Posts Tagged ‘golden retriever history’

Winifred Charlesworth, the woman most instrumental in creating a distinct golden retriever breed, with some of her Noranby goldens.


And the modern version: Ginger, photo courtesy of Djanick Michaud of Zomarick Golden retrievers:


In black and white:

ginger black and white

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bloodhound golden retriever mix

A cross between a golden retriever and a bloodhound looks a lot like a ridgeback. There are no dogs like this one featured anywhere in historical golden retriever photos.
Source for image.

I see it often repeated on websites that golden retrievers have bloodhound ancestry. I don’t know why it gets repeated that much, but if you breed a golden retriever to a bloodhound, you get smooth-coated puppies. There are no smooth-coated golden retrievers or any mention of smooth-coated bloodhound retrievers anywhere in the breed history.

The GRCA has published an article in which it quotes Arthur Croxton Smith, a British gun dog enthusiast from last century, who actually talked to the originators of the strain. It was actually he, not Elma Stonex, who revealed that the Russian circus dog story was bogus.

But no one listened to him.

And apparently no one is listening now. This is what Croxton Smith found out about the exact ancestry of the retrievers from the Third Lord Tweedmouth:

“Col. Ie Poer Trench ( St. Hubert’s Kennel) told me a romantic story which I was responsible for reporting extensively in various articles, to the effect that Sir Dudley Marjoribanks founded his kennel on a troupe of performing dogs that he bought from a circus proprietor in Brighton soon after the Crimean War. My old friend told me this story with such conviction that I had no reason to doubt it, but when I saw descendants of Mr. Harcourt’s strain (Culham} I came to the conclusion that they were not greatly different from the Flat­Coats that I used to know when a boy, and I thought the best way of getting an accurate version of the origin of the Guisachan dogs was to go to the late Lord Tweedmouth who was the grandson of the first peer [Dudley Churchill Marjoribanks, 3rd Baron Tweedmouth].

“He told me that one Sunday when his grandfather and father were at Brighton in the late ’60’s, they met a good looking yellow retriever and approached the man who had it. This man, who was a cobbler, said that he had received the dog in lieu of a bad debt from a keeper in the neighbourhood and that it was the only yellow puppy out of a black Wavy-Coated (the Flat Coats were then called Wavy) Retriever litter. Sir Dudley bought the dog and later obtained a bitch of a similar colour in the Border country. Several others were obtained, and to prevent the danger of excessive inbreeding, an occasional outcross was made with black Flat-Coated bitches. The third Lord Tweedmouth assured me that there was never a trace of Bloodhound in them — they were absolutely purebred Retriever.

“This version had corroboration in a letter published in the ‘Field’ in 1941, when M. S. H. Whitbread stated that the second Lord Tweedmouth told him how, as a small boy at school near Brighton, his father, Sir Dudley Marjoribanks, took him for a walk on the downs where they met a man with a very handsome young yellow retriever. He was a shoemaker and had received the puppy from Obed Miles, the keeper at Stanmer, in payment for a bill. Sir Dudley bought the dog, which was the originator of the Tweedmouth breed.

“Reading these two accounts together, combined with my previous doubts, I feel we must accept them as being correct.”

The bloodhound story is the last vestige of the Russian circus dog story that gets repeated in respectable circles.

People did breed hounds to retrievers, but there isn’t very good evidence that modern golden retrievers are bloodhounds.

Now, there is an account that at Guisachan the retrievers were bred to a bloodhound to make a better deer-tracking bloodhound, but there is no account of those dogs being bred back into the retrievers.

Croxton-Smith knew that the golden retrievers were nothing more than yellow or reddish variants of the old way-coated retriever, and  for that reason, he was skeptical of the Russian origins story.

We now have dropped the Russian dogs from the picture, but the bloodhound still remains.

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It just comes in gold only:

Golden retrievers retain much of the genetic and phenotypic diversity that existed in the early British retriever breed called a wavy-coated retrievers. Some of these dogs were nothing more than pure long-haired St. John’s water dogs that had been sent to England as ship’s mascots and for sale as “exotic pets.”  The recessive long-haired type that appeared in the St. John’s breed was not preferred, so they were eager to ship them off to England and America. The British did cross their long-haired dogs with setters and other things.

In the early days of retrievers in the UK, it was common for smooth-coated and long-haired puppies to appear in litters of wavy-coated retriever. The smooths were not always called Labradors. Indeed, the term “Labrador” could also refer to a wavy-coated retriever that was free of the setter influence.

The flat-coated retriever has had most of the wave bred out of its coat, which is why it’s called the flat-coated retriever.

But the golden retriever breed retains much of its ancestor’s type. It still has the dense undercoat of the long-haired St. John’s water dog, which was purged from the gene pool through exportation in the early and middle decades of the nineteenth century.

Although it’s technically a new breed, it’s really an old-fashioned dog.



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I know of only one case in the history of the modern dog fancy in which a fanciful story of a dog breed origin was rejected.

And that is with the golden retriever.

For first half the twentieth century, golden retrievers were said to have the following origin:

The Golden Retriever is a descendant of an old breed of dogs known as trackers, which are native to Asiatic Russia. Russian trackers are huge dogs measuring about 30 inches at the shoulder and often weighing 100 pounds. The breed serves man in a variety of ways in its homeland, among which, it is reported, is to guard isolated flocks of sheep in winter with great steadfastness and courage. According to the American Kennel Club, the circumstances leading to the development of the Golden Retriever breed primarily from tracker stock are as related below.

In 1860, Sir Dudley Marjoribanks watched the performance of a troupe of Russian tracker dogs at a circus in Brighton, England. He was impressed by the intelligence shown by these dogs and, reasoning that this could be put to good use in the field, he purchased the entire troupe of eight dogs and took them to his seat in the Guischan deer forest in Scotland. Here they were bred without out-crossing for 10 years, but there was no game in Scotland suitable to their size, and in about 1870 plans were abandoned to establish the breed in its original form.

The Golden Retriever is a powerfully built dog with a rich, golden-colored coat. Fine retrievers and agreeable companions, dogs of this breed are gaining in popularity in Illinois and the Middle West.

At this time the Russian trackers were crossed with Bloodhounds. There is no record of crosses with other breeds, and only one generation of Bloodhound crosses is reported, but the descendants appear, on the basis of photographic records and notes, to have soon developed into the present Golden Retriever type, whose characters included smaller size than the tracker, as well as intensification of scenting ability, refinement, and a slight darkening of the color of the coat.

–Ralph Yeater, “Bird Dogs in Sport and Conservation” (1948).

The dog in called the Russian tracker is actually some sort of ovtcharka, perhaps a Central Asian or a Caucasian. (Tracker may be an English corruption of the word  “ovtcharka.”)

These dogs are not bird dogs.

They never have been.

They are about as unlike a golden retriever as another dog can be, but for some odd reason, people thought that this breed was an ancestor of the golden retriever. Golden retrievers are very social dogs. Ovtcharkas are very bonded to their families and flocks. Golden retrievers have been bred for pretty high prey drive. Ovtcharkas have been bred to have less prey drive.  Golden retrievers have been bred to be agreeable with other dogs, including strange ones. Ovtcharkas have been bred to kill strange dogs that come too near their flocks.

Crossing a bloodhound with an ovtcharka will not magically create a golden retriever. It will not make the ovtcharka smaller or darken the coat.

All you will get a is an ovtcharka/bloodhound cross, which might be nice if you want a sheep dog than can track down missing sheep.

Despite the real problems with this story fitting what we already know about golden retrievers and those particular breeds of dog, people readily believed that story.

It was only rejected when the true story was revealed:

However the true history of the breed was first published by Lord Ilchester in 1952 in an article in the Country Life entitled “The Origin of the Yellow Retriever”. This was based on over ten years of research by Mrs Stonex and in 1959 she and Lord Ilchester put their findings to the Kennel Club.

In 1960 the Crufts catalogue carried the true origins of the breed as approved by the Kennel Club:

“Description of the Golden Retriever

‘The origin of the Golden Retriever is less obscure than most of the Retriever varieties, as the breed was definitely started by the first Lord Tweedmouth last century, as shown in his carefully kept private stud book and notes, first brought to light by his great-nephew, the Earl of Ilchester, in 1952.

In 1868 Lord Tweedmouth mated a yellow Wavy-Coated retriever (Nous) he had bought from a cobbler in Brighton (bred by Lord Chichester) to a Tweed Water Spaniel (Belle) from Ladykirk on the Tweed. These Tweed Water-Spaniels, rare except in the Border Country, are described by authorities of the time as like a small Retriever, liver-coloured and curly-coated. Lord Tweedmouth methodically line-bred down from this mating between 1868 and 1890, using another Tweed Water-Spaniel, and outcrosses of two black Retrievers, an Irish Setter and a sandy coloured Bloodhound. (It is now known that one of the most influential Kennels in the first part of the century which lies behind all present day Golden Retrievers was founded on stock bred by Lord Tweedmouth.)”

From this description it can be seen that all Golden Retrievers go back to the yellow retriever Nous who himself was obviously the produce of Flat – coated Retrievers. Many canine authorities of the day including Rawdon Lee in his Modern Dogs (1893) referred to brown retrievers including pale chocolate coloured dogs being bred from black parents.

In the pedigree of Prim and Rose, the last two yellow retrievers recorded in Lord Tweedsmouth’s records, one can see the influence of both the Flat-coated Retriever and the Tweed Water Spaniel in the development of the Golden Retriever.


Lord Ilchester was Lord Tweedmouth’s nephew, and he knew the dogs when he was young boy.

I am still very skeptical that bloodhound was ever used in the cross because there have never been any smooth-coated golden retrievers. Smooth coats in dog breed are almost always dominant over long coats, and they certainly are when golden retrievers are bred to scenthounds.

Bloodhounds are very unlike golden retrievers in that they are not particularly disposed to take direction, and golden retrievers are notoriously easy dogs to train. The mention of the bloodhound in them may be nothing more than a bit of lore from the old implausible Russian tracker story that filtered into the actual historiography.

The Irish setter in the cross is also somewhat misleading. The original record said “red setter,” which most likely meant red Gordon setter, which were quite common in region around Inverness at the time Lord Tweedmouth began breeding his dogs.

The golden retriever’s origins are with the wavy/flat-coated retriever, which is derived from the St. John’s water dog, an import from Newfoundland. Labrador retrievers are derived from the same stock, and for a time it was not unusual for smooth and long-coated pups to be born in retriever litters, even when they were being standardized into wavy-coated retrievers.

Why were people so willing to believe the nonsense about golden retrievers being ovtcharka/bloodhounds?

Well, for one thing, this story gave legitimacy to separating the color variety from the wavy/flat-coated retriever type.

Yellow and red dogs had a very hard time winning prizes at dog shows, so there was a pressure for them to leave.

However, if the dogs were nothing more than a color variety of the flat-coated retriever, then there would be no good reason to split the breed.

At the time flat-coated retrievers were the most common retriever in the UK. Almost all of them were black. Black was the color that every British gentleman wanted in his retrievers.

And that was the color that won at shows. It didn’t matter if the dog happened to have been a flat-coat or a curly-coat. Black dogs won over the other colors.

But if you have this story that claims that the golden retriever has some sort of exotic origin, then you have legitimacy in your move to split the variety from the black dogs.

Golden retrievers actually got the better deal out of the split than their black relatives, who often appeared in the same litters with them.

Flat-coated retrievers became quite rare during the Interwar years, but golden retrievers became more and more popular, particularly after the Second World War.

What amazes me most about this entire story, though, is how quickly the official golden retriever organizations accepted the true story and began dropping the Russian origins nonsense.

With so many other breeds, you can show the documentation about the actual origins, and they will simply deny it all.

Chinese crested dogs are from China. Dalmatians are from Croatia.

No evidence for either origin story exists.

But people want to believe it.












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Eng. Ch. Diver of Woolley, b. 1927, son of Cubbington Diver, the dog in my gravatar.

He was bred by Mrs. Jacqueline Cottingham, and her “Woolley” dogs were the subjects of many of Reuben Ward Binks’s paintings, including this one.

He was very Mileyish, don’t you think?

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This bitch was born in 1955, and she had a litter with CH AFC FC Craigmar’s Dustrack in 1957.

Very nice looking bitch, isn’t she?

She was bred by Donovan and Gertrude Fischer. The image comes from Gertrude Fischer’s The New Complete Golden Retriever (1984).

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Both of these images come from paintings by Arthur Wardle that were turned into “cigarette card. Cigarette cards were used to stiffen the package, and the cards themselves were collectibles.

1931 cigarette card from John Player & Sons in Nottingham, England.  

1937 cigarette card from the W.D. & H.O. Wills company in Bristol, England.

Both of these dogs are fairly moderate in bone and feathering, and they are also relatively dark in color– which is exactly what we have come to expect from golden retrievers from the 1930’s.

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Her name is Daleside Vetch:

She was sired by Michael of Moreton, who was an early prolific stud in the breed.  Her mother was a Speedwell dog, and the first golden retriever to ear a championship in the United States was Speedwell Pluto, who was very similar to this dog in type.

You can see the full clip at British Pathé, which shows a 1934 newsreel covering Crufts, “The Greatest of All Dog Shows.”

HT to Jemima Harrison for finding this one. I’ve had bad luck finding golden retrievers on British Pathé. Every time I’ve come across a clip of a supposed golden retriever, it turns out to be that of a Clumber spaniel!


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Her name was Princess Christina of Kansas (b. 1989), and she was an obvious working type dog from the United States. (Kansas, in case you didn’t know, doesn’t actually have royalty– except for queens at country fairs.)

(Source for image)

Now, you can tell what lines of golden were eventually prominent in Russia following Christina’s import.

They went for the European and UK show lines, which you can tell by the color of these puppies, which were her grandchildren. They likely went for these lines because they would fit in more nicely with the FCI system, but the Russians themselves have always valued good hunting dogs. So it’s possible that there might be a future for other working-type dogs in Russia.

Christina died in 2001, which just shows you how recent the history of this breed in Russia actually is.

I guess she’s the first golden retriever that ever could accurately be called a “Russian retriever.”


Her pedigree shows that she was just a regular old working-type golden, but one of her great grandmothers was a Topbrass dog.

Her COI over 3 generations was 0.00%.

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Rory of Bentley is the grizzled ten-year-old on the left. Ch. Michael of Moreton is on the right– and in this photo, he is only little over a year old.

Michael would later become a very important sire in the early days of the golden retriever breed, and he was the sire of Ch. Noranby Diana, my favorite of the pre-war goldens.

Rory’s lifespan was quite remarkable. He was born in 1915 and died in 1932– a rather long life for even a modern golden retriever.

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