Posts Tagged ‘retrieving greyhound’

This dog is described in a letter in Country Life Illustrated (19 December 1908):


While out ferreting the other day at Parford, on Dartmoor, I took the photograph I enclose of a greyhound retrieving a rabbit, which I thought might be of interest to some of your readers. When this dog was out with us it was quite the exception for a wounded rabbit to get down a burrow; consequently, we were able to ferret the whole length of the hedges without leaving gaps, as is generally the case when one wants to avoid the chance of the ferrets laying up. The dog belongs to a keeper in Chagford, who told me he had great difficulty in training him in the first instance. If a rabbit was missed and bolted away from the hedge it was often caught and retrieved after an exciting course, which greatly added to the day’s sport and relieved monotony. As to the dog’s parents, I was unable to obtain any information, but he had the appearance of being a fairly well-bred dog (pg. 892).

That last line is used make certain that this dog is a greyhound and not a cross between a greyhound and a retriever.

The dog is mostly black, and that might suggest that someone bred a greyhound to a retriever at some point to get both the color and the behavior.

Grantley Berkeley did cross one of his deer greyhounds with a retrieving “Newfoundland.”  The resulting puppy– Wolf– was a very sagacious retrieving lurcher.

There are certain greyhounds that will retrieve within the population, and these do not necessarily have retriever blood in them. The only characteristics that this particular dog has that might suggest retriever ancestry are its black color and the retrieving behavior.

But neither of these is necessarily indicative of being a greyhound/retriever cross of any sort.

The retrieving behavior is widely distributed among domestic dog breeds. My grandmother’s miniature dachshund, who ruled me with an iron fist (as would any Prussian autocrat worthy of the name) was an 8-pound retrieving fool.

And there are plenty of actual retrievers that would rather eat than retrieve anything.

Because retrieving is widespread in dogs, it makes sense that virtually all retrievers living in Britain had some level of crossbreeding. They were the performance-bred mongrels of the sporting gentry.


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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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This dog was owned by Grantley Berkeley and was painted by Abraham Cooper, who, as a young man, worked for Sir Henry Meux. Meux owned the Meux Brewery in London, which Dudley Marjoribanks, 1st Baron Tweedmouth, purchased from him. One of Meux’s black retrievers appears in the pedigrees of the retrievers kept at Guisachan, so this unusual retrieving greyhound did have some interesting connections. (Meux is pronounced “Myooks.”)

Cooper was famous as painter of dogs and horses, and Smoaker was far from the only retriever he painted.

On the occasion of Smaoker’s death in 1832, Cooper describes him in a letter to the editor The New Sporting Magazine:

Mr. Editor,

I Was much grieved to read in your last number an account of the death of the Hon. Grantley Berkeley’s dog Smoaker, whose performances I have frequently witnessed—and very clever they were; added to which, a more magnificent animal was never seen, especially when employed as a retriever. The style with which he took his fences, clearing the highest at a single bound, cannot be surpassed.

The first time I saw him do this, was one day when out shooting with the Hon. Moreton and Grantley Berkeley, at Cranford, when,having just killed a cock pheasant, Mr. G. B. exclaimed, ” Now, Cooper, if you wish to see something beautiful, and worthy a painter’s notice, observe Smoaker as he comes out of the cover with your bird;” and it certainly was a treat; the rich and varied plumage of the pheasant, contrasted with the white colour of the dog, and the whole so admirably relieved by the sombre dark wood, made an impression on my mind which I hope will never be erased. On my return home I made a slight sketch, which, though it does not come up to my ideas of the beauty of the subjects, yet, in the absence of Nature herself, I hope will prove acceptable to your numerous readers. Mr. Editor,

Your obedient servant,

A. Cooper, R. A.

Smoaker was well-known in his day. His exploits were described in another letter:

I forward you an account of Smoaker, a celebrated Deer Greyhound of the old English sort, famed alike for his speed and courage when in pursuit of deer, as for his qualities in retrieving to the gun all sorts of lesser game ; he was the property of the Honorable GrantleyBerkeley, and died of old age, on the 19th of this month, at Harrold Hall, Bedfordshire, aged fifteen years. Smoaker was originally purchased by Mr. Berkeley of a Farmer residing at Burnham, near Maidenbead, when about two years old, and was one of the largest and finest dogs ever seen. As a proof of his great muscular strength, his neck was so large that he never could be chained up, having the power of slipping the collar whenever it pleased him over his head. Shortly after he came into Mr. Berkeley’s possession, be was, for greater safety, kept locked up in a granary at Cranford, from whence an attempt was soon made, by some person well acquainted with tho dog, to steal him; he was safely locked up at nine at night, and at about three the next morning was found barking under his former

Master’s window at Burnham, a distance of fourteen miles.

What gave rise to the suspicion that an attempt had been made to steal him, was, that on the day previous to this, a man had been inquiring at the Keeper’s Lodge, where the dog was kept, and it has since been thought that Smoaker escaped from the person who stole him and returned thus to his former home. After this he was scarcely ever separated from Mr. Berkeley, and from his extraordinary qualities in the field and docility in the house, he became a welcome guest at all houses where the sporting arrangements of his master required his presence, travelling in his carriage and sleeping in his room.

Smoaker has frequently singlehanded coursed, brought to bay, and pulled down a Royal Hart, and has twice been severely wounded by the antlers ; once in particular he coursed a stag in Hamstead Park, a seat of Lord Craven, from which the deer broke into the open country, but was brought to bay in the river, and here the stag had the advantage, the water being deep enough to cause the dog to swim, yet sufficiently shallow to enable the stag to make use of all his powers; Smoaker was severely wounded in the body, and was only saved by the presence of mind of Mr.

Cary, a servant of Mr. Berkeley, who happened to be on the spot, and who ran in and caught the dog as he was again attacking the deer, and thus saved his life; the deer was secured, being so exhausted that he would not leave the water. Smoaker in his capacity of retriever was pronounced by his late Royal Highness the Duke of York to be one of the cleverest dogs of the sort he had ever seen; his nose was’ remarkably fine, and the way in which he used to mark where a bird fell was wonderful. An instance of this was seen on the Downs at Ashdown Park (Lord Craven’s); Mr. Berkeley had killed a brace of Partridges, but the bird from the first barrel had flown some distance, towered, and fallen in some standing barley without any perceptible object to mark the place, whereas the second bird was killed dead; the dog first picked up the second bird, and then, though he must have had his eyes off the spot where the first bird fell, he ran directly to within a yard of where it lay, though at a considerable distance, and picked up that also. In the house his sagacity was also remarkable, if his master was not in his shooting-dress he never showed any desire to follow him, unless called ; and if he went out on horseback, the dog invariably used to go up stairs to a passage window which commanded a view of the different roads and watch the direction his master took; he would then return quietly to the drawing-room, and sit or walk out with Mrs. Berkeley till his master’s return. If his master left the house without his being aware of it he would not rest until, accompanied by Mrs. Berkeley, he had looked into every room in the house, scratching at all the doors till they were opened for him, and when he had ascertained that his master was not to be found, he would then return and remain quietly as usual. It was also curious to see his different ways of finding out if his master had left the house, either at home or in any house where he mighthappen to be a guest. If he missed Mr. Berkeley he used to go into the hall and examine all the hats, and if he found his master’s he would contentedly lay down and watch; but if not, and he knew that his master was dressed for shooting, he was always uneasy, returning to the drawingroom and seeming to wish to look over the house. He was an excellent water dog, but at times if the river was slightly frozen and the ice annoyed him in crossing to fetch any bird that had fallen on the other side, he would on his return go round by the bridge, and on strange ground, would frequently run to any object that looked like a bridge, and though in doing this he had sometimes to jump over fences, yet he always brought the bird, whether snipe or any thing else, as clean as when it was killed. For sagacity and good temper Smoaker has never been surpassed, and his great attachment to his master and mistress was duly appreciated by both ; when they went from home without him, as was but rarely the case, he used to live in the same rooms as when they were at home, as nothing but force could induce him to take up his residence either in the kitchen or offices. One thing is worthy of remark, which is that nothing could ever induce this dog to fetch and carry either a glove, stick, or any thing else, whether thrown into the water or not, such inducements to make him swim he always appeared to treat with contempt, but if the smallest bird or even a rat was in the water he would swim any distance to fetch it.

There are now in Mr. Berkeley’s possession three descendants of Smoaker, called Shark, Skim and Snake, the former a yellow dog, the other two white with a spot like the sire. Shark is an excellent Deer Greyhound and retriever, and has succeeded his sire in the field and in the house; he is of great size but not so large as Smoaker; the others are bitches and have entered to deer only. To give those who have never seen Smoaker in idea of his size, I need only say that when standing by the dining table his head was six or seven inches above it, and when standing on his hind legs he could place his forefeet with ease on a person’s shoulders, standing above six feet in height.

Grantley Berkeley wrote Smoaker the following epitaph:

And dost thou wonder why beneath this shade,

A lonely tombstone stands upon the green,

And wherefore near it others are not made

To add their silent numbers to the scene ?

‘Tis answer’d thus—No hallow’d ground appears,

No land allotted to the human clay,

If sacred—’tis alone from sorrow’s tears

Shed fast for one but lately pass’d away;

For one whose walk through life was in the light,

Who held no bitter passions in his breast,

Who had no envy in his heart to blight

Or man or woman from a place of rest.

One who was beautiful without conceit,

Was brave not boastful in his given pow’rs,

Who never cloak’d intention with deceit,

Or kept revenge for favourable hours.

Then reader listen here, beneath this mound,

A noble dog is stretch’d upon his lair,

Like man he mingles with the common ground,

But where his spirit ?—echo answers—where ?

The lips of beauty n’er again shall press

The head that here lies buried in repose,

Or soft hand sooth with lingering caress

The faithful crest that bristled on her foes.

The antler’d monarch of the waste may browse

Upon the wilds in safety and be still,

The Hound is dead who could so nobly rouse

The bounding red Deer by the mountain rill.

Now, Smoaker was described as a deer greyhound. That means that he was bit larger than the typical hare-coursing greyhound. These dogs had to be quite a bit tougher and more stoutly built than the dogs that merely ran down hares or rabbits.  He was often set upon the deer on his own, which meant that really had to have a great deal of speed and strength to be successful in his pursuits.

The fact that he could do the work of a deer-coursing and retriever work points to the intelligence of this dog. Many dog experts will tell you that any dog that knows how to use its jaws for the kill can never be used to retrieve. The dog will become hardmouthed and will kill those animals it is sent to retrieve.  Some of Raymond Coppinger’s theories on dog behavior require dogs to be motor pattern dependent in their predatory behavior. Retrievers can never learn to kill because their predator motor patterns are distorted away from the killing bite part of the predatory sequence. However, nearly all German HPR breeds retrieve and point birds and small game– and hunt wild boar, foxes, and deer. And Smoaker was a greyhound who was similarly multi-talented.

It is certainly true that Smoaker’s behavior is a little different from a normal retriever, which will start carrying objects of all sorts from an early age. It appears that Smoaker had no time for that foolishness and focused all of his retrieving birds and mammals. Perhaps it was because of his prowess as a deer-courser that made him ignore objects that were thrown for him.

At any rate, Smoaker was truly an interesting animal. In a time when “retriever” was a job description and not a breed,  Smoaker would have been at home with the terriers, terrier crosses, and collie-type dogs that were being used along with more traditional gun dog and retrieving breeds for this task.

If it could retrieve shot game, it was a retriever, and the way to produce more was to breed two retrieving dogs together. Never mind the ancestry.

And for that reason, virtually any kind of dog could be deep within the ancestry of the dogs we now call retrievers.

It was quite an experimental time, and every retriever person had his own recipe to produce the best dogs.

In that respect, they were more like the lurchers of the poaching commoners or the modern day racing sled dogs. Breed for performance, not pedigree, and see what you get.

Of course, I don’t know how many retrieving greyhounds there were. Shark, Smoaker’s son, apparently had his sire’s retrieving talents, but I do not know of any other accounts of a greyhound being used as a retriever.

A retrieving greyhound is not what anyone would have expected. When I first saw the depiction, I thought he was some sort of large terrier cross, but when I found out the particulars of his story, I was amazed.

Those old sporting gentleman were truly open to experimentation– even using a dog that killed his quarry to pick up shot birds.

An amazing story of a truly remarkable dog.






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