Now, I haven’t received any comments or messages yet from people claiming to have a St. John’s water dog, but before I do, I’ll just say it again. The St. John’s water dog died out in the 1980’s. The last two dogs were found. They were both dogs, and they were both ancient. When they died, the strain was no more.
Now, does that mean we won’t see Labs with St. John’s water dog features? Of course not, and that is precisely the problem. Within the Labrador, the blood of this breed runs strongest. The Lab is the last retriever breed to receive an infusion of this native Newfoundland blood. St. John’s water dogs were imported as late as the 1940’s to add genetic diversity to the Buccleuch strain, which is the strain from whence the Labrador retriever came.
Now, some Labrador crosses really do look like the old breed:
And it’s not just Labrador crosses that could be mistaken for the St. John’s water dog. Because the genes this breed also run strongly in the other retriever breeds, it is possible to get mixed breeds from other retrievers that bear a strong resemblance to the St. John’s water dog.
I know these dogs exist because I had one. Remember my “golden boxer”?
I also need to mention that it is pretty clear that the original imports of the St. John’s water dog to Britain often included long-haired dogs. That’s because the long-haired dogs were deemed too cumbersome in the water. Ice tended to form in their feathering, and the dogs just couldn’t swim that fast. However, they were often good retrievers and quite biddable, so they were exported to Britain, where they played a role in developing the wavy-coated landrace and the curly-coats. The short-haired dogs were too important to the fishermen of Newfoundland.
I have found two specimens of the St. John’s water dog that had long hair.
One of them is this dog, listed as a”St. John’s Labrador”:
Another is t “Zelstone,” who appears in the extended pedigree of the golden retriever and was an important sire in the old wavy-coated breed. That means he’s an ancestor of the golden retriever and many flat-coat. He is said to be a “Labrador,” a “half-bred Newfoundland,” a “Newfoundland,” and a “wavy-coated retriever.” His original owners were known to import dogs from Newfoundland, so it is very possible that he was derived from the St. John’s water dog or was partially of that breeding.
Now, all of these dogs look like modern dogs. The modern dogs are almost invariably crosses with the descendants of the St. John’s water dog or throwbacks to that old strain.
The St. John’s water dog as it once existed is gone forever. Within the bloodlines of the retrievers and the modern Newfoundland, the blood still flows. Those breeds are our only connection to that extinct breed.