The golden and the Chesapeake Bay retriever are very different dogs with a common ancestry.
This post is a continuation of this earlier one.
I had previously explained how the British retrievers essentially split into two breeds. However, I don’t think that breed is an accurate term. I think the term landrace, that is a breed that has evolved to a particular purpose or environment (“a race of the land”) is a better term.
The curly-coated landrace was originally much more common. It had very close ancestry with with the various breeds of water spaniel. It evolved in several different form, including liver Norfolk retriever and the mid-sized, relatively long-haired black dogs that were common in the early part of nineteenth century. This breed was designed for working on the estates, not for trialing. Often, commoners procured dogs of this type, using them to poach the estates.
But the halcyon days of the curly-coated landrace soon drew to an end. The old wavy-coated landrace was coming to the fore. It was more biddable and easier for the average person to break. It was derived from some form of retrieving setter, plus the St. John’s water dog and the collie. There was some water spaniel influence in this dog, too, although not as much as in the curly landrace. The original wavy-coat looked something like this.
Pretty much all retrievers in Britain were either some strain of curly or some strain of wavy, except for the Earls of Malmesbury’s dogs. Somehow, the Earls of Malmesbury managed to procure some of the smooth-coated St. John’s water dogs from Newfoundland. However, these dogs were not widespread in the least, because their owners kept them out of much of the retriever limelight.
Along Chesapeake Bay, a local landrace of retriever was also being bred, although it was never called a retriever. It was called the Chesapeake duck dog, and it had ancestry with the St. John’s water dog. Two of the St. John’s water dogs survived a shipwreck off the coast of Maryland in 1807, before the breed ever became popular as a gun dog in Britain. The bitch, “Canton,” was of the familiar black color, while the dog “Sailor” was a “dingy red color” (liver). Here’s a description of “Sailor.”
All St. John’s water dogs were either liver or black with or without some white or tan markings. Some of the dogs had brindling. These dogs were kept by local market hunters, who supplied gamebird meat to the growing cities of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.. The Western and Eastern Shores of Maryland had their own distinct strains of this landrace, which was backcrossed with water spaniels, other St. John’s water dogs (including the ones we would call Newfoundlands today), the curly-coated landrace, and the wavy-coated landrace, especially towards the end of the nineteenth century, when this type became much more common.
Today, you can get long-haired Chesapeakes and even brindle ones. The long-haired Chesapeake is a throwback to outcrosses to the wavy-coat, the big Newfoundland, longer-haired strains of curly, and the other long-haired dogs. (I’ll explain in another post where the brindle comes from. You have to think outside the box on that one. Hint: I think this is where the confusion about the word “Labrador” comes from.)
So by the mid-nineteenth century, we had four landraces of retriever: the curly, the wavy, the St. John’s dog and the Malmesbury strain of these dogs, and the Chesapeake duck dog. However, retrievers still haven’t evolved into the exact breeds as we know them today. All of these dogs were still outcrossed, and only two, the wavy and curly, were becoming standardized as breeds.
As the curly became a show dog, one strain of this breed split off entirely. It was kept by the gamekeepers of Norfolk as a strain distinct from the big black curly that was appearing in the show ring. I have reason to believe that this strain of curly is one of the key components to the Murray river curly, which is a very similar dog.
In the wavy-coated landrace, yellow and red dogs were often born to black parents. These, along with livers, were often drowned or culled from the breeding programs. Although there are exceptions, of course, (see the first post). In 1865, a young reddish gold wavy-coat was being walked on the streets of Brighton by a cobbler. A Liberal MP for Berwick (at the mouth of the River Tweed) spotted this dog and purchased him. That Liberal MP was the 1st Baron Tweedmouth, who had a large hunting estate in Scotland near Inverness called Guisachan (“Place of the Firs.”) This dog was bred to a dog that the 1st Baron Tweedmouth would have encountered in his constituency. The fishermen used it as the fishermen used the St. John’s water dog in Newfoundland to haul nets and maybe do some gundog work. It is often referred to as a Tweed water spaniel, although I’m uncomfortable attaching it to the water spaniel family. I think it was more accurately the local landrace of the curly, although of a very unusual color from all the other curlies, which were either black or true liver. These dogs were often tawny gold or pale yellow in color and were a bit larger than the English water spaniels. They were known to have some St. John’s water dog influence, which makes them very close to what we would call a retriever today. Every description of this dog I’ve read says retriever, not water spaniel, except that Hugh Dalziel had one that really was more like an Irish water spaniel/bloodhound cross. It is from the crossing with Tweed water dog, black wavy-coats, and red setters that we get the rare yellow flat-coats and the golden retrievers.
But yellow and red dogs remained part of the wavy-coated landrace for a long time, even after they were called flat-coats and were being developed into a show dog.
In the early 1880’s, t he 6th Duke of Buccleuch met with the 3rd Earl of Malmebury about with questions about procuring some of the dogs that the 5th Duke of Buccleuch had received from the Malmesbury kennels. However, they could not be obtained, for it seemed that the strain was on its way to dying out unless new blood could be found. Crossing with the wavies and curlies of that day was out, because they both wanted short-haired dogs in their strain, so it was decided to import some new St. John’s water dogs from Newfoundland and begin the strain. It is from this revived breeding program that the Labrador retriever descends.
It is a myth that Labradors come from Canada. The truth is St. John’s water dogs do come from Newfoundland, but the actual refining of the short-coated retriever happened predominantly in Scotland. (The FCI uses the UK as the Lab’s patron country). These dogs were outcrossed with lots of different dogs, including the wavy-coated landrace, which was on its way to becoming the flat-coat.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, there were now wavy or flat-coated retrievers, which were being standardized in three colors, the big curly, which was suffering from poor breeding practices, the Labrador, which was being bred in three colors (although yellows were very rare), Chesapeake, and the Norfolk, which was slowly dying out as a regional breed.
The stories of Nova Scotia Duck-tolling retrievers and the Murray river curly-coated retriever are coming in the next post on this topic.
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