Archive for the ‘Chesapeake bay retriever’ Category

red winchester retriever 1886  1

This old photograph is being marketed that of an Irish water spaniel, but it’s actually something much cooler.

Irish water spaniels were commonly used as retrievers in the US, but the McCarthy type of water spaniel was invariably liver in color.

And it never makes one double click on an image to make one wonder if a dog is actually a golden retriever.

Here’s a close-up of the dog’s head. It’s very retrievery:

red winchester retriever 1886

I think this animal is a red Winchester retriever, a type of long-coated retriever derived from the St. John’s water dog. It was said to have come from Ireland, but it may have been nothing more than a regional Irish variant of the early curly-coated retriever. Such dogs were in demand among waterfowl hunters in America, and retrievers that were born liver or gold/red in color got exported to fuel the market hunters’ demands on Chesapeake Bay.

This red Winchester type is sometimes regarded as a type of long-haired Chesapeake or a breed that got absorbed into Chesapeakes, which occasionally do have long-coated pups.

We could have made at least three breeds out of the types of retrievers out of what became the Chesapeake Bay retrievers.

This particular dog was photographed by Edward Payson Butler in Reno, Nevada in 1886.  People settling in the West in those later days liked to hunt. The Frontier was just about to close off entirely,and people who had made their fortunes in places like Nevada were eager to get improved hunting dogs from back East or Europe.

This red Winchester retriever would have been a prized possession and obviously cherished member of the family,

I should note that there were several names for this dog: brown Winchester, red Chester, and brown Chester.

One story is that the retrievers that founded this strain came from a British ship called the HMS Winchester that was said to have brought the red, long-coated retrievers out of Cork to America’s Eastern Seaboard.

Which of course, brings us back to the Duggan family water spaniels, which were also from Cork.

Maybe this type of water spaniel is the ancestral red Winchester type that was then crossed with the endemic Chesapeake duck dogs to found the red Winchester, which then got absorbed into the modern Chesapeake Bay retriever.

America’s retriever culture relied much more heavily on water spaniels and regional variants than the UK retriever culture. We preferred liver and yellow/red/gold dogs over black ones, while in Britain, the preference was for black ones. Golden, Labrador, and flat-coated retrievers have long, carefully documented pedigrees, but you will not find these documents in regard to curly-coated retrievers, Chesapeakes, or any breed of water spaniel.

We produced dogs like this one.

Just as our coonhounds were likely mostly drawn from the rejects English Old Southern hound packs, which were deer and hare specialists, our native retriever was drawn from the rejects of a culture that was obsessed with producing black retrievers.

Our hunting and shooting culture is very different from the Motherland. We are a nation born of conquering pioneers, not of decaying feudalism.

We were once a nation filled with game, and compared to the British Isles today, we are still teeming with wild beasts.

We didn’t need a dog to say that we were up-and-coming. We needed a dog that had a purposed.

Until the frontier closed.

And well-to-do people began to sport hunt as a homage to a past that once included a Davy Crockett, a Daniel Boone, and a Lewis Wetzel.

This is where we are now.

Sport-hunting begat the modern conservation movement and then the science of wildlife management, and as America has grown wealthy, we’ve been able to save many species. We’ve been able to keep a bit of the frontier wildness about.

We may not have the zapovedniks of Russia, but we still have enough wild or even “feral” places about.

And here, people can keep dogs like this red Winchester’s descendants and take him or her into the places that remind one of that storied past.

It’s never going to be the same, but it is a reasonable enough facsimile.

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Chesapeake duck dog

From a piece by George Norbury Appold in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine (1885):

It is sincerely to be regretted, in view of his exceptionally valuable qualities, that suggested a close relationship to the otter-dog. His ability as a retriever emphasized this supposition. His superior qualities in this direction were so manifestly phenomenal that the few original specimens were eagerly purchased from their foreign owners by the gunners of Chesapeake Bay. The ability of this dog to withstand cold and exposure was far beyond that of the Irish retriever [Irish water spaniel]. Within a brief period he entirely superseded the last-named animal as a water-dog. For some unknown reason the Chesapeake duck-dog never became numerous; hence the owner of a pure-blooded specimen could hardly be induced to part with him at any price. In time this dog so identified himself with the waters of Chesapeake Bay as to be known by no other name than that borne by this estuary.

Twenty five years ago he was at the apogee of his fame. Nearly every family living in the bay counties of Maryland owned one or more of untainted blood. Through carelessness the breed was allowed to deteriorate; in consequence, to-day few, if any, of pure blood are in existence. A small number, however, remain of sufficient purity of race and perfection of training to almost equal in efficiency their distinguished and untainted ancestors. There were, in reality, two varieties of this dog, the long and the smooth coated, the latter not so popular as the former. The Chesapeake duck-dog is of the same size as the small Newfoundland [St. John’s water dog], head broad, nose sharp, eyes small and bright, ears somewhat insignificant and set high; coat in color dark sedge, strong and tigtlyy curled, with a peculiar under fur, so thick that the dog can remain in the water a long time without his skin becoming wet. The hair on the legs is not so long. It is particularly short about the nose and eyes. The Chesapeake duck-dog is used by sportsmen who shoot wild fowl either from points or from “booby blinds” set in the water a short distance from the shore.This dog so closely resembles the color of sedge-grass as not to be distinguishable except very near by. He remains in concealment until ordered to “fetch.” At the command he springs into the water, breaking his way even through ice of considerable thickness. The wounded birds he first retrieves. When these are all gathered in, he secures the dead. Ducks in the Maryland waters generally fly in long strings. It often happens that the gunner, armed with a breech-loader, puts in several shots while the gang of birds is passing. In this case the well-trained and sagacious dog has much hard work to do, particularly if the weather be rough. His endurance, however, is remarkable, and he never seems to tire at his task. This continuous immersion in the water would be impossible to any animal not provided with the thick and almost water-proof under fur of the Chesapeake duck-dog.

With his affectionate disposition, great intelligence, strength, and the peculiar physical qualities which he possesses, adapting him to the retrieving of wild fowl beyond any other known breed, it is a great misfortune that closer attention has not been given to the preservation of the purity of the race (pg. 36-37).

The Chesapeake Bay retriever is derived from the St. John’s water dog, as are all the other large retrievers.

This type of “Newfoundland” dog would have been commonly available in the United States, but it was only Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay that anyone attempted to turn this dog into a strain of retriever.

Unlike the St. John’s water dog-derived retrievers bred in the British Isles, the Chesapeake Bay retriever was selected for liver and yellow to red coloration. In Britain, virtually every gentleman had to have a black retriever for driven shoots.

American ducks, however, were always heavily gunned, and there was always a belief that one needed a brown or yellow retriever for camouflage.

Most Americans used water spaniels for retrieving ducks and retrieving setters to pick up land-based game birds, but on Chesapeake Bay there was a retriever culture that was very distinct from that in the British Isles.

In some ways, it was a southern equivalent of the Newfoundland culture which used those rugged water dogs to haul in nets and lines, hunt waterfowl and sea birds, and guard the home.

The Marylanders used their dogs in almost the same way, but a great many of these people were also involved in market hunting, a sort of American equivalent of the African bushmeat trade.  Hunters would go out and kill as many ducks and other waterfowl as they could, which they would then sell to restaurants and markets in the growing cities.

It was bad for our wildlife, but the culture that thrived upon this slaughter created this dog.

In some weird way, the Chesapeake Bay retriever is a bit of a museum piece.

As the outports of Newfoundland have begun to dwindle away, the St. John’s water dog slowly disappeared.

But its descendants have wound up conquering the world. The Labrador retriever is the most common purebred dog in the world. Golden retrievers are also quite popular.

But only the Chesapeake Bay duck dog was essentially kept in much the same way as the dogs of Newfoundland.

This Chesapeake retriever culture got started in 1807, when two St. John’s water dogs were rescued from a British ship that had been working off the coast of Newfoundland. The dogs were placed in the homes of different owners, and one of these dogs wound up in the hands of Maryland Governor Edward Lloyd, a wealthy planter who was into importing improved breeds of domestic stock from Europe. The dog was actually traded for Merino ram at a time when America’s sheep industry was booming and everyone was trying to get Merino stock.

Like our Vermont strain of Merino, the Chesapeake Bay retriever became our variant of the St. John’s water dog.

Today, it’s not as common as its British cousins, the golden and Labrador retrievers, which were derived from St. John’s water dogs selected for estate shoots.

But it still has a devout following.






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Wildfowling is English for duck hunting.


He may be “wildfowling,” but he’s hunting with an American dog that was once called the “Chesapeake Bay duck dog.”

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The ash dogs are the ones that look like silver Labradors or Weimaraners, and it is genetically the same– a liver dilute.

The only two colors in Chesapeakes that I can identify with certainty are ashes and deadgrasses.  I tend to have problems separating colors that are shades of liver that have been diluted through sun exposure and colors that are dark recessive reds with brown skin.



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This bitch named Polly is featured in George O. Shields’s The American Book of the Dog (1891).

I don’t know if we would call this particular dog a “Red Winchester,” which was the early long-haired strain of Chesapeake Bay retriever,” but this dog has more coat than one typically finds on a Chesapeake Bay retriever of today.

This dog is only slightly feathered, but she may  have been groomed to look a “bit slicker” than she would normally.

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One could be forgiven for assuming that these were flat-coats, wavy-coats, or goldens. The shading of the dog in the lower right suggests that this dog is an e/e red, which does exist in the Chesapeake Bay retriever gene pool. However, black skin does not.

This image comes from Country Life in America (November 1915). Long-haired dogs occasionally pop up in Chesapeake Bay retrievers today. However. the modern breed is based upon a short-haired dog.

These long-haired dogs were very often quite red in color, and a whole strain of them was produced called a “Red Winchester.”   Many of the early show Chessies were of this Red Winchester type.

Because this breed existed along Chesapeake Bay as a landrace with very different strains, it varied greatly in appearance. I like to think of these dogs as being something like the original retriever, which came in an interbreeding landrace of feathered, curly, and short-haired varieties. The only difference is that the Americans selected for e/e yellow to red and liver colors (including “silver”– liver dilute, which is called “ash” in this breed). The British selected for black dogs almost exclusively and then concentrated the coat types into three and then four breeds. I don’t know why the American Chessie breeders didn’t try to do this, because the British were quite successful at doing so.

The Red Winchester retriever could have been established as a breed, but it fell from favor in the first part of the twentieth century, as it was absorbed into the modern Chessie.

These particular dogs were exhibited at a dog show in Southampton, New York in the summer of 1915.

The Chesapeake Bay dog was the first retriever recognized by the AKC, and for a while, there was  a heated discussion about whether this breed was a retriever. Because the dogs are also derived from the water dogs of Newfoundland (most likely St. John’s water dogs), this argument has long been settled.

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Yes. This is a brindle Chesapeake, and unlike the brindling on the Labradors, this dog has brindling throughout its coat.

Because all Chessies are brown skinned (bb), the brindling is dark brown, not black.

The coat texture and the fact that the brindling isn’t as clearly contrasted makes it more difficult to discern.

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This image of two curlies comes from Rawdon Lee’s A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland (Sporting Division-Vol. 1) (1891) (pg. 178).

The dog in the foreground appears to be a bitch. I think I can discern mammae on underside. I could be seeing things, but I think I see teats.

This “bitch” appears to be very similar to a Labrador and closer to “Joby” in appearance.

The dog in the background cannot be fully examined, but it looks like this animal is a bit longer in the leg. Perhaps it is closer to how we envision the modern curly.

Most of the depictions and photos of the nineteenth century curlies point to them being much heavier built  animals than the modern dogs are.  They look more like Labradors with curly hair.

It is difficult to find curly photos that show the size of the animals, but it appears that many of the the dogs were closer to the Labrador in size as well as shape.

This breed is called the oldest of retrievers because it was the first to standardize. One cannot maintain this breed’s coat in an open breeding system.  So it was likely the first to standardize from the St. John’s water dog.

Temperament-wise, it may be closer to the old St. John’s water dog than the others, for it seems to share some characteristics with the Chesapeake, a breed to which it may not be directly related.  It is often suggested that curlies are in the Chesapeake bloodline, but curlies have never been common in the US. Retrievers didn’t become widespread in the US until the twentieth century, which was decades after the curly-coat had fallen from whatever grace it might have had in the British fancy. I think it is unlikely that there is a direct relationship between the two, and the similarities between Chessies and curlies is the result of them both being early derivatives of the St. John’s water dog.

Flat-coats, goldens, and Labs underwent much more improvement in the UK than these two breeds. They were dogs that were adapted for estate shoots and field trials– which pursued game mostly on land.  Because curlies and Chessies were always waterfowl dogs and were  foten the dogs of either poachers or market hunters, the dogs never underwent any “improvements” for trialling or estate shoots. They needed a tough dog that could swim in all conditions and take a good grip on a duck. They didn’t need a super biddable dog with a very soft mouth.

These are likely traits that one would have found in the water cur from Newfoundland. It had to be willing to go into water that was quite cold and quite rough, and it had to take a good grip on the nets and lines. Otherwise, it would lose it in the swells.

When the dogs came to England, those that become popular among the shooting gentry had to be super biddable and have the most tender mouths. It wasn’t considered right for a dog to crunch a pheasant or hare, and because the dogs were typically working on land, there was no need for the dog to hold onto its quarry with such a tight grip.

That is why curlies and Chessies have such a reputation for hardmouth– perhaps it is now undeserved.

But I think that if we were going to see what a St. John’s water dog acted like, one should probably look at the curly and the Chessie, rather than the Labrador, which it so closely resembles.

These two breeds seem to share “primitive” traits that are not shared with the other retrievers at all. They both will guard. They both will swim with little encouragement. Neither is particularly celebrated in retriever trials or tests, but both are still quite functional as working dogs.



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This is a famous painting of a Chesapeake Bay retriever, a curly, and an Irish water spaniel working for a waterfowler.

The painting is only realistic if the curly is absent. Many American waterfowlers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries used Irish water spaniels and Chessies. The original American retriever culture was based upon water spaniels, both American and Irish, and the native “Chesapeake ducking dog.” The Irish water spaniel was common enough in the nineteenth century that it was among the first breeds recognized by the AKC.

By the twentieth century, the curly was mostly a regional English breed that sometimes appeared as a curiosity at dog shows. It had originally been the poacher’s retriever– a totally purpose-bred dog, but it had very little room in the retriever fancy and the retriever trial culture. It was never popular in America, and it is still quite rare.

This painting always appears in generic encyclopedia books about dogs that mention retrievers. It shows three breeds that are not the majority breeds in any retriever culture. The Chessie is still widely celebrated in its homeland, but the other two are quite rare dogs.

The American retriever culture would be based upon waterfowling. The British retriever culture would be based upon the estate shoot in which pheasants, partridge, quail, and pigeons were shot along with hares and rabbits. Americans would originally prefer dogs that were a definite water dog type, as all three of these dogs were. Labradors, flat-coats, and goldens were all a bit suspect, simply because they were working terrestrial shoots.

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A dog that is able to do what this dog does in the video is probably a bit too much for the average person.

That dog has a lot of drive.

And a dog with a lot of drive requires some outlet for its natural talents.

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