Posts Tagged ‘Russian Circus dog’

Don of Gerwn was out of Rust and Tweedmouth dog named Lucifer.

Don of Gerwn was out of Rust and Tweedmouth dog named Lucifer.

The winning dog was either very old or very slow, and it was not until the following year that any smart work was seen. This was done by Mr. Abbott’s Rust, whose name explains her colour and appearance; but she did some brilliant work, especially when she was set to wipe the eye of one which appeared to have a good chance until she had failed at a running pheasant, one that gave Rust no trouble whatever ten minutes later, and with so much the worse chance. Rust on that occasion was the only dog present that either by pedigree or reversion went back to the old race of retrievers….This was not all that the show men could desire, and the following year another sandy liver-coloured dog, named Mr. A. T. Williams’ Don of Gerwn, easily won first. This dog was a son of that Rust spoken of before, and his sire was a cream-coloured dog of Lord Tweedmouth’s strain—even more of a facer for the believers in exhibition dogs.

–George T. Teasdale-Buckell The Complete English Shot.

This piece tells you that golden retrievers were very much a part of Flat-coated retrievers, enough that a successful field champion could be produced by using a light gold retriever and a liver flat-coat. Don went on to win the International Gundog League’s retriever championship in 1904.  Maybe we should consider him the first 1/2 golden retriever field champion. (Cream-color does not mean “almost white” at this time period. It means light gold.)

It is also interesting that the author felt that Don, who would today be called a mongrel, had great conformation for a show dog. In an ideal world, I wish goldens and flat-coats could once again share genes, but that is no longer permissible in the current kennel club system.

This was at a time when retriever almost always meant black flat-coat in Britain. The Tweedmouth dogs were a rarity, only known to the bigwigs in the Liberal Party who shot over them, so for a liver dog with yellow sire to beat the black dogs was something of note.

Rust and Don were of the chestnut liver color. This color is a liver with a sort of reddish-tinge to it. At a distance, the dog looks a bit like an Irish setter. However, when you get close to the dog, it has distinct liver characteristics.


Another picture of one of this color can be found here.

Yellow colored dogs of any sort were usually not considered desirable in retrieverdom.  This is one of the reasons for the separation between goldens and flat-coats. The yellow dogs were not able to compete with the black ones in bench shows. The process of separating them, though, required a myth.

The origins of the Russian circus dog story can be traced to Colonel William le Poer Trench, who had his own line of goldens that came from Guisachan culls, including an “albino.” These dogs had been sold or given to ghillies around Inverness, and the Colonel purchased one off of one of these fellows. He liked the dogs a lot, and he wanted to show them. However, they were not black wavy-coated retrievers, and black was the color that judges preferred in a wavy-coated show dog. In order to make them more competitive in the ring, Trench began spinning a yarn about his yellow dogs’ origins that would force the KC to recognize them as a separate breed.

First of all, he got the head gamekeeper at Guisachan to write a letter explaining how the 1st Baron Tweedmouth had purchased a bunch of circus dogs at Brighton and bred them to bloodhounds at Guisahcan.  The keeper supplied a detailed analysis of the dogs’ origins, including photographs of a dog we know now to be Nous, a yellow wavy-coated retriever, and Nous’s progeny with a Tweed water dog. It is from that keeper’s testimony that the story of their Russian origins can be traced. The Russian dogs were said to be shepherd dogs from the Caucasus, which is about as far away from the flat-coated retriever as you can get.

In 1911 0r 1910, Trench even claimed to have gone to the “Caucasus and Siberia” in search of new blood for his retriever line, which he convinced the KC to register as “Russian retrievers.” These dogs even competed in dog shows as a separate breed against the other retrievers, including other dogs that became golden retrievers, which were being registered and shown as “Flat-coats (Yellow).”

Now, in the early twentieth century, it would take you a very long time to get from the Caucasus to Siberia, and both of those regions were thousands of miles apart in terms of distance and the type of dogs available. My guess is that he went to the Caucasus but not Siberia. He said that the farmers of the Caucasus told him that the dogs were with the sheep in the mountains for the summer, so he could not have one. I think it is also possible that he actually met one of these supposed circus dogs, and he discovered that it was not a useful retriever at all. It was the breed we call Caucasian Ovtcharka, which is a big livestock guardian dog that is used to guard against wolves. It is an independent thinking dog that is very difficult to regiment. It is also very dog aggressive, and it might be something of a hazard in a time when gentlemen friends brought their dogs together for a weekend shoot.

The Russian retrievers with their owner, Colonel Trench.

The Russian retrievers with their owner, Colonel Trench.

(The Trench strain of retrievers, the St. Huberts line, went extinct following their owner’s death in 1920. They did not contribute to the three founding lines of golden–the Ingestre, Culham, and Noranby lines.)

However, this story captured the imaginations of several golden fanciers, not the least of whom was Mrs. Winnifred Charlesworth, who was the founder of the modern golden retriever. She held onto this story, because in that story lie the ability of the golden to fully split off from the flat-coat. Its origins were not with that breed. It was its own unique retriever, entirely unrelated to any of the others. It had to be its own breed, a breed that came from the mystical far-reaches of Western Civilization, the land of the Tsar, the Volga, and vast expanses of wilderness.  The story fit perfectly with the pseudo-Romantic notions of the time period.

The story persisted until the 1952, when the Earl of Ilchester, a nephew of the 1st Baron Tweedmouth, published an article in Country Life detailing the breed’s origin using the actual kennel records from Guisachan. This article would later form the basis of Elma Stonex’s iconoclastic book that meticulously explained the origin of the breed.

So because of what amounts to a creation myth, the golden and flat-coated retrievers were split in what I call The Great Retriever Schism.

Interestingly, the debunking of the Russian circus story is the only case I can find in which a dog’s supposed origins was totally destroyed and the fanciers of this breed largely accepted those findings. People like to hold onto romance and lore a bit too much. The truth is the breed was only split off because it could not win ribbons when shown with the black dogs. It is no more Russian than the English bulldog or the Scottish collie.

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Remember how I said that there was a Russian sheepdog from the Caucasus that the golden retriever is said to descend from?  It exists. Most are this wolfish colored, but some are fawn in color. However, it is nothing like the golden, as you can see. No one would ever cross this with a retriever. Retrievers are not dog aggressive at all. At a weekend shoot, retrievers have to mill about with other dogs from other places.  This is the Russian Tracker from the Caucasus. My guess is no one used them as circus dogs either.

This breed and the Fila Brasileiro are the most aggressive dogs.

I have a question: Why would anyone in America, with our tort system, want a dog that creates that kind of liability?

Socialization works, but it is not foolproof!

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