Posts Tagged ‘retrievers’


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Arthur Scargill has been organizing the retrievers!

Golden retrievers have always been union labor. Labs have always been scabs.

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Flat-coated retrievers with a pile of rabbits.

From British Dogs: Their Points, Selection, and Show Preparation (1903) by W.D. Drury:

For the writer’s part, if breaking a dog to his own hand, he would be less rigorous and exacting as regards the question of absolute steadiness. Almost from the commencement of his shooting days he has had a line of faithful helpmates that have had to fulfil the role, not only of the Retriever proper, but also that of Setter, Spaniel, and Sleuth-hound. His Retrievers have to find game, flush it, and retrieve it promptly to hand; nor is he so very particular if they make a start on the last-named mission before receiving the word of command. When one is on a tarn or a snipe-bog, it is as well that one’s dog should be off the mark pretty quickly, if he is to successfully retrieve a winged duck, or a snipe that falls fifty yards out in the water, beyond the rushes. Furthermore, the writer fears that he has caused thrills of horror in many a pheasant-slayer’s heart when he has sent his best Retriever into a furze-brake [a copse of gorse] to make the rabbits scuttle. For all that, he is always ready to back himself to go out, singlehanded, on a moor with one dog, and that dog a Flat-coated Retriever, and bring home a bigger and more varied bag than anyone else with one dog of any other breed; especially if there is any wild-fowl work to be done; for the dogs of the Blackthorn, Darenth, Zelstone, and Black Drake strain are, almost without exception, particularly brilliant at water. To see them work for snipe or duck is a revelation to those who have been accustomed to view a Retriever by the light of the broken-spirited porters who steadily collect game after a battue or drive.

If, perchance, the writer is so ill-advised as to let off at a hare that is beyond certain killing distance, and the poor brute makes off with a shattered hind leg, or vitals penetrated by only a pellet or two, he does not hesitate to send his dusky henchman on the war trail, chancing whether the dog will, in consequence, run in at the next hare that springs, or not.

The fact that Retrievers are only presumed to exist for the purpose of fetching and carrying is responsible for another fact— viz. that our sporting American cousins ignore the breed altogether, and no efforts on our part have ever succeeded in popularising the breed over the Herring Pond. They logically ask, “Say, what do we want with Retrievers? All our Pointers and Setters are taught the job.” But if it could be impressed upon them that a Retriever of the right sort will also do any kind of work that is asked of him, America might be the richer for one of the handsomest, cleverest, and most docile of the canine species (pg. 353-354).

Drury is writing about using a retriever very differently than one would have used them at trials or formal estate shoots. This the view of the retriever as a versatile hunting dog.  It is something very different from worrying about others think about a dog’s performance. It is that the dog performs.

It is an unorthodox statement today, and it certainly would have been unorthodox then.

But it should make us stop and think for a bit.

Americans would have been okay with water spaniels and Chesapeake Bay dogs, which are well-known to be quite versatile dogs. Many stories exist of Chesapeake Bay retrievers, the present time not accepted, baying raccoons and foxes.

It is also of note that Drury, who was British, thought of using a retriever to hunt duck as an unorthodox use.  The flat-coated retriever of the day was the most common breed of retriever, and its main utility was at the driven shoot. And the game was mostly pheasants, partridges, and wood and domestic pigeons.  Hares and rabbits were also taken, and it still common for British retrievers to take lagomorphs, and in Europe, they often are required to retrieve foxes.

Americans eventually found retrievers were good for ducking hunting, and although they can be used for other things, the popular imagination sees them as only duck dogs. Duck hunting in America is about the only thing that fully resembles a British driven shoot.

We have this kind of preserve shooting in the United States, but it is far less common than the British model. And in the early days, we had almost none of it. The birds were native and wild, and we used setters and then pointers. We in effect turned them into HPR’s, because we began to demand that both pointers and setters retrieve, a requirement that never existed in Britain.  This demand that they retrieve led to a lot of crossbreeding between setters and pointers in the United States, for it was widely known that pointers often were very hard to teach to retrieve. But everyone knew of a setter that was a natural retriever, so they were routinely crossbred.








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This dog is an IWS mixed with either golden or flat-coated retriever. A liver IWS bred to a golden with black pigment will produce black puppies.

Here’s her profile at Black Retriever X Rescue.

This cross tells me that IWS are not that distinct from the other retrievers, and the old name “Irish retriever” may be a better way of understanding what they are.

Water spaniels are ancestral to retrievers, but this particular breed of water spaniel still exists. It’s the only one left in the whole of the British Isles.

Most people think all spaniels are land spaniels, but even retrievers can do spaniel work. Goldens can do the same behaviors for which English springers are known.

The line between retriever and spaniel is a bit fuzzy, although the main retrievers have “Newfoundland” ancestry that spaniels don’t have.  I read a source that said some St. John’s water dogs were cross with IWS at some point, but I haven’t been able to verify it. The extinct Tweed water spaniel was a mixture of St. John’s water dog and some kind of water spaniel. It looked more or less like a yellow or reddish curly-coated retriever with just a bit more bone.

I’m sure the Murray River curly-coated retriever folks who read this blog will be interested in looking at this dog. She resembles their dog very closely, but she’s black in color.


Also compare this dog with  the late Shuttle, the golden who used to be in  my header. Their heads have similar shapes.

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At Amethyst Gordon Setters.

Red Gordon setters look a lot like golden retrievers, and I have always suspected that the red setters that were included in the line at Guisachan were of the red Gordon-type, not the Irish red setters.

Of course, as the wavy-coat became the flat-coat, different Irish setters were used, and I highly suspect that the Irish setter influence in goldens comes from the establishment of the flat-coated retriever out of the wavy-coated retriever. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that if you bred a red setter to black flat-coat that any black puppies resulting from the breeding might also be worth including in the strains of flat-coat that were producing reds and yellows, which were derived from the Guisachan dogs.

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Group steadiness:


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These are from a John Emms painting from 1876:

Note the large Amounts of white on one of these dogs. The one on the far right really looks like a certain golden retriever.

These are the Irish setters that would have been around when the Tweedmouth strain was developing. These dogs are an important source for the white markings we get with some lines of golden retrievers.

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As I’ve said before, this is my favorite dog book.

It’s a wonderful mix of science and narrative.

And Merle is a retriever, an animal whose essence I’ve experienced through three separate individuals. Many of Merle’s characteristics I have seen in the dogs I have lived with. He is very friendly, but he’s also very smart and imitative. He is allowed free range over a small rural community in Wyoming, and it is through his freedom that Merle develops a lot of his social graces and intellect.

It is a pretty good book. I don’t know if many dogs in this country could experience the freedom that made Merle’s life so interesting. Most dogs live in the suburbs and in urban areas. Freedom is where the dog parks are.

Dogs have been living as Merle did for thousands of years. It has only been in relatively recent centuries that they have been forced to spend most of their lives locked in houses and fenced yards. It is not that we should let our dogs roam in all areas. It is that we have forgotten that dogs need off-leash time. They need time to be dogs.

Because that’s what they are.

No matter how much we train and selectively breed them, they will still have parts of their natures that we can’t control and that maybe we shouldn’t control.

For those of us who really love dogs, it is this part of their characters that makes them so interesting.

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These 8-week-0ld Labradors are giving an inherited behavior that can be more strongly developed through training.

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St. John's water dog small ears

Once the harvests of the field were safely in, the Indian [men], old and young, could turn to hunting, since the flesh animals and fowl would then spoil less readily. Morning and evening were the times for ducks and geese. Following well-known flyways, these birds settled at night in river meadows and salt marshes or rested at ease on smooth water. The hunters would drift in quietly in canoes, light torches to cause sudden confusion among the birds, and knock them down with clubs or paddles. Then a specially trained canoe dog, sitting in the bow,  would jump into the water and retrieve the game.

Howard S. Russell Indian New England Before the Mayflower (1980) p. 178-179. *I edited one word to make it sound a little less ethnocentric.

One must not assume that these dogs were ever used to make the retrievers we know today. They might be distant ancestors of the St. John’s water dog or the Nova Scotia duck-tolling retriever, but I’ve not seen any evidence that points in this direction. It is an interesting finding that dogs were used as retrievers before the Europeans arrived in North America. That said, it native North American dogs did not do well with the arrival of European strains. Indeed, virtually all Native American dogs are heavily mixed with European dogs, and it is thought that most of them are primarily of European extraction.

I have read about canoe dogs that belonged to the Innu inLabrador and Quebec. These dogs were used in exactly the same way as the New England canoe dogs.

Now, I am in no way suggesting that these dogs are ancestors of retrievers or the St. John’s water dog. I just find it very interesting that these dogs existed in pre-Columbian civilizations in the northeastern parts of North America.

It’s possible that one of these Innu canoe dogs wound up in Newfoundland during the period in which several nations of Europe were beginning to exploit the Grand Banks. Maybe a few of these dogs helped found the St. John’s water dog. I don’t know.

I do know that the native Beothuck did not have dogs, so any dogs that arrived in Newfoundland had to either come from Europe or the mainland.

Now, I do remember reading about canoe dogs somewhere, but my understanding of what they looked like was something like a Tahltan Bear Dog.

So these dogs may not have been in the retriever and Newfoundland dog gene pool after all.

However, it is interesting that the native peoples of this continent knew how to use dogs as retrievers, even if they don’t play a role in the development of the modern retrievers.

And for those native hunters, their retrievers meant the difference between getting meat for the table or not.

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