Archive for December, 2008

The spotted hyena is actually more closely related to the domestic cat than any species of dog.

The spotted hyena is actually more closely related to the domestic cat than any species of dog.

There are four species of hyena: the spotted hyena, the striped hyena, the brown hyena, and the aardwolf. All of them appear vaguely doglike, but none of them are that closely related to dogs.

They hyenas closest relatives are civets and genets. In fact, the primitive looking aardwolf, which lives largely on termites, was once thought to be a species of civet. The civets and genets, the mongooses (including the meerkat), the carnivorous genet and mongooselike animals of Madagascar, the African palm civets, and the cats all represent the Feliform suborder to the larger order Carnivora. The hyenas are in this group, which represents this evolutionary relationship.

The other suborder is the Caniform suborder. In this suborder are dogs, bears, the red panda, skunks and stink badgers, the weasels (including mink, otters, badgers, ferrets, the fisher and marten species, and the wolverine),  raccoons (which includes the ringtail, the coati, and the kinkajou), and the pinniped species,  the eared seals, the true seals, and the walrus. (Pinnipeds are often considered in their own order, but the consensus is that they are part of Carnivora.)

Both of these suborders represent the evolutionary relationship between the members of this order. Some these families have been split over time. Once skunks were considered part of the weasel family, but now, they and the Southeast Asian stink badgers are classified together. The red panda has been classified as a bear and raccoon, but now it is included in its own family. It is believed to more closely related to weasel and skunk families than to the bear and raccoon family.

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This yellow Labrador puppy is a chocolate/liver, but his gene for coat color is the recessive red to yellow.

This yellow Labrador puppy is a chocolate/liver, but his gene for coat color is the recessive red to yellow.

All retrievers come in four basic colors. These colors are black and liver/chocolate, which are the only colors allowed in the curly-coated retriever. The other colors are the recessive red to yellow with black skin pigment and recessive red to yellow with brown skin pigment. Chesapeake Bay retrievers come in liver/chocolate and recessive red to yellow with brown skin pigment (the deadgrass ones are pale yellow in color). As far as I know Murray River curlies come in only liver. Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers come in recessive red to yellow (usually darker gold to red) usually with brown skin pigment. However, some do exist with black skin pigment. These dogs have minor white markings on them, which were once commonplace in all retrievers. Golden retrievers are recessive red to yellow with black skin pigment, but a very rare minority have brown skin pigment. Most field line goldens are towards the darker end of that spectrum, while most European show line goldens are towards the lighter end of that spectrum. Flat-coats come in the red to yellow coloration with both brown skin pigment or black skin pigment, but their standard colors are black and liver. Labs are the only retrievers to have all four colors standardized. Labs also come in black and tan and a diluted liver color, both of which exist in no other retrievers.

A dog carrying the dominant gene for black is signified with “B,” while a dog carrying the liver/chocolate gene is “b.”  A homozygous black Lab, flat-coat, or curly is B/B. A homozygous liver or chocolate is b/b. This is the only way that a chocolate can be expressed. If a dog is heterozygous, carrying the B/b genotype, the dog is black but it carries the gene for liver/chocolate.

But what about the red to yellow color?  That is a gene that affects coat color only. It is a recessive color, so it can only be expressed when a dog has a homozygous e/e genotype. A black skinned yellow or red dog, which has a big black nose, is a dog that is a B/B or B/b in that genotype, but it has a homozygous e/e genotype for its coat color. If a yellow ro red dog has brown skin, with a brown nose and brown lips, the  dog is a b/b with a homozygous e/e genotype for coat color.

If you breed a chocolate Lab, which is E/E and b/b, to a golden retriever which is e/e and B/B (which is what the vast majority of goldens are), the puppies will be E/e and B/b. The heterozygous E/e means that the puppies will not be red to yellow in color, and the B/b means that the puppies will be black instead of liver/chocolate!

Now, let’s say you take two black labs that are E/e and B/b.  This combination that can get you all four colors in the same litter.

Labs and Chesapeakes occasionally come in brindle, but this brindling tends to be lighter than that of boxers and greyhounds. Brindle is almost extinct in the Lab. In fact, I’ve never seen one, but brindle occasionally pops up in the Chesapeake. I am not certain if this brindling in retrievers is determined by the same genetics as other brindle dogs. If so, then brindling is a dominant gene over a solid color gene. Boxer breeders know this genetics very well, because this is the main color genetics for that breed. Brindle is nonstandard in any retrieving breed, so we generally don’t deal with it.

Labs also have a dilution gene that pops up. Non dilution is dominant to dilution. Silver labs are diluted livers or chocolates, and that is why they are registered a chocolates. Charcoal labs are actually diluted black labs. The gene for this color exists in no other retriever. One theory is that this gene was introduced by a cross with a Norwegian elkhound. However, elkhounds aren’t this color at all. The real culprit for the color is more likely the weimaraner, which is another gundog breed that often has retrieving instinct.

So now you know the genes behind retriever color. And when someone tells you that he bred a golden retriever with a chocolate poodle to produce goldendoodles, you can tell him what color to expect in the whelping box!

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Nell was a St. John's water dog from the Duke of Buccleuch's strain. This strain is the line from which the Labrador descends.

Nell was a St. John's water dog from the Duke of Buccleuch's strain. This strain is the line from which the Labrador descends.

     Nell was whelped in 1856 at the 5th Duke of Buccleuch’s estate in Scotland. He had founded his own strain of smooth-haired St. John’s water dogs in the 1830’s, but there had been imports of this breed going back to 1809, where the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury worked them as retrievers. The dogs are from the island of Newfoundland, where they evolved from a diverse lineage of water spaniels, water dogs, herding dogs, and livestock guardian dogs.
     The dogs varied a great deal in type, especially those early imports. The bigger and always long-haired dogs of this type were common in Europe and the United States. These dogs would be crossed with bigger mastiff type dogs in Europe to make the Newfoundland dog (as we currently know it).   
     The word Newfoundland could be used to describe several different strains of dog.  American strains of Newfoundland, for example, were not of the heavy type in nineteenth century. They were retriever-like and almost always were of the Landseer color variety. The dog below resembles a black and white golden retriever.
Custer captured this Newfoundland from Confederate troops during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862. The dog is more retriever-like than the modern Newfoundland.

Custer captured this Newfoundland from Confederate troops during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862. The dog is more retriever-like than the modern Newfoundland.

     To make things even more confusing, the some of the big dogs were called Labradors, and some of the little ones were called Newfoundlands. Some of the smaller dogs had long hair as you can see in my post about Zelstone, who was a long-haired St. John’s water dog that is called a “Newfoundland” in The Complete English Shot,  a “Labrador” in the Guisachan kennel records, and a flat-coat by his owner, Mr. Sewallis Shirley.
      However, this short-haired strain was held very closely by the Earls of Malmesbury and the Dukes of Buccleuch. While the wavy/flat-coated breed was having its first run as the top retriever, these two lines were being developed separate from those dogs.  These short-haired dogs were always preferred by the 2nd and 3rd Earls of Malmesbury.  The 3rd Earl of Malmesbury declared to the 6th Duke of Buccleuch:  “We always call mine Labrador dogs and I have kept the breed as pure as I could from the first I had from Poole [known] by their having a close coat which turns the water off like oil and, above all, a tail like an otter.”
     In the 1880’s, the 6th Duke of Buccleuch was afraid that the short-haired St. John’s water dog was becoming extinct. He had considered the short-haired dogs to be the original form, as the quote from the Earl of Malmebury suggests. However, I have found various accounts of long-haired and smooth-haired forms of this dog, as well as different sizes. The  truth is that the St. John’s water dog was a type, not a breed, and the size and coat varied. Different imported strains begat different types of dogs.  
     The 6th Duke of Buccleuch was able to obtain new blood from the 3rd Earl of Malmesbury, who was able to procure new breeding stock from Newfoundland.  These dogs would be the ancestors of the modern Labrador retriever. The current Buccleuch estates maintains a Labrador breeding program, solely for working purposes.
     Nell was an early descendant of these dogs. When this picture was taken, she was 12. She looks to be a healthy 12 year old. Richard Wolters claims that this is oldest picture of a Labrador, but I count this as one of the few photographs of the short-haired St. John’s water dog.
     In 1885, a major blow was inflicted upon the St. John’s water dog in Newfoundland. The Sheep Protection Act placed a heavy tax on all dogs in Newfoundland.  The fishermen’s dogs were soon no longer economically viable. Mechanized wenches were used to pull nets out of the ocean, and there was no need for a net retrieving dog. The fish trade between Britain and Newfoundland began decrease, and then Britain placed a quarantine on all imported dogs. These events provided the death knell for the St. John’s water dog.
     In the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, Richard Wolters was able to find the last remaining St. John’s water dogs in a remote part of Newfoundland. He was specifically looking for the short-haired dogs that fit the 3rd Earl of Malmesbury’s description. He found two dogs of this type. Both were aged. One was 15, and the other was 13. And both were male. Like so many other good things, the ancestral bloodline of the retrievers died out in the 80’s.
     Some of you might be wondering what the deal is with the choice of a short-haired dog  for this sort of work. Well, if you go back to the 3rd Earl of Malmesbury’s quote, the short haired dogs really can cut through water. It’s why Labs today are such good water dogs. Goldens, even those with less feathering, are not able to move through the water in such a way. Think of a Lab’s coat as the canine equivalent to that of an otter or a seal.
      The Germans in their development of the poodle created lots of hair on the dog to make it able to stay warm in the water. To make it streamlined, the dogs were clipped. The same goes with the Portuguese water dog.
      The short, dense hair that was common in the St. John’s water dog was an advance in creating a water dog that had a coat that was both manageable and streamlined for the practical sportsman or fisherman and also keep the dog warm in the water.

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A common condition in many golden retrievers and yellow Labs with black skin pigment is the phenomenon known as “snow nose” or “winter nose.”

A black nosed dog’s nose suddenly turns brown. In golden retrievers, one expects a panic, because brown skin isn’t supposed to exist our breed!  (It actually does, but it’s quite uncommon to see a golden with a brown skin and the features of a liver or chocolate dog).

The truth is that goldens and black nosed labs, along with Siberian huskies and malamutes, are prone to having their noses turn brown in the winter time.

Don’t worry, golden owners. Your dogs’ nose will usually turn back to black by summer time. Very old goldens often develop permanently brown noses, though, but this condition I’m describing here is only  temporary.

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This light cream golden has very little pigment and may approach the "Albino" description of St. Hubert's May.

This light cream golden has very little pigment and may approach the "Albino" description of St. Hubert's May.

Colonel le Poer Trench’s Russian retrievers were founded by a bitch named St. Hubert’s May. You can read about this line of goldens called Russian retrievers here. His dogs were much lighter in color than the other three lines of retriever derived from the Tweedmouth strain. They were heavier in build, too.

May was said to be an albino, but I think she was actually an unusually pale dog with brown skin pigment, like this dog. Most light colored dogs today do not have this skin pigment. They are really black dogs with cream colored hair.

Some of the Tweed water dog/tweed water spaniels were of this color. However, most of the original golden people never bred for this color at all. Even the 1st Baron Tweedmouth intentionally tried to avoid producing very light colored dogs.

It is likely that May was whelped in a litter and culled for being the wrong color. She was then given to Col. le Poer Trench, who according to  his contemporaries, actually knew very little about retrievers. He was told that her light color was a sign of her “pure-breeding,” which he believed whole-heartedly. She was a good worker, so we know that she was not a true albino. Albino dogs usually are useless, because they burn easily and often have poor movement. They are also blinded by direct sunlight, which means that an albino retriever would never be able to mark shot birds as they fell.

She was bred to St. Hubert’s Rock, a dog that had been given to a ghillie by the 1st Baron Tweedmouth. He was a mid-gold color or a light gold in color.

All of their progeny, except for a very few, were light gold in color. None were as pale as their matriarch, however.

This line was kept separate from the other lines of Tweedmouth’s strain, registered as the yellow Russian retriever. It remained until the colonel’s death, and it is believed to have disappeared.

May’s light color is not the origin of the current fad of cream colored dogs, which much more of a fad in Europe than North America. Her line died out, and it was not interbred with the Ingestre, Noranby, and Culham lines.

Light colors appeared into those lines but were originally culled, because it was believed that light colored dogs were unable to work as well as dark ones. I disagree with this assessment, but light colored dogs are nearly absent from working lines of golden. If you find a light colored one, it is more than likely going to be a show dog, so a dark one is more likely to be a worker than a light one. However, color does not affect working ability, but the perception has greatly affected how these lines have developed.

Breeding for exreme palor in the golden, though, really only exists in the mid-50’s, when these dogs became in vogue in the UK. By the 1980’s, they had largely replaced the darker colors in Britain and much of Europe.

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The mondern Komondor from Hungary is quite similar to the description of one version of the supposed "Russian retriever."

The mondern Komondor from Hungary is quite similar to the description of one version of the supposed "Russian retriever."

Hugh Dalziel in British Dogs discusses another breed of retriever. It is described as heavy dog with thick curly hair that grows on the face like “modern Skye terrier.” The coat is difficult to maintain, and it often becomes “felted” (corded through matting). Dalziel quotes “Idstone” (Reverend Thomas Pearce) who describes one working a battue with some more convential retrievers. The dog gets bogged down in a thicket of dense thorns, and the handlers must cut its coat out of the vegetation in order to free it.

However, I am uncertain as to what breed this dog represents. In Marcia Schlehr’s book on goldens (The New Complete Golden Retriever), the author uses the analysis of Dalziel and that of Idstone to suggest that this Russian retriever was a Komondor.

However, Dalziel’s account is of a dog that is “docile” and has a great future as a companion dog, rather than a hunter. The use of Idstone’s description of the dog retrieving suggests that this breed had some retrieving instinct.

Further, Dalziel claims that the breed called the “Russian setter” is a cross between this dog and an English setter. This finding leaves me to question whether this breed was a Komondor or a related livestock guardian breed.

Livestock guardian dogs, unlike retrievers or herding dogs (like the border collie and puli), have been bred to have almost no predator motor patterns and possess a very high threshold of stimulation before these motor patterns can be exhibited. Wild wolves have a very low threshold, and even captive bred wolves can easily become aroused to attack children and small pets. Retrievers and herding dogs are in between wolves and livestock guardian dogs in that they have a moderate threshold for exhibiting these predatory behaviors, but the way that these predatory motor patterns work has been modified through selective breeding and training. It is possible for a retriever or herding dog to become a full predator, but it is usually within the context the modified predatory behavior. (I had a golden retriever that would kill things like woodchucks and cottontail rabbits, but she would require that they be thrown to retrieve before she would even try to eat them.) It’s because of the retrieving behavior in the Russian retriever that I hestitate to place it as the Komondor.

Further, Komondorok are not docile dogs. They are, in fact, probably the best guard dog that money can buy. They are very suspicious of strangers and dogs they do not know. The breed is rather cute with its shaggy face and “Benji” characteristics. However, this breed is not a nice, sweet dog, like the Old English Sheepdog. It bonds strongly with its family, and if not socialized, it will hate everyone else. This is not the temperament described by Dalziel or Idstone.

Again, I am not claiming that this breed had anything to do with the development of the golden retriever, but it does appear to me that there was a real Russian retriever. It had nothing to do with the dogs bred by Colonel le Poer Trench. Those dogs were derived from obvious Tweedmouth breeding, although they were heavier and coarser than the ones that were being developed elsewhere as part of the flat-coated retriever breed.

What do I think the Russian retriever was? I think it was the Russian equivalent of the poodle. Poodles were developed in the northern part of the German speaking world, including the Baltic coast. Poodles are water dogs and can be used as a retriever. The standard poodles are very retriever-like in their temperament. During the Medieval period, Germanic traders, following the crusades of the Teutonic Knights and other Western Christian orders, began to trade extensively with the people of this region. This trading eventually became part of the Hanseatic League’s trading circle.

As the poodle developed as a water dog, it may have been brought to Russia for the same purpose. There, it evolved in a larger and coarser dog in order to handle the harsh conditions of Russia.

If the dog didn’t arrive then, then it is possible that the dog came to Russia through Russia’s close association with German speaking nobility. In fact, Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia, was a native German speaker, born in the German speaking city of Stettin (now Sczeczin, Poland).

Another source for poodles to the Russians was France. The French did fall in the love with the poodle at some point in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the Russian emperor, Peter the Great, was obsessed with French achievements. He made French the academic and intellectual language of Russia and encouraged them to adopt French customs. This French obsession in Russia existed for many decades, and it is likely that they imported poodles and used them as water dogs. Further, Napoleon’s army had kept poodles as mascots. These dogs are reported among the regiments that invaded Russia in 1812. So there are many historical sources for dogs of this type existing in Russia.

The difference between this dog and the poodle probably resulted from selection, both natural and artificial, for a dog that could withstand the rugged conditions of that country. This would explain why Dalziel reports the dog as being larger (26 inches at the shoulder) and having a stocky build.

Further, poodles can be corded. I’ve always sworn that the Puli of Hungary, the Sheep poodles of Germany and the Netherlands, and water dogs (including the poodle) are related. The puli may have some common ancestry with the Komondor, but the two breeds are used very differently and have very different temperaments. The puli has a herding dog’s temperament of biddability and controlled prey drive. If socialized and trimmed, it has been found that the puli can be a sociable and friendly dog. A few have even been trained as water retrievers.  It is because of these similarities that I think the Russian retriever was really a Russian poodle-type dog, not a Komondor.

The British had already discarded their  poodle-type water dog, the English rough water dog, by the time this breed appeared in that country. This breed was very similar to the Barbet (the real “French poodle”) and the poodle. However, it was absorbed into the water spaniel breeds by the beginning  of the nineteenth century, existing as a relict by the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The water spaniels were then absorbed into the retrievers, existing currently as only two or three breeds in the entire world.  Their contemporary retrievers were a far “more advanced model” than the dog the Russians were using for that purpose.

So the Russian retriever, the real one, was probably a Russian poodle.

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Could the Murray River curly be the last of the Norfolk retrievers?

Could the Murray River curly be the last of the Norfolk retrievers?

In many accounts of retrievers, a breed is commonly mentioned, which is called a “Norfolk retriever.” It is described as a liver colored dog, not unlike an “Irish retriever” (Irish water spaniel) in The Encyclopedia of Sport by Berkshire and Suffolk, Hedley Peek, and Frederick George.

Hugh Dalziel in British Dogs describes the Norfolk retriever as a brown-colored dog, what we would call a rusty liver. The coat is curled, but not as close as a curly-coated retriever. The ears are described as “large and somewhat thicky covered with long culy hair.”  The dogs are said to have a broad skull and a stout frame, but they were not as  large as the curly coat.

Dalziel believed this dog derived from crossing  English water spaniels, the Labrador/St. John’s water dog, and the odd Irish water spaniel.

The description of this dog describes the Murray River Curly quite well, although Dalziel believed that these dogs were largely of a light liver color. It is possible that the Norfolk retriever was imported to Australia, where it was outcrossed with wavy/flat-coats and other Irish water spaniels. This cross-breeding would change some of the type of the dogs, elongating the muzzle a bit.

So the Norfolk retriever could have been preserved in Australia as the Murray River curly.

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