These are the last two of the St. John’s water dogs. They were found in Newfoundland in the late 70’s and were featured in Richard Wolters’s The Labrador Retriever…The People…The History…Revisited. The dogs were two ancient males– 13 and 15 years old. One of them was named “Lassie.” Because they were both dogs, there were no bitches to breed them to, and for some reason, nobody thought of breeding them to Labs and other retrievers to save the strain. Remember, all modern retrievers and the Tweed water dog descend from these dogs.
A breed that had once hauled nets and longlines for the Newfoundland fisherman and retrieved shot ptarmigan and seals became extinct when those two dogs died. Newfoundland’s fisheries were never what they were in the halcyon days of the “water dogs.”
The Newfoundland government passed a law that created high taxes on any dogs that were not used in the production of sheep, and many Newfoundlanders got rid of their water dogs, often selling them to British dog dealers who sold them to people wanting to improve their retriever lines.
The 6th Duke of Buccleuch imported some of these dogs in the 1930’s to further add to the Buccleuch strain. This strain had been created through crossing dogs belonging to the Earls of Malmesbury with earlier imports from Newfoundland. These dogs were not well-known in Britain at the time, but they were the ancestral strain of retriever that became known as the Labrador as we know it today.
The last two St. John’s water dogs look a lot like Lab crosses. These dogs could be another source for the white we see in so many breeds of modern retriever.
I can see traces of these dogs in my late “golden boxer.” Those old water dog probably genes run dormant in all of our retrievers. It just takes an unsual cross-breeding to make them appear.
Unlike those dogs, though, she was a terrible swimmer, especially when compared to the golden retrievers with which she shared her life. She had no retrieving instinct, and her favorite quarry were skunks.
She died of osteosarcoma at the age of 11. She was a good dog. Extremely gentle with kids, though a bit dominant towards other dogs.
I got her for free from an accidental mating. Today, these dogs are being intentionally bred and sold for high prices.
I think I could have passed her off as the last surviving member of long-lost St. John’s water dog breed. And I’m sure some gullible fool would’ve believed it.