Archive for November, 2008


The Sussex spaniels is one of the older breeds of spaniel. The modern dog has short-legs and a long back, although it did not always have those characteristics. In fact, look at this depiction of the breed by George Stubbs:

ENG201192047  01

The dog at the horse’s feet is listed as “Springer spaniel,” which did come in wider array of colors than the modern breed.

However, the Sussex dog to the right looks like a much larger spaniel than what we call a Sussex spaniel today. It is rapidly become a Museum piece dog, along with the Clumber spaniel, the other heavily set spaniel.

Today’s dog looks like Tootsie Roll, and it is almost extinct. No one wants a short-legged spaniel, even if it can charge through the cover a little better.

Read Full Post »

I found this photo of an early “cream” golden. I don’t know the dog’s name or where it comes from, but I’m assuming that it’s British and dates to sometime in the 1950’s or 1960s, just 20 or 30 years after the very dark colored and lightly built dogs dominated the breed. It’s not that cobby or blocky, as you would find today in European lines of golden. Think of this dog as a transition from that type to the very cobby creams that exist today in Britain.


Compare this dog with Culham Brass (b. 1904)


And compare with what’s in vogue in the European show golden set:


It’s almost like a different breed, isn’t it? It reminds me of another breed, not a retriever but a livestock guardian breed.

The Kuvasz:


I think someone could make a lot of money selling Kuvaszok as “white golden retrievers.” They have about as much retrieving instinct and working ability as a retriever as most European show goldens!

Read Full Post »

“The worst cross the author ever made was with Zelstone. Although not a large dog, he was said to be a pure bred Newfoundland. He was a flat-coated retriever Champion, and may have been himself a good worker ; but he ruined the working qualities of the descendants of Jenny above mentioned, and brought the author’s strain of them to an end. Consequently, it is suggested that the Newfoundland is the type to breed out of the flat coats. ”

–George Teasdale Teasedale-Buckell, The Complete English Shot (1907)





“Zelstone” also appears in the Guisachan kennel records as an outcross, although he’s listed as Labrador in those documents. However, this description makes sense because Labrador and Newfoundland for this type of dog were often used interchangeably. Interestingly, a dog of this breeding could also be called a flat-coat or wavy coat at this time and used in breeding with retrievers. The registries were that open in those days.

Below is a depiction of a St. John’s water dog with long hair and retrievery features. This dog was listed as a Labrador, despite its long hair. Again, this classification is in keeping with the interchangeable terms of Labrador and Newfoundland, as well as the fact that dogs called Labradors or Newfoundlands could also be called wavy-coated or flat-coated retrievers. This dog is similar to Zelstone, but it has much more coat, which one would not expect. All St. John’s water dogs  are supposedly short-haired, like a Labrador, or so the Labrador historians would have us believe. Of course, this assertion is nonsense.


Zelstone, however, does not appear to be as cumbersome as the author suggests his progeny were. This dog actually looks like a nice, big retriever with good working conformation, especially if I were interested in using this dog for retrieving big birds from cold water. Perhaps it is Zelstone’s influence that turned out a large number of big red dogs that lived at Guisachan during the 1880’s and 1890’s. It is possibly that he was carrying genes for even more cobby and coarse dogs than one would have expected.

You can see them in this photograph of Guisachan’s retrievers and pointers :


The Tweedmouth retrievers are on the left, with one light colored one lying in the middle. The dog you can see most clearly is on the far left, and it looks like a red Newf. Dogs of this type can be seen in the US pet golden population, such as this heroic one.

But these big dogs were soon bred out, as Mr. Teasdale-Buckell hoped. The dogs were too heavy to be useful in field trials, which were gaining in popularilty. The lightly built, newly standardized flat-coat would dominate retriever trials for nearly a quarter century. These dogs would provide the basis of the golden retriever breed when it was separated from the flat-coat.

Unfortunately, the big dogs have made a reappearance. First they popped up in the Lab, and have now become common in the golden. A friend of mine has a golden that is 30 inches at the shoulder and 125 pounds. (Yes, he has bad hips). He was not selected for this size, either, for his sire was only 75 or 80 poundsand 25 inches at the shoulder, and his dam was the same size, which is a bit big for a golden bitch but not giant.

These big, blocky goldens are throwbacks to Zelstone. A dog that early retriever fanciers may have loved for his working ability but later cursed when he introduced too much lumber and size into his progeny.

Read Full Post »

But here’s a video of one from the Refugio Amazonas in Peru:

I’ve always called them small-eared dogs, because their taxonomic species name is microtis (small-ear).

South America has a great diversity of wild dogs. It probably has the greatest number of unique species of dog living in such proximity to each other of any other continent. Where I live, we have only three species of wild dog; the red fox, the grey fox, and the Eastern coyote. The number of South American “zorros” (false foxes) is amazing.

The short-eared dog is one of these unique species. We know very little about them. They eat lots of fish and fruit in their diets. They have very webbed feet, more so than other species of dog, including domestic “aquatic breeds.”  They can be found only in lowland Amazon rainforest, where only one other species of dog can be found, the bush dog, which also has small ears but has short legs like a dachshund and hunts in packs. They are found in Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia, where this lowland Amazon forest exists. Where they are found, they exist only in very low densities. It is thought that canine distemper and rabies have greatly reduced its numbers. Again, we really don’t know much about this species.

You can read more about them here. I think the camera trap photo on this PDF really shows what an unusual animal this dog is.  The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Canid Specialist Group has a very good website that covers all wild dogs and their biology.  Interestingly, they don’t have much information on the grey fox.

Read Full Post »


Mrs. Winifred Charlesworth with Noranby Sandy and Noranby Balfour.

The three individuals most responsible for the creation of the golden retriever as a separate breed from the Flat-coat were Lord Harcourt, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and Mrs. Winifred Charlesworth. Her dogs were registered under the kennel name of Normanby, which because of misspelling at a dog show, became Noranby. She is perhaps as important in founding the breed as the Marjoribanks family.

Her first brood bitch was Noranby Beauty, and she was bred to Culham Brass Lord Harcourt’s founding stud. Brass was a very dark dog, lightly built as all flat-coats were at the time, and he had a very wavy coat. He must have had a good impression on her line, for her later Noranby dogs looked like this:


The two dogs on the right were actually of the preferred color. The second dog from the right is Noranby Diana, an early breed champion bitch. Mrs. Charlesworth preferred the darker colors and the more lightly built dogs, because they were faster in the field and more biddable. She once had a light colored and heavily built dog whelped in one of her litters. Although he was a good gundog that placed in trials, she never bred from him, for he was too much of the “old strain.” By this term she meant the old strain of wavy coated retriever that existed in the later part of the nineteenth century that was too heavy to do its work efficiently.

Interestingly, Mrs. Charlesworth  originally believed the ideal color was the color of grain fields in the first standard for the breed, which she wrote in 1911, just as the movement for separation from the flat-coat was gaining steam. However,  by the 1930’s, when this photo was taken, it was obvious that the darker colors had taken over, and she was among their leading proponents.

My guess is that she would be deeply displeased if she saw what was being shown as a golden retriever today in Britain. And she wouldn’t be happy with those hairy goldens we have in the US. She believed in the golden retriever as a working dog, and she spent much of her time breeding out the coarseness in the breed, which she knew would make it a better working dog. Now, we’ve seen that coarseness return and become institutionalized in the standard. She certainly would not have liked that.

Also of note: She quite stubbornly held onto the story about the Russian circus dog origins story in the golden retriever. I think she did this largely because she wanted the breed to be thought of as distinct, not a yellow flat-coat.

Read Full Post »


The Dogue de Bordeaux is the last remaining native French mastiff. There were once Parisian dogues, dogues from Toulouse, and the Dogue de Bordeaux. These dogs were often brindle, red with black masks, or marked with white.  The dogs may have had lots of purposes, as all mastiff-types did. Their ancestors probably hunted boars, wolves, and other large animals. Some were probably used in war (the famous story of the mastiff defending Sir Peers Legh at the battle of Agincourt was an English mastiff, though, not a French one). Later, they guarded estates. These dogs were powerful and fierce. Unlike the bullmastiff and the big English mastiff, the Dogue de Bordeaux retains some of these traits, some more so than others.

Today, this breed is horribly inbred with a very short life expectancy of about six years. It was made popular for a few years with the film Turner and Hooch, which was an early Tom Hanks film. The dog was a slobbering beast with a charming personality that on occasion went berserk on a bad guy. No wonder Americans wanted one!


Another wild French canid was the Beast of Gevaudan that killed scores of peasants in rural France. No one has been able to figure out what it was. A wolf? A hyena? A lion? Maybe a cryptid unknown to science? The story of the Beast was the basis for the film Brotherhood of the Wolf, a 2001 French film. In this film, though, the beast is an armored lioness released upon the peasants to make them hate their king who allowed for scientific thought to exist in France.

But what was the animal? There were two of them, but both were larger than the wolf of the region. Wolf attacks may have happened in Europe, most of them were probably the result of rabies. However, there were child snatching wolves in India that, killed or seriously maimed 74 children from 1996-1997. These people were in the same position as the French peasants. They were poor and unarmed. The forest was nearly empty of game, forcing wolves to rely on livestock for food. It is just a short leap from killing livestock to killing people, and these Indian wolves did it. Could the Gevaudan wolves also made that leap?

There are some problems with this theory. One is that there were only two wolves, and over three years they attacked over 200 people and killed 113 people. In the case of the Indian wolves, whole packs of wolves involved. Further, the French were wolf hunters, unlike the people of this part of India. Although the peasants did not often have guns, the nobles had estate managers and hired hunters to keep the wolf population low. The wolves had a lot more to fear of people in France in 1764 than the wolves had to fear of people in India in 1996.  Both of these problems– the volume of the deaths from just two animals and the ability for the French to kill wolves– certainly causes me to doubt that the Beast of Gevaudan was a wolf.

The animals tore at the face and throats of their victims, which is consistent with a dog or wolf attack. Some have suggested that the beast wasn’t a canid at all, but a hyena or a big cat. Big cats were often kept in menageries, but there is no record of any missing big cats in that part of France. Further, no one owned any. The hyena theory does get some people excited, because there is mention of the Beast having stripes and a wolf-like head. However, striped hyenas are only scavengers. They do not hunt. Spotted hyenas are the only hyenas that hunt large prey, and if the Beast had been mottled, the hyena theory might have some merit.  (The brown hyena has been known to kill fur seal pups on the coast of Namibia, but those are slow moving prey. The brown hyena is the largest animal that can survive on scavenging alone. Anyway, that species was virtually unknown to Europeans).

In 1765, the King of France had one of his wolf hunters go into the countryside, as well as some of his harquebus bearer and Lieutenant of the Hunt. The French government spent lots of money and manpower trying to kill the beast, but all the came up with was an unusually large wolf, weighing 130 pounds and standing 31 inches at the shoulder. The common wolf of Europe weighs only 75 to 100 pounds. Pure wolves of this size only exist in the wild in far northern parts of North America, which is why I am sure this animal wasn’t a pure wolf. It had scar  that the animal had received from its victims as they tried to defend themselves. This “wolf” is sometimes called the Wolf of Chazes, and there are very few good depictions of it other than fanciful nonsense, such as this:


But there is this depiction of it that seems more realistic:


The size is very large for a wolf (and probably not realistic). But the head and really large ears seem to me that this beast was actually a wolf-dog. Large ears are indicative of a wolf-dog cross. Because most modern wolf-dogs are hybrids with wolves and wolf-like dogs, we assume that the wolf hybrids are going to look like wolves. But here are some wolf hybrids from a wolf and standard poodle:


From the goldendoodle website. Could you tell that they were poodle-wolf crosses? They look like some kind of weird dog to me. I don’t think I could determine their species.

The second creature was killed two years later, as people continued to be attacked and killed. One local hunter, Jean Chastel, was charged with the task of kill the beast. And he succeeded, after he had stopped to pray (of course!) and the reign of the Beast of Gevaudan was ended. The second animal looked something like this:


The white marking tells you that this is definitely a wolf hybrid.



What kind of dog was it that the wolves were crossed with to make the Beasts? The first animal was probably an F1 cross, a very high content wolf hybrid. The second animal had more dog-like characteristics. It may have been the descendant of the first. Both animals were reddish in color, big, and striped (brindled?)  The white markings on the second animal tell me what it was. And the dog in the mix was a French Mastiff, a dogue, probably a red brindled one. This assertion is not far-fetched. The Spanish used their war mastiff, a close relative of the dogue, to kill native people in the New World. Dogue and wolf combine could create a mysteriously ugly monster of a hybrid, one that no one could identify as either species.

Perhaps this hybrid occurred naturally, or perhaps human agency was involved. There were plots against the French king at this time, for France had lost most of its overseas empire in the Seven Years War just before the killing started. France was a broken nation, and a monster problem that could not be solved could turn the peasants into a revolutionary state. There are some conspiracy theories that name Jean Chastel, the wolf hunter, as part of the conspiracy, along with the nobles of the region. However, I do not wish to engage in conspiracy theories on this site.

Animal Planet once had a show called Animal X, a show about cryptozoology. They covered the Beast of Gevaudan as a whodunnit, and I thought that this was about the only reasonable show of the series in terms of science. However, I still loved it for its camp factor. I love true believers in cryptids. I’m sorry I can’t join you, but I love to watch you tilt at windmills.

Read Full Post »

A Golden retriever named “Blue” retrieves an uphill triple with one blind. This video was shot in Vermont.

Yes, goldens can do this work!

From youtube user markndogs.

Just enjoy.

Read Full Post »

In dog lore, we often hear of canine heroes. We have a whole genre of literature devoted to them, as well as “family films.” But the truth is there are real dog heroes out there.

One of these was a flat-coated retriever born in Wales in 1930. He was known as “Jack,” and his owner lived near the River Tawe, a perfect place for an aquatic dog like a flat-coat. There were docks nearby, and the dog had a perfect place to enter the water.

In 1931, when Jack was only about a year old, he saved a 12 year old boy from drowning. Less than a month later, he saved another person who had fallen from the docks. This rescue happened in the view of a large number of the public. He received a silver collar from the city government.


Swansea Jack.

It was said that he would leap into the water any time he heard someone calling for help from the water and haul them in. In his short life, he is rumored to have rescued 27 people. He was named Bravest Dog of the Year by the London Star in 1936, and he received a silver cup from the Lord Mayor of London and two bronze medals from the National Canine Defense League.

Unfortunately, like too many good dogs, his life was cut short. In 1937, he consumed rat poison, and the Swansea docks no longer had their guardian.

This is his burial monument:


Today, the people of Swansea are sometimes called Swansea Jacks. Supposedly, they get this name from this heroic dog.

Read Full Post »

I don’t want one either!

Read Full Post »


The nonsense about golden retrievers being from Russia is further exacerbated with this breed. This dog was used as a setter. It is clearly a griffon fo some sort, or maybe a cross between a setter and poodle-type dog. Supposedly, this breed could be diffult to find in Russian in the 1860’s, when Colonel Hutchinson wrote about them in Dog Breaking. It is possible that the Russians did have some sort of griffon like the Spinone Italiano. And in Slavic languages the word for pointer is often translated as setter, like the Cesky Fousek (Bohemian wire-haired pointing griffon) of the Czech Republic is sometimes translated as the Bohemian Setter. The Russian setter is said to be one of the ancestors of the Wire-haired Pointing Griffon (Korthals Griffon). Maybe it shares an ancestry with the German wire-haired and broken-haired pointers.

I don’t know what a Russian setter was. It may not even be Russian. But it could be. There are dogs in Eastern Europe that do have the rough hair and also point, the wire-haired Vizsla of Hungary and the Bohemian Wire-haired pointing griffon (Cesky Fousek).

Compare the Russian setter with the Spinone:


Maybe this breed was crossed into some lines of retrievers. It would describe the retriever named “Devil” that was entered as a flat-coat in The Complete English Shot. However, it is unlikely that it played any role in the development of modern retrievers. Keep in mind that that some yellow wavy-coated retrievers (of Tweedmouth’s strain) in the early twentieth and late nineteenth century were called Russian to make them seem more exotic. Maybe it is the case with this breed, too, and might explain why it was impossible to find one in Russia!


My favorite anecdote about the Russian retriever story is that some estate holder in Britain managed to get a supposed Russian Retriever from the Southern Russia or the Ukraine. The dog was very aggressive, and no trainer could get it to retrieve anything. The dog was said to be white with thick matted hair. It resembled a poodle-type dog, which in Western Europe would mean a water dog, perfectly suited for retrieving work. However, what they actually had was a livestock guardian dog, which are bred to have very low prey drive and high levels of aggression towards people and animals with whom they did not grow up with. One golden retriever book I have said it was Komondor, which is a possibility. I think, though, that it was actually a South Russian Ovtcharka:


Retrievers do have a prey drive. What do you think retrieving is? It’s modified predatory behavior, which partly modified by breeding and partly by training. A LGD has been selected to have very little prey drive, because its job is to stay with the sheep, goats, or whatever else its supposed to guard without killing them through play predatory behavior or real predatory behavior. This dog would be worthless as a retriever, even though it looks like a poodle or barbet (superficially). The high level of aggression toward other dogs would probably disqualify it from ever being used around other retrievers anway, because retrievers have been bred to have rather low dog aggression in order to  allow for multple dogs to be used in trial and on shoots, including dogs that are not from the same household.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: