Posts Tagged ‘Grantley Berkeley’

The following passage shows how old this debate in retrievers actually is. In North America, we prefer something more like the automaton type, which might be better called “retrieving with a guided canine missile.” In Europe, the preference is for dogs that have traits that Berkeley associates with the “real” retriever. And in case you couldn’t tell from the connotations of the terms, Berkeley prefers “real” retrievers over automatons.

The passage on these two different ideas about what a retriever should be can be found in Anecdotes of The Upper Ten Thousand: Their Legends and Their Lives, Volume 1 (1867):

Since the loss of my long-tried friend, and old favourite retriever, ” Brutus,” I have been looking everywhere to find some intelligent active young dog to take his place. So far as the duties attached to it go, his place in my affectionate remembrance cannot so readily be filled up. An old, or what is called a thoroughly-broken retriever, I did not desire ; because, ten to one but I should have had as much to unlearn him from as to learn him : for men, masters, and keepers, have some very odd ideas about what a retriever should do, from many of which I dissent in toto.

There are what I call automaton retrievers, and there are real retrievers, who only work when they think that something is really lost, and on purpose to recover whatever is lost, and to bring it to their masters.

The automaton dog is one who picks up by eye, or who hunts for anything by his master’s voice or hand alone, and not of his own knowledge or by his nose. The automaton dog has been used to bring gloves, sticks, hats, or handkerchiefs, or to swim into the water after impossible-to-be retrieved stones.

The real retriever ought never to have been sent to fetch any imperishable thing ; he ought only to have had fur and feathered things in his mouth, alive or dead, which he had learned to know would be spoiled if he bit them too hard. I have had retrievers who would not bring game, if there was no obstacle between me and the thing that was killed; who would look at the fallen bird, hare, or rabbit, and say, as plain as a dog could say, ” There’s your game—no difficulty about it; pick it up yourself.” On the contrary, if whatever was killed fell into water, or the other side of water, or into a wood, or the other side of a wall or hedge, then the sensible dog, thinking that his master could not get it without his aid, would hasten at once to recover it, and bring it to the bag. I have known a dog mark a wounded pheasant, that flew a considerable distance, when, as other pheasants were falling, he remained at my heels, ready to work through all the immediate fun, but in perfect remembrance of the distant and probably dead bird. When we beat the cover out, and the word ” All out!” was given, then, without being told to do so, he absented himself, went to the spot he had marked half an hour before, and returned with the dead bird.

Now that is thought, and industry of the brain as well as nose; and it is to these reasoning qualities that we should address ourselves when educating a retriever.

I have known my dogs, who have been used to be at my heels summer and winter among the game, absolutely rebuke me by their looks when I shot a white rabbit; and though “Wolf” went over the fence in expectation of a rabbit, on coming to the colour which he had seen was never shot at, and as to which he had received a caution not to hunt, he regarded me with a look of sorrowful surprise, and refused to touch the thing that I had sent him for. The same dog, on my lawn at Teffont, in Wiltshire, was sent by me to hunt a rabbit out of a circular flower-bed, a long way from any of the coops where pheasants were being reared by hand. He went a little way in, but returned at once to my heels, looking very sheepish, and refused to hunt it out. I saw at once that there was some reason for this refusal: I knew it by his look and manner, so went to see what it was. There was a lot of the earliest young pheasants there; he had often lain by my gun among them, and seen them fed, and knew that they were never to be disturbed; and hence his refusal to go near them after the rabbit.

The same, only a year ago (1865), with poor old ” Brutus.” A young cock pheasant had been caught in a vermin-trap, and had left a leg behind him. I happened to see this fine young cock bird in full plumage the next day, away from all other game, and shot him. At a sign ” Brutus ” jumped the fence, and ran up to the bird, not dead, but hit in the head and fluttering strongly about the ground. The instant he saw that it was a pheasant, on land where he had seen them reared and taken care of, he let fall his stern, and stood and gazed at me with a mournful expressien in his eyes, not attempting to touch the bird, but evidently hurt at what he thought an accident. On being assured by me that I wished for the bird, he brought it; but in so tender and remarkable a manner, so unlike the proud way he used to bring things that had fallen to the gun, that it was perfectly evident that he thought the bird was wanted in an endeavour to save its life. My famous “Smoker” would not follow a winged and running pheasant into the corner of a wood at Cranford, where there was a great deal of game that had not yet risen. So that my brother sportsmen by these instances will see, that dogs have only to be sensibly treated to become as sensible, or more so, than some of their masters ; and there is just as much difference in the really good retriever and the automaton fetch-and-carry dog, as there is between a fool and a sensible man.

Perhaps among the most ignorant things done, and that, too, by men whose lives have been passed among game and dogs, is the one of taking a retriever up to the spot on which a bird had fallen, and then the man not being able to pick up the bird himself, will call the dog back fifty times if he goes on elsewhere to look for it. And that, too, on ground on which, if the dead bird had been there, there was no reason why the man should not see it and pick it up. Often have I been so enraged at this ignorance, that, whether they have been my servants or those of other people, I have exclaimed on seeing them call the dog back, ” Let him alone, you fool! If the bird was there, you’d see it; if the bird is not there, he must have run on; and how the devil can the dog retrieve it, unless you let him alone ? He must know better than you do what he is about, because on such an occasion his nose is better than your eyes or head (pg. 8o-85).

The only part I see as a bit strange about the “real” retriever is that it pick up only game– even when being trained. In general, this is not how retrievers are trained, and it would require the dog to have a great deal of exposure to lots of shot game on a regular basis. That luxury could certainly be available to a shooting Victorian sportsman, but it is one that most mere moderns simply cannot have for their dogs. So the dogs are trained with objects and then introduced to birds.

However, I do think much can be said about the automaton aspect of many modern retrievers, especially within our North American retriever culture, which values nothing more than a dog running out on a bee-line to pick up a mark hundreds of yards out. Such a dog is impressive and very difficult to train. It takes many years of work to turn a dog into one these high performance animals.

But it is very much more likely to have the aspect of the automaton rather the dog that hunts with “industry of brain as well as nose.”  The latter could be an asset in many situations, but it is simply not valued in North American retriever trials or within the culture at large.

It also takes many years to perfect the kind of retriever Berkeley preferred, but much of the dog’s education is learned on the job.  The trainer and handler merely teach the dog obedience and manners, but the actual mechanics and techniques of the retrieve are learned while the dog is being used. Over time, the dog learns what wounded game is likely to do and acts accordingly. Such things are nearly impossible for a human to teach a dog. It must learn them by doing.

But because of how the “real” retriever  develops, it is much more individualized and specific, it is more difficult to evaluate it using an objective standard. Such a dog might be a superb hunting dog, but it becomes very difficult to make comparisons about dogs. If one doesn’t care much for comparison and competition,  it shouldn’t matter at all.

I should also note that two of the dogs mentioned in this piece were somewhat unorthodox retrievers. Smoker was a “deer greyhound, ” and Wolf was his grandson. Wolf’s mother was a Newfoundland of some sort. Neither of these dogs picked up non-game objects for fun. They only retrieved shot game, which may tincture some of Berkeley’s commentary about letting dogs retrieve non-game objects.

However, Berkeley’s commentary is still interesting, for it shows a very similar delineation to the schism of sorts that exists within the modern retriever culture.

This is an old debate.

And it hasn’t be solved yet.

Nor will it ever.

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From Grantley Berkeley’s  Reminiscences of  Huntsman (1897):

I offer to the public a circumstance enacted in regard to vension-stealers, by myself and my black retriever dog Tramp. Tramp, to all appearance, is a cross between the Newfoundland dog and setter, and was given to me by Mr. Peacocke, of Pilewell Park, as useless to him from his headstrong humour. I soon found that the faults complained of were not in Tramp originally, but in his stupid breaker, whoever that man was, who had most decidedly whipped them into him. When’ he did wrong, therefore, I adopted the oil, in an endeavour to soften the vinegar humours the lash and want of judgment had mixed up, checking him only by voice and manner when he was in error, and fondling and caressing him when doing well. The dog really did not seem at first to know what a caress was, but seemed to imagine it a prelude to induce him to be caught to undergo punishment. Tramp trained on very well, and he is now a perfect retriever save in one thing— he will run and pick up before he is bidden to do so. He therefore only accompanies me in wild ground, where his running in cannot do much harm; and in wild ground among furze, to hunt, find, and then retrieve, he is perfection.

In the winter of 1852 I was out on Holmesley walk with a warrant for a doe, and killed her on the edge of a bog in a valley running down to the railway, in sight, though a distant one, of three plate-layers, or navvies as they are vulgarly called, who were at work on the line. In company with me, only in couples, when I killed her, were my terriers and Tramp, as, after killing the doe, I intended to beat for woodcocks and rabbits. A Highland deer greyhound, and a very good one, the property of Sir Percy Shelley, was with me when the deer was killed, who was afterwards to be coupled up when the terriers were called for. It is a habit among the keepers in this forest to let a deer lie without anybody with it while they go for a conveyance to take it to the nearest lodge, and I have often asked them if they never had one stolen. They replied in the negative; but the circumstance I am narrating inclines me to think that deer have been stolen in this particular manner, although the theft has not been acknowledged. I did not like to leave the vicinity of the venison, so, while the woodman was gone for his cart, I continued on the adjacent hills, beating for woodcocks and rabbits. After being out of sight of the deer for some time, perhaps three-quarters of an hour, I reached a spot where I ought to have obtained a view of her, but could not make her out. The cart had not arrived to fetch her, of that I was sure; so, thinking perhaps that the heather hid her from my sight, I despatched my man to the spot, and bade him, if the deer was gone, to hold up his hat. He reached the spot, and the signal was made of the disappearance of the deer. Expecting the worst, that she had been carried off, I hastened to the place, and there, sure enough, was where her throat had left a sanguinary trace as she had been dragged out of sight into some furze, and then all traces of her disappeared. It was in cold, harsh, dry weather, and on the hills the footstep of a man made no impression, while over the bogs, if he stepped on the tufts of moss, they rose again after the step had passed, and no trace remained in that locality to denote a passage. I confess to have been angered by this incident, as I did not think that there was a man who, in the daylight and at a risk of being seen, would have attempted to steal anything of mine; so, as a last hope, I ordered my man to run off to a distant hill, where he could command a view of the low lands on one side, and I sent two of the woodmen, who had been by when I killed the deer, also in different directions: the steps of all three of these men were more or less stained with the blood of the deer, and they had all handled her in pulling her from the bog to a dry place. To this I beg the reader’s particular attention. The men having gone on their several missions, I made the usual sign to Thor that I had adopted to put him on the scent of a stricken deer, which he tracked very well, if the trail was quite fresh, nearly as well as a hound; and I endeavoured to obtain assistance through him. But it was of no avail; he always went back to the spot where the doe had lain dead. While endeavouring to make Thor understand my loss, Tramp, who was at my heels, stepped in front, and, looking up in my face with a very peculiar expression, suddenly put his nose to the ground, trotted a little way, and looked back to see if I observed him. I did observe him, and became at once convinced that he was about to aid me; indeed, so peculiar was his manner and method, that there was no mistaking it. He went off at a long, dejected-looking trot, more resembling a mad dog’s action than his own graceful method when on game, and I followed him in the greatest possible anxiety. When he came to the spot on which my man and the two woodmen, strangers to him and both tainted with thedeer, had severed and gone different ways, Tramp tame to a check, tried each track, and seemed perplexed, looking up to me for aid, which I had no power to give. All I could do was to say, ” Good dog Tramp,” and to encourage him quietly. To my infinite joy he again took up the running on a strange line that had nothing to do with the steps of my people, and on we went over bog and hill and at last down to the railway. I had both my guns on my shoulders, the rifle and shot gun, besides ammunition, and, so loaded, Tramp’s long trot kept me at a pace rather difficult to maintain; when he checked at the railway I was, therefore, some distance behind, and I saw him try in each direction and then look back for me. Just as I reached him he went on a line of scent down by the side of the railway towards the three plate-layers before mentioned, but, after carrying it on a short distance, he would not have it, but returned to the wires, up to which he had decidedly been right. He then for the first time crept through upon the plates, looked at me, and carried on the scent over the line to the heather on the other side. Here, then, for the first time, I had ocular demonstration as to his fidelity: in the soft sand between the rails I saw the print of a man’s footstep, not anything like so large a foot as mine, and yet, when I placed mine purposely by it, it was evident that the stranger was heavier than I was or carried some weight, for he sank much deeper in the sand. Short as the space permitted me was, I took notice of the nails of his shoes and any peculiarity on heels or soles; and, so true had Tramp been to the trail, that in one place he had actually stepped into the footprint of the man. There was the footprint of a second man, but that I did not much observe. The ditch of the embankment was wet where Tramp jumped it, and he checked on the other side; but my eye caught sight of the bottom of the ditch as I got over, and I saw that the water was newly mudded. A little lower down the ditch was dry again, and there were the small footsteps of my friend once more! Calling now in full confidence to Tramp, I set him right, and he carried the scent some distance down the ditch, and then away faster than ever in his long trot up the heathery hill and into the high furze towards the village of Burley, notorious for more than one bad character. Up the hill I followed to where Tramp disappeared, but, before I got there, Trampreturned as if seeking me, with great quickness in his manner and anxiety that I should arrive; he disappeared for a moment again, and then, as I neared the spot, he came to meet me, full of jumping joy and congratulation, and so he led

me on into and through the gorse at times, more by the motion he gave it than any sight I had of him, till I came up to him, standing joyfully on guard over the body of the recaptured deer. We were then not far from the village, and I knew that whoever it was that had been obliged to abandon the load was safe enough housed by that time.

Having reached a conspicuous place on the hill, whence to signal my man, he came up, having begun to follow me as soon as he guessed what I was after, and, giving him possession of the deer, I returned to the railway, entered a cottage on the line to see if any man was there, and, finding that the owner of the cottage near which Tramp’s chase had passed was one of the plate-layers I had before observed at work, I took to the rails, followed by Tramp, Thor, and my terriers, as I knew no train was due, and proceeded by that unusual route directly for the three labourers. In nearing them I observed that, instead of looking up to stare at the unwonted trespass, each man became so busy with his pickaxe that one would have supposed they had been working for a wager, so, casting the guns to the left arm, I came right upon them, touched one man on the shoulder, collared the second, and told the third I arrested them all as having taken part in a robbery. You might have knocked them all down with a feather, so taken aback were they. I turned up the smock of one who had his on to see if there was any blood about him, but none was to be seen, and a glance at their feet showed me that every shoe was a larger one than mine; so, however conversant they might have been with the robbery, none of the three had carried the deer. They protested their innocence, and I asserted my belief of their guilty participation, because they were in full view of the spot whence the deer had been stolen and where she had been borne across the line; so I quitted them, with an assurance that I would that day apply to the inspectors of the line for their discharge unless they cleared themselves by stating all they knew of the transaction.

On reaching home I directly sent for a vigilant constable of police, and he started the same evening or the next morning, I forget which, and elicited such evidence from the plate-layers that he took into custody the little man who carried the stolen deer, and who was but recently discharged from gaol, having undergone punishment for stealing a gun. The next morning another constable captured an accomplice who had aided in the theft, a man who had been previously fined for a savage assault, in company with four or five others, on Bromfield, one of the marksmen of the forest, whom they had beaten and left for dead. These fellows were committed to Winchester to await their trial, and were afterwards convicted in two months with hard labour.

Now this is perhaps the most extraordinary instance of sagacity in that wonderful animal the dog ever related. Tramp had never run the scent of a deer, nor the scent of a man, and yet out of three or four lines of scent, the men all strange to him, and all more or less blooded or tainted with the deer, he distinguished the man who carried her, although not a drop of fresh blood fell to direct him, as the thieves took the precaution to tie up the head and throat before they removed her. The check where the lines of scent crossed each other showed that the various footsteps occasioned a difficulty; and also the one at the railway wires before he carried the trail over the line, that check too was accounted for. The thief had put the deer down there, while he ran to the plate -layers and bought a promise of silence from them by saying that they should have a share of the spoil. When Tramp showed an inclination to run down the line instead of across it, he was perfectly true to the steps of the man; but he had not gone forty yards before he discovered that he did not then carry the burthen he was endeavouring to overtake. He returned, therefore, before he had run those footsteps out, and resumed the scent where the deer was again lifted and carried on (pg. 265-270).

Grantley Berkeley was a member of parliament and owner of the retrieving deer greyhound named Smoaker.

He was much more gentle with animals than he was with people. He may have refused to whip Tramp, but when he was a boy, he was not above using whips on other children.

He also famously shot a highwayman who held up his carriage. He told the lone highwayman that he could see his partner standing behind him, and when the lone highwayman turned around, Berkeley shot him.

Berkeley was a writer by trade, and when he wrote a book called Berkeley Castle, it received a bad review. Berkeley went off the deep end. He attacked the critic with a whip. The critic sued Berkeley, and Berkeley countersued for libel. Both received damages.

But Berkeley wasn’t done yet. He challenged the critic to a duel, and the Berkeley shot him, which severely wounded the critic.

Some people can be quite gentle with animals but can be so cruel to others. In this piece, Berkeley seems smug that the venison thieves were convicted and received sentences of hard labor. Never mind that many venison thieves were stealing only to get protein for themselves or to sell at market to make little extra money. Wages in those days often were quite low, and it has been estimated that many working people in England were forced to live outside the law in order to survive. (There is a great chapter on cattle thieves and deer poachers in Peter Linebaugh’s The London Hanged. These people, along with the highwaymen, became folk heroes among the English populace, simply because they stuck it to the landed aristocracy at every chance they got.)

Berkeley was no fan of poachers or game thieves. He wrote a pamphlet that called for even stronger enforcement of game laws in 1845. The purpose of the laws was not just to keep game in abundant numbers. It was to issue out harsh punishment for the poor who broke them.

Tramp appears to be a particularly “sagacious” retriever, and it doesn’t surprise me in the least that he was able to catch a trail that a deer greyhound would have missed. Retrievers were often derived from setter/”Newfoundland” crosses, and the setter part of the cross was deliberately chosen to increase scenting ability.

Tramp may have had some faults, but Grantley Berkeley was able to overlook them.

But he was far from lenient in his dealings with other people.

He was Mr. Law and Order, and if the poor poached his game, he wanted them to pay– beat them, work them, ship them to Australia!

But if Tramp breaks before being sent on a retrieve, don’t say anything. He’s just a good dog.

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(Source for image)

Last week, I wrote about the story of Smoaker, the retrieving “deer greyhound” that belonged to Grantley Berkeley. Smoaker became famous for coursing deer on his own, and for being of great use on the shooting line, fetching shot pheasants and other small game as well as an retriever.

On the occasion of Smoaker’s death, The New Sporting Magazine carried an article and several letters extolling the virtues of this remarkable dog. The article points out that Smoaker’s son is similarly gifted as a deer courser and as a retriever.

However, not much is said about Shark in the piece.

So I had to hunt around to find out more about him.  The Berkeley provides the following account in Edward Jesse’s Anecdotes of Dogs (1858):

His son Shark was also a beautiful dog. He was by Smoaker out of a common greyhound bitch, called Vagrant, who had won a cup at Swaffham. Shark was not so powerful as Smoaker; but he was, nevertheless, a large-sized dog, and was a first-rate deer greyhound and retriever. He took his father’s place on the rug, and was inseparable from me. He was educated and entered at deer under Smoaker. When Shark was first admitted to the house, it chanced that one day he and Smoaker were left alone in a room with a table on which luncheon was laid. Smoaker might have been left for hours with meat on the table, and he would have died rather than have touched it; but at that time Shark was not proof against temptation. I left the room to hand some lady to her carriage, and as I returned by the window, I looked in. Shark was on his legs, smelling curiously round the table; whilst Smoaker had risen to a sitting posture, his ears pricked, his brow frowning, and his eyes intently fixed on his son’s actions. After tasting several viands, Shark’s long nose came in contact with about half a cold tongue; the morsel was too tempting to be withstood. For all the look of curious anger with which his father was intently watching, the son stole the tongue and conveyed it to the floor. No sooner had he done so, than the offended sire rushed upon him, rolled him over, beat him, and took away the tongue. Instead, though, of replacing it on the table,the father contented himself with the punishment he had administered, and retired with great gravity to the fire.

I was once waiting hy moonlight for wild ducks on the Ouze in Bedfordshire, and I killed a couple on the water at a shot. The current was strong; but Shark, having fetched one of the birds, was well aware there was another. Instead, therefore, of returning by water to look for the second, he ran along the banks, as if aware that the strong stream would have carried the bird further down; looking in the water till he saw it, at least a hundred yards from the spot where he had left it in bringing the first; when he also brought that to me. Nothing could induce either of these dogs to fetch a glove or a stick: I have often seen game fall close to me, and they would not attempt to touch it. It seemed as if they simply desired to be of service when service was to be done; and that when there were no obstacles to be conquered, they had no wish to interfere (pg. 33-34).

So Shark was a bank runner, and Berkeley apparently lived at the time when bank running was not seen as an undesirable behavior in retrievers. Of course, one can see in that account that a bank runner could be a useful dog. Shark did not waste time charging back into the river to hunt for his bird. Instead, he efficiently ran down the river bank to see where the current had carried the duck. That’s something we don’t want our retrievers doing, but in the real world, it has a definite utility.

Shark, like his father, was unlike normal retrievers in that he didn’t carry around objects that had nothing to do with hunting. This may be the result of them both being greyhounds, and greyhounds are beasts of prey. They actually kill the prey they are sent after. These two dogs were adept at killing red deer, and retrieving shot birds and other small game was just a step below coursing.

Now, Shark would be bred to “Newfoundland” bitch, which, in the 1830’s and 1840’s, would have been among the first choices for a retriever. This breeding produced what would have what we would today call a lurcher– in this case, a retrieving lurcher. The story of the retrieving greyhound family continues through a dog from this breeding named Wolfe:

Wolfe’s mother was a Newfoundland bitch. He was also a large and powerful dog, but of course not so speedy as his ancestors. While residing at my country house, being my constant companion, Wolfe accompanied me two or three times a-day in the breeding season to feed the young pheasants and partridges reared under hens. On going near the coops, I put down my gun, made Wolfe a sign to sit down by it, and fed the birds, with some caution, that they might not be in any way scared. I mention this, because I am sure that dogs learn more from the manner and method of those they love, than they do from direct teaching. In front of the windows on the lawn there was a large bed of shrubs and flowers, into which the rabbits used to cross, and where I had often sent Wolfe in to drive them for me to shoot. One afternoon, thinking that there might be a rabbit, I made Wolfe the usual sign to go and drive the shrubs, which he obeyed; but ere he had gone some yards beneath the bushes, I heard him make a peculiar noise with his jaws, which he always made when he saw anything he did not like, and he came softly back to me with a sheepish look. I repeated the sign, and encouraged him to go; but he never got beyond the spot he had been to in the first instance, and invariably returned to me with a very odd expression of countenance. Curiosity tempted me to creep into the bushes to discover the cause of the dog’s unwonted behaviour; when there, I found, congregated under one of the shrubs, eight or nine of my young pheasants, who had for the first time roosted at a distance from their coop. Wolfe had seen and known the young pheasants, and would not scare them.

Wolfe was the cause of my detecting and discharging one of my gamekeepers. I had forbidden my rabbits to be killed until my return; and the keeper was ordered simply to walk Wolfe to exercise on the farm. There was a large stone quarry in the vicinity, where there were a good many rabbits, some parts of which were so steep, that though you might look over the cliff, and shoot a rabbit below, neither man nor dog could pick him up without going a considerable way round. On approaching the edge of the quarry to look over for a rabbit, I was surprised at missing Wolfe, who invariably stole off in another direction, but always the same way. At last, on shooting a rabbit, I discovered that he invariably went to the only spot by which he could descend to pick up whatever fell to the gun; and by this I found that somebody had shot rabbits in his presence at times when I was from home.

Wolfe accompanied me to my residence in Hampshire, and there I naturalised, in a wild state, some white rabbits. For the first year the white ones were never permitted to be killed, and Wolfe saw that such was the case. One summer’s afternoon I shot a white rabbit for the first time, and Wolfe jumped the garden fence to pick the rabbit up; but his astonishment and odd sheepish look, when he found it was a white one, were curious in the extreme. He dropped his stern, made his usual snap with his jaws, and came back looking up in my face, as much as to say, ‘You’ve made a mistake, and shot a white rabbit, but I’ve not picked him up.’ I was obliged to assure him that I intended to shoot it, and to encourage him before he would return and bring the rabbit to me (pg. 34-36).

The “Newfoundland” mother that Wolfe had could have easily been a St. John’s water dog or an early wavy-coated retriever. Berkeley does not say anything about Wolfe’s progeny and concludes his story about his greyhounds with a description of his current greyhound bitch, Brenda, who has also learned how to retrieve to the gun. It is possible that Wolfe could have contributed some to other retrievers, but I cannot find any accounts that clearly state this. It would make sense that such an intelligent dog would have been a great asset to anyone’s retriever breeding program.

Berkeley’s account of Wolfe shows something that science has recently just found out about dogs:  They have a sense of rules. Wolfe knew that he wasn’t supposed to bother white rabbits or young pheasants. He learned these rules simply by spending time with his master. Dogs can learn a lot just from being with us, and considering his Newfoundland/retriever heritage, one would expect him to have  very strong sense of wanting to please his humans. When he was sent to shrubs, he knew that he would bother the young pheasants– a violation of the rules. He also was deeply vexed when he was sent to retrieve the shot white rabbit, which he had learned he was supposed to leave alone. In both cases, he had to disobey rules, and he just didn’t feel comfortable doing so.

The story of this family of unorthodox retrieving sighthounds is truly a fascinating chapter in the history of retrievers. Perhaps Wolfe’s descendants live on in modern flat-coated and golden retrievers, or maybe he was bred back into greyhounds and a little “Newfoundland” courses through the veins of some racing and coursing dogs.

Whatever the case, Wolfe, Shark, and Smoaker were truly remarkable dogs. They defy the conventions of the modern dog culture, which worships the notion of the specialist dog. Greyhounds are to race or course. Retrievers are to retrieve. And that’s the way it is supposed to be.

Ah. But it wasn’t always that way.

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