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Archive for September, 2008

This dog was captured by George Armstrong Custer during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862. This dog is a Newfoundland. It looks more like a retriever than the modern breed called the Newfoundland. Black and white (Landseer) Newfs were much more common than solid black dogs during the nineteenth century.

This breed was very popular from the mid-eighteenth century to the late nineteenth century. Samuel Adams owned one in Boston in the early days of rebellion against the crown. Lord Byron would keep one named “Boatswain,” which died of rabies. The dog was buried at Newstead Abbey with a famous epitaph. Lewis and Clark took a Newfoundland named “Seaman,” all the way across North America to the Oregon Country. The dog was purchased at Pittsburgh, where they took boats down the Ohio at the start of their journy. Seaman proved useful in catching and retrieving squirrels that were crossing the river from Ohio to Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia). Napoleon was recued by a Newfoundland when he fell overboard on his return from Elba, showing that the breed was common Europe by the early nineteenth century. John James Audubon took a dog named “Plato” into Florida to retrieve shot birds. The retrieving abilities of these dogs so impressed Audubon, who saw one in Newfoundland retrieve a shot seal that sank down into rough seas.  Thus, it made sense that he would take one into Florida.

British sportsmen used the St. John’s Water dog as an early cross to create the early retrievers. It is the “Ur dog” from which all the retrievers derive. However, it is also ancestral to the Newfoundland dog, which was taken from dogs of this type that were offered for sale as pets. When the St. John’s breed began to disappear, the other Newfoundland lines were used in the retrievers.

One cannot imagine how popular the pet Newfoundland was during this time period. It was as popular as the Labrador is today. It had become legendary as a rescuer of people who fell in the ocean, as a net-hauler, and an easily trained working dog. The Newfoundland’s popularity was celebrated by Landseer, who painted big black and white Newfs. Today, we call black and white Newfs Landseers, which are recognized as a separate breed in Europe. 

The popularity of this breed was fueled by the democratization that appeared in the wake of the American and French Revolutions, some of which appeared during the Concert of Europe period in which the conservative nations tried to hold off the potential of another bloody French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution. Both of these forces led to the development of a growing middle class in Europe. Disposable incomes meant that the average person could buy a fad dog with no real purpose. Romanticism was also growing at this time, and a rugged working breed like a Newfoundland would have wonderful back story for a fad dog. In fact, I will go as far as to say that the Newfoundland was the first fad dog. It was mass produced as a pet by all sorts of people, some of whom crossed them with big mastiff dogs to make them larger. It took nearly a hundred years, but the breed began to change its form and function. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Newfoundland fell from favor. By the First World War, its popularity dropped. In fact, the breed nearly disappeared entirely following the Second World War. It was rare in most of Canada and the US and nearly gone from Europe. It was saved when Swiss Newfs were found and added to the gene pool. Most of these dogs were big, hairy, and black. The large but moderate Newfoundland was replaced by the big hairy dog.

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Irish Red and White Setters are a rare breed of setter that closely resembles the old Irish setter. Originally, Irish setters were red and white, but those in different regions in Ireland having different amounts of red and white. Those that were predominantly red became popular among British sportsmen in other parts of the Isles.

The working strain of Irish setter developed in the US as the Red Setter includes dogs that have broader heads and white markings. These dogs are also lighter red in color. Some resemble small golden retrievers from a distance. However, white markings were not preferred in the show form of Irish setter, and Western European and Soviet/Russian lines of hunting Irish setter became solid red and very dark in color. Because of this selection for solid red in all of these lines of Irish setter, the “parti-coloured” setter nearly disappeared.

In Northern Ireland, a presbyterian minister named Noble Huston found some red and white setters in County Down. These would provide the foundation stock for this breed of setter. Some people mistake them for Brittanys (especially those from European lines or “French” Brittanys as they are called in the US, which can have black skin pigment) or Welsh Springers.  The only thing those breeds have is a common ancestry with the European land spaniels, which were common in France and Britan during the Middle Ages. The French developed spaniels that would freeze for game, while the British developed spaniels as flushing dogs. The French “setting spaniels” (the Brittany is only one of the several breeds of French setting spaniel) would later appear in the British Isles (becoming the setter breeds) and in Germany (creating the German longhair, the Large and small Munsterlanders, and the long-haired variety of Weimaraner).

The exact origin of the setters and land spaniels is up to conjecture. There is an old theory that spaniels are derived from Spanish stock. The word spaniel is a corruption of the word for Spain (Espanol) which appears in French as “Epagneul.” I don’t know whether this is true or not, but several references in history appear calling spaniels “Spanish dogs.” However, I don’t know a single breed from Spain that is a spaniel. I know of a spanish water dog that can be used as retriever. There is also the Spanish pointer, which is a heavy pointer,  similar to the Bracco Italiano and Spinone Italiano, that was crossed with foxhounds and setting spaniels to create the English pointers and perhaps the other pointers of Northern, Western, and Central Europe. But there are no Spanish spaniels.

My guess is that spaniels, setting spaniels, and setters descend from crosses between herding dogs and scent hounds or pointers. Herding dogs are easily handled, and often exhibit a modified stalking behavior, which is what setting or pointing behavior actually is. Hounds and pointers have good noses, and this mix would work to create this type of dog.

The truth is these breeds are actually quite old. Some sources take them back to the later days of the Roman Empire. It is impossible to know what created these breeds of gun dog, but we do know that their original purpose was to aid in falconry and greyhound coursing, which were big sports among the nobles in the Middle Ages. A flushing spaniel could send game birds into the air or send rabbits into the open to be dispatched by the falcon or greyhound. The French called them Oysel dogs. Later, when stocking game birds became a necessity on hunting preserves, a pointer or a setter/setting spaniel could be used to point out birds that could then be captured by throwing a net over them.

My guess is that that spaniels, setting spaniels, and setters have their origins in France. The Spanish dog in their ancestry that gave them their name could only be the Spanish pointer. A cross between a flushing spaniel and this pointer could produce some stock that could be at the base of setting spaniels and setters. However, the original setters and setting spaniels crouched in their pointing position (hence the name “setter,” a corruption of the word sitter). The only other breeds that crouch in a stalking behavior are herding dogs. Pointers stand erect when indicating and always have. Modern setters assume this position when “setting.” Thus, it is likely that herding breeds had some role in the development of the setters from the British isles (and this is widely known in the Gordon setter breed).

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While doing some research on the history of wavy coated retrievers, I found a description of Don of Gerwn. Previously, I said that he was a black dog that carried the yellow gene. I was wrong. He is described as a “sandy liver,” which a dark gold dog. His grandsire, Lucifer, was a cream-colored dog from Tweedmouth’s strain. Don’s dam, Rust,  daughter of Lucifier, is often thought of as an early golden retriever field trial champion (one of my golden retriever books claims her).  Her color is self-explanatory– golden red.  Dark colored dogs can carry the gene that produces pale gold puppies, which will make sense when you think of the color of yellow flat-coats. 

Don of Gerwn’s progeny would later be used in the development of a standard breed that became the flat-coated retriever. This piece comes from The Complete English Wing Shot by George Teasdale Teasdale-Buckell. If you read on to the next few pages, Don was lightly built and competed better against the heavier bodied wavy-coats, which were common in some lines of the breed. He was “easily” the winner of an early trial.

This heavy body comes from the use of heavily bodied Newfoundlands– the ancestors of the modern Newfoundland dog– to produce new strains of the wavy/flat-coat breed, which became necessary when the smaller Newfoundland (St. John’s water dog) became rather rare after the Newfoundland government began to promote sheep farming over commercial fishing. The big Newfoundland was being hawked on the street as a fashionable pet at the this time. So it was used in some of those crosses. Again, the even big Newfoundland was much more retriever-like than its modern descendants, but it was not the same breed of dog used by fisherman in Newfoundland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The author argues for a body type more like Don of Gerwn and away from the heavily bodied dogs.  Perhaps we should follow this advice. I mean these early retriever people knew a lot more about retriever working conformation than dog show enthusiasts!

 A.T. Williams, Don’s owner, was an early patron of the British Retriever Society, and Don was one of the founding dogs of the flat-coat/golden retriever line. In The History of Retrievers by Charles Eely, Don’s son, Quis of Gerwn, becomes a well-kown field trial flat-coat and is actually referred to as a flat-coat. His color is not mentioned, so I am assuming that he is black. A black dog carrying the genes for both gold and cream could easily pass these onto his progeny, and this explains why most yellow flat-coats are light yellow and not golden red. From Lucifer, they get this pale gold coat. (If you read this book, politically incorrect names exist for several black dogs. Just be forewarned!)

Quis and Don were being trialed just as a growing movement appeared to make the golden retriever a separate breed.  Everyone with a brain knew that goldens were just a color variety of flat or wavy-coat, not Russian retrievers. And they were registered as such. Eventually, they were separated into different studbooks and registries. But black dogs carrying yellow genes still point to the common ancestry of the two breeds.

This post has been corrected. However, it is likely that his dam was a dark gold dog, and his grandsire was a Tweedmouth dog. Therefore, he did carry the yellow color.

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This barbaric practice isn’t hunting. It’s slaughter. It’s designed to increase moose and caribou numbers for private sport hunters. Alaskan natives can kill only one moose per year.  The numbers of caribou and moose are increased to increase the profits of outfitters.

Sarah Palin appropriated $400,000 in public funds to “educate” Alaskans about the necessity of aerial wolf killing. A referendum in Alaska that allowed this practice was passed by Alaskan voters, just before McCain chose her. I do not wish to make this a political blog, but as someone who believes in sound wildlife management, I cannot support this ticket.  (I have other political reasons for not supporting McCain-Palin, but this is one that is relevant to the blog.)

The above video comes from Defenders of Wildlife, a pro-conservation group that, among other things, compensates ranchers for their losses to wolves and other wildlife.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t manage wolf numbers, but if we do manage them, it should be done by competent professionals using the most humane methods, not wolf-hating outfitters.  Using airplanes is not a good hunting practice anyway. It’s somewhat akin to fishing with dynamite.

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It has long puzzled me why most working strain goldens are dark gold to golden red in color. I have argued that this coloration is an example of the the “founder effect,” in which the original working strain goldens were of this color and this trait was passed onto their offspring. Color has next to nothing to do with the actual abilities of the dog, but bloodlines do. Because the lines that produce field-type goldens tend to be darker, the dark colored dogs become associated with working ability. Because of this coloration association, I have argued that the European standard (KC/FCI), which penalizes “red” in the golden retriever, actually hurt the breed’s ability to compete with the Labs, which already have very specialized lines for gun dog work. It’s true that goldens have the same split, but Labrador people are more willing to admit this. Because of this split, I have argued that it is next to impossible to have a dual champion golden or Lab in the United States or Canada. In Europe, where competition isn’t as extreme on both sided, it might be possible. But really, the show type goldens and Labs actually don’t have working conformation.  I have made all of these arguments in various parts of the blog, but it turns out that I am wrong about color.

The founder effect may have something to do with it, but it turns out that dark color is actually functional in the field. I have had some golden people tell me that the dark color is useful for camouflage in the duck blind, while others have told me that the dark color is actually a superstition. Dark colored dogs are supposedly hardier than light-colored ones, just like horses with dark hooves are supposedly hardier than those with light hooves. (Neither of those hypotheses have been fully studied, because these are superstitions). I’ve seen a few light colored dogs have retrieving ability, but these have been relatively rare. I thought it was the “founder effect” and nothing else. Well, I’m wrong. 

In a column in Gun Dog, Chad Mason points out how color functions in various types of bird dogs. Some of these spotted and roan pointing breeds actually can disappear in snowy fields that happen to have areas of exposed vegetation. Because pointing breeds don’t bark on the hunt, a dog that cannot be seen clearly against the landscape is a major liability. What I found most interesting in the piece is the discussion of yellow Labs and golden retrievers:

Speaking of duck ponds, today’s trend toward bleach-blonde Labrador and golden retrievers may be advantageous to pheasant hunters, but seems grossly impractical for waterfowl hunting. I once saw a picture in a magazine of a virtually white Labrador retriever in a camouflage neoprene vest. They weren’t trying to be funny, but the dog looked like an albino elephant wearing a bowtie. There is nothing less conspicuous in the widest possible range of wetland (or grain field) scenarios than a tawny dog. Message to yellow Labrador and golden breeders: Give us darker coats

A light colored dog is a liabilty in the duck blind! However, it still doesn’t explain why black retrievers were preferred for so many years.  Oh well, I might add this to the working conformation list. But keep in mind the old saying: “No good hound is of a bad color.” The author points out that color isn’t everything, and he uses two black Labs that work well.  

The original goldens were dark in color. The only ones that were light gold were those produced in the first litter produced with Nous and Belle. The rest were really dark, showing a strong setter influence.

I am more interested in preserving the dark color because most of the working dogs have dark coats.  The KC and the FCI have shot themselves in the foot. They have essentially decided that the cream golden will be the only type considered. The working lines in North America are devoid of this color. We barely have this color in our show stock.

I’m not against light colored dogs at all. I’m against getting rid of the “red dogs.”  If you breed for the light color alone, the dark color will disappear (as it nearly has in Europe), simply because dark color is dominant to light color. Light colored dogs cannot carry a gene for dark color, but dark colored dogs can produced light colored puppies. If you select for light color alone, you will end the dark color forever.

Although I’ve read in several golden retriever books that the FCI/KC standard actually allows for a wider range of color, the opposite is true. The FCI/KC simply ban the dark gold and golden red colors, and promote the light gold and “cream” colored dogs (also mass produced in the US as “white” golden retrievers).  Now, this would be okay, but the working retriever people have selected for dark color for reasons of camouflage or superstition or “founder effect.” What happens is that those people who want to breed for a dual purpose dog  will be searching for light colored dogs that can retrieve. These dogs exist, but there aren’t many of them. And when you’re selecting for that light color, you are going against the grain of selection for the dark color in the working lines. This means that you will be searching for much longer to find a dog with the ability and the color, and this means that at some point you have relax on working ability. If this process is repeated for several dogs and generations, you can forget about competing with the Labradors, which are being selected solely for working ability. (I mean this as a general idea. I’m sure there are a least some light-colored goldens that can give the Labs a run for their money.) But because you’re already selecting for a light-colored dog and the people who came before you selected for the dark color, it’s just become that much harder to preserve and enhance the working abilities of the golden retriever.

What if it was decided that border collies could no longer come in black and white? And what if all the herding champions, except maybe ten every decade, were of black and white coloration? The working ability of border collies would drop rather significantly. This is what is happening to golden retrievers.

I should note here that Mrs. Winifred Charlesworth,  one of the people who separated the golden from the flat-coated breed, refused to breed a light colored dog, even though he was an excellent worker. Her Noranby dogs were often very dark in color, as this picture shows:

These dogs reflect the preferred original range of color in goldens.

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