Archive for September, 2008

Here’s some shameless (I mean shameless) politics. I know I’ll lose some conservatives out there, but oh well.

This video is of Friday’s debate between McCain and Obama with video evidence to back up Obama’s assertions.  This was my grandfather’s favorite part of the debate.


Here’s a humorous clip of how Obama may have prepared for the debate:

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Bummer and Lazarus

In the 1860’s, two dogs became part of San Francisco’s lore.  “Bummer” was a Newfoundland dog with an overshot lower jaw who found a home at the saloon of Frederick Martin. He took to killing rats and earned his keep. He was known for his gentle manner and was well-liked among the various journalists who chronicled local interest stories in the saloons of Sand Francisco.  He fed himself by wandering the streets, gently begging for food. He received his name from this habit.

True to his Newfoundland form, Bummer intervened in a dog fight in 1861. He rescued a mongrel dog from the jaws of his aggressor and then helped nurse the poor beaten dog back to health. The mongrel was believed to be near death, but with the help and support of Bummer, the dog managed to return to vigor. This dog was named “Lazarus,” after the man who Jesus raised from the dead.

Both of these dogs had the run of the streets. And the San Francisco journalistic community began to write about the pair, often coming up with the most bizarrely antrhopomorphic stories about them. The dogs quickly became an institution in San Francisco.

So much was this true  that when the dog catcher detained Lazarus, the public rallied to his defense. This outcry forced the city council to pass a resolution that exempted Bummer and Lazarus the licensing laws and gave them carte blanche to wander the streets.

Life for street dogs is often short, and Lazarus met his end in a tragic way. Lazarus was known for being a surly dog, and he is believed to have bitten a child. Because no animal control person would touch this dog, it is believed that he was poisoned as a reprisal. Some contemporary accounts say that he was kicked by a fire engine horse. However, it is generally accepted that he was poisoned, and a $50 award was issued for information leading to his poisoner.

A major funeral was held, but Lazarus was not interred to a grave. Instead, he was taxidermied and displayed at Frederick Martin’s saloon.

Here’s cartoon of the funeral (Bummer is in attendance):

As the years progressed, the stories about Bummer waned. MarK Twain reported that Bummer had found a small black puppy to be his companion, but very little else was written about him.

A drunk man kicked Bummer in 1865.  The kick was so severe that it caused great distress to his body, and he soon died. When this man was interned at the local lock-up, his cellmate beat him after he bragged about kicking Bummer.

What I find interesting about Bummer is that he’s not a giant dog. He’s a big dog. But in all depictions, he’s not the giant Newfoundland we know today. He’s also not marked in the way that Landseers are supposed to be. In fact, he looks like Landseer that has been crossed with a black Newf. He looks very similar to Custer’s Newfoundland. It’s amazing how much breeds change over the centuries.

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Here’s footage of a Clumber hunting. Compare it with the working cockers in the earlier post. These dogs operate in very different manner. I’ve never seen a flushing dog operate with such sedation!

I have always wondered about this breed. Most of the gun dog breeds are similar in temperament. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is an outlier, because it’s far more protective than any of the other breeds in the gourp. The Clumber is also an outlier in that it apparently always worked game in this slow fashion. Now that it’s no longer being bred for that purpose, my guess is that it is even more sedate.

All sorts of theories exist about its origins. One is that a breed called an Alpine Spaniel, which I’ve never heard of and there’s no record of, was the ancestor of the breed. I wonder if this isn’t a cross between a St. Bernard and spaniel. The Clumber is almost exactly like a St. Bernard in behavior, just it has a spanielness to it. May there’s a touch of basset in the dog, too.

Whatever it is, my guess is most modern gun dog fanciers will go with springers. This dog is a museum piece. It has a wonderful history, but in utility, it’s certainly lacking.

BTW, flews have little to do with soft mouth, as I’m sure all the retriever people who saw this video screamed when they heard that part. If this were true, all the retrievers would have heavier lips than any mastiff. I have actually never seen a Clumber retrieve shot game, but maybe they do. I’ve only actually seen one Clumber in my entire life, but it didn’t act anything like what I expected a gun dog to act like.

Now this breed does well at conformation shows. One won Westminster a few years back. He’s depicted in that video, as is the one that won Cruft’s.

Now, as a pet, my guess is that such a sedate dog would be a better choice than a golden retriever or a springer spaniel, which are far more active dogs. It’s likely that this breed will be pet rather than a hunting dog, especially when it lacks the biddability and speed of all the other spaniels used for flushing.

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These are working cockers. By the standardized view of spaniels, these are technically English cockers. These are the working form of cocker spaniel, and there are no specific lines of American cocker that can be used as high level hunting dogs. (Although there are few brave breeders and handlers who try).

Most North Americans know about working type English springer spaniels, which have similar conformation to these dogs. I associate the English springer as a gun dog of the pheasant country in the Midwest (where I also place the golden retriever) or in some stuffy British baron’s hunting preserve.   Both working spaniels are high energy dogs, and like all species bred for behavioral traits (such as bird sense and biddability), the appearance tends to vary.  Both working English springers and cockers have less feathering than the show forms of English springer and English cocker, which is useful if you’re running a dog throug the brambles and bracken.

These two breeds have a close ancestry. Through most of their history, the big ones were called springers and the little ones were called cockers. The in-between sizes were later categorized as field spaniels. All three exist today, but the field spaniel is rarely used as a gun dog (because it’s a very rare dog anyway). The cocker and springer have similar show forms. Both have the rage syndome in their show lines, which causes otherwise friendly dogs to attack without warning. The springer has fewer colors than the cocker, although there were red English springers well into the twentieth century. (Welsh springers are red and white, of course.)

Does anyone know whether Clumbers and Sussex spaniels are still used for flushing birds? The Sussex was portrayed as the sporting spaniel in George Stubbs’s paintings of pastoral scenes and country sports. It later became a short-legged, long backed dog that was crossed with the field spaniel. When field spaniels developed the same traits, both breeds fell out of favor. Clumbers don’t look like any breed of gun dog, and from what I’ve seen they don’t really act like them either. They were a pets owned by a few nobles, who really didn’t want a fast flushing dog. The were kept at the royal family’s Sandringham estate, but I heard they were shot, when Edward VIII, who was a patron of the dogs at the estate, abdicated the throne.

Because we’re talking about flushing dogs, my grandfather had several interesting dogs for this purpose. He used Norwegian elkhounds to flush ruffed grouse, which sounds strange, but these dogs do have some interest in birds.  He also trained his chihauhua to flush grouse, too. The grouse would think the chihuahua was a fox and would fly from the ground and perch in a tree where they could be easily shot. The chihuahua appeared to be a weird form of red fox, which the grouse fear above all else. However, when a fox comes, the grouse perch in trees, rather than taking to the air, as they do when confronted with a dog. I know it’s not good sportsmanship to shoot perched birds, but using a chihuahua as a flushing dog is one of the strangest things I’ve ever heard of. It’s right up there with the pack of 15 jack russells that are used on black bears.

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This is an American Cocker Spaniel, which used to be the same breed as the English Cocker. The English cocker is split into working and show forms, but the American cocker has no working form. I’ve heard rumors of a few breeders who are trying to recreate it, but it’s an uphill battle. I’ve seen a program where a woman was using less feathered American cockers to hunt. My grandfather gunned over an American cocker in the 1950’s. If breeders want to return this breed to a working dog, some good advice is to reduce feathering if at all possible. Trainability can be a problem, because I’ve run into a more than a few American cockers that were thick.

Why would anyone who wants to use a flushing spaniel want a dog with that much coat on it? I think the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is built more effectively for work than this breed. And that breed is a genetic wreck.

BTW, I don’t do this nonsense that the registries do in calling an English cocker a “cocker spaniel” in Europe and the rest of the world and call the American cocker the “cocker spaniel” in the United States.  The English cocker is similar to the original form. It’s just a small flushing spaniel, closely related to the Field Spaniel and the English springer. In a litter, the big ones would be springers, the mid-sized ones would be fields, and the little ones would be cockers.

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A common complaint from European dog fanciers is that North American forms of certain breeds are a distortion of their original form. Irish setters bred in the US have much more feathering than their European counterparts, while Labradors bred in the United States are much larger than those bred in the rest of the world.  These criticisms, though, are a bit short-sited. It is true that dogs bred for pets and for the show ring in North America tend to develop along certain lines. If it’s big and furry in Europe, it will be bigger and furrier in the United States. However, what is often ignored is that the New World has preserved many working breeds of dog that no longer exist in their native countries. Early settlers to these regions brought these dogs over, and they often maintain the original form and function.

Here is just a short list.

  • The American Bulldog (the Original Bulldog)– In the seventeenth century, England exploded in a Civil War that pitted Royalist against Parliamentarian. When the parliamentarians won, many royalists living in the North of England, the Midlands, and the West Country fled to the American South. They brought with them bulldogs, which were used to control livestock and guard farms. In the South, these dogs were used to catch free-roaming swine, herd cattle, guard farms, and (unfortunately) to maul slaves. They were also used in bull-baiting and bear-baiting in the colonies. However, the breed’s greatest utility came in catching feral swine that became common in South. It is because of these large herds of feral swine that this form of bulldog was preserved in the Southern United States
  • The English Shepherd and the Farm Collie: These are two separate breeds, but they both respresent the old collie dog that once existed throughout the British Isles. The English shepherd is quite common in the United States, especially in rural areas. It descends from collie type dogs that were brought over during the colonial period. Some of the breed resemble border collies, but unlike border collies, the English shepherd has a “loose eye” when it herds, similar to the few rough collies that still herd. Most collies were loose eyed dogs until the nineteenth century, when setters and pointes were crossed in to increase stalking behavior. The English shepherd is used as multi-purpose farm dog, and it can also be used as hunting do. The farm collie is dog that descends from more recent imports of Scottish collies. Like the English shepherd, it is a loose-eyed dog, but it generally resembles the rough and smooth collies a bit more. It lacks the narrow muzzle of the modern rough and smooth collies. The first dog I ever had was a dog of this type, which is sometimes called the “mongrel collie.” He was bred to a English shepherd, which is a common practice, even in the now standardizing Nova Scotia Old Farm Collie. That’s why I think it’s a good idea to think of these dogs as a similar type.  The English shepherd resembles the collie of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, while the farm collie resemblies the nineteenth century collie.
  • The Spanish War Mastiff is preserved in the Fila Brasileiro and the Puerto Rican Mastiff— The Spanish War Mastiff was a weapon of mass destruction in the age of the Conquistadors. Hundreds, if not thousands of Native people, were killed by dogs during this time period. Often the natives thought of these dogs a type of jaguar, rather than having anything in common with dogs living in their villages.  While both of these breeds are a bit removed from the Spanish war mastiff, with the Fila having scent hound and Spanish Mastin characteristics and the Puerto Rican Mastiff having English mastiff  characteristics, they still have a bit more dominant temperaments. The filas have much more aggressive temperaments than other mastiffs, which makes sense, considering that the fila was bred as a slave-catching dog (unfortunately).
  • The Grand Bleu de Gascogne and the Hanoverian Schweisshund– The Grand Bleu de Gascogne was a wolf-hunting scent hound from France, which was imported to the United States, perhaps in colonial Louisiana. It would later be developed as the bluetick coonhound, which is a common dog in rural parts of the United States, especially the South. Some lines of bluetick are being developed that still possess Grand Bleu de Gascogne chararcteristics, which obviously popped up in a few lines of this coonhound. This dog is far more common than the French ancestor,  and if the lines of the French hound become too inbred, it is likely that American hounds of this type would be used to augment the lines (at least, if they are intelligent about it). The Hanoverian Schweisshund is a German forester’s hound. It is somewhat more common than the Grand Blue Gascogne. German immigrants brought this hound to the US, but only one line of this breed was ever developed as a line of hound. The Plott family came from Lower Saxony to the mountains of Tennessee (then part of North Carolina). Their original name was Platz, but it was Anglicized to Plott. With them came the brindle hounds of Hanoverian Schweisshund type, but these dogs were more lightly built than the modern breed. These would later become the bear hunting Plott Hound and were largely uncrossed with other American hound breeds. It is the only American hound with German ancestry.
  • And of couse, the darker colors in the golden retriever. The dark colored dogs were imported to North America early on. Samuel Magoffin imported some of the first new stock to North America in the 1930’s, and all of these dogs were very dark in color.  Several accounts of his dogs remark on how similar to Irish setters they were.

If you can think of any others, I’ll do another post on this topic. The feists (old type terriers) and curs (multi-purpose hounds) are always interesting dogs to explore. I’ll certainly do a post on them at some point in the future.

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From messybeast.com, two old enclycopedia entries.

1909  and 1923.

Note how the “retriever” entry shows a dog that we would now call a flat-coated retriever. From 1900 to the First World War, the flat-coat was in its halcyon days. At this time, the golden was part of the flat-coat breed, referred to as “Tweedmouth’s strain,” although Colonel Le Poer Trench’s golden dogs were registered and promoted as Russian retrievers.

Note how the 1923 entry of depiction of a retriever appears to have some wave to its coat. Fanciers had decided to breed out the wave in the wavy-coat. In flat coats, the wave has nearly been bred out, but the golden retriever, which was separated from the flat-coat before this waviness disappeared, still can come in a wavy coat.

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