This image comes from W.E. Mason’s Dogs of All Nations (1915)
The entry goes as follows:
Color: Yellow or rich red sable. Height: 28 in. Weight: 90 lbs.
This dog is similar in all essentials to the English [flat-coated] Retriever, except that he is a size bigger and heavier in coat, and of course different in color, as his name implies. He is used principally for tracking wounded deer.
The same book has an entry on the flat-coated retriever that mentions the golden retriever with that breed, and it implies that they are separate breeds.
Below this image of a flat-coat, Mason describes the color:
Color : Rich black, free from rustiness and from white. There is also a Golden Retriever so named because of the golden or yellow color of his coat.
So what is going on here?
Well, the dog in the top photo isn’t from Russia at all.
It is a yellow retriever with long hair, and except for size, it is very similar to the dogs that became golden retrievers.
I can tell you with almost certainty that the Russian yellow retriever is derived from the same stock as the dogs that became golden retrievers.
Well, there was a fellow named Col. William Le Poer Trench. Trench was an interesting fellow in golden retriever history.
If you’ve ever heard that they come from Russian circus dogs, Col. Trench is who you can blame.
At some point in the 1880’s, he got some yellow retrievers from the Tweedmouth line. His dogs came from the Earl of Ilchester’s dogs, which were all line from Tweedmouth’s breeding. From those dogs, Trench founded his own line, calling them St. Hubert’s.
Some of these dogs were very similar to working flat-coats and golden-type dogs, like St. Hubert’s Peter (note the brown skin):
This particular dog was presented to George V.
“St. Hubert’s Peter” was his name. I don’t know whether Col. Trench bred him, but it seems that he comes from his line. However, the dog looks very different from the dogs I associate with St. Hubert’s dogs.
Yes. Those are the dogs.
And they look very similar to the dog in the top photograph. They are actually gold in color, as this painting of them clearly shows.
The dogs were not registered as golden retrievers or flat-coated retrievers, as would have been the norm. They were registered with the KC as a separate breed called the Russian yellow retriever. (There are actually two very different breeds that called Russian retrievers, one of which is nothing like a golden retriever!)
Because the St. Hubert’s dogs were registered as a separate variety of retriever, they actually competed as something other than the breed called “Flat-coats (golden)” in at least one dog show.
Now, as I said before, the story of the Russian origins of the golden retriever comes from Col. Trench. Col. Trench supposedly had the goods on the 1st Baron Tweedmouth’s breeding program. He had a letter from Guisachan’s kennel man that claimed the dogs were definitely derived from a troupe of Russian circus dogs. The evidence even included that famous photo of Nous.
The story goes that the circus dogs were crossed with bloodhounds to make the yellow retrievers, which is where I think some of this bloodhound story comes from. If there were any bloodhound-retriever crosses, they most likely were not bred from.
Trench wanted to add new blood to his line, as the story goes, and he claimed to have gone to the Russian Empire in search of new blood. The dogs were all in the mountains when he came there, and he couldn’t find any.
Supposedly, these Russian circus dogs were all ovtcharkas– another gaping hole in the story. Ovtcharkas are lots of things, but one thing they are not is retrievers!
My guess is that even if the story about his trip to Russia had been true, if he came across the dogs, I think he’d definitely reconsider taking one home to breed to his retrievers.
But the Russian story was so persistent that even when the golden retriever became a separate breed, everyone believed they were Russian-derived. It was accepted as truth until Elma Stonex got access to the Guisachan kennel records in the 1950’s.
And even today, I come across sources that swear goldens are from Russia.
Of course, it is generally accepted that Trench’s line died off when he passed away. It is not listed as one of the founding strains of golden retriever.
I don’t know exactly how to take Col. Trench’s legacy. Either he was a person who was prone to flights of fancy or a terrible liar. Whatever he did, he totally distorted our understanding of what a golden retriever is.
And although blond hovawarts could pass for golden retrievers, their relationship to the livestock guardian dogs is tenuous (except for some Cao de Castro Laboreiro that might be in the ancestral St. John’s water dog).
Golden retrievers are not retrieving Ovtcharkas!
But understanding this history explains why W.E. Mason put the Russian yellow retrievers as a separate breed from the flat-coated and golden retrievers in his Dogs of All Nations.
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