Posts Tagged ‘Labrador retriever’

Humans are a highly visual species.

We put an unusual amount emphasis on what things look like.

Dogs do not.

Their color vision is much more limited than ours.

We selectively breed dogs for what they look like.

We agonize over it.

We have standards that define the ideal appearance for a particular breed.

We have people who only want chocolate Labs or black ones or yellow ones or silver ones.

I personally like the look of the darker yellow Labs and darker golden retrievers.

The dogs don’t care.

Dogs are much more concerned with odor.

Which somewhat disconcerting (as Mitt Romney would say).

What if dogs were selectively breeding us?

I bet they would be selecting us for the odors we produce.

We probably wouldn’t be able to smell these odors or distinguish between them.

Just as dogs don’t know what color they are, we wouldn’t know what we really smelled like.



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Pippa Mattinson is training a new Labrador to work on her shoot.

Her name is Rachael.

And she’s a chocolate.

Chocolate Labradors are generally not well regarded in the British gun dog culture. That’s probably because most chocolates are found in lines that produce primarily conformation dogs.

The decision to use a chocolate Lab as a gun dog was met with polite skepticism:

I passed a member of our shoot on my way down to the meadow the other day and signalled to him that I had something of interest in the car.

“Oooooh!” says he with interest

“is it a new puppy??” says he with enthusiasm as he climbs out of his landrover

“is it a Labrador?” he asks excitedly as he crosses the road and peers in through the window of my truck

“Oh”. he says, as his voice trails away with disappointment. “What a pity” he sighs.

“Its chocolate…”

And he was only half joking.

It’s also somewhat unusual to find a chocolate Lab as a gun dog over here. Most chocolate Labs are in English conformation lines, but there are also found in the giant pet Labrador lines that are very common in this country. I’ve seen many chocolate Labs that look very much like smooth-coated bronze Newfoundlands.

Rachael doesn’t look very much like Tess, Pippa’s working-bred fox red Labrador.

To be fair, fox red is my favorite color in Labradors, but it’s almost entirely found in working bloodlines from the United Kingdom.

It’s virtually unknown over here, where most yellow Labs tend toward the paler end of the yellow to red spectrum. (Golden retrievers tend to be quite the opposite. Darker colors are still more common over here.)

Chocolates, though, are fairly popular in the United States.

There aren’t as many of them as blacks and yellows, but they aren’t exactly rare.

However, for whatever reason, the chocolate dogs are not normally found in any lines that are used for gun dog work.

Or anything else that Labradors are typically used for.

Why chocolates are so underrepresented is a fairly good question.

Could it simply be that the lines that produce chocolates tend not to be those that produce working retrievers, as I am suggesting here?

Or is there something intrinsic to the chocolate color that makes the dogs inferior?

I doubt that the latter hypothesis is correct. The German HPR’s are commonly liver in color, and they have generally been selected for that color over the black (with the exception of the large Munsterlander, of course.) And let’s not forget that Chesapeake Bay retrievers were always selected for the brown skin gene, including both brown-skinned yellow to red and true liver.

British gun dog culture has had a strong preference for black coloration in retrievers.  Rawdon Lee had nothing but contempt for “common brown retrievers” in his A History and Description of Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland (Sporting Division) (1894):

The common brown retriever that we see running about the streets, neither curled nor wavy, nor smooth, is a sort of nondescript animal we can well do without. He is usually snappish and ill-natured, and, when not looking in the gutters for a living, may be found chained up to a kennel in somebody’s back yard. Those who own a dog of this kind are recommended to exchange it for a nice little terrier, which will not only cost the owner less in the way of food, but be not so liable to bite his neighbour, his wife, or his children. When anyone is bitten by a dog the odds are two to one that the injury was caused by one of these common brown dogs (pg. 201-202).

It may be that decades of that particular prejudice has had some influence on the bloodlines, and that it may have started a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy through genetics.

But people are trying to breed chocolates into working lines, and they are trying produce decent animals.

Maybe someday, the decades of prejudice against chocolate Labradors in working lines will disappear.

But within Labradors, there are many subcultures, and many different ideas about what is an excellent example of this breed.

It is very difficult to get people to change their minds, especially when tradition says that it’s always been this way.

Tradition can be the worst enemy of dogs.

This one is one of the toughest to overcome.



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Tip was an imported “Labrador” whose descendants were top field trial flat-coated retrievers, Pitchford Marshal and Monk.

He was born in 1832 and was imported.

His coat, if one looks closely,  might have been feathered. I note a plumed tail, rather than the more typical brush tail of the St. John’s.

I could be wrong  about what I’m seeing (and I do NOT want to have a discussion about it).

It’s just very unusual that we see depictions of the ancestral St. John’s water dogs that went onto found strains of retriever. Normally, we find out through some unusual scholarship that a particular retriever was an import, but normally, this information isn’t provided.

This image comes from The Complete English Wing Shot (1907) by George T. Teasdale-Buckell.

And Teasdale-Buckell does provide depictions of his descendants, and they are clearly flat-coated retrievers, though much more robust than the current incarnation.

So he may have been a feathered dog.

One aspect of retriever history that has been overlooked is that St. John’s water dogs came in both smooth and feathered varieties. At least at one point, they did. The settlers were eager to get rid of the feathered dogs, so they very readily exported them, where they were used to found strains of retrievers. This explains why the long-haired wavy-coated retriever was the most common retriever in the British Isles through much of the nineteenth century.

Unfortunately, most of the research on retriever history that has examined these water dogs and their role in founding retrievers has been performed by Labrador retriever historians, and at least subconsciously, they have tended to ignore the feathered variety.  If they mention them at all, they assume they must have been crosses with collies, setters, or spaniels, but when one reads of feathered retriever-liked dogs actually being born in Newfoundland, this assumption doesn’t appear to have much validity.

It’s true the Newfoundlanders preferred smooth-coated dogs, and the last remaining “pure” St. John’s water dogs were smooths.

But that doesn’t mean that they always were this way.

See related posts:

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The first two are pre-Labrador retriever.

They are both St. John’s water dogs, which are the ancestors of all the British retriever breeds.  (Here’s the 1819 version, and the second dog is Billy from Stonehenge’s The Dog in Health and Disease. Billy could have been registered as a wavy-coated retriever.)

This chart shows how the Labrador retriever was developed from the St. John’s water dog landrace and then selectively bred into different types as time as progressed.

This is really the story of all purebred dogs once they enter the closed registry system.

They start out as rougher and more diverse, then they become more conformed and, paradoxically, more prone to fads within conformation breeding.

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This is a Labrador retriever from France with what appears to have the somatic black spot mutation that appears in golden and Labrador retrievrs on occasion. It is not inherited, but the cells where the black spots are located do not have the e/e mutation that causes the yellow to red coat. Instead, this somatic muation makes the cells E/e, which gets expressed as black or liver. These dogs are sometimes called mosaics.

Alternatively, this dog may not be experiencing that somatic mutation. It might actually be a chimera, which happens when two zygotes combine. This dog could be made up of two distinct fertilized eggs– one that would become a black dog and one that would become yellow.

However, it’s much more likely that it is the result of the somatic muations. Chimeras of this type have not been found in domestic dogs.


This dog looks very much like an African wild dog, which is called Lycaon pictus (but should be called Canis pictus).  The title of this post comes from the African wild dog, for the coloration is so similar that one might be fooled into thinking that this is actually a Labrador retriever/African wild dog cross.

Though the pelage coloration is similar, it is caused by an entirely different genetic basis. African wild dogs inherit their “painted” coloration. If this Labrador were bred to another yellow Labrador, all of his offspring would be likely be yellow. The chances of him producing a puppy that will experience this mutation in the somatic cells are very low, and he would not be responsible for it if one did pop up. Somatic cells are not used in reproduction. Gametes are. This Labrador’s gametes are those of a normal black-skinned yellow Labrador.

See related post:

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This dog was 17 years old in the April of 2010.

The source for this photo describes her in this way:

Now 17 years old I named her Liddy after G. Gordon, In her prime she was hell on pheasants and a fantastic retriever on waterfowl. Has been one of the best dogs around home that I have ever had.

She is a Golden Retriever Lab cross.


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