Posts Tagged ‘wavy-coated retriever’

From Grantley Berkeley’s  Reminiscences of  Huntsman (1897):

I offer to the public a circumstance enacted in regard to vension-stealers, by myself and my black retriever dog Tramp. Tramp, to all appearance, is a cross between the Newfoundland dog and setter, and was given to me by Mr. Peacocke, of Pilewell Park, as useless to him from his headstrong humour. I soon found that the faults complained of were not in Tramp originally, but in his stupid breaker, whoever that man was, who had most decidedly whipped them into him. When’ he did wrong, therefore, I adopted the oil, in an endeavour to soften the vinegar humours the lash and want of judgment had mixed up, checking him only by voice and manner when he was in error, and fondling and caressing him when doing well. The dog really did not seem at first to know what a caress was, but seemed to imagine it a prelude to induce him to be caught to undergo punishment. Tramp trained on very well, and he is now a perfect retriever save in one thing— he will run and pick up before he is bidden to do so. He therefore only accompanies me in wild ground, where his running in cannot do much harm; and in wild ground among furze, to hunt, find, and then retrieve, he is perfection.

In the winter of 1852 I was out on Holmesley walk with a warrant for a doe, and killed her on the edge of a bog in a valley running down to the railway, in sight, though a distant one, of three plate-layers, or navvies as they are vulgarly called, who were at work on the line. In company with me, only in couples, when I killed her, were my terriers and Tramp, as, after killing the doe, I intended to beat for woodcocks and rabbits. A Highland deer greyhound, and a very good one, the property of Sir Percy Shelley, was with me when the deer was killed, who was afterwards to be coupled up when the terriers were called for. It is a habit among the keepers in this forest to let a deer lie without anybody with it while they go for a conveyance to take it to the nearest lodge, and I have often asked them if they never had one stolen. They replied in the negative; but the circumstance I am narrating inclines me to think that deer have been stolen in this particular manner, although the theft has not been acknowledged. I did not like to leave the vicinity of the venison, so, while the woodman was gone for his cart, I continued on the adjacent hills, beating for woodcocks and rabbits. After being out of sight of the deer for some time, perhaps three-quarters of an hour, I reached a spot where I ought to have obtained a view of her, but could not make her out. The cart had not arrived to fetch her, of that I was sure; so, thinking perhaps that the heather hid her from my sight, I despatched my man to the spot, and bade him, if the deer was gone, to hold up his hat. He reached the spot, and the signal was made of the disappearance of the deer. Expecting the worst, that she had been carried off, I hastened to the place, and there, sure enough, was where her throat had left a sanguinary trace as she had been dragged out of sight into some furze, and then all traces of her disappeared. It was in cold, harsh, dry weather, and on the hills the footstep of a man made no impression, while over the bogs, if he stepped on the tufts of moss, they rose again after the step had passed, and no trace remained in that locality to denote a passage. I confess to have been angered by this incident, as I did not think that there was a man who, in the daylight and at a risk of being seen, would have attempted to steal anything of mine; so, as a last hope, I ordered my man to run off to a distant hill, where he could command a view of the low lands on one side, and I sent two of the woodmen, who had been by when I killed the deer, also in different directions: the steps of all three of these men were more or less stained with the blood of the deer, and they had all handled her in pulling her from the bog to a dry place. To this I beg the reader’s particular attention. The men having gone on their several missions, I made the usual sign to Thor that I had adopted to put him on the scent of a stricken deer, which he tracked very well, if the trail was quite fresh, nearly as well as a hound; and I endeavoured to obtain assistance through him. But it was of no avail; he always went back to the spot where the doe had lain dead. While endeavouring to make Thor understand my loss, Tramp, who was at my heels, stepped in front, and, looking up in my face with a very peculiar expression, suddenly put his nose to the ground, trotted a little way, and looked back to see if I observed him. I did observe him, and became at once convinced that he was about to aid me; indeed, so peculiar was his manner and method, that there was no mistaking it. He went off at a long, dejected-looking trot, more resembling a mad dog’s action than his own graceful method when on game, and I followed him in the greatest possible anxiety. When he came to the spot on which my man and the two woodmen, strangers to him and both tainted with thedeer, had severed and gone different ways, Tramp tame to a check, tried each track, and seemed perplexed, looking up to me for aid, which I had no power to give. All I could do was to say, ” Good dog Tramp,” and to encourage him quietly. To my infinite joy he again took up the running on a strange line that had nothing to do with the steps of my people, and on we went over bog and hill and at last down to the railway. I had both my guns on my shoulders, the rifle and shot gun, besides ammunition, and, so loaded, Tramp’s long trot kept me at a pace rather difficult to maintain; when he checked at the railway I was, therefore, some distance behind, and I saw him try in each direction and then look back for me. Just as I reached him he went on a line of scent down by the side of the railway towards the three plate-layers before mentioned, but, after carrying it on a short distance, he would not have it, but returned to the wires, up to which he had decidedly been right. He then for the first time crept through upon the plates, looked at me, and carried on the scent over the line to the heather on the other side. Here, then, for the first time, I had ocular demonstration as to his fidelity: in the soft sand between the rails I saw the print of a man’s footstep, not anything like so large a foot as mine, and yet, when I placed mine purposely by it, it was evident that the stranger was heavier than I was or carried some weight, for he sank much deeper in the sand. Short as the space permitted me was, I took notice of the nails of his shoes and any peculiarity on heels or soles; and, so true had Tramp been to the trail, that in one place he had actually stepped into the footprint of the man. There was the footprint of a second man, but that I did not much observe. The ditch of the embankment was wet where Tramp jumped it, and he checked on the other side; but my eye caught sight of the bottom of the ditch as I got over, and I saw that the water was newly mudded. A little lower down the ditch was dry again, and there were the small footsteps of my friend once more! Calling now in full confidence to Tramp, I set him right, and he carried the scent some distance down the ditch, and then away faster than ever in his long trot up the heathery hill and into the high furze towards the village of Burley, notorious for more than one bad character. Up the hill I followed to where Tramp disappeared, but, before I got there, Trampreturned as if seeking me, with great quickness in his manner and anxiety that I should arrive; he disappeared for a moment again, and then, as I neared the spot, he came to meet me, full of jumping joy and congratulation, and so he led

me on into and through the gorse at times, more by the motion he gave it than any sight I had of him, till I came up to him, standing joyfully on guard over the body of the recaptured deer. We were then not far from the village, and I knew that whoever it was that had been obliged to abandon the load was safe enough housed by that time.

Having reached a conspicuous place on the hill, whence to signal my man, he came up, having begun to follow me as soon as he guessed what I was after, and, giving him possession of the deer, I returned to the railway, entered a cottage on the line to see if any man was there, and, finding that the owner of the cottage near which Tramp’s chase had passed was one of the plate-layers I had before observed at work, I took to the rails, followed by Tramp, Thor, and my terriers, as I knew no train was due, and proceeded by that unusual route directly for the three labourers. In nearing them I observed that, instead of looking up to stare at the unwonted trespass, each man became so busy with his pickaxe that one would have supposed they had been working for a wager, so, casting the guns to the left arm, I came right upon them, touched one man on the shoulder, collared the second, and told the third I arrested them all as having taken part in a robbery. You might have knocked them all down with a feather, so taken aback were they. I turned up the smock of one who had his on to see if there was any blood about him, but none was to be seen, and a glance at their feet showed me that every shoe was a larger one than mine; so, however conversant they might have been with the robbery, none of the three had carried the deer. They protested their innocence, and I asserted my belief of their guilty participation, because they were in full view of the spot whence the deer had been stolen and where she had been borne across the line; so I quitted them, with an assurance that I would that day apply to the inspectors of the line for their discharge unless they cleared themselves by stating all they knew of the transaction.

On reaching home I directly sent for a vigilant constable of police, and he started the same evening or the next morning, I forget which, and elicited such evidence from the plate-layers that he took into custody the little man who carried the stolen deer, and who was but recently discharged from gaol, having undergone punishment for stealing a gun. The next morning another constable captured an accomplice who had aided in the theft, a man who had been previously fined for a savage assault, in company with four or five others, on Bromfield, one of the marksmen of the forest, whom they had beaten and left for dead. These fellows were committed to Winchester to await their trial, and were afterwards convicted in two months with hard labour.

Now this is perhaps the most extraordinary instance of sagacity in that wonderful animal the dog ever related. Tramp had never run the scent of a deer, nor the scent of a man, and yet out of three or four lines of scent, the men all strange to him, and all more or less blooded or tainted with the deer, he distinguished the man who carried her, although not a drop of fresh blood fell to direct him, as the thieves took the precaution to tie up the head and throat before they removed her. The check where the lines of scent crossed each other showed that the various footsteps occasioned a difficulty; and also the one at the railway wires before he carried the trail over the line, that check too was accounted for. The thief had put the deer down there, while he ran to the plate -layers and bought a promise of silence from them by saying that they should have a share of the spoil. When Tramp showed an inclination to run down the line instead of across it, he was perfectly true to the steps of the man; but he had not gone forty yards before he discovered that he did not then carry the burthen he was endeavouring to overtake. He returned, therefore, before he had run those footsteps out, and resumed the scent where the deer was again lifted and carried on (pg. 265-270).

Grantley Berkeley was a member of parliament and owner of the retrieving deer greyhound named Smoaker.

He was much more gentle with animals than he was with people. He may have refused to whip Tramp, but when he was a boy, he was not above using whips on other children.

He also famously shot a highwayman who held up his carriage. He told the lone highwayman that he could see his partner standing behind him, and when the lone highwayman turned around, Berkeley shot him.

Berkeley was a writer by trade, and when he wrote a book called Berkeley Castle, it received a bad review. Berkeley went off the deep end. He attacked the critic with a whip. The critic sued Berkeley, and Berkeley countersued for libel. Both received damages.

But Berkeley wasn’t done yet. He challenged the critic to a duel, and the Berkeley shot him, which severely wounded the critic.

Some people can be quite gentle with animals but can be so cruel to others. In this piece, Berkeley seems smug that the venison thieves were convicted and received sentences of hard labor. Never mind that many venison thieves were stealing only to get protein for themselves or to sell at market to make little extra money. Wages in those days often were quite low, and it has been estimated that many working people in England were forced to live outside the law in order to survive. (There is a great chapter on cattle thieves and deer poachers in Peter Linebaugh’s The London Hanged. These people, along with the highwaymen, became folk heroes among the English populace, simply because they stuck it to the landed aristocracy at every chance they got.)

Berkeley was no fan of poachers or game thieves. He wrote a pamphlet that called for even stronger enforcement of game laws in 1845. The purpose of the laws was not just to keep game in abundant numbers. It was to issue out harsh punishment for the poor who broke them.

Tramp appears to be a particularly “sagacious” retriever, and it doesn’t surprise me in the least that he was able to catch a trail that a deer greyhound would have missed. Retrievers were often derived from setter/”Newfoundland” crosses, and the setter part of the cross was deliberately chosen to increase scenting ability.

Tramp may have had some faults, but Grantley Berkeley was able to overlook them.

But he was far from lenient in his dealings with other people.

He was Mr. Law and Order, and if the poor poached his game, he wanted them to pay– beat them, work them, ship them to Australia!

But if Tramp breaks before being sent on a retrieve, don’t say anything. He’s just a good dog.

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This image comes from article in Country Life magazine from November 27, 1897.

The caption says it all “A Sagacious Dog.”  Sagacity had a little bit different meaning in those days, especially when it referred to a retriever, collie, or Newfoundland. Sagacity referred to its eagerness to learn and take direction, which were celebrated attributes in these breeds.

The article’s discussion on the wavy-coated retriever is quite interesting:

Fashion in dogs nowadays changes almost as rapidly as the mode of dress among women. As early as 1859, old “Stonehenge” described the wavy or flat coated retriever as “this fashionable breed,” although, in my part of the country, which is rough and remote, the curly-coated gentleman, originally derived from a cross between the Newfoundland and the Irish water spaniel, was in predominant use long after that, probably because he took the water better and our shooting was, so to speak, amphibious. The wavy-coated retriever is, for the most part, of purer breed, coming directly from the St. John’s or Labrador race, but in many of the dogs of a generation ago, the setter cross was distinctly visible, and there are probably few strains in England or Scotland which are free from the setter blood. Mr. Rawdon Lee, whose authority is considerable, also thinks that the collie has had something to say in the making of the flat or wavy coated retriever. Be that as it may, it seems likely that fresh blood will have to be introduced into the breed before long, for pure Labradors are hardly to be obtained now, and numerous wavy coats that have come under notice of late have shown signs of that intellectual degeneracy which comes of too much inbreeding. One, presented to my brother, was perfectly beautiful and absolutely brainless; another, encountered the other day, was afflicted with canine hysterics, or with something which passed for a remarkably good imitation of them. When this kind of symptom begins to appear, the time has come for the judicious introduction of new blood. Meanwhile, there are plenty of good wavy-coated retrievers, and they have advanced in popularity greatly of late years. Indeed, almost every man who shoots regularly has his own retriever; and when the companionship and the sympathy between man and dog is perfect, the result is a succession of scenes of lively interest. The large-eyed, eager, sagacious dog watches his master’s gun, and clearly notes the birds that fall to it. He knows his duty, he is intensely eager to perforin it, but he will by no means move from heel until he is ordered by word or gesture.

By that time, the St. John’s water dog or “Labrador” was no longer the most common working breed in Newfoundland. The Sheep Protection Act of 1885 had decimated its numbers in Newfoundland, and although there were many imports in the 1880’s and early 1890’s, the dogs just weren’t as easy to procure.

This article also suggests that retrievers were never truly believed to be purebred animals. Even though the dogs were being shown and handled at conformation shows, there was no “specialist club” for retrievers at this time. Harding Cox believed specialist clubs would be the ruination of retrievers, and he was not above crossing his own retrievers with Irish setters to improve them.

One can see that the dog in the photo above is a true retriever. One can see the intelligent and eager expression in its eyes. It’s not a large wavy-coat, but its coat is more profuse than the modern flat-coated retriever.

Such a dog would have been commonplace at any British shoot. and its virtues widely praised in the country and sporting magazines of the day.

A rugged, sagacious little black retriever.

The perfect shooting companion.

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Gipsy, a "white" wavy-coated retriever.

From an article in Country Life (29 February1908):

It is very unusual to find a distinct type of dogs which are true bred and yet owe their origin to nothing more than descent from an ancestor which was merely a freak in a true and pure bred class of retrievers, remarkable when we find two such distinct breeds of existing to-day in the same kennels. On the estate of Mr. C. J Radclyffe, at Hyde in Dorsetshire, a visitor may see a pure white breed of the old-fashioned… wavy-coated retrievers. Mr. Radclyffe has kept for more than forty-five years a well-known breed of these wavy-coated dogs, which until a certain date were all black. A matter of ten or twelve years ago, in certain of the litters sired by one particular dog, one or more of the puppies were born pure white in colour. This dog was a purebred scion of the old breed, and there was no chance of there being any mongrel blood in his veins. The owner carefully preserved all… white puppies, and in course of time hoped to perpetuate a breed of white dogs by breeding from his favourite white dog Gipsy. But out of the first forty-six puppies sired by this clog from black mothers not one of the pups was white. On the other hand, some of the white bitches had whole litters of white puppies. And, by breeding from white dogs and bitches, which were of necessity in the first instance rather closely related to each other, Mr. Radclyffe has been able to establish a breed of these dogs, which it is hoped in future will breed descendants true in colour to their white parents. Naturally, it may be presumed that occasionally certain puppies in some litters will throw back to the black colour of their ancestors.

In the same kennels at Hyde may also be seen the rare sight of a breed of pure yellow’ Labradors. These dogs are owned by Captain C. E. Radclyffe, and, like the above-mentioned white retrievers, they owe their origin to a freak. In one litter sired by a celebrated black Labrador owned by Captain Radclyffe there were two yellow puppies, a dog and a bitch. By breeding from this yellow dog, named Ben, his owner has now collected a splendid kennel of yellow dogs; and, curious to say, unlike the white retriever, Gipsy, quite 75 per cent, of the puppies by this yellow Labrador are true to the colour of their sire, even when he is mated with a black bitch. Their owner has not been experimenting long enough to prove whether or no by interbreeding with the young yellow Labradors he will be able to perpetuate the breed, but he has every confidence that such will prove to be the case. In support of this theory he quotes an instance of where a light – coloured and almost white Labrador bitch, owned by the Hon. Francis Dawnay, was mated with the yellow dog Ben, and all the puppies were either yellow or white in colour. It is noteworthy that none of these white or yellow dogs is an albino as regards the colour of its eyes, etc., and,- moreover, they are as good workers in the field as were their black ancestors. It seems a pity that these dogs cannot be exhibited on the show bench, in order that the sporting public may see how very picturesque and handsome they are in appearance; but it is understood that some rule prohibits judges from awarding prizes to any such dogs unless they are black in colour. It is believed that these two breeds of retrievers are unique, and, needless to remark, their respective owners consider them to be priceless, consequently none of them has ever been sold (pg. 305).

The author has the genetics a little wrong. The “white” dogs were very likely just pale yellows, and the recessive nature of the e/e genotype that causes this coloration is now well-established. The “white” wavy-coats resulted from breeding a black dog that carried this recessive gene with a bitch that carried that gene. That particular gene cannot be traced to a single sire in the way that this article suggests. However, Mendelian genetics was not well-known at this time, so both the breeder and the author can be forgiven for this misunderstanding.

Radclyffe’s yellow Labradors would become better known than his “white” wavy-coats. Ben of Hyde, the dog mentioned in this article, is the first “official” yellow Labrador and the source for most of the yellow Labradors that exist today. This article contains a much better photograph of Ben than I have previously posted on this blog:

Ben is a relatively dark yellow dog, but because it was easier to establish the yellow coloration in Radclyffe’s line of Labradors, it is very likely that yellow was much more established in black Labrador lines before Ben was born.

These dogs were not the result of “freaks,” as this article suggests. Rather, they are just recessive yellows  that popped up in Labrador and wavy-coated retriever lines. Radclyffe was just one of the first breeders to select for this color over the more traditional black color.

I don’t know if Radclyffe had been aware of yellow wavy-coats at Guisachan or if this this dog named Gipsy traces its roots to that breeding program. He was obviously not the first person to select for yellow in wavy-coats, but he was the first to select for it in Labradors.

Tramp, a "white" wavy-coat.

These white wavy-coats are quite intriguing. Very light-colored golden retrievers were virtually nonexistent in the early lines of that breed, but within the foundational pedigrees of golden retrievers, there are dogs of unknown parentage. Perhaps some of these “white” wavy-coats were behind these anomalous goldens, and they are the source for the cream-colored dogs that are commonly associated with “English type” golden retrievers. Because we do not have records of the pedigrees of these anomalous goldens, we can only conjecture.

This close-up of Gipsy’s head does show a retriever that looks very much like a golden:

However, we simply do not have the records.

But the photographs are so beguiling.

Perhaps Radclyffe’s kennels were not just the source for the yellow Labrador. His breeding program may have been the source for the “white” golden retriever, too.

I find it particularly interesting that Radclyffe didn’t realize that his “white” wavy-coats were caused by the same recessive genes as the yellow Labradors.  This article suggests that he was at least considering this possibility when one of the yellow Labradors produced at his kennels was quite pale. Perhaps if it had been born fully white, he would have realized that he was dealing with the same gene in both breeds.

He could have been better able to establish the color in his wavy-coats if he had been willing to breed his yellow Labradors into this strain.

Retriever history is forever revealing such unusual stories.

All golden retriever fanciers known of the 1st Baron Tweedmouth’s breeding program for yellow wavy-coated retrievers at Guisachan. Virtually all Labrador fanciers know of Ben of Hyde as the first official yellow Lab.

But the story of the “white” wavy-coats has been ignored. I just discovered this story today, and I am amazed that I have never encountered it in my quests through retriever history. It is a story that should be examined more closely, for it is possible that these “white” wavy-coats contributed to the foundational golden retriever bloodlines and are a potential source of the cream-colored dogs that are now so popular. These wavy-coats existed at a time when the golden retriever was becoming established as a distinct breed– 1908 is when the Kennel Club recognized yellow as an official color for flat-coated retrievers– and there are so many dogs within the foundational pedigrees that are total unknowns. These unknown dogs could have been some of these “white” wavy-coated retrievers.

The fact that anyone tried to establish lines of these dogs point to a simple reality: Humans are quite visual creatures. From the account in this Country Life article, these retrievers were great workers, but Radclyffe just preferred the yellow and white color.

White wavy-coated retrievers and yellow Labradors. Radclyffe had to have been a bit of a maverick, for even liver was a controversial color for retrievers in those days. Most people wanted a black retriever, whether it was a wavy/flat-coat, a curly-coat, or a Labrador.

Dogs of such unusual colors definitely would have been conversation pieces.

Never mind that they were competent working dogs!

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Major Allison was active in retrievers in the early days.

This particular dog appears in Cassell’s The Book of the Dog (1881).

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The Labrador dog, let me remark, is a bold fellow, and, when well taught, understands, almost as well as any Christian biped, what you say to him.

Lambert De Boilieu, Recollections of Labrador Life (1861), pg. 172-173.

This first quote is known to virtually every Labrador retriever historian and fancier. I’ve seen it quoted in countless books, but it seems me that, after reading the accounts of these dogs in their native land, that most Labrador retriever people have not read the whole thing.

Boilieu was a mercantile agent in Labrador (not Newfoundland) in the early 1850’s. He became intimately familiar with the hard-working water curs and their many uses. Within his account, one finds some interesting tidbits:

During winter, for want of horses, dogs are used for the purpose of conveying all sorts of produce to and from the bays, as well as for pleasure. Some are trained as retrievers, watch, house, and water dogs. Still they are all of the same breed. The retriever is well known in England, but I fancy the duty of the Labrador watch-dog is little if at all understood. In the summer and fall, then, many stray ducks may be seen frequenting the small bays round the islands; the watch-dog lands with you, and, with much caution, examines the shore, and directly he observes ducks, he will instantly lie down and crawl out of their sight, then immediately rise and run towards you, when by his actions you may be sure he has sighted a company. He leads the way, and when in the vicinity of the birds, down he crouches, and you must do the same. Should you be over-eager, and fire at too great a distance, and miss your birds, the dog looks towards them for a moment, as if reflecting!—” It’s no use going into the water, he has not killed any,”—and stands still. If, on the other hand, you have a good shot— killing, say, half-a-dozen, and crippling three or four—in he bounds, leaving the dead birds and giving chase to the cripples. If they are wounded in the wings they swim with difficulty, and cannot dive, and so become an easy spoil. The dog has the instinct to know this, for he wastes but little time in the pursuit. It constantly arises that the spot from whence the ducks are shot is, at least, ten feet perpendicular from the water; sportsmen provide themselves in such instances with what is termed a “gunning gaff,” some twelve feet long, with an iron crook at the end, made in the shape of a shepherd’s crook. The dog brings a duck at a time under the rock; you place the crook round its neck, and draw it up or land it. The last bird the dog retains in his mouth, and allows himself to be drawn up in a somewhat scientific manner; that is to say, having seized the. bird firmly across the wings he swims under the rock, and allows his master to place the hook through his collar at the back of the neck; then placing his paws against the rock, and throwing his weight on the gaff, he gracefully walks up and lands his game; did be not retain it in the operation in all probability he would be choked. Of a fine day I have seen these dogs near the landwash amusing themselves fishing, diving six or seven feet, and bringing up a fish every time. Their mode of diving is not direct, but spiral.

It has been said a goose is a foolish bird, and certainly the geese of Labrador are very foolish indeed. They are found some miles up the bays, and when discovered the dog uses a simple artifice to decoy them. Near the shore (the neighbourhood of a small wood, with goose-grass in the foreground, is their favourite resort) he rushes out of the wood into the water and swims some eight or ten yards, with head low and-tail out—looking something like a water-fowl—then comes back to the shore, and so continues until he fancies they are within shot, when he quietly waits by your side watching your gun, and, by his looks, showing his anxiety to see the flash. Then off he goes and secures his birds, and lands them at your feet.

The house-dog has a peculiar sagacity. I trained one to keep house in a noiseless manner. If myself or steward was not at home, and a visitor called, the dog would allow him to walk in, sit down, light and smoke his pipe, as if unconscious of his presence; but if the visitor attempted to leave the house the dog was up in an instant, and, placing himself in the doorway, showed a set of teeth of dazzling but appalling whiteness. The frightened fellow again returns and takes his seat, the dog once more lies down, and thus the pair are seen on the return of one of the household. A visitor once served that way takes care to look through the window on his next call, to see if any one is at home. The dogs sent to England, with rough shaggy coats, are useless on the coast; the true-bred and serviceable dog having smooth, short hair, very close and compact to the body. I sent to England a fine specimen of these, but unfortunately the vessel which bore it had the misfortune to be wrecked on the north coast of Ireland, and all hands were lost (pg. 239-244).

The first account of the retrievers being “gaffed” up as the returned from retrieves is a testament to how tough these ancestral retrievers were. It also would have been a selection pressure for hard mouth, for a dog that would hold onto anything while going through that procedure would have to have a good grip on what it was retrieving.

However, it is very interesting to note that Boilieu observed first hand what I have inferred had to have happened with long-haired puppies that were born on Newfoundland.  My inference came from the paucity of accounts smooth-coated retrievers in England in the nineteenth century. Because the smooth coat is dominant to the feathered coat, one would have thought that the majority of retrievers in Britain would have been short-haired. That is not what we see. The feathered wavy-coated retriever was the most common retriever in Britain during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is sometimes suggested that the feathering came from setters that were crossed with these dogs, but the simple rules of population genetics say that this is unlikely. If the smooth-coated dogs were bred to setters, the majority of the dogs that resulted from those crosses would have been short-haired.  But that is not what the historical record shows.

But Boilieu actually saw these long-haired dogs being exported to England. As a mercantile agent in Labrador, he was in the business of exports and imports, so he knew what the people of Newfoundland and Labrador valued.

Boilieu clearly understood that these working dogs in Newfoundland were the same breed that was being widely used as a retriever in England, so to the average British person, the word “Labrador” very often referred to a long-haired dog, but in Labrador and Newfoundland, it referred to the dog with the otter’s coat. That explains why the later dogs on Newfoundland were mostly of this short-haired type.

The ancestral retriever, the St. John’s water dog or “Labrador,” was the ultimate working and hunting dog. It had evolved to work in the wild frontier that included wild, game-filled forests and one of the most productive marine ecoystems in the world. These tough and  intelligent dogs– dogs of common settlers and fisherman– are the ancestors of all of our retrievers, which worked the shooting estates of the landed gentry in Britain.

They were forged in the wild country and then refined in the genteel motherland.

Born paupers, they became princes. And then became the beloved family pets we know today.

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This dog is Billy, and he is mentioned in Stonehenge’s  The Dog in Health and Disease (1859). Stonehenge (John Henry Walsh) believed that his very curly coat showed that he had some setter or spaniel in him, which is possible. He was owned by Bill George, the famous (or infamous) dog dealer, who is best known for developing the old baiting bulldog into a pet and show dog. Billy could have been a cross between a long-haired St. John’s water dog or wavy-coated retriever and a curly-coated retriever, a cross that would have happened fairly often before these dogs began to standardize.

Another depiction of a long-haired St. John’s water dog is this “St. John’s Labrador.”

I cannot find the original source for this image, but this particular dog has a straight, flat-coat, which is quite profuse. The dog appears to have a more substantial coat than Billy. He is also built more like a modern Labrador or a short-haired St. John’s water dog.

Of course, these dogs both could be thought of as wavy-coated retrievers, which were the ancestor of the modern flat-coats and golden retrievers.  They were very common in Britain in the middle to later part of the nineteenth century.

One of the reasons why these long-haired dogs were so popular as retrievers is that Sewallis Shirley, the founding president of the Kennel Club, was a major patron of the breed.

The other reason is that these longer-haired dogs were the type of St. John’s water dog that were more easily procured in Britain. Long hair is a recessive trait to the smooth-haired St. John’s water dogs that were common in Newfoundland until the 1970’s.  None of these later dogs had long hair, but they seem to have been really common in England during the nineteenth century, where they were often registered as wavy-coated retrievers.

The reason why the long-haired dogs became common in England and disappeared from Newfoundland can be found in the writings of William Epps Cormack, the first European to walk across the interior of Newfoundland in 1822. He wrote of the settlers of Newfoundland using their smaller water dogs to hunt waterfowl and game birds, but they preferred to use the short-haired dogs for this task:

The dogs here are admirably trained as retrievers in fowling, and are otherwise useful. The smooth or short-haired dog is preferred, because in frosty weather the long-haired kind become encumbered with ice upon coming out of the water.

Any long-haired puppies that would have been born to the smooth-haired dogs would have been among those they would have exported to Britain, where they would have worked very nicely as working retrievers on shooting estates. In the more mild climate of the British Isles, the long coat would not have been so much of a problem.

The famous wavy/flat-coat Zelstone, who was born in 1880. If one traces his pedigree, one notes that his paternal grandmother and his maternal great grandfather were both owned by someone named Farquharson.

That Farquharson was Henry Richard Farquharson, an importer and breeder of Newfoundland dogs. He was an MP from Dorset, where the port city of Poole is located. Poole was a major port for the cod fishing fleet that worked the Grand Banks off the coast of Newfoundland. At one point, Farquharson had 125 dogs of the “Newfoundland” type on his property, Eastbury House. Keeping up with so many dogs was a daunting task for his servants:

Henry Richard Farquharson was also a fanatical breeder of Newfoundland dogs. He had a pack of one hundred and twenty five, 50 bitches and 75 dogs. This pack had taken twenty five years to create. Two kennel lads had the job of exercising the dogs. They knew that they had to keep the bitches and dogs separate whilst exercising them. One day both groups accidently met on Chettle Down and the two kennel lads could not stop a fight starting. Forty-five dogs were either killed outright or had to be put down. It is said that the two kennel lads were almost killed as well – not by the dogs but by Farquharson who had a remarkably quick temper.

(Farquharson also played a role in the Jack the Ripper story, but I’m leaving that out for this post!)

Those ancestors of Zelstone that were said to be owned by Farquharson were likely long-haired St. John’s water dogs that looked like the ones mentioned in this post.

Most of these dogs would have been registered as wavy-coated retrievers or would have been referred to as such. They would have been put to work on shooting estates and would have been bred to setters to give them and a stronger tendency to air scent birds and other shot game.

I’ve noticed that in much of the literature on the Labrador retriever, there is a tendency to ignore these long-haired dogs. That’s because the modern Labrador is derived mostly from later imports from Newfoundland. These dogs arrived in the 1880’s, and they were mostly smooth-coated. The cod fishery was in decline, and many of the ship’s dogs were no longer useful. So even the much valued smooth-coated water curs were arriving from Newfoundland by this time. Because the short-haired dogs made up the population of these later dogs, it was assumed that they every single one of these dogs that ever existed possessed the smooth “otter” coat.

If all St. John’s water dogs were smooth-coated, the smooth-coated dogs would have dominated the entire British retriever gene pool in the middle and later parts of the nineteenth century. This simply isn’t what the historical record showsat all. Some of these dogs had to have had the feathered coat, and my understanding of Cormack’s account suggests the reason why the long-haired dogs became common in England and disappeared from Newfoundland.

The Newfoundlanders preferred smooth-coated dogs, and they were more than eager to export the feathered puppies to British dog dealers and shooting enthusiasts.

And the shooting enthusiasts were more than willing to buy them. Most sagacious animals. Gentlest retrievers with the softest mouths.

Just what the shooting sportsman needed. Long-haired water curs from Newfoundland.






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This is a description of a curly-coated and a wavy-coated retriever in The Dogs of the British Islands: Being a Series of Articles and Letters by Various Contributors, Reprinted from the “Field” Newspaper (1872)  by John Henry Walsh (“Stonehenge”):

Windham, the property of Mr. Gorse, is a good example of the wavycoated dog; and Jet, in the possession of the same gentleman, is, perhaps, the best specimen of a curly-coated one ever exhibited to the public. The flatcoated dog gained the first prize in Birmingham three years in succession, besides numerous first prizes at other shows. He has frequently been passed over for Jet, or Jet has been put aside for him. His powers of scent are excellent, and we understand him to be broken well, but he is rather hardmouthed, and this fault we hold to be hereditary. Jet, on the other hand, carries alive, and having carried a live pigeon for any length of time, will let it fly from his mouth at a given signal. He is a good water-dog, and a very genial companion. He has won as many, perhaps more, prizes than any dog shown. In 1865 he took the first prizes at Bradford, Brighton, and Leeds, and received the first prize and gold medal at Paris (pg. 90).

The size of the two dogs is given following this description. Windham, the wavy coat, is listed as having a height  at the withers that is 2 feet, 3 inches (27 inches) and a weight of 84.75 pounds. Jet’s height is listed as 2 feet, one inch (25 inches), and his weight is listed as 77 pounds.

Windham looks a lot like the larger wavy-coats that were popular in the early days of the fancy– big and Newfoundlandish. His description also points to a somewhat larger dog than the modern flat-coated retriever. The depiction of the two dogs is not proportional. Windham appears to be a smaller dog than Jet, but that size is not reflected in the description of their size.

The description of Jet points to a slightly smaller animal than the modern curly-coated retriever. It is also notable that his working characteristics are superior to Windham, who was a  hard-mouthed wavy. Most of these older accounts claim that the curly was inferior to the wavy or flat-coated retriever. The wavy-coat did take off because it was generally perceived to be a better working or trial animal, but it also was the favored breed of Sewallis Shirley, the founding president of the Kennel Club. Having that sort of patronage within the early days of the fancy certainly helped this breed become firmly established in Britain from the mid-nineteenth century until the early twentieth century as the prototypical “English retriever.”

Class and politics likely played a role in the rise of the flat-coated/wavy-coated retriever. The curly didn’t have the right people advocating for it, and the notion that it had spent some of its development as the “poacher’s retriever” didn’t endear it to the shooting sportsmen of the landed classes.


Also of note in this Stonehenge edition is a description of the St. John’s water dog:

An English retriever, whether smooth or curly-coated, should be black or black-and-tan, or black with tabby or brindled legs, the brindled legs being indicative of the Labrador origin. We give the preference, from experience, to the flat-coated or short-coated small St. John’s or Labrador breed. These breeds we believe to be identical. The small St. John’s has marvellous intelligence, a great aptitude for learning to carry, a soft mouth, great strength, and he is a good swimmer. If there is any cross at all in this breed it should be the setter cross (pg. 89).

Two important parts of this description are of interest:

The first is that the St. John’s water dog (which some accounts called “Labradors’) very clearly came in a smooth-coated or feathered varieties. “Flat-coated” and “short-coated” clearly do not mean the same thing in this context. The feathered St. John’s water dog likely became more common among the first of these dogs imported to Newfoundland.  The fisherman of Newfoundland preferred the smooth-coated dogs of this breed to work on their ships, and any long-haired puppies that were produced in these litters would have been among those most likely to be sent to England for sale.

The other point of interest is the discussion of brindle or “tabby”  as being indicative of the “Labrador origin.”

Brindle could have come from brindle cur dogs that were brought to Newfoundland, or they could come from the brindle Cão de Castro Laboreiro, a Portuguese farm dog that may have accompanied fisherman from that country to Newfoundland. This dog is somewhat similar in appearance to a brindle Labrador retriever, and it may explain why certain retriever breeds, such as curlies and Chessies, have reputations as great watch dogs.

Perhaps the word  use of the word “Labrador” for dogs of this type comes from a misunderstanding of the word “Laboreiro.” After all, the place called Labrador was included in the colony of Newfoundland, even though it is clearly on the North American mainland. When Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949, it was just called “Newfoundland.” However, an amendment to Canada’s constitution in 2001 officially changed its name to Newfoundland and Labrador.

But the water dogs that came from the region were all from the island of Newfoundland. The only indigenous dogs to Labrador are a sled dog breed called a “Labrador husky” (not a Labrador retriever/husky mix) and various Native American dogs, such as this “canoe dog.”

Whatever its origins, brindle still pops up in modern Chesapeake bay retrievers and Labradors. It is also likely that golden retrievers mask brindle markings with their e/e genotype. (See this account of a litter of golden retriever/Malinois mixes to see the brindles.)

How that brindle got there is still a question, but it may be that this relatively obscure breed of Portuguese farm dog is part of the answer. Because brindle is a dominant trait (although it is recessive to dominant black), it would not take very many dogs of this type to establish this trait within the population of water curs of Newfoundland.



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I don’t know if you can tell, but the pointer is in a lot of trouble for interfering with the retriever’s work.

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Painting by William Barraud:

This also isn’t a particularly large dog.

My guess is this dog has a touch of working collie in its background. It strongly resembles “Gypsy,” one of Queen Victoria’s collies. This retriever’s ears are also a bit high-set.

Adding working collie to the setter/St. John’s water dog cross would reduce size, as well as increasing agility and biddability.

When “retriever” was a job description and not a breed, all sorts of different dogs were used and crossbred. Each sporting gentlemen had his own “recipe” of which breeds behind his retrievers, which is not all that different to how lurchers are bred in Britain and Ireland today. Different lurcher breeders use different sighthound crosses to produce the dogs they like.

Retrievers were basically the lurchers of the shooting gentry.

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This dog is a very good example of the generic “wavy-coated retriever” that was common in Britain in the middle to late nineteenth century. The judging from the size of the rabbit, it is not a particularly large dog, so the black and white coloration did not primarily come from the large Newfoundland dog.

My guess is this dog is primarily long-haired St. John’s water dog, although it might have some collie ancestry, judging from its somewhat narrow muzzle.

White markings were more common in retrievers in the past, but they still pop up today.

And not just in Nova Scotia Duck-tolling retrievers, where they are standard.

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