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Richard Wolters recounts the story a few St. John’s water dogs that were crossed into the strains that became the modern Labrador retriever in his The Labrador Retriever: The History…the People…Revisited (1981). I have some issues with Wolters’s historical scholarship and analysis, but the stories in the book are worth reading.

In the early 1900’s, the Buccleuch-Malmesbury strain of smooth-coated retriever, which came to be known as the Labrador retriever, was becoming quite inbred, and there was a move to get new blood from St. John’s water dogs in Newfoundland. One of my issues with Wolters is that failed to recognize that the water dog was quite different from the Labrador, and thus, he added to the myth that this breed had been developed in Newfoundland. The modern Labrador retriever is derived from St. John’s water dogs from Newfoundland– as are all the other retrievers that were developed in Britain. They are as much Canadian as the Labrador retriever.

The only retriever that doesn’t have St. John’s water dog at its base is the Nova Scotia duck-tolling retriever, which is very closely related to the collie family.

The modern Labrador retriever begins with the combining of the Malmesbury and Buccleuch line, which were derived from smooth-coated St. John’s water dogs. I believe the bulk of the evidence, which has unfortunately been ignored in much of the Labrador retriever scholarship, is that the wavy-coated retrievers, the ancestors of the golden and flat-coated retrievers, were developed from St. John’s water dogs with long hair. Lambert de Boilieu wrote that mid-nineteenth century Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were eager to send the long-coated dogs that popped up in their litters to England, where they likely found work as retrievers.

Wolters, of course ignores this, and puts the Labrador retriever in a kind bizarre context, where it is the only retriever that ever existed or was of any worth.

But Wolters did pick up on stories of imported St. John’s water dogs, and the dog in the photo above had a very interesting story behind it.  In the early 1900’s, some dogs that saluki people would called COO (country of origin) dogs were brought from Newfoundland to Scotland and England and then were bred into the Labrador retriever strains. He first writes about a dog that was imported directly from Newfoundland, then he describes a water dog who was born in a rather unusual place:

The other dog was Stranger, which was bought in 1908  by W. Steuart Mensies in Norway. He saw the dog on the quay in Trondhjem [Trondheim]. He was told the mother had been brought over from North America in whelp. He bought the dog and had it shipped to England where it spent six months in quarantine before it could be used at stud. He, too, had a rough coat and was untrained. It’s said that he could find game but would stand over it until it was picked up by someone (pg. 56-57).

From the photo, his “rough coat” could have referred to him having a long coat. It was clearly longer than one normally sees on a Labrador retriever and somewhat wavy. The tail appears to be very bushy.

Labrador retrievers didn’t become very popular in Norway until after the Second Word War, but evidently, there was a least one litter of St. John’s water dogs born there in early part of the twentieth century. Stranger wound up contributing a bit to the modern Labrador retriever breed.  What happened to his mother and littermates is anyone’s guess.

 

 

 

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