Posts Tagged ‘behavioral conformation’


Behavioral conformation develops within a context of functional behavior, and the appropriate behavioral is determined by the actual situation in which a breed evolved.

The best example I can think of is how golden and Chesapeake Bay retrievers evolved rather different temperaments, even though both of them are used to retrieve shot game and both descend from roughly the same common ancestors, the St. John’s water dog and early wavy-coated retrievers.

Now, I do admit that they both retrieve, and they both are relatively easy dogs to train. However, within those two general similarities, there are several important differences.

The properly bred golden retriever is a soft-natured dog.  It can be easily cowed if handled too harshly.  They typically enjoy being trained, however, and the dogs really like to do behaviors. They are also very social dogs and like being around people and other dogs. As a result, they are often rather poor watch dogs, and some of them take up roaming. They very often do it just so they can find people or other dogs to hang out with. Further, many goldens are not natural water dogs and have to be encouraged to swim.

Chesapeake Bay retrievers are very trainable dogs. However, they are more independent than the typical goldens. Chesapeakes can also handle harsher training methods well. They will put up with training sessions, but they also like to make their own decisions.  They tend to bond really strongly with their families, and generally, aren’t roamers. And if someone comes to the door, they will usually bark, and many of them will actually guard. Finally, virtually all Chesapeakes are water loving fools.

(Note:  I am talking in generalities here. Each dog is an individual, and there are exceptions to these generalities.)

The two breeds evolved from St. John’s water dog and the early wavy-coated retriever. Now, you’d think that they would have very similar temperaments.

Why these breeds have such different temperaments has its roots in the very different environments in which they evolved.

Goldens were derived from wavy-coats that were owned by the upper echelon of the Liberal Party in Britain. These dogs were run mostly on land shoots called battues, in which beaters with spaniels drove pheasants, patridges, rabbits, and hares to the gun.  Political deals and alliances were often made during these shoots, and very often, politicians brought their own retrievers to the estate. As a result, the retrievers used during these shoots were very good at finding game on land, and they were very tolerant of both strangers and strange dogs.

Goldens are also virtually all soft-mouthed dogs, and they were heavily selected for a soft mouth in their gene pool. That’s because it was deemed a great fault for a retriever to put any mark on any game it carries. This is very much the case today in retriever tests and trials.

Chesapeakes were the dogs of market hunters and fishermen on Chesapeake Bay. The dogs were probably derived from St. John’s water dogs that had a bit more of the Cao de Castro Laboreiro genes than other retrievers. These dogs were largely owned by small operators who needed dogs that would retrieve shot waterfowl on the rough seas and would also guard boats and homes. Waterfowl shooting requires a dog that has  superior marking skills, for the nose cannot always direct the dog to a shot bird in the water. As a result, the Chesapeakes were selected to be excellent waterfowl dogs and to have a bit more suspicious temperament. They also needed to be a bit more headstrong, so they would be able to brave the stormy ocean without much encouragement.

Because Chesapeakes mainly worked from the water, they needed to grip the birds well. Otherwise, they would lose it in the rough water. Now, that’s actually a very good thing for some retriever work today, but it also hurt them a bit in trials. Now, Chessies have been bred for soft mouths, and they generally are soft-mouthed today.  But in the early days, they were well-known for hard mouths. It’s all because they needed harder mouths to really grift the water birds on those rough seas. They weren’t retrieving pheasants in a cut field of wheat or barley.

Now both of these dogs are retrievers,  but because the environment and exact function of these dogs was different, different temperaments and behavioral conformation evolved.

Goldens are known for their soft temperaments and excellent noses, while Chesapeakes are know for their guarding ability and superior marking ability.

Trialing has somewhat muddled the once stark differences between the two breeds. They are currently trialed and tested for exactly the same behaviors. It’s very likely that as time goes on, the differences between the two will be less and less of an issue.

However, I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. I like goldens because of the way they are, and Chesapeake people like their dogs the way they are.

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