Archive for January, 2009


This book is nothing more than hagiographic histories of various dog breeds and their standards. I don’t know how it could ever be called a “complete dog book.”  A lot of it is complete “bull sh–.”  One edition included warnings about temperament of certain breeds of dogs, which totally ticked people off. It eventually had to be reprinted without the warnings that measured various breeds’ aptitude for being a family pet.

But look at what’s on the front cover of the latest edition! Yuck!

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Noranby Campfire was the one of the first Noranby dogs.

Mrs. Charlesworth’s Noranby goldens were among the three foundational lines that make up the modern golden’s pedigree. Noranby Campfire was the first stud she bred.  His type is of a lithe, dark-colored dog with a somewhat wavy-coat, very typical of Mrs. Charlesworth’s breeding, although most of her later dogs had straighter coats.

Her line was founded with a bitch named “Normanby Beauty.” The name was originally “Normanby,” but a snafu at a dog show changed the name to “Noranby.”

Beauty was bred to Lord Harcourt’s “Culham Copper.” This breeding produced the foundation stud, Noranby Campfire.  Copper’s sire was Culham Brass, and this line, the Culhams, is well-documented in terms of pedigree and photos. This line is originally came directly from Guisachan’s kennels.

Culham Copper, Camfire’s sire:

Culham Copper

Culham Copper

And Culham Brass:


Culham Brass, b. 1904.

Here’s the pedigree for Culham Brass. Notice that there is an obvious black dog in that pedigree with what we would definitely regard today  as a politically incorrect name. The Culham dogs were interbred with black way/flat-coats, and that name is a definitely of a dog of that color.

Notice what features these dogs all possess. They are all moderately boned and feathered. They are all dark dogs, but not as dark as Dual Ch. Balcombe Boy, also of Lord Harcourt’s breeding. This dog was the breed’s first dual champion, but he wouldn’t win a thing today in the show ring. He was what we call a mahogany golden. This color is as dark as the darkest Irish setter, and I think it is rather attractive. I used to see a few goldens of this color as late as ten years ago, but today, this color is strictly verboten. And because of the inheritance of coat color in goldens is such that light colored dogs cannot carry the darker color, you will never see this color return. It is something that dog shows cannot capture, for it is something that only generations of functional breeding can create.

If you’d like to see  a good photograph of Balcombe Boy, check out Marcia Schehlr’s book. His photo is in the early breed history section, which are de rigueur in the dog books. Most of these are total nonsense, but this book is really good in its historical analysis. In fact, that’s where I found out about the Cao de Castro Laboreiro’s influence in the St. John’s water dog. I use the history in that book, along with a cribbed section of Elma Stonex’s expose on the history of the golden retriever that appears in Gertrude Fischer’s book, The New Complete Golden Retriever. Both of these books have really good analysis of the conformation, including a critique of people who breed dogs solely to be flashy and “trendy” in the ring, rather than breeding for a more consistent and functional type. Neither book goes as far as I do, of course, and neither is as blatant as I am. But if you want my idea of what a golden is supposed to look like, go to the last sketch in Schlehr’s book. It’s one of her own pieces of artwork, and it features a field bred dog, with a moderate coat and lithe frame carrying a duck in its mouth. It is well-muscled but not cobby. It is designed to do what it is supposed to do. It is an attractive dog, but not in the way show dogs are. It is an elegance that one might see in the working collies and huntaways of New Zealand or of coyotes mousing in a freshly mowed hayfield.

I hope that this post gives you an idea of what the original goldens were like in the years that they first were split off from the flat-coat. The big, “white,” coarsely built “retrievers” are nothing like these dogs. They are a caricature of this formerly strong working retriever.  Their conformation is designed for slowness and lumber, not for efficient movement on land or in water. (And Raymond Coppinger uses the exact word  that I do in his book on dog evolution when he writes about these pseudo-retrievers–“caricature.” I have criticisms of that book, but I think much of it is really an asset to our understanding of dogs, especially when he talks about what we’re doing to destroy the genetic base and working abilities of our dogs.)

So which breeders are conserving the golden retriever?  The ones breeding the lithe, red field dogs? Or the ones breeding “white” and blond dogs with lots of hair and bone?  I think the answer is pretty clear. The pictures speak for themselves.

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This breed of Portuguese livestock and farm guardian is a probable ancestor of the St. John's water dog and the retrievers.

This breed of Portuguese livestock and farm guardian is a probable ancestor of the St. John's water dog and the retrievers.

Remember when I said that brindle sometimes appears in Chesapeake Bay retrievers?

Well, brindle used to be somewhat common in retrievers. “The early specimens had frequently shown tan and brindle,” Charles Eley writes about the first wavy-coats that were bred from the St. John’s water dog in The History of Retrievers (1921, pg. 4). Eley goes on to say that all the old water dogs were called Labrador, and he seems to associate brindle with the early imports to Britain from Newfoundland. Brindle is a disqualifying marking in Labrador retrievers today in the AKC, as are tan markings. (Tan markings are allowed in the KC/FCI standard for black Labradors; it’s not even mentioned as a fault. See this.) There are also faulty brindle Chessies.

Now, where did this brindle color come from?

Well, to answer that question, we have to understand the history of Newfoundland. Newfoundland is well-known for having the first proven European settlements in the New World, the Norse settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows. Contrary to some pseudo-history, it is unlikely that any Norse dogs remained in Newfoundland after the Norse abandoned the settlements. The native Beothuck were unusual among Native Americans from North American in that the they had no dogs, either of North American or European ancestry. (Although there are some people who would argue with me on this).

The most likely source for brindle European dogs is in Iberia. The first Europeans to really begin to exploit the Grand Banks were the Spanish Basques, followed by the French Basques and the Portuguese. The Portuguese are worth paying attention to, because they do have a native livestock guardian dog that is brindle in color.

This dog is the Cão de Castro Laboreiro. It is a landrace farm dog that often roams as a feral animal in northeastern Portugal.  It has been around for many, many years in that part of the world.

Well, that’s nice, but how does it connect to the Portuguese fishermen in Newfoundland?

Several retriever authorities, such as Marcia Schlehr, think that this is an anacestor of retrievers, and I was skeptical, until I learned of the brindle coloration that existed in the St. John’s water dogs.

Then I learned that this breed has a descendant from the Azores, the Cao de Fila de Sao Miguel. It is a brindle mastiff that is used as a farm dog, although it is an active herding breed, used for driving cattle.

This tells me that the Portuguese explorers and fishermen were keeping their brindle farm dogs on the ships with them.

They also probably had some of the poodle-type water dogs on their ships with them. It is possible that some of these dogs were left in Newfoundland, just as the British and French were settling there. They then bred the poodle-type water dogs and the brindle farm dogs together and then added setter, water spaniel, and collie to the mix. Hounds may have been used, but I don’t remember reading any records of large numbers of scent hounds being brought to Newfoundland in the early days of settlement. If you mix all of those breeds together for several generations, while selecting those that were the best net haulers, retrievers, and working dogs, you’d get the St. John’s water dog.

I think that a confusion of the word “Laboreiro” in the dog’s name is the reason why these dogs were sometimes called Labradors. Labrador– “the land God gave to Cain,” as Jacques Cartier called it–  was part of Newfoundland at this time (It is now the province of Newfoundland and Labrador). It does have a native dog, the Labrador husky, which arrived with the Inuit people around the year 1300.  It has no other native dogs. All St. John’s water dogs come from the island of Newfoundland, which is much more heavily settled. However, it would make sense that a British settler would confuse the names.

Now, the region called Labrador is actually named for a Portuguese explorer Joao Fernandes, who was given the title of Lavrador (landholder). It was he who explored this region first (after the Norse). He sailed first for Portugal, but then Henry VII hired him to explore the same region and claim it for England. On that expedition, he disappeared. Because the English settled Newfoundland and eventually claimed that whole region, the region was called Labrador.

Now, what about temperament?

The Castro Laboreiro dog is a protective guardian, and most retrievers are not. However, one of the earliest strains of retriever descended from the St. John’s water dog is the Chesapeake Bay duck dog (Chesapeake Bay retriever). For those of you who don’t already know, Chessies are much more protective than the other retrievers. At one time, they were even considered to be an aggressive breed, although I think that they have been greatly mellowed out in modern times. The dogs were used to guard fishing boats and the boats of market hunters.

Lieutenant-Colonel Hawker  (1814) also wrote of the early “Newfoundlands” as a dog good for “running, swimming, or fighting.”  This suggests that the early St. John’s water dog could be a bit sharper dog than the modern retrievers. (Hawker flips the usual distinction between the way we view Newfoundlands and Labradors, with the big hairy ones being called “proper Labradors” and the 70 pounders as “Newfoundlands.”)

So I have posited what most experts believe is the source of the brindle color that is so disliked in retrievers. It comes from a livestock guardian dog that lives a very rugged life in Portugal.

If you don’t believe me, have a look at these pictures:



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Modern Newfoundlands are slooooow swimmers. Why?  They are big dogs with lots of bone, lots of coat, and substance.

Compare their swimming to this flat-coat, which is a breed with some feathering but no coarse bone:

Now, both of those dogs have a common ancestor. I highly suspect that if the flat-coat were taken to Newfoundland in the eighteenth century, it would be put to work immediately on the fishing fleet. If the Newfoundlands in the youtube video were taken to Newfoundland in eighteenth century, I think the fishermen would leave them on the dock!

I thought it might be interesting to train a modern Newfoundland dog as a retriever, but I’m sure it could never be trial quality.

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The golden and the Chesapeake Bay retriever are very different dogs with a common ancestry.

The golden and the Chesapeake Bay retriever are very different dogs with a common ancestry.

This post is a continuation of this earlier one.

I had previously explained how the British retrievers essentially split into two breeds. However, I don’t think that breed is an accurate term. I think the term landrace, that is a breed that has evolved to a particular purpose or environment (“a race of the land”) is a better term.

The curly-coated landrace was originally much more common. It had very close ancestry with with the various breeds of water spaniel. It evolved in several different form, including liver Norfolk retriever and the mid-sized, relatively long-haired black dogs that were common in the early part of nineteenth century. This breed was designed for working on the estates, not for trialing. Often, commoners procured dogs of this type, using them to poach the estates.

But the halcyon days of the curly-coated landrace soon drew to an end. The old wavy-coated landrace was coming to the fore. It was more biddable and easier for the average person to break. It was derived from some form of retrieving setter, plus the St. John’s water dog and the collie. There was some water spaniel influence in this dog, too, although not as much as in the curly landrace.  The original wavy-coat looked something like this.

Pretty much all retrievers in Britain were either some strain of curly or some strain of wavy, except for the Earls of Malmesbury’s dogs. Somehow, the Earls of Malmesbury managed to procure some of the smooth-coated St. John’s water dogs from Newfoundland. However, these dogs were not widespread in the least, because their owners kept them out of much of the retriever limelight.

Along Chesapeake Bay, a local landrace of retriever was also being bred, although it was never called a retriever. It was called the Chesapeake duck dog, and it had ancestry with the St. John’s water dog. Two of the St. John’s water dogs survived a shipwreck off the coast of Maryland in 1807, before the breed ever became popular as a gun dog in Britain. The bitch, “Canton,” was of the familiar black color, while the dog “Sailor” was a “dingy red color” (liver). Here’s a description of “Sailor.”

All St. John’s water dogs were either liver or black with or without some white or tan markings. Some of the dogs had brindling. These dogs were kept by local market hunters, who supplied gamebird meat to the growing cities of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.. The Western and Eastern Shores of Maryland had their own distinct strains of this landrace, which was backcrossed with water spaniels, other St. John’s water dogs (including the ones we would call Newfoundlands today), the curly-coated landrace, and the wavy-coated landrace, especially towards the end of the nineteenth century, when this type became much more common.

Today, you can get long-haired Chesapeakes and even brindle ones. The long-haired Chesapeake is a throwback to outcrosses to the wavy-coat, the big Newfoundland, longer-haired strains of curly, and the other long-haired dogs. (I’ll explain in another post where the brindle comes from. You have to think outside the box on that one. Hint: I think this is where the confusion about the word “Labrador” comes from.)

So by the mid-nineteenth century, we had four landraces of retriever: the curly, the wavy, the St. John’s dog and the Malmesbury strain of these dogs, and the Chesapeake duck dog. However, retrievers still haven’t evolved into the exact breeds as we know them today. All of these dogs were still outcrossed, and only two, the wavy and curly, were becoming standardized as breeds.

As the curly became a show dog, one strain of this breed split off entirely. It was kept by the gamekeepers of Norfolk as a strain distinct from the big black curly that was appearing in the show ring. I have reason to believe that this strain of curly is one of the key components to the Murray river curly, which is a very similar dog.

In the wavy-coated landrace, yellow and red dogs were often born to black parents. These, along with livers, were often drowned or culled from the breeding programs. Although there are exceptions, of course, (see the first post). In 1865, a young reddish gold wavy-coat was being walked on the streets of Brighton by a cobbler. A Liberal MP for Berwick (at the mouth of the River Tweed) spotted this dog and purchased him. That Liberal MP was the 1st Baron Tweedmouth, who had a large hunting estate in Scotland near Inverness called Guisachan (“Place of the Firs.”) This dog was bred to a dog that the 1st Baron Tweedmouth would have encountered in his constituency. The fishermen used it as the fishermen used the St. John’s water dog in Newfoundland to haul nets and maybe do some gundog work. It is often referred to as a Tweed water spaniel, although I’m uncomfortable attaching it to the water spaniel family. I think it was more accurately the local landrace of the curly, although of a very unusual color from all the other curlies, which were either black or true liver. These dogs were often tawny gold or pale yellow in color and were a bit larger than the English water spaniels. They were known to have some St. John’s water dog influence, which makes them very close to what we would call a retriever today. Every description of this dog I’ve read says retriever, not water spaniel, except that Hugh Dalziel had one that really was more like an Irish water spaniel/bloodhound cross. It is from the crossing with Tweed water dog, black wavy-coats, and red setters that we get the rare yellow flat-coats and the golden retrievers.

But yellow and red dogs remained part of the wavy-coated landrace for a long time, even after they were called flat-coats and were being developed into a show dog.

In the early 1880’s, t he 6th Duke of Buccleuch met with the 3rd Earl of Malmebury about with questions about procuring some of the dogs that the 5th Duke of Buccleuch had received from the Malmesbury kennels. However, they could not be obtained, for it seemed that the strain was on its way to dying out unless new blood could be found. Crossing with the wavies and curlies of that day was out, because they both wanted short-haired dogs in their strain, so it was decided to import some new St. John’s water dogs from Newfoundland and begin the strain. It is from this revived breeding program that the Labrador retriever descends.

It is a myth that Labradors come from Canada. The truth is St. John’s water dogs do come from Newfoundland, but the actual refining of the short-coated retriever happened predominantly in Scotland. (The FCI uses the UK as the Lab’s patron country). These dogs were outcrossed with lots of different dogs, including the wavy-coated landrace, which was on its way to becoming the flat-coat.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, there were now wavy or flat-coated retrievers, which were being standardized in three colors, the big curly, which was suffering from poor breeding practices, the Labrador, which was being bred in three colors (although yellows were very rare), Chesapeake, and the Norfolk, which was slowly dying out as a regional breed.

The stories of Nova Scotia Duck-tolling retrievers and the Murray river curly-coated retriever are coming in the next post on this topic.

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My first hamster was a black-eyed cream that was a notorious biter. We called her the black-eyed bitch.

My first hamster was a black-eyed cream that was a notorious biter. We called her the black-eyed bitch.

Hamster Shows!

Hamsters have no use, other than to be pets, pets that are routine biters. So there’s no temperament issues to worry about compromising through breeding for conformation oddities. After all, most hamsters are so surly that almost no one recommends them for children’s pets these days. I can’t say the same for the golden retriever.

I was once a hamster fancier. I used to breed all sorts of hamsters (all of the Golden or Syrian species– the dwarf and Chinese species were quite pricey in the early 90’s).

I’ve never had one that didn’t try to bite. Never. After a while, I got to where I expected that one would bite me at some point, and I just accepted it as an “occupational hazard.”

I’ve even found hamster conformation standards. These didn’t even exist in the United States when I was hamster crazy.

I’d love to try my hand at conformation breeding, but I don’t want to screw up an animal with a complex brain and social life, like a dog or a horse. Hamsters are pleasingly simple.

As for inbreeding issues, all Syrian hamsters are descended from a single female and her offspring that were captured near Aleppo by an Israeli zoologist named Israel Aharoni. The mother died soon after capture, so all the offspring from that litter wound up populating the whole world with this species.

For those of you who would like a good pet rodent for a child, guinea pigs (cavies) and rats are my top picks, especially the latter. Rats are far, far more responsive than any other species of rodent you are likely to purchase and far less likely to bite. Guinea pigs aren’t bad about biting either, but they have rather dull personalities.

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Dual Ch-AFC Tiagathoe's Kiowa II was a dog of distant Holway breeding.

Dual Ch-AFC Tiagathoe's Kiowa II was a dog of distant Holway breeding.

This is from the Golden Retriever Club (of the United Kingdom).

Basically, the findings and analysis on this page are pretty much what I’ve found in my experience with the various retriever breeds, although I think the flat-coat is a highly underrated dog. And the Labrador is a good dog, but it’s not for me. They have a houndish side to them that pops up every once in a while. However, it is easier to mold the houndish Labrador into an obedient dog than to build the confidence of a golden that is totally shut down. Of course, if you wind up with one of those man-eating goldens, you have the exact opposite problem on your hands.

Labs tend to mature very early. They have been selected for early maturity and rapid development of retrieving instincts. That’s one reason why they clobber all other retrievers in working trials. However, I don’t think that most of them ever develop the same sort of working temperament that the golden has. I actually can’t describe the difference in words. You just have to experience them both to get a feeling for it. I feel much more comfortable with the setterish characteristiics that pop up in goldens, whereas I’m sure Lab people like the houndish characteristics in their breed.

One of the most important lines for working goldens in the Holway line. An important sire for working goldens in this country was a Holway, AFC Holway Barty.  The Holway dogs are invariably dark  to mid-colored and lightly built. Some of them are also little 40 pound rocket goldens. They are strictly field dogs in Europe. Some of their progeny have been shown in the AKC ring before the show golden in this country became a blond Newfoundland. These Holway dogs are depicted on that page from the British Golden Retriever Club.

Perhaps my bias against the Lab is my bias against large scent hounds in general, especially the big pack hounds. I grew up where everyone had a coonhound, which are really good at their purpose. I like a dog that you can talk to. And hounds are always sniffing things.

What amazed me about goldens is that they tend to pay very close attention to your voice, even at a tender age. My current dog would sit there and listen to my voice, even before she had any training.

I think that what makes goldens trainable is nothing more than this tendency to listen to human voices. I don’t think they are especially more intelligent than any other dogs. In fact, I find the whole discussion of dog intelligence a nebulous arena. I don’t think that this term means much to a serious dog person. I’m far more interested in biddability and trainability, which are very distinct from the qualities one is looking for an good ol’  bluetick. But a bluetick can figure out all the tricks of a raccoon, working as far as several miles from his handler. That’s something that goldens really can’t do. And biddability is a worthless characteristic in a coonhound, as much as scent fixation is an undesireable characteristic in the retriever.

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If you think there are only four American breeds of dog, you have your head up your butt.

If you think there are only four American breeds of dog, you have your head up your butt.

“It is also one of only four breeds known to be of American origin.”   From the wikipedia entry on the Plott hound. This might be one of the dumbest statements ever written on dogs in history.

I can name more than four breeds that are of American origin. If it is a breed of coonhound, then it is of American origin, even if its name is “English coonhound.”  There are no raccoons in England, so the English wouldn’t be breeding coonhounds, would they? Black and tan, Treeing Walker, English,  Redbone, and Plott (which is not necessarily a coonhound in its original purpose).

Then there’s the monstrosity of dogs. The American cocker spaniel or, as I call it, the American biting spaniel. This breed is called a cocker spaniel in the US, as if it were the original type for this dog. However, the puffed up poodle dog is a recent creation that happened in the United States.

Then there are the curs. We can’t call those breeds, though, because curs are still bred for their purpose. And some people have been incorrectly advised that cur means mixed breed. This is not the case. Curs are working dogs. They exist in various sorts of landraces. Most are  mixture of hound and herding dogs, while others have some mastiff, Native American dog, or even bull terrier thrown in. If we were to consider the various cur dogs breeds, then we’d have at least a dozen American dogs.

Then we have the Alaskan malamute– that’s an American dog.

The Carolina dog– that’s another American dog.

The pit bull is American– it was our national dog for many years.

The boston terrier– a toy bulldog from Beacon Hill.

Rat terrier– a ratting terrier from America, heavily promoted by Teddy Roosevelt.

The American bulldog and the Alapaha bulldog are both American.

Who could forget the Chesapeake Bay Retriever?  Also American.

This list is far from exhaustive, but it tells me that whoever wrote that statement is a fool.

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The dog giving the verdict to the poodle judge is an old wavy-coated retriever, a black one.

The dog giving the verdict to the poodle judge is an old wavy-coated retriever, a black one.

This painting is by Sir Edwin Landseer, and I uploaded it from wikimedia commons.  The poodle judge is based on a dog belonging to Count d’Orsay. The painting is called both “Trial by Jury” and “Laying Down the Law.”

Supposedly, Landseer was looking at this poodle, and he began to think of the judges and barristers in the British tradition. They wear long white wigs.  Supposedly a judge in attendance said of the poodle that he would make “a capital Lord Chancellor.”

It has been suggested that the dog has been embellished to resemble either Lord Brougham or Lord Lyndhurst, who were both acting Lord Chancellors at various times.

I don’t focus so much on the big white poodle. I focus on the black retriever handing the verdict to the judge, which is pretty similar to all descriptions of the early wavy-coat landrace.

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Answer to Name the Species (III)

Original post is here.

Argentine horned frog or Ornate horned frog (Ceratophrys ornata) .  Aliases: “Pacman frog.”  Its head and jaws are unusually large, just like the Pacman video game.  This name has become the industry name for the species.

These frogs growl and scream.

Like this one:

Video from riadue1.

There are several species on the market now, and they can be fed a diet of all sorts of live prey, including mice.

The first one I remember seeing on television was on The Trials of Life series with Sir David Attenborough.  One of these frogs was approached by an opossum, and it rose up on its legs, hissing and growling at the opossum until it left.

If you want one as a pet, please read this.

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