Newfoundland.” I changed it because at the time the words were interchangeable, but today, Newfoundland dog is a large mastiff type dog derived from this breed and bred from the late eigthteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century as a fad family pet. The modern dog called the Newfoundland has many genetic problems, which came from overbreeding as a much larger dog. It has a gentle temperament, but it lacks most of its original working instincts. This should be a warning to all retriever lovers, especially those who like the working instincts and healthy bodies of working retrievers. The same thing is happening to our dogs.
The wavy-coat began as a St. John’s Water Dog and setter cross. Something like this:
These dogs became rather popular among the shooting estates. The short-haired St. Johns Water Dogs that existed in Newfoundland at that time were held by very few people in England. The short-haired variety was more common in Newfoundland at the time, because the long-haired variety tended to get bogged down in ice. Short-haired dogs can swim faster. However, most British gentry had wavy-coats derived from the long-haired dogs of this type and setter crosses. It would make sense, then, that the Newfoundland fishermen were more likely to export long-haired puppies from their Water Dog litters. However, the short-haired variety did make to England, and were used extensively in the development of the Labrador.
The wavy-coat’s other important ancestor was the setter. However, at this time, there were more breeds of setter than the three that exist right now. Welsh black setters were common on shooting estates, and they were certainly used in the Wavy-coated cross. Another variety existed called the Featherstone Castle setter in Scotland that produced yellow and light red setters that were probably also used in the development of the Tweed water spaniel. Gordon setters were in development here, too, and solid red gordon setters were not unknown. All of these, along with the Irish setters (solid red and red and white weren’t separate breeds) and English setters (of all strains), were crossed with the St. John’s water dog. As a result of crossing with setters, genes for yellow and red were introduced into the wavy-coat.
During most of the nineteenth century, black retrievers were the preferred color. Blacks were supposedly easier to train. Yellow or red puppies were culled or drowned.
One reddish colored wavy coat was born to the Earl of Chichester in 1864. Instead of being killed, he was given in lieu of a debt to a cobbler at Brighton. The cobbler had no real use for a working retriever, but he kept him as a pet. Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks happened upon this dog and offered to buy him from the cobbler in 1865. Marjoribanks was a Liberal MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed and had a large shooting estate in Inverness-shire called “Guisachan.” Marjoribanks’s title was 1st Baron Tweedmouth, and that man would start the first strain of yellow wavy-coats, which would effect the devlopment of the wavy-coated breed and, later, the flat-coated breed, as well.
This concludes Golden Retriever History II. I will begin with the actual development of the golden retriever from that reddish wavy-coat named “Nous,” which means wisdom.