Posts Tagged ‘John Henry Walsh’


The dog in the depiction above is Major.

Historians at the University of Manchester believe he was the first “purebred” dog in the sense we understand it today.

The Daily Mail reports:

A Pointer called Major has been identified by historians as the first ‘pedigree’ dog.

The team, from the University of Manchester, found a description of the dog in an 1865 edition of the Victorian journal, The Field.

It is believed that this was the first time that an attempt had been made to define a dog breed standard based on the animal’s physical form.

John Henry Walsh, who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Stonehenge’, paved the way for the pedigree dog breeds we know today by creating a system of giving scores for different parts of the dog’s body.

His aim was to solve the bitter disputes that were brewing over the seemingly arbitrary decisions of judges at dog shows which could see a dog win a class one week and then come last the next.


Before the 1860s, types of dogs were defined by what they did, not how they looked.

Pointers were gun dogs, valued and bred for their ability to find game and, though a recognisable type, came in a variety of sizes and colours. But in the show ring they were expected to have a defined shape that aspired to the ideal set out in the breed standard.

Major signalled a new age where dogs were increasingly bred for their form and from their pedigree.

The emphasis on conformation to breed types spread rapidly to other countries, where British dog shows were emulated and British dogs imported as foundational breed stock.

Major was in essence a type specimen on which a breed standard was drawn.

Breed standards were created to stop two real problems that happened in the early fancy:  fights over what the one true type was and to maintain continuity of type, which changed rapidly from year to year to meet the caprices of the judges.

Now, it’s certainly true that dogs that belong to a closed registry breed that have a defined standard do indeed change type rather rapidly, but before breed standards were invented, they changes were dramatic. One year only black and tan drop-eared collies could win, then then next only those with Roman noses and prick ears and sable coats could.

The pointer is derived from pointing breeds from Spain that entered the British Isles following the Spanish War of Succession.

They became popular among the landed gentry, who often crossed the dogs with foxhounds to add speed and endurance.

And because they were the possessions of the gentry, they became bred for style.

It certainly true that the dogs were bred for work, but they were also bred to look nice while they were working.

The average person had no use for this animal. In Britain, the pointer was only ever expected to point. They were never trained to do anything else, which is one reason why virtually all English pointers, even trial stock bred in the US, are not particularly well-disposed to retrieving. The only purpose this pointer breed ever had was to freeze in a stalking position whenever its nose indicated birds were near.

In countries with a more egalitarian hunting culture, like what became Germany after 1848, the pointer breeds were made far less specialized.  They were bred for the average hunter, who couldn’t afford to keep big packs of hunting dogs. The commoner hunter had to worry about dog taxes, and it made more sense to have a dog that could hunt down wild boar, point pheasants and partridges,  and retrieve shot game.

But in the British context, a shooting estate had to have many different dogs, each trained in a division of labor system, with spaniels flushing, pointers and setters indicating, and retrievers marching at heel with the shooting party, ready to be sent to fetch what was shot.

Thus, it would make perfect sense that the first modern purebred dog would have been a pointer.

The first conformation show ever held was at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1859, six years before Stonehenge would turn Major into a type specimen. The only dogs shown were pointers and setters.

It makes perfect sense that these dogs, which were used only by gentlemen to do very esoteric work on shooting estates, would be the first dogs that would be bred for a conformation show.

Their actual work was work that only the really wealthy could appreciate or afford to indulge in, and it’s really not a big leap for breeding a strain of dog that does nothing but point birds to breeding a line of dogs solely for what they look like.

Major was not of an exaggerated breed, and the dogs bred to look like him were not exaggerated at all.

However, when the notion of breed standards became deeply entrenched in the fancy, dog breeders decided they were sculptors of canine flesh and began producing all sorts of bizarre shapes to meet the standard.

This is where the insanity began.

Read Full Post »

In the days when retrievers were not purebred dogs, everyone who had anything to do with them had some idea about what the ideal “recipe” of which breeds to cross.

Most  early retriever people used the “Newfoundland” dog at some point in the cross. This term could refer to the large Newfoundland that was a common pet dog in the nineteenth century, or it could refer to the rough working water cur of Newfoundland, the St. John’s water dog or “Labrador.”  The water cur was a landrace, and tracing its exact origins and appearance is quite difficult. However, it does appear that the large Newfoundland was derived from this dog, probably through crossing with mastiffs. Many of these St. John’s water dogs that were imported to Britain were long-haired. The Newfoundlanders preferred smooth coated dogs to work in the water and to haul loads and hunt in the snow. The long-haired ones were sent to Britain, where they became the foundation for the giant Newfoundland.  Those that were used as retrievers were called “wavy-coated retrievers,” and these dogs were often crossed with setters or collies.

But lots of different crosses were used. Not all retriever people used dogs from Newfoundland. Some used collies, pointers, and greyhounds. A few even tried bull terriers, beagles, and even small terriers.

So there was actually a lot of debate on how to create a retriever.

One of the real reasons why there was such a debate is that retrieving as a behavior was difficult to breed for.  Even with retriever breeds closed registries, it is very hard to maintain strong retrieving behavior without rigorously selecting for it. Dave has sent me some of the discussions about breeding West Siberian laiki to retrieve birds, and it is very much hit or miss with these dogs, which are actually spitz-type dogs and have no relation to specialist retrieving breeds at all.

Retrieving behavior can be found in a wide variety of breeds, but it was just so difficult to get the behavior to breed true.

So in the early days of retrievers, one had to crossbreed.

One of the editions of Stonehenge’s Dogs of the British Islands is called Dogs of the British Islands: Being a Series of articles and letters by various contributors, reprinted from the “Field” newspaper (1872). This book is intentionally written to include treatises and debates from experts with a more specialized knowledge than Stonehenge (John Henry Walsh).

These perspectives are often in disagreement with each other, and in the nascent retriever breeding programs, there was plenty of disagreement to be found.  At the end of the section on retrievers, there is an exchange in which three sportsmen disagree on which breeds to cross to make a good retriever. It also includes a discussion on the merits of dog shows and whether one should actually be breeding for solid black retrievers just to win prizes.  This discussion is a pretty nice window into the nineteenth century dog fancy, including the role of dog dealers and what magical beliefs about the inheritance of working dog behavior are actually inherited.

The exchange is between a correspondent named “Retriever,” a Scottish sportsman named “W.C.,” and another retriever fancier named “W.X.”

Retriever begins with a discussion on how to select and buy a nice black retriever that one can shoot over and exhibit:

Sir,—Can any of your readers settle the question as to what the retriever really should be? If I am in error in supposing him to be bred from judicious crossing of the Irish water spaniel, setter, and Newfoundland, I should be most happy to be corrected by yourself or some experienced breeder.

Admitting the retriever to be bred as described, how are we reasonably to expect dogs with bull and terrier heads, small smooth ears, &c., such as are now being shown? Surely there is nothing sporting-like in this class of dog.

My own idea of the retriever is (grounding my opinion upon the above facts), first of all. a dark brown eye; the head setter-like in shape, length, and lip; the ear well feathered; legs ditto; tail carried on a level with the back: with the same character and quality of hair that you have on the whole body, from the occiput of the head to the extreme end of the tail.

These views may be somewhat in opposition to the leading characteristic sof the prize-winning dogs of the present day. Take, for instance, the Birmingham winner True. I was surprised on visiting the Manchester Show (not having seen this dog before, and going with the impression that I should see the true dog), that he was only placed fourth on the prize sheet, where he must have been more at home and better judged than when he won all before him at Birmingham. His head had decidedly something of the greyhound about it, being tight in the lip, pointed nose, small ear, without a particle of feather; and, could his pedigree be traced back, I dare venture to say it would prove him to have an infusion of that blood in his veins. I also noticed a peculiarity about the colour of his coat, which is well curled, and black enough at the top; but, upon close inspection, the roots of his hair will be found to be quite brown, intimating that he has been bred from a brown sire or dam—no disgrace in itself, but when a dog is shown for black he should be intensely black. He is at present changing his coat; but I fear, if he lives to have a hundred, they will all be a bad colour.

I simply quote this dog as a sample of a great many of a like stamp of head (which is my chief point of objection), and because he is the winner of the Birmingham prizes; and, of course, one does expect something more than ordinary when a dog has been so successful.

I am sure it must have been very perplexing to any person who takes an interest in this breed of dogs to have seen the eccentricity in judging at Manchester, as there were as many different sorts of dogs as prizes awarded, the predominant feature being size.

However, I will not trespass further upon your space, but conclude by saying I am not a disappointed exhibitor, but one who seeks information through your columns to enable me some day to be a successful exhibitor.

–Retriever (pg. 92- 93).

Retriever is much more concerned about what a dog should look like.  Bull-and-terrier type heads might have been common in St. John’s water dog, which often had smaller ears than modern retrievers. He takes exception to a winning dog at Manchester show because it has some greyhound-type characteristics. These dogs might even had some greyhound ancestry, or the St. John’s water dogs at the time may have had these characteristics.  The dog he is discussing sounds like a curly-coated retriever, a breed that many early retriever exhibitors didn’t really like, except for its unusual coat. Curlies tended to be kept by poachers and gamekeepers. Poachers used the dogs to collect poached game, but keepers often used the dogs to collect game that had been overlooked from a day’s shooting. Wavies tended to be owned by the shooting gentry, and thus, their looks were much more important. Shoots were social events, and the dogs had to look a certain way. And when one starts breeding for appearance for that reason, it is not a major leap to start breeding them for show.

Retriever wants a dog that looks something like a black golden retriever, which could have been produced through crossing with setters.  He wants a dog that has no brown tinge, which is something my black golden retriever/boxer cross exhibited when shedding out. This tinge could have meant that this dog was carrying liver or red/yellow, but it could also be indicative of the seal coloration. It doesn’t occur in modern retrievers, but seal is thought to be an incomplete dominant black. When retrievers were often derived from crosses, they could have had a lot more potential colors than they currently posses.

But the most important thing for Retriever is how the dog looks and how the dog might be exhibited.

W.C. responds to Retriever. W.C. is writing from Scotland, and he has very little use for dog shows. He also has a unique recipe for producing a fine retriever:

Sir–, Your correspondent “Retriever” “seeks information through your columns to enable him some day to be a successful exhibitor” of retrievers at dog shows. I know of only one way to accomplish his object with much chance of success. To succeed at dog shows you must purchase a dog from some dog dealer at an enormous price, and, entering the dog in your name, you may not unlikely get in a measure reimbursed for the extravagant sum you have given for a useless brute, or at least stand a good chance to see your name figure in The Field as the owner of an admired animal. Dog shows are the greatest humbug in the world, and are ruining our breeds of dogs. But if your correspondent wishes to know how to insure a first-class retriever, I can tell him how to set about that; but it takes both time and judgment to accomplish it. It took me about three years. In a retriever you require nose, docility, a disposition to fetch and carry, little disposition to hunt, and great perseverance on a track. How are these requisites to be combined? Only by careful crossing. For nose and perseverance there is no dog better than the foxhound. Begin with him. Select a really good setter bitch of some size, and put her to an approved foxhound. By means of money you may always command the services of one of the leading hounds in any pack for such a purpose if you go properly to work; but take care to select a dog with a good temper as well as nose. The progeny of this cross will of course not be retrievers. Keep one of the most likely-looking of the bitch puppies, and, when old enough, put her to a really good St. John’s Newfoundland. This may probably bring the breed up to the mark; but if there should be anything to correct, another judicious cross (not necessarily Newfoundland) will without fail give you an A-1 retriever. Grede experto. But you must give up all the nonsense about black dogs without a white hair, and, I may add, the ambition of being “a successful exhibitor.”

–W. C. (pg. 93-94)

W.C. commentary about dog shows sounds very modern. Dog shows had only been in existence since 1859, but already by 1872, there were people offering very harsh criticism about the shows and what they are doing to working breeds.

W.C.’s recipe involves using a different permutation on the St. John’s water dog and setter cross.  Instead of using a pure setter, he uses the progeny of a setter bitch and a foxhound dog and then breeds it to the St. John’s water dog to make the retriever.  The foxhound gives the dog more docility, nose, and stamina. Stamina would have been very useful for a Scottish retriever, which might have to run very long and hard around the grousing moors just to track the wounded game. Some of the early imports of St. John’s water dogs were a bit surly in temperament and could be nasty fighters.

Foxhounds are not particularly biddable, but the setter and St. John’s water dogs certainly were. W.C. also states that if the initially cross between the St. John’s water dog and setter/foxhound then one should cross it with another dog, either a St. John’s or another breed.

W.C. also offers a criticism of something not often discussed in breed histories or the history of kennel clubs.  The nineteenth century dog fancy was largely reliant upon dog dealers. Very wealthy individuals could have big kennels to produce their stock, but middle class dog fanciers had to go to dealers to get their dogs.  Esoteric standards created a sort of monopoly for certain dealers. The only dogs who could win in a show were those that came from those that a certain dealer either bred or was able to procure.

W.C.’s denunciation of dog shows doesn’t go unanswered, and his claim that a foxhound cross could be a good retriever is attacked under the assumption that a foxhound’s desire to chase foxes is somehow genetic.  This attack comes from a letter from a person with the improbable initials of W.X.  It includes a defense of show retrievers that points to top winning show dogs that still readily do their work:

Sir,—W. C, in his letter of advice on the breeding of retrievers, hits, as his wont is, our show pets very hard. I know the magnitude of my adversary, but still wish to take the slightest possible objection to his remarks, and to give him the gentlest possible hint that his dictum must not be accepted absolutely. A few facts will, I think, show him that there are some exceptions to his rule. Mr. Hull’s black wavy-coated bitch Old Bounce is now eleven years old; she has been shot over nine seasons; she will trail a wounded hare as well as any foxhound will a fox; but, instead of eating her game when she catches it, brings it tenderly back to her master. Amongst other prizes, she won first Birmingham, 1869; first and cup at Crystal Palace, 1870.

Her daughter, Young Bounce, is by Mr. Chattock’s Cato, A 1 in the field. She has been shot to six seasons, and is good enough to find runners for perhaps the best kennel of pointers in England. Her prizes include first Birmingham, 1871; first and cup, Hanley; second to her mother at Birmingham and Crystal Palace. Copson, her son, was shot before he had time to work much, but not before he won six first prizes right off the reel. His father, Mr. Meyrick’s Wyndham, is worked regularly, and has thrice been a winner at Birmingham. A later litter by Wyndham included Monarch, Midnight, and Mr. Armstrong’s Belle; Midnight won twice at Birmingham, and is quite as good in the field as a bitch of her age can be expected to be. Monarch, broken by Bishop, won second prize at Vaynol in the field when only eighteen months old.

Mr. T. Smith’s Jet has been shown three times, winning on each occasion. She is by Copson, and belongs to a gentleman who would not keep a bad worker in his kennels. At Birmingham last year all the wavy bitches, prize winners, were Hull’s breed—mother, daughter, granddaughter, niece, all good workers, all show dogs. Mr. Shirley’s Paris, shown three times, twice first, is an excellent worker. The first prize wavy dog at Birmingham last year, claimed for his looks at 50£., is a grand field dog, as are all Mr. Curry’s strain. Well, I could go on <ul infinitum; but enough has been said, I think, to prove to W. C. that all show retrievers are not as useless as he would make out.

The foxhound cross may be good—it certainly gives a disposition to hunt; but is that what we require? Why should we run the risk of suddenly losing our foxhound retrieved for the day when, by following the instinct he has inherited from his parent, he takes up the trail of a fox? I admit he will ” go a great pace in his quest,” and quest too with a vengeance; he may “road” his game, but will he retrieve it? May I give W. C. the gentlest possible hint, that he will only retrieve such portion of it as he can comfortably digest? He may lie by it all night.

Why should we commence to breed a tender-mouthed race of dogs from one for generations accustomed to kill their game, and, as a reward for their perseverance, allowed to eat it too? If W. C. wants a really good retriever, irrespective of looks, let him begin early with a smooth-coated colley pup—we cannot get them here; there are plenty in his district—and let us Southerners alone. If we prefer to shoot to good-looking dogs, it is our business; if they are good-looking enough to pay for their cake and milk out of season, that is our business also. I cannot see why it should detract from their field value to sit a few days now and then to be looked at.

–W.X. (pg. 94-95).

W.X. mentions two very important wavy-coated retrievers, Young and Old Bounce. These two dogs were very influential in producing the early standard wavy-coat.  They appear at the foundation of modern flat-coated retriever (and golden retriever) pedigrees.

However, W.X. is letting his nineteenth century Britishness peek out when he claims that a foxhound cross would automatically produce a dog that would chase a fox and that even the addition of the St. John’s water dog blood would produce a dog with no retrieving behavior.

Anyone who has trained scent hounds knows that they don’t have an instinct to hunt any particular game. Beagles don’t automatically chase rabbits over deer. Most will run deer if given the opportunity, and many will choose deer over rabbits. Foxhounds are very similar. My grandpa used to trial foxhounds in rural West Virginia. The foxhound club would release 60 hounds, and the dogs would get points for baying first and for running the fox more closely than other hounds.  A huge percentage of these hounds would get off on a deer and they would be gone for days at a time. Even trained foxhounds could be led astray if just one hound near them took off after a deer.

If a dog of this particularly three-way cross had the aptitude for retrieving and had been trained as a retriever, the chances of it going off after a fox or eating the game would have been next to nothing.

But in the nineteenth century Britain, it was believed that all of these behaviors were inherited– and many dog people think this way today.

It is amazing how modern these arguments sound, even if the topic is quite different. Most retrievers bred today are not intentional crossbreeds. Most retriever people wouldn’t know what to do with a cross, even if the cross was between a golden retriever and a Labrador.

However, it is very clear that with the exception of  people like W.X., the nineteenth century retriever culture was very much concerned with producing a dog that looked a certain way– which would have been hard to do with dogs that derived from a diverse ancestry. The retriever was the gentleman’s lurcher, a purpose-bred mongrel that could have lots of the blood of different breeds coursing through its veins.

But because it was bred by status seeking gentlemen, there was a desire to standardize these “mongrels.” W.C. is much more concerned with function and utility.  There is a strong anti-establishment tone to his letter, a desire that a dog be good for its purpose regardless of what it looks like.  That attitude wouldn’t have won him many plaudits among the status seekers, but in his letter, he exposes what this whole thing was actually about.

The retriever may have had to have been derived from a crossbred dogs, but it was inevitable that they would become standardized breeds.

The sociology of the retriever and its people almost ordained it.

Read Full Post »

One of the common arguments for maintaining the closed registry system is that as soon as one does an outcross it will be impossible to breed back to the original phenotype.

This is actually not true, and with dogs, it does not take many generations to breed back before the dog looks and behaves exactly like the purebred.

I have already mentioned a nineteenth century program that introduced bloodhound into the British basset hound population to save it from an inbreeding depression. I have also mentioned Bruce Cattanach’s bobtailed boxer program, which used a naturally bobtailed corgi to introduce the trait into the boxer. In both cases, the dogs were able to return to their original type through relatively few generations of breeding back into the boxer gene pool.

Cattanach writes about how quickly he could breed dogs that looked very much like pure boxers:

The transformation in one generation can only be described as amazing. It suggests that very few genes are responsible for the main features distinguishing the Corgi and Boxer, except for the special Boxer head. The white coat colour, of course, was Boxer white and resulted from the doubling up on Boxer.

That’s right. Just a few genes separate all of these dogs breeds. Variation on only a single gene explains most of the wide variance in size among dogs.  Size is very easily selected for in breeding programs, which is why we have three widely varying sizes of poodle that all descend from essentially the same stock.

If a breed has a particularly specialized head, it may take few more generations to “fix.” The bull terrier in Britain was traditionally a white dog. After all, it was derived from the English white terrier. The English white terrier went extinct because it developed severe genetic genetic problems– among them deafness. Deafness also affected the white bull terrier breed, and it was feared that it would follow its white terrier ancestor into oblivion if something was not done to correct it. The English white terrier was extinct by 1900, and within just a few years of its extinction, crosses between bull terriers and a few select Staffordshire bull terriers occurred. One of the staffies used in the program was a first cross between a bull dog and a Manchester terrier.

Although it was easy to return to the bull terrier phenotype, it was very hard to breed the special bull terrier head in the colored lines. Bull terriers have a very specialized, egg-shaped head, and they also have triangular eyes, which were very hard to fix in the colored lines. The prevalence of “button eyes” in colored strains led some fanciers to denounce them as mongrel, and it is one of the reasons why the AKC has two separate varieties of bull terrier: white and colored.

However, even those button-eyed coloreds looked very much like bull terriers. Perhaps if the bull terrier fanciers had been more open to breeding from them, they would have become more or less like the white dogs much more quickly.

But through backcrossing and selective breeding, the colored bull terriers now have classic bull terrier conformation. One even won best in show at Westminster  in 2006.

Simply put, the argument that it is impossible to breed back traits after doing an outcross is simply bogus. The fact that it takes just a few generations of backcrossing to produce a dog that is virtually identical to the backcrossed breed shows how easy it is.

Albert Payson Terhune evidently knew of this fact when wrote the story of a collie named Buff. Nina, Buff’s mother, was an accidental cross between a collie and pit bull, and she accidentally mated with a top show collie. Buff resembled a perfect show collie, even though his grandsire had been a pit bull.

There actually was a collie named Buff. His photo appears in the frontispiece of the book, but I do not think that this collie actually had this ancestry. It is possible, but I doubt it.

The rapid effects of backcrossing in dogs have been well-established for quite some time. Stonehenge (John Henry Walsh) was quite aware of how easy it was to return to phenotype after just a few generations of backcrossing. He used an experimental crossbreeding between a bulldog and a greyhound. Writing about this crossbreeding and back crossing program in his The Dog in Health and Disease (1859), Stonehenge points out how quickly it easy to produce dogs that resemble greyhound from backcrossing:

It might naturally be supposed by any person who has not been convinced to the contrary, that it would take several crosses to get rid of the heavy form of the bulldog when united with the light and graceful shape of the greyhound. But on actually trying the experiment it will readily be seen that in the third generation very little trace remains of the bulldog, while in the fourth there is none whatever apparent in external form. My friend Mr. Hanley is the last who has tried the experiment, and having kept a daguerreotype of every individual used in it, which he has kindly placed at my service, I have been enabled to present to my readers perfectly trustworthy proofs of the correctness of this assertion. The bulldog “Chicken” used was a very high-bred animal, and of him also Mr. Hanley has preserved a daguerreotype, but as his blood is very similar to that of Mr. Stockdale’s “Top,” I have not thought it necessary to engrave him. The bitch “Fly,” put to “Chicken,” was also highly bred (pg. 179).

One must note that Stonehenge writes that Chicken was nearly identical to a bulldog named Top, which he depicts in his section on bulldogs. The first cross between Chicken and Fly, called a “Half- and-Half,” is a meld of features from the greyhound and this old type of bulldog:

The “Half-and-Half” was then bred to a greyhound named Blunder, and this breeding produced a white bitch named Hecate:

Stonehenge describes Hecate:

From these came the second cross, “Hecate,” a white bitch still presenting some slight characteristics of the bulldog breed, but by an ordinary observer this would be scarcely noticed. There is, however, a remarkable want of symmetry and true proportion in this bitch, which the portrait conveys exactly (pg. 181-182)

Hecate may not have been what greyhound fanciers wanted in an ideal specimen, but she doesn’t look all that much like a bulldog. She just looks like an “off” greyhound.

Hecate was bred to another greyhound named Preston. He was a very fast dog, and it was thought that he would pass on these traits to his offspring. One of the puppies produced from that breeding was a black bitch named Hecuba:

Stonehenge describes Hecuba as “a large black bitch of good shape, and, as I before remarked scarcely distinguishable from the pure greyhound” (182-183).

She was a very fast dog, but she lacked stamina. This finding suggests that certain working characteristics might be hard to breed back through backcrossing when the original outcross is between two very different breeds.

Hecuba was bred to another greyhound named Bedlamite, and the offspring that resulted from this litter were fast but were deficient in “stoutness.” Stonehenge shows a depiction of one of these dogs. Her name is Hysterics, and she is very clearly a greyhound.

Hysterics was then bred to Ranter, her full greyhound half brother, and the puppies that resulted from that breeding were not as good as the fourth cross. Perhaps such tight breeding caused these deficiencies.

So even in Stonehenge’s day, it was well-known among dog fanciers that it didn’t take many generations of backcrossing from an outcross to produce dogs that had the correct phenotype.

And in Stonehenge’s day, Gregor Mendel’s work was not yet accepted as science. Although Mendel was conducting his experiments at the time of Stonehenge’s writing, his work was essentially unknown to the British public.

Now, we have a much more complete understanding of genetics. It is not complete by any means, but we know how many traits are inherited dogs. Because we have this knowledge, it will be easier for us to engage in cross-breeding and backcrossing programs. We also know how to test for many genetic diseases, and we can test both breeds used in these programs for certain inherited diseases.

We know so much more than they did, and we could use crossbreeding and backcrossing programs to improve the health and diversity of many breeds.

However, institutionally, there are many barriers to these programs. The Dalmatian Backcross Project has produced Dalmatians with low uric acid concentration in their urine. Uric acid stones are major problem in the breed, so it was decided to make a cross with a pointer and then backcross to produce Dalmatians that have low uric acid concentration. After generations of backcrossing, these dogs are now 99.7 percent Dalmatian.

But the AKC and the Dalmatian Club of America have been resistant to allowing these dogs to be registered. The AKC recently deferred the decision to include these dogs to the Dalmatian Club of America. The DCA still refuses to accept them. The DCA has also started a propaganda campaign in its own literature, claiming that if such dogs are allowed in, the Dalmatian will no longer be purebred and the health of the breed will deteriorate.

All of these things are unlikely to happen, and if a dog has an old pointer ancestor but still looks and behaves like a Dalmatian, what difference does it make? The average dog owner might want a dog that looks like a Dalmatian and acts like one, but they also want one that is healthy. I don’t see what the big deal is– unless purity is such an overarching virtue that one “bastardization” several generations back negates the  validity whole strain. Such a position is actually quite hard to defend to the average person looking for a dog, and this might not be the best public relations step to take.

Backcrossing allows the breeder an opportunity to return to phenotype and working ability. It allows those genes to return to the bloodline, which also has the genes from the outcrossed breed. If those genes add something to dog– such as a healthy urinary tract or a naturally bobbed tail– then these outcrossing projects are worthwhile endeavors.

Because of the successes of these sorts of programs, the dog world should be more willing to operate with an appendix registry system. As we saw with the greyhound/bulldog project, not every dog produced was worthy of breeding– as is the case with purebreds. An appendix registry allows dogs that meet some of the breed requirements to be registered, and then these animals can be bred to the other dogs in the registry. When puppies are born, they are also checked to see if they fit the criteria and are registered accordingly.

The cat fancy has totally embraced the crossbreeding and backcrossing of many different breeds. The CFA allows certain breeds– such as Persians and Exotic shorthairs– to be crossbred. These two cats have very similar conformation, just one is long-haired and the other is short-haired. The animals are crossed and registered according to phenotype– something that was done in retrievers and spaniels for decades.  Cat fanciers are given a greater opportunity to selectively breed from diverse bloodlines than dog fanciers typically are.

Crossbreeding and backcrossing are tools that should be open to more dog breeders. They are tools that do require skill to use properly, but the skills can be learned. They require understanding the genetics of what makes up a particular breed or variety and that of the outcrossed breed. This sounds very scary to many traditionalists within the dog fancy. It needn’t be.

In the nineteenth century, they were doing these crossbreeding experiments with no real knowledge about health or genetics.

And the dogs didn’t fall apart.

We know so much more now. And it is time we get a chance to put that knowledge to work to build a better future for Canis lupus familiaris.





Read Full Post »

This dog’s name was Leo and he was depicted in Stonhenge’s The Dogs Of Great Britain, America, And Other Countries (circa 1880).

Stonehenge (John Henry Walsh) argues contends that there are three types of Newfoundland: The “true” Newfoundland, the “loosely made” Large Labrador, and the St. John’s water dog.  The first is the large black Newfoundland type. The “Large Labrador” is what we’d call a Landseer, and the St. John’s water dog.

Leo is supposed to be a true Newfoundland, but he looks very much more like a modern retriever. He was probably a bit larger than the typical retriever, but he would have been able to have been registered as a retriever, as could his progeny.

Stonehenge makes the dubious argument that “pure” Newfoundlands on Newfoundland never exceed 26 inches in height, but when puppies those “pure” strains are bred in England, they become giants. Such a claim is quite.

In that same section, Stonehenge says the big Newfoundland were being bred with mastiffs, and the St.  John’s water dog was bred with the setters in that same section.

So it is doubtful the giant size evolved on Newfoundland or that the nutrition in England would have been so much better that it could account for the size discrepancy. Newfoundland’s Grand Banks were producing high quality nutrition in the form of fish and other sea food that was being exported around the world. The US made a point to negotiate access to the Grand Banks as part of the treaty that ended our War of Independence. Dogs likely were well-fed and well-cared for, simply because they were such as asset to the fisherman and other settlers. If anything, the quality of nutrition would have decreased in England, simply because even middle class people would have had less access to the same amounts of good quality protein.

It is more likely that hybridization with mastiffs accounted for the increased size, and I note that Stonehenge appears to be exaggerating how large the big Newfoundland was. The average weight of a Newfoundland was 85 to 100 pounds in 1900.

This Landseer-colored Newfoundland was actually painted by Landseer. It is retrieving a European rabbit.

Unless a Night of the Lepus situation had happened when this painting was made, there is no way this Newfoundland was a giant dog. The proportions of the rabbit to dog suggest that the dog was more in the 80 to 100 pound range. A big dog, but not a giant.

It is very likely that all of these Newfoundlands contributed to the development of the retrievers, but the St. John’s water dog is the most important.

Read Full Post »

Jack Russell working as a retriever:


“Get dat duck, boy!”


One of the most interesting asides to retriever history is the use of terrier crosses to use for retrievers.

Stonehenge (John Henry Walsh) writes about terrier crosses doing quite well as retrievers in The Dogs of Great Britain, America, and Other Countries (originally published in the 1880s):

The Terrier cross [that is used as a retriever] is either with the beagle or the pointer, the former being that which I have chiefly used with advantage, and the latter being recommended by Mr. Colquhoun in his “Lochs and Moors.” He gives a portrait of one used by himself, which he says was excellent in all respects; and, from so good a sportsman, the recommendation is deserving of all credit. This dog was about 22 inches high, with a little of the rough coat of the Scotch terrier, combined with the head and general shape of the pointer. The sort I have used is, I believe, descended from the smooth white English terrier and the true old beagle; the nose and style of hunting proclaiming the hound descent, and the voice and appearance showing the preponderance of the terrier cross. These dogs are small, scarcely ever exceeding 10 lbs. in weight, and with difficulty lifting a hare, so that they are not qualified to retrieve “fur” any great distance. They must, therefore, be followed when either a hare or pheasant is sought to be recovered.

They are mute in “questing,” and very quiet in their movements, readily keeping at heel, and backing the pointers steadily while they are “down charge,” for as long a time as may be required; and when they go to their game they make no noise, as is too often done by the regular retriever. They do not carry so well as the larger dog, but in all other respects they are his equal, or perhaps superior. Owing to their small size they are ad* missible to the house, and being constant companions are more easily kept under command; besides which, they live on the scraps of the house, while the large retriever must be kept tied up at the keeper’s, and costs a considerable sum to pay for his food (pg.167-68).

Hugh Dalziel’s British Dogs (also dates to the 1880’s) includes a description of Scottish and Skye terriers been used as retrievers:

Many gentlemen in the north of Scotland kept a pack of terriers for otter hunting, and some do so still; and many at the present day use them for rabbit hunting, at which sport no dog can equal them, as they never get too excited, and are always ready to obey the commands of their master. In close creeping ‘whins’ or ‘ furze’ they will go through the rabbit runs like ferrets, and Mr. Bunny is either obliged to bolt or be killed. They are capable of being trained to retrieve, and it is a very pretty thing to see one of these little dogs carrying a partridge, woodcock, or snipe. They will take to the water like an otter, and give excellent sport when flapper shooting. In fact, in my day I have seen a great many, and used a few of the so-called retrievers; but give me a well-broken Highland terrier [one of the ancestors of the Scottish terrier] in preference to any retriever I know, and if there is game to be had I should have little fear in losing a wounded bird or quadruped if it kept above ground.

Rawdon Lee describes using  terriers and terrier crosses as retrievers in his A History and Description of Modern Dogs (Sporting Division) (1894), which describes a different terrier cross the Colquhoun text:

John Colquhoun, in his ” Moor and the Loch,” descants in praiseworthy terms of his wildfowl retriever, that was a cross between a water spaniel and a terrier. In appearance not unlike a modern Airedale terrier, it was, doubtless, one of the most useful dogs ever bred, and in a boat would do better than a larger and curlier animal, as he would bring less water in with him when retrieving his master’s ducks. Such dogs are, however, liable to be hardmouthed; still, I have myself owned terriers, and have one now—an Irishman—that will carry an egg in a cup without breaking either, or a piece of tissue paper without soiling it in the least. But such dogs as these have taken naturally to their work, and no amount of training would persuade or teach them to do what they like to perform of their own accord (pg. 213).

In the Lee also describes a bull terrier named Sam in A History and Description of Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland (The Terriers) (1897):

The puppy was christened “Sam,” for a long time he was my constant companion, and became an adept at hunting rats by the riverside, a capital rabbiter, and as good a retriever as most dogs. He would perform sundry tricks, find money hidden away, and could be sent back a mile for anything—a glove, a stick—that had been left behind (27).

Of course, there are many mentions of Airedale terriers as retrievers that are too numerous to mention. Airedales have a sort of multipurpose hunting dog quality to them that they have been use to hunt everything from quail to grizzly bears. The aforementioned Irish terrier, the Kerry blue,and the soft-coated wheaten terrier all have been used as retrievers. Kerry blues and the soft-coated wheaten terriers have some relationship to the poodle-type water dogs, either from the indigenous poodle-type of the British Isles or from Iberian water dogs that were left behind by the Spanish Armada  as it escaped off the coast of Ireland following its defeat by Queen Elizabeth I’s navy (a good story but one that is very difficult to prove.)

I know of at least one modern terrier, a Jack Russell, that lives to play fetch. He could have been trained to be a retriever, for he has much more instinct than my non-retrieving golden. He has a toy pheasant that he loves to carry, and because he is so easily trained, it wouldn’t take much for him to learn how to retrieve birds.

As some of these texts point out, using a smaller dogs as a retriever has advantages. However, only one modern retriever breed is of medium size. All the rest are large dogs that typically weigh in excess of 55 pounds. One wonders why these terrier-retrievers never made such a splash.

Perhaps it was the fact that wavy and flat-coated retrievers were so promoted by the doyens of the British dog fancy, most notably S.E. Shirley, the first president of the Kennel Club.

Perhaps it just became fashionable to have stylish, uniform brace or two of wavy or flat-coated retrievers working an estate shoot, and no one wanted to use some terrier or terrier mongrel for the task. It was probably fashion, rather than necessity, that stopped the terrier retriever.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: