Posts Tagged ‘Nous’

A depiction of a Tweed water spaniel or water dog. It may be a true liver or a yellow to red with brown skin.

By 1868, Nous had been an established working retriever at Guisachan for three years, and his owner, the 1st Baron Tweedmouth (Dudley Marjoribanks), decided that he wanted to use Nous to found his own breed.

Dudley Marjoribanks had grown up in Berwickshire, the former county in which Berwick-upon-Tweed had been its shire town. He also represented Berwick-upon-Tweed as an MP, and thus, he was familiar with that region’s peculiarities.

He knew of the local water dog, which was a cross between the indigenous water spaniel of the region and “the Newfoundland.”

Richard Lawrence wrote about them in The Complete Farrier and British Sportsman in 1816:

Along rocky shores and dreadful declivities beyond the junction of the Tweed with the sea of Berwick, water dogs have derived an addition of strength, from the introduction of a cross with the Newfoundland dog, which has rendered them completely adequate to the arduous difficulties and diurnal perils in which they are systematically engaged (405).

These dogs were a landrace type, which means they varied greatly in appearance. In Hugh Dalziel’s British Dogs, J.S. Skidmore’s description of the Tweed water spaniel goes as follows:

They were very light liver colour, so close in curl as to give me the idea that they had originally been a cross from a smooth-haired dog; they were long in tail, ears heavy in flesh and hard like a hound’s, but only slightly feathered – fore legs feathered behind, hind legs smooth, head conical, lips more pendulous than M’Carthy’s strain. The one I owned, which was considered to be one of the best of them, I bred from twice, and in each litter several of the puppies were liver and tan, being tanned from the knees downward and under the tail. I came to the conclusion that she, at any rate, had been crossed with the bloodhound.

It is possible that his dog had been crossed with bloodhound or maybe Gordon setter, but  at least one account of the dogs suggests that at least some of these dogs were more of the retriever-type Stanley O’Neill was a well-known flat-coat expert who he had encountered Tweed water dogs as a boy in the 1890’s. His description is of a more retriever like than that of J.S. Skidmore:

Further up the coast, probably Alnmouth [in Northumberland, south of Berwick-upon-Tweed], I saw men netting for salmon. With them was a dog with a wavy or curly coat. It was a tawny colour but, wet and spumy, it was difficult to see the exact colour, or how much was due to bleach and salt. Whilst my elders discussed the fishing I asked these Northumberland salmon net men whether their dog was a [St. John’s?] Water-Dog  or a Curly, airing my knowledge. They told me he was a Tweed Water Spaniel. This was a new one on me. I had a nasty suspicion my leg was being pulled. This dog looked like a brown Water Dog to me, certainly retrieverish, and not at all spanielly. I asked if he came from a trawler, and was told it came from Berwick.

From that description, the dogs looked like a tawny curly-coated retriever. This suggests that at least some of the dogs were not true livers but were brown-skinned yellow to reds. The “light-liver” color in the Skidmore description sounds more like a deadgrass Chessie than a true liver-colored dog.  (Deadgrass Chessies are light yellow dogs with brown skin.)

Now, from my reading of all of these texts, a Tweed water dog or Tweed water spaniel was actually a derivative of the St. John’s water dog. That is why it looked so much like a retriever.  The fact that the dogs had such short hair suggests that they were derived from that “Newfoundland,” rather than the big one. It is likely that the native water spaniel in Northumberland and the Borders was red or yellow in color, rather than truly liver.

Also, in the O’Neill description, the dogs were being used to net salmon. That particular job is the exact task that the St. John’s water dogs performed in Newfoundland.

The dogs were celebrated waterfowl dogs, retrieving shot birds from the chilly and rough waters of the North Sea coast. Because this was a regional breed, it was not well-known in rest of Britain. Dudley Marjoribanks most likely knew about them and their reputation as superior retrievers.

However, in those days, the preferred color for a retriever was black. Other colors simply were not bred from. Perhaps Marjoribanks’s experience with Nous and his knowledge of the Tweed water dog gave him enough confidence to challenge the accepted wisdom of the day.

We do not know what Belle, the Tweed water dog chosen as Nous’s mate, looked like. We can only infer from the depictions of their offspring.

Nous appears to be rather dark-colored dog that was somewhat heavy in bone. If you saw him today, you would recognize him as a golden retriever.

Ada, Crocus, Primrose, and Cowslip, the four bitch puppies that resulted from that breeding, also looked a lot like goldens. Two depictions of those puppies exist– one of Ada and one of either Cowslip or Primrose. Ada is a rather short-haired dog. The dog said to be Cowslip or Primrose has rather wavy long hair.

Both of these dogs are lighter in color than their sire, and both are more lightly build than their sire. This suggests that Belle was a more lightly built dog than Nous and was of a pale gold color. The paler shades in the golden retriever most likely come from the Tweed water dog, for the red t0 yellow wavy-coated retrievers and red Irish and Gordon setters that were crossed into the strain are not that pale in color.

Belle was most likely a brown-skinned yellow, while Nous was a black-skinned yellow of the darker shade.

So now we have an idea about what  the two foundational breeds that helped create the golden retriever looked like. You can see some of the Tweed water dog’s characteristics in some golden retrievers, especially in the performance-bred lines. This breed disappeared by the turn of the century, mostly by being absorbed into the retrievers. Regional dogs also had a hard time competing against the “improved” breeds of retriever that were coming to the fore as the nineteenth century progressed.

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Nous, b. 1864. Sired the famous litter with Belle in 1868.

Although yellow and red retrievers had always been born as sports in wavy-coated retriever litters for many years prior to 1864, Nous is considered the founder of the golden retriever. His progeny would make up the Tweedmouth strain, which are generally believed to be the ancestral line that gave us the three foundation line of wavy/flat-coats that became the golden retriever in 1912.

Nous had been born to the 3rd Earl of Chichester’s line of wavy-coats. If you want to know what sort of dogs were behind him, it is pretty obvious that some form of red setter had been crossed into that line. He probably had St. John’s water dog very close in his ancestry, for he has conformation that more resembles that dog than the breed that would eventually evolve from him.

Nous’s owner owed a debt to a cobbler, and when this unusually colored puppy was born, he offered the retriever to the cobbler in lieu of payment on that debt.

Typically, non-black retrievers at this time were culled from the breeding programs. The Reverend Thomas Pearce (“Idstone”) wrote “I have no fancy for other than black Retrievers, nor do I think that they will  ever be in general favour.”

Apparently, Dudley Marjoribanks, 1st Baron Tweedmouth, didn’t read Idstone’s book, because he came across young Nous at Brighton in 1865. He was very impressed by the animal, and he wondered why a cobbler would have such an animal. After all, a working retriever was meant for the shooting estate, not the home of a craftsman.

He offered to buy Nous, and the cobbler consented.

Nous then appeared at the kennels at Guisachan.

In 1868, he was bred to Belle, a Tweed water spaniel. I prefer to call this breed a Tweed water dog, because it appears to be a cross between a St. John’s water dog and the regional water spaniel of the Northumberland and Borders coast.

Nous is a rather dark dog, and he shows some features of his St. John’s water dog ancestry. His coat is thick and very wavy, which is exactly what the wavy-coated retriever would have looked like in the 1860’s. This breed hadn’t yet been standardized, and it varied from setter type to Newfoundland type. (See Paris and Melody) Some also had collie features, and many others had water spaniel characteristics. Each sportsman bred his own line of retriever He was free to breed any color he liked, mix in any outside blood that he wanted, and evaluate his stock with any standard he chose.

Breeding this color may have been a bit of a rebellion, but in those days, people were always doing these things.

Nous was the wrong color to one person, but he was the right color for another. And because of he was this color, he got to be bred.

Now, I don’t think Nous cared whether he was golden or black, but we humans do get worked up about color. In those days,coming in a weird color could get you drowned in a bucket or selected to found a new strain. Nous’s fate was that he eventually was chosen to do the latter. It could have easily gone the other way.



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Here it is again with English subtitles.

Thanks again to Djanick Michaud of Zomarick Golden Retrievers.

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The owner of Zomarick golden retrievers, Djanick Michaud, put this video together. He points out how his dogs look so much like the originals. This is in French, but you don’t need to be Francophone to see the similarities.

You can visit Zomarick’s webite here. The website is in both English and French, and all of his dogs have hunting titles and working certificates or are working on them.

In a post coming soon, I will talk about how goldens evolved into several different types. The working type most closely resembles the orginal dogs. If the dog business was about “original intent,” we would be able to preserve so much of our dogs’ working abilities and working conformation, which is different from show conformation. Of course, I don’t think rational people think we should maintain the old fighting bull terrier of yore, simply because its original ability was used for something barbaric.

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