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Posts Tagged ‘flat-coated retriever history’

My assessment of this piece by George Horlor is the red dog and black and tan dog represent are most likely Gordon setters. The other dog is a prototype of what became the English setter.

These dogs are more heavily-built setters than we typically imagine them today, even when we consider that Gordon setters are bigger and more heavily built than the other breeds.

These dogs definitely had a role in the development of the retrievers. The red dog has some features we ‘d associate with  modern golden retrievers . The skull is broader, and the build has some bone to it.

Also note the lighter, almost golden shadings on the red dog. These features are very strongly associated with very dark golden retrievers.

So when we think of setters from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we should not automatically assume that all of them were like the dogs of today.

Some of the dogs were indeed much more retriever-like than we might have previously assume.

And the connections between setters and the “setter-retrievers” (goldens and flat-coats) become more obvious.

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Culham Brass (b. 1904) is an example of what early golden breeders deemed functional conformation.

Culham Brass (b. 1904) is an example of what early golden retriever breeders thought was functional conformation.

I was digging through some GRCA literature online, when I came across this document, which includes some analysis and commentary from early golden retriever people in the US, Canada, and Britain.

It seems that a poison seed always existed in the early days of the golden retriever as a standardized breed.

I don’t know how to describe this poison seed exactly, but the best I can come up with is the “Irish setter inferiority complex.”  The early people in the breed hated that their dogs were mistaken for Irish setters, so they decided to breed away from the setter’s conformation.

***

Now, one must not forget that wavy/flat-coated retrievers came in two basic types: the setter-type and the Newfoundland-type. A very good illustration is these two can be found in the illustration of two wavy-coats named Paris and Melody in Stonehenge’s  Dogs of Great Britain, America, and Other Countries.

Then, as wavy-coats evolved into the top working retriever of their day, the Newfoundland-type was deemed inferior in the breed. Writing about the merits of the working flat-coat in The Complete English Shot (1907), George Teasdale-Buckell contended that the flat-coat is “open to regeneration when he is bred more wiry and less lumbering.” In other words, one should breed away from the Newfoundland-type.

Teasdale Buckell continues his critique of heavily-built, lumbering retrievers. He writs that the “the old dogs were lumbering, and so no doubt the Newfoundland type of wavy-coated dogs were” (187) and again criticizes his own selection of the Newfoundland-type wavy-coat stud named Zelstone, claiming that he was the worst cross he ever made (188).

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Now, this information on flat-coated retrievers is very nice, but what does it have to do with golden retrievers.

Well, golden retrievers actually started out as a strain of wavy-coated retriever and then became flat-coated retrievers. Their original breeder, Dudley Marjoribanks, 1st Baron Tweedmouth, bred these dogs with the best black wavy-coated retrievers he could find, including some of the top wavy/flat-coated dogs in the strain. He never intended to split this breed off because it was a different color.

Good working conformation for a flat-coated retriever is based upon a very simply axiom “Power without lumber and raciness without weediness.”  It’s actually a very good axiom for breeding any strain of retriever.

However, if you are breeding golden retrievers with this conformation and they happen to be towards the darker end of the spectrum, they will look a lot like Irish setters.

This makes a lot of sense when you realize that the main outcross for flat-coated/wavy-coated retrievers was the setter. In fact, Idstone thought that the wavy-coated retriever was a specialized strain of black retrieving setter!

In the nineteenth century, a very common setter was the red setter.  In the US, we call this breed an Irish setter, but red setters also occurred in the gordon setter breed (and still do).

Because wavy/flat-coated retrievers were almost always black dogs at this time, it was very common for a black retriever to carry the gene for red, as was the case with Moonstone.

After the Tweedmouth strain had been founded, it was augmented through outcrossing to black wavy/flat-coats that had setter ancestry. And as the setter type became preferred in flat-coat, it also affected the golden retriever (How could such a preference not?)

That’s why the Noranby goldens  in the 1930’s looked like this:

Yes, these dogs do look like Irish setters.

To which I say, “So what?”

Flat-coats have obvious setter ancestry. It is celebrated in that breed.

It is condemned in the golden, even though this is what the efficient functional conformation is for a retriever that has some coat.

If you scan to page 3 of that GRCA document, a person named E.F. Rivinus contrives a whole rationale for breeding away from this functional type. Basically, he wants to breed to look so distinct from the setter that everyone will recognize that it is not one.

I find it interesting that Winifred Charlesworth, the founder of the golden retriever as a separate breed, wanted to breed for a different head in her dogs. She produced the Noranby dogs in the above photograph, and their heads are not radically different from a flat-coat. Of course, she was one of those people pushing the Russian origins poppycock, but you can obviously tell that her dogs are derived from flat-coats and red setters.

I can’t imagine a sillier rationale for coming up with a conformation standard.

In fact, it is a reversal of what British golden breeders were trying to breed for as the golden became distinct from the flat-coat. Because the golden had been an estate shooting dog, it had been one of the last strains of wavy-coat to develop the lighter strain. The Reverend Needham- Davies wrote the section on the golden in A.C. Smith’s Gun Dogs-Their Training, Working and Management. In that section, Needham-Davies contended that the golden was more like an old fashioned retriever, which he incorrectly suggested was the Newfoundland (it was actually the old-fashioned Newfoundland-type wavy-coat). He writes that the golden was being developed that could move with more speed, and  it would eventually be able to compete with the best flat-coats and Labradors.

Of course, that was in the working gun dog sphere. In the show ring, breeding away from the lighter-built dog and the darker colored dog was the goal, while in the working gun dog sphere, breeding for lighter-built dogs was the main objective.

And even early on, you the beginnings of the split that has since happened in this breed.

One set wanted a dog that could move efficiently and with speed, while the other wanted a dog that didn’t look like an Irish setter.

***

I’ve searched long and hard for the reason why the show-strain goldens developed as they did.

I can’t believe it was for such a silly reason as the lighter-built and darker dogs looked like Irish setters.

I’m sure stranger rationales exist for the conformation standards of many breeds, but I have not heard them yet.

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blackandgold

The four bitch puppies that were born from crossing Nous to Belle formed the foundational for the strain of yellow retrievers at Guisachan. The line was maintained through some outcrossing to the top black wavy-coated retriever lines of the day, at least one red setter (of some breed), and another Tweed water dog.

If one takes a look at the pedigree of the Guisachan dogs, the names of famous dogs early days of the standardized flat or wavy-coated breed are rather obvious. Zelstone, Tracer, and Jenny/Wisdom, stand out  as founders of the line. That tells us that the Dudley Marjoribanks, though a Liberal, was close enough to Sewallis Shirley, an MP from a prominent Conservative family and founding president of the Kennel Club, to breed from their dogs. The two men probably saw each other in Parliament, and although they probably were not in agreement in politics, they were both ardent retriever people.

I find this part of their history rather fascinating.  The foundational lines of both the golden and flat-coat involve many of the same dogs. It also shows us that the strain developed at Guisachan was not intended to be a separate breed. It was intended to be a yellow variety of wavy-coat.

Now, in the early days of the fancy, wavy-coats had to be black. It was nearly impossible to win at show with a liver dog, and it would be nearly impossible to win with a yellow or red one. However, this yellow or red strain existed very early on in the history of the standardized wavy-coat.

Even though the strain that developed at Guisachan had some of the best wavy-coated dogs behind it, it was virtually unknown.  Even when Dudley Marjoribanks, MP, was elevated to the peerage of 1st Baron Tweedmouth in 1880, no category was developed for yellow wavy-coats in Kennel Club shows.

One of the reasons for the breed’s obscurity during this time is that the dogs were kept solely for working purposes and were kept by only a few individuals. The same can be said about the Malmesbury/Buccleuch line of smooth-haired retrievers, which began developing in the 1880’s.

In the 1880’s, who would have thought that the most numerous retrievers in the twenty-first century would be derived from those two obscure strains!

Like all wavy-coats of that day, the Tweedmouth strain varied from Newfoundland-type to setter-type.  The dog named Jenny/Wisdom would be the first dog to have something like a modern flat-coat’s head, and in the show-line of flat-coat, it became very important to breed away from the Newfoundland head and body type.

***

It should be noted here that the Tweedmouth strain was not particularly inbred. The fact that setters and Tweed water spaniels were used as outcrosses suggests that he was much more interested in producing a performance line of dogs.

The same cannot be said about Shirley’s line of wavy-coats. Ch. Moonstone, Tracer’s brother, was bred to his mother, and a red or golden puppy named Foxcote resulted from the Oedipal relations. There were  also several cases of full brother-sister matings.

I find it very interesting that flat-coats and goldens are well-known for their high incidence of cancer. I wonder if this rather high amount of inbreeding early on in their standardization might be a cause of it. After all, inbreeding tends to weaken the immune system, and the immune system is an important in fighting cancer.

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The Tweedmouth strain did not develop separately from the other strains of wavy-coat. It developed in concert with them.

Had these dogs been black, they would have been absorbed into the modern flat-coated retriever. Indeed, as we shall see, the golden retriever that developed in the early twentieth century was developing along the lines of dogs we would recognize as flat-coats. The heavier-built dogs in both golden and black wavy-coats were bred away from.

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The St. John's water dog in this photo looks an awful lot like a Labrador/collie-type cross. Any dogs that look like St. John's water dogs are Labrador crosses or Labs that are throwbacks to that breed.

The St. John's water dog in this photo looks an awful lot like a Labrador/collie-type cross. Any dogs that look like St. John's water dogs are Labrador crosses or Labs that are throwbacks to that breed.

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:

Labrador cross

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”?

golden boxer standing

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”:

st. john's water dog with long-hair

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.

Zelstone

Zelstone

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.

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Don of Gerwn was out of Rust and Tweedmouth dog named Lucifer.

Don of Gerwn was out of Rust and Tweedmouth dog named Lucifer.

The winning dog was either very old or very slow, and it was not until the following year that any smart work was seen. This was done by Mr. Abbott’s Rust, whose name explains her colour and appearance; but she did some brilliant work, especially when she was set to wipe the eye of one which appeared to have a good chance until she had failed at a running pheasant, one that gave Rust no trouble whatever ten minutes later, and with so much the worse chance. Rust on that occasion was the only dog present that either by pedigree or reversion went back to the old race of retrievers….This was not all that the show men could desire, and the following year another sandy liver-coloured dog, named Mr. A. T. Williams’ Don of Gerwn, easily won first. This dog was a son of that Rust spoken of before, and his sire was a cream-coloured dog of Lord Tweedmouth’s strain—even more of a facer for the believers in exhibition dogs.

–George T. Teasdale-Buckell The Complete English Shot.

This piece tells you that golden retrievers were very much a part of Flat-coated retrievers, enough that a successful field champion could be produced by using a light gold retriever and a liver flat-coat. Don went on to win the International Gundog League’s retriever championship in 1904.  Maybe we should consider him the first 1/2 golden retriever field champion. (Cream-color does not mean “almost white” at this time period. It means light gold.)

It is also interesting that the author felt that Don, who would today be called a mongrel, had great conformation for a show dog. In an ideal world, I wish goldens and flat-coats could once again share genes, but that is no longer permissible in the current kennel club system.

This was at a time when retriever almost always meant black flat-coat in Britain. The Tweedmouth dogs were a rarity, only known to the bigwigs in the Liberal Party who shot over them, so for a liver dog with yellow sire to beat the black dogs was something of note.

Rust and Don were of the chestnut liver color. This color is a liver with a sort of reddish-tinge to it. At a distance, the dog looks a bit like an Irish setter. However, when you get close to the dog, it has distinct liver characteristics.

liver-flat-coat

Another picture of one of this color can be found here.

Yellow colored dogs of any sort were usually not considered desirable in retrieverdom.  This is one of the reasons for the separation between goldens and flat-coats. The yellow dogs were not able to compete with the black ones in bench shows. The process of separating them, though, required a myth.

The origins of the Russian circus dog story can be traced to Colonel William le Poer Trench, who had his own line of goldens that came from Guisachan culls, including an “albino.” These dogs had been sold or given to ghillies around Inverness, and the Colonel purchased one off of one of these fellows. He liked the dogs a lot, and he wanted to show them. However, they were not black wavy-coated retrievers, and black was the color that judges preferred in a wavy-coated show dog. In order to make them more competitive in the ring, Trench began spinning a yarn about his yellow dogs’ origins that would force the KC to recognize them as a separate breed.

First of all, he got the head gamekeeper at Guisachan to write a letter explaining how the 1st Baron Tweedmouth had purchased a bunch of circus dogs at Brighton and bred them to bloodhounds at Guisahcan.  The keeper supplied a detailed analysis of the dogs’ origins, including photographs of a dog we know now to be Nous, a yellow wavy-coated retriever, and Nous’s progeny with a Tweed water dog. It is from that keeper’s testimony that the story of their Russian origins can be traced. The Russian dogs were said to be shepherd dogs from the Caucasus, which is about as far away from the flat-coated retriever as you can get.

In 1911 0r 1910, Trench even claimed to have gone to the “Caucasus and Siberia” in search of new blood for his retriever line, which he convinced the KC to register as “Russian retrievers.” These dogs even competed in dog shows as a separate breed against the other retrievers, including other dogs that became golden retrievers, which were being registered and shown as “Flat-coats (Yellow).”

Now, in the early twentieth century, it would take you a very long time to get from the Caucasus to Siberia, and both of those regions were thousands of miles apart in terms of distance and the type of dogs available. My guess is that he went to the Caucasus but not Siberia. He said that the farmers of the Caucasus told him that the dogs were with the sheep in the mountains for the summer, so he could not have one. I think it is also possible that he actually met one of these supposed circus dogs, and he discovered that it was not a useful retriever at all. It was the breed we call Caucasian Ovtcharka, which is a big livestock guardian dog that is used to guard against wolves. It is an independent thinking dog that is very difficult to regiment. It is also very dog aggressive, and it might be something of a hazard in a time when gentlemen friends brought their dogs together for a weekend shoot.

The Russian retrievers with their owner, Colonel Trench.

The Russian retrievers with their owner, Colonel Trench.

(The Trench strain of retrievers, the St. Huberts line, went extinct following their owner’s death in 1920. They did not contribute to the three founding lines of golden–the Ingestre, Culham, and Noranby lines.)

However, this story captured the imaginations of several golden fanciers, not the least of whom was Mrs. Winnifred Charlesworth, who was the founder of the modern golden retriever. She held onto this story, because in that story lie the ability of the golden to fully split off from the flat-coat. Its origins were not with that breed. It was its own unique retriever, entirely unrelated to any of the others. It had to be its own breed, a breed that came from the mystical far-reaches of Western Civilization, the land of the Tsar, the Volga, and vast expanses of wilderness.  The story fit perfectly with the pseudo-Romantic notions of the time period.

The story persisted until the 1952, when the Earl of Ilchester, a nephew of the 1st Baron Tweedmouth, published an article in Country Life detailing the breed’s origin using the actual kennel records from Guisachan. This article would later form the basis of Elma Stonex’s iconoclastic book that meticulously explained the origin of the breed.

So because of what amounts to a creation myth, the golden and flat-coated retrievers were split in what I call The Great Retriever Schism.

Interestingly, the debunking of the Russian circus story is the only case I can find in which a dog’s supposed origins was totally destroyed and the fanciers of this breed largely accepted those findings. People like to hold onto romance and lore a bit too much. The truth is the breed was only split off because it could not win ribbons when shown with the black dogs. It is no more Russian than the English bulldog or the Scottish collie.

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These field bred labs are built like flat-coats.

These field bred labs are built like flat-coats.

The Labrador retriever is the top retriever today, both in terms of registrations and in working tests and trials. However, this breed did not become even remotely common until just before the Second World War, even in field trials.

The most common trial retriever before the Lab’s ascendancy was the old wavy-coat landrace and then the old flat-coat breed (both of which included the golden). In Britain, these trials were almost exclusively land trials, that made use of pheasants or hares.  These land trials were perfect for dogs that have a high degree of setter in their background.

Labradors, as we know them today, were actually quite rare dogs in the UK. They were first bred by the Earl of Malmesbury out of the short-haired St. John’s water dog. These Malmesbury dogs and newly imported short-haired dogs from Newfoundland provided the basis for the Labrador breed that was finally established from the St. John’s water dog at the Duke of Buccleuch’s estate. Today, you can still find the Buccleuch strain of Labradors.

The Labrador was unknown to the fancy. One cannot find them in the works Hugh Dalziel or Idstone, although one must assume that the St. John’s water dog is the breed Idstone mentions as the “Newfoundland” that was used as a retriever outcross. However, we do know that the dogs that eventually evolved into the heavy Newfoundland were also used for retrieving shot birds.

The short-haired dogs were closely held by the Earls of Malmesbury through the nineteenth century. The same conditions applied with the Dukes of Buccleuch’s strain.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the Buccleuch strain occasionally wound up into the hands of a few other sporstmen. However, they really weren’t that common.  These were not superior trial dogs, either, and they generally didn’t do as well at land trials as flat-coats did.

But then something happened. The Labradors fanciers began to outcross with lots of dogs to increase speed and soften the mouth. They crossed with foxhounds and pointers to add speed and endurance, and whippets and greyhounds to make them lighter on the ground. They also used lots of good flat-coat trial dogs as an important outcross.  The fact that a lot of field type Labs look like flat-coats is no accident.

It was during the Interwar Period that the Lab began to be perfected as a trial quality working retriever, and at the same time, the flat-coat was undergoing some bad fad breeding. The dogs were being bred way too light in build, and to make matters worse, they were developing a long, “borzoi” muzzle that had no strength or control to grip the birds as a more moderate muzzle. In fact, a lot of trialers began to claim that borzoi had been added to the flat-coat line, which further decreased their popularity.

This very lightly built flat-coat is similar to the "weedy" dogs that were being produced in the interwar period.

This very lightly built flat-coat is similar to the "weedy" dogs that were being produced in the Interwar Period.

By the late 1930’s, the Lab had finally replaced the flat-coat as the top retriever in British trials.

In the US, retriever trials were largely duck dog events. In fact, the earliest American retriever trials consisted of Chesapeake “duck-dogs” and water spaniels (Irish and American). The Labrador was then adapted into the duck dog trials. It proved to be an easier dog to handle than the Chesapeake, simply because the Chesapeake is a market hunter’s dog, designed entirely for efficient retrieving, not fancy trial work. It was also faster in the water than the water spaniels, so it very quickly became the top duck dog on this continent.

The Labrador replaced the top retrievers in both the US and the UK by the late 1930’s. It was able to do so because its breeders were willing to experiment with crossbreeding to make a dog that was as efficient in the water as any Chesapeake, as biddable as any collie, and as birdy as any setter. And to think that this breed was virtually unknown 40 years before it took over.

Today, the Lab is the top retriever, and it will probably never be replaced. I will bet on it as long as stud-books remain strictly closed and no one can do the experimental breeding that Labrador people used to perfect their dog.

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Don of Gerwn was a liver flat-coat that won the International Retriever Trial, which was run by the Retriever Society (of Great Britain). His sire was a Tweedmouth dog named Lucifer, a "cream-colored" dog. His dam was a "Rust," another reddish liver dog.

Don of Gerwn was a liver flat-coat that won the International Retriever Trial, which was run by the Retriever Society (of Great Britain). His sire was a Tweedmouth dog named Lucifer, a "cream-colored" dog. His dam was a "Rust," another reddish liver dog.

And here is another:

don-of-gerwin-iii

Photos from The Complete English Shot (1907), by George Teasdale Teadale-Buckell. (Not in Copyright).

Because this dog was 1/2 golden retriever, should we count him as the first golden retriever field champion by 1/2?

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