Posts Tagged ‘Tweed water dog’

From the Friends of Guisachan:


This image is of “Belle,” the Tweed water dog that was bred to “Nous,” the yellow wavy-coated retriever, to found the Lord Tweedmouth strain of yellow retrievers.

The Tweed water dog, often referred to as a spaniel, was actually a dog that belonged to market hunters on the North Sea coast of England and southern Scotland– from Norfolk to the mouth of the River Tweed.

These dogs were basically the equivalent of the Chesapeake Bay retriever in Britain. They were owned by men who shot ducks and geese (often with punt guns) and needed a boisterous water dog to collect their catch. They also would catch ducks during the molt, when they couldn’t fly.

Veterinary surgeon Richard Lawrence wrote about the Tweed water dog in his 1816 book, The Complete Farrier and British Sportsman. He claimed that water dog had “Newfoundland” blood, which means the dog was basically a rougher form of curly-coated retriever:

Along the rocky shores and dreadful declivities beyond the junction of the Tweed with the sea of Berwick, water-dogs have derived an addition of strength, from the experimental introduction of a cross with the Newfoundland dog, which has rendered them completely adequate to the arduous difficulties and diurnal perils in which they are systematically engaged. These stupendous and inaccessible cliffs and precipices are so favorable to the propagation of soland geese, sea-gulls, and wild fowl of every description, that the coast may be said to be covered with them, from one extremity of the northern district to the other, and the necessitous and laborious class entirely support themselves and families, during the greater part of the year, by patient attacks whenever there is a probability of success, (otherwise they never discharge a gun) and by the persevering exertions of their dogs. Those clifts, or recesses, are selected which, from their situation at certain angles, or points, afford the most promising expectations of success: in each of these, (but not at a less distance than one quarter, or the third of a mile from each other) huts are so curiously constructed with sods, intermixed with loam, marl, and other applicable articles, as to form, when finished, a seeming part of the rock itself. To each hut is a door, or shelf, within, for the convenience of depositing provisions and ammunition, as well as three circular openings of four inches diameter, (to the right, the left,and the centre,) for the discovery of the fowl on their approach, and the subsequent discharge of the gun, when they, fortunately, were within shot, but which is never discharged except the magnitude of the birds promises a profitable hit; the smaller tribe are permitted to pass unmolested. In this sequestered situation, remote from every human eye, accompanied only by his faithful dog, the adventurer takes his seat at the very dawn of day, his success depending more upon the fluctuating favor of the elements than upon any energetic endeavours of his own. This occupation (for by the happy and enlightened part of the world it cannot be termed a sport, or amusement,) requires more patience and philosophy than any other in which the dog and gun are conjunctively concerned (pg. 405-406).

A very similar breed was bred in Ireland, which was called the Northern Irish water spaniel or “Irish retriever.

Unlike the nobles’ retrievers, which were almost always selected for black color, market hunters’ water dogs were selected to be camouflaged.  Nobles were hunting with retrievers at a heel over game driven to them or pointed by non-retrieving pointers or setters, while market hunters were out in hides after truly wild birds that were flying over hides or boats.

The Tweed water dog is also in the Labrador retriever. The Dukes of Buccleuch crossed their smooth retrievers with Tweed water dogs when it became too difficult to import water dogs from Newfoundland. They were also crossed into the standard curly-coated retriever, and there was at least one strain of yellow curly-coated retrievers, which may have descended from these dogs.

I am glad that Marcia Schlehr, who is North America’s leading golden retriever historian, decided to do this depiction of Belle, and portrayed her as looking more like a retriever than a sort of mongrel Irish water spaniel. Elma Stonex, the golden retriever breeder whose research essentially debunked the Russian circus dog origin story for the breed, thought that John Carlton’s painting of a water spaniel was the closest thing to a Tweed water dog.

But we know what the Nous and Belle puppies looked like.  There were paintings and even photographs of them. They were yellow, and if you saw them today, you would think they were just regular golden retrievers.

So it would make sense that Belle would look more like a retriever than an Irish water spaniel.







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Painting by Richard Ansdell:

(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Before retrievers began to be categorized into breeds, there were dogs like this one.

This dog shows characteristics of St. John’s water dogs and water spaniels.

It’s a sort of rougher version of the curly-coated retriever, though this dog may have been bred into strains that gave rise to either the standardized wavy-coated retriever or curly-coated retriever.

It’s rougher sort of dog because in those days there were no purebred retrievers. Retriever was just a job description, and lots of different dogs did the job.

It was just that shooting sportsman of the middle part of the nineteenth century began to desire dogs of Newfoundland (St. John’s water dog) extraction.

My reading of what the “Tweed water spaniel” that is mentioned in the golden retriever pedigrees is that this dog was very much like the dog in this painting.

The only difference was that it was yellow or liver in color.

Tweeds were often mistaken for curly-coated retrievers, and perhaps the best way to understand what they were was that were a sort of rough form of curly-coated retriever that just happened to occasionally come in yellow.

For this reason, I’m some what leery of calling this dog a water spaniel.

It was more of what we’d think of as a retriever than a water spaniel.


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From William Nelson Hutchinson’s Dog Breaking (1869) :

When recently salmon-fishing on the upper part of the Tweed, I occasionally met on its banks a totally blind man, and who, in spite of this great disqualification, continued a keen and successful trout-angler. He had been for some years entirely sightless, and was led about by a large brown Tweed-side spaniel, of whose intelligence wonderful stories are told. M—r travelled much round the country ; and it is certain, for he would frequently do so to show off the dog’s obedience, that on his saying (the cord being perfectly slack), ” Hie off to the Holmes,” [Holms Water] or, ” Hie off to Melrose,” &c., &c., the animal would start off in the right direction without an instant’s hesitation. Now, this Tweed spaniel was not born with more brains than other Tweed spaniels, but he was M—r’s constant companion, and had, in consequence, acquired a singular facility of comprehending his orders, and doubtless from great affection was very solicitous to please (225).

This was the regional working-type retriever that was native to the Scottish Borders and Northumberland. It was a mixture of St. John’s water dog and some regional water spaniel type and was quite commonly used in hunting waterfowl and helping fishermen set and retrieve nets and lines.

This dog was also an ancestor of the golden retriever, which is currently used as a guide dog for the blind, and is quited noted for being eager to please.

So it was probably a wise choice for the 1st Baron Tweedmouth to use this breed to help found his strain of yellow wavy-coated retrievers that would be at the root of the modern golden retriever breed.

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I have seen this particular photograph many times in golden retriever history publications and website. It is always pointed out that the yellow retriever on the far left is Nous, the foundational sire of the yellow wavy-coated retriever strain at Guisachan. He looks almost exactly like a golden retriever of today, and at the time, he would have been considered a very typical wavy-coated retriever that had a lot of St. John’s water dog ancestry. He may have been entirely of this ancestry. His breeder, Lord Chichester, left no record of Nous’s ancestry. He was a “sport” in a litter of black wavy-coat pups, and he was given to cobbler at Brighton in lieu of a debt. (I don’t know what sort of debt a landed gentleman would owe a cobbler, but that is the story.) Dudley Marjoribanks, 1st Baron Tweedmouth, encountered the yellow retriever at Brighton in 1864.  We all know his story fairly well.

The dog at the far right is the dog that now Scottish nobleman could be without– a Scottish deerhound or “Highland deer greyhound.” This particular dog appears to be a fawn– a color that has since disappeared in modern deerhounds. Every Scottish sportsman tried his hand a deer-stalking or deer coursing.  In both activities, a wiry deerhound would be necessary. With coursing, it is self-explanatory, you have to have a sight hound for that activity. In deer-stalking, if the hunter merely wounded the deer, he would sent forth a brace of deerhounds to bring down the wounded stag– an action somewhat reminiscent of retrievers. (Stonehenge would classify retrievers and deerhounds together for this reason).

I think it is likely that the second dog from the right is a black and tan wavy-coated retriever. It could be a Gordon setter, but I am a bit skeptical for another reason. The Marjoribanks family used their retrievers to hunt deer. The dogs generally tracked the wounded ones, but there is a least one account of a retriever named Mars jumping into a bog to “retrieve” a wounded stag. Because of their use in deer-stalking, it would make sense that the family’s retrievers would be displayed with the deerhound.

The final dog in this photo is a bit nebulous. From a distance, the second dog from the left looks like a young golden retriever or a maybe a smaller individual. However, at this time, the majority of all wavy-coated retrievers were on the larger, more heavily boned side. Most looked like Nous and the black-and-tan dog– except that the vast majority of these dogs were solid black in color. Most of these dogs were broad-headed and very “Newfoundlandly” or perhaps very much like  the “English Labradors” of today, just with long hair.

This dog’s head is all wrong to be a typical wavy-coat of the day. Its ears are more low-set, and the head is almost conical in shape.

When I first saw this photo, I thought nothing of it, except that this dog looked like a different type of yellow wavy-coat than Nous.

A well-known golden retriever historian pointed out to me today that this dog could have been a “Tweed water spaniel.” Then I remembered a description of the Tweed water spaniel’s head, and I realize that this dog has something like the conical shape that was ascribed to this extinct breed from the Scottish Borders and Northumberland.

Every description of this breed I’ve come across points to the similarity between this breed and other retrievers, so wouldn’t one expect a Tweed water spaniel to look something like a golden retriever?

If this dog is a TWS, then it might be Belle. Belle was born at Ladykirk in the Scottish Borders country, which near the Nothumbrian town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, where the 1st Baron Tweedmouth had been the MP. The Marjoribanks family had roots in the Scottish Borders, and the family had an estate in the region. It would have made sense that the 1st Baron Tweedmouth would have been familiar with this yellow or liver water dog.

By the way, I do not know when this photo was taken. It could have been before 1868, when Nous and Belle were bred together to produce the foundational litter for the strain. If so, then Nous would have had the golden retriever trait of developing a white muzzle in middle age. Perhaps he is the source for the premature graying that is so common in the breed!

Nous also has something in his mouth.I have no idea what it is. He was very much a retriever, and this trait was defintely passed on to his offspring, as this painting of Mary Marjoribanks and either Cowslip or Primrose, bitches that Nous and Belle litter, would suggest.

Judging from the appearance of either Cowslip or Primrose  in that painting and that of Ada, another bitch pup from that litter and the foundational bitch of the Ilchester strain of these yellow retrievers, the Tweed water spaniel used in that cross had to have strongly resembled a golden retriever or a “yellow wavy-coat.”  The golden retriever phenotype was established early on in the breeding program. Indeed, Nous himself could easily have passed for a modern golden retriever.

The Tweed water spaniel or Tweed water dog didn’t closely resemble McCarthy’s strain of Southern Irish water spaniel at all. And this confusion, I think has led more than a few people astray. Everyone has scoured the old paintings and photographs looking for something like a yellow version of that breed, but they should have been looking at those of small yellow retrievers instead.

I don’t know if this dog is Belle or even a Tweed water spaniel. It could be, judging from the fact that it doesn’t resemble the typical early wavy-coat of that day.

But one would expect that this bitch would have not been radically different from Nous or the modern golden retriever.

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A depiction of a Tweed water spaniel or water dog. It may be a true liver or a yellow to red with brown skin.

By 1868, Nous had been an established working retriever at Guisachan for three years, and his owner, the 1st Baron Tweedmouth (Dudley Marjoribanks), decided that he wanted to use Nous to found his own breed.

Dudley Marjoribanks had grown up in Berwickshire, the former county in which Berwick-upon-Tweed had been its shire town. He also represented Berwick-upon-Tweed as an MP, and thus, he was familiar with that region’s peculiarities.

He knew of the local water dog, which was a cross between the indigenous water spaniel of the region and “the Newfoundland.”

Richard Lawrence wrote about them in The Complete Farrier and British Sportsman in 1816:

Along rocky shores and dreadful declivities beyond the junction of the Tweed with the sea of Berwick, water dogs have derived an addition of strength, from the introduction of a cross with the Newfoundland dog, which has rendered them completely adequate to the arduous difficulties and diurnal perils in which they are systematically engaged (405).

These dogs were a landrace type, which means they varied greatly in appearance. In Hugh Dalziel’s British Dogs, J.S. Skidmore’s description of the Tweed water spaniel goes as follows:

They were very light liver colour, so close in curl as to give me the idea that they had originally been a cross from a smooth-haired dog; they were long in tail, ears heavy in flesh and hard like a hound’s, but only slightly feathered – fore legs feathered behind, hind legs smooth, head conical, lips more pendulous than M’Carthy’s strain. The one I owned, which was considered to be one of the best of them, I bred from twice, and in each litter several of the puppies were liver and tan, being tanned from the knees downward and under the tail. I came to the conclusion that she, at any rate, had been crossed with the bloodhound.

It is possible that his dog had been crossed with bloodhound or maybe Gordon setter, but  at least one account of the dogs suggests that at least some of these dogs were more of the retriever-type Stanley O’Neill was a well-known flat-coat expert who he had encountered Tweed water dogs as a boy in the 1890’s. His description is of a more retriever like than that of J.S. Skidmore:

Further up the coast, probably Alnmouth [in Northumberland, south of Berwick-upon-Tweed], I saw men netting for salmon. With them was a dog with a wavy or curly coat. It was a tawny colour but, wet and spumy, it was difficult to see the exact colour, or how much was due to bleach and salt. Whilst my elders discussed the fishing I asked these Northumberland salmon net men whether their dog was a [St. John’s?] Water-Dog  or a Curly, airing my knowledge. They told me he was a Tweed Water Spaniel. This was a new one on me. I had a nasty suspicion my leg was being pulled. This dog looked like a brown Water Dog to me, certainly retrieverish, and not at all spanielly. I asked if he came from a trawler, and was told it came from Berwick.

From that description, the dogs looked like a tawny curly-coated retriever. This suggests that at least some of the dogs were not true livers but were brown-skinned yellow to reds. The “light-liver” color in the Skidmore description sounds more like a deadgrass Chessie than a true liver-colored dog.  (Deadgrass Chessies are light yellow dogs with brown skin.)

Now, from my reading of all of these texts, a Tweed water dog or Tweed water spaniel was actually a derivative of the St. John’s water dog. That is why it looked so much like a retriever.  The fact that the dogs had such short hair suggests that they were derived from that “Newfoundland,” rather than the big one. It is likely that the native water spaniel in Northumberland and the Borders was red or yellow in color, rather than truly liver.

Also, in the O’Neill description, the dogs were being used to net salmon. That particular job is the exact task that the St. John’s water dogs performed in Newfoundland.

The dogs were celebrated waterfowl dogs, retrieving shot birds from the chilly and rough waters of the North Sea coast. Because this was a regional breed, it was not well-known in rest of Britain. Dudley Marjoribanks most likely knew about them and their reputation as superior retrievers.

However, in those days, the preferred color for a retriever was black. Other colors simply were not bred from. Perhaps Marjoribanks’s experience with Nous and his knowledge of the Tweed water dog gave him enough confidence to challenge the accepted wisdom of the day.

We do not know what Belle, the Tweed water dog chosen as Nous’s mate, looked like. We can only infer from the depictions of their offspring.

Nous appears to be rather dark-colored dog that was somewhat heavy in bone. If you saw him today, you would recognize him as a golden retriever.

Ada, Crocus, Primrose, and Cowslip, the four bitch puppies that resulted from that breeding, also looked a lot like goldens. Two depictions of those puppies exist– one of Ada and one of either Cowslip or Primrose. Ada is a rather short-haired dog. The dog said to be Cowslip or Primrose has rather wavy long hair.

Both of these dogs are lighter in color than their sire, and both are more lightly build than their sire. This suggests that Belle was a more lightly built dog than Nous and was of a pale gold color. The paler shades in the golden retriever most likely come from the Tweed water dog, for the red t0 yellow wavy-coated retrievers and red Irish and Gordon setters that were crossed into the strain are not that pale in color.

Belle was most likely a brown-skinned yellow, while Nous was a black-skinned yellow of the darker shade.

So now we have an idea about what  the two foundational breeds that helped create the golden retriever looked like. You can see some of the Tweed water dog’s characteristics in some golden retrievers, especially in the performance-bred lines. This breed disappeared by the turn of the century, mostly by being absorbed into the retrievers. Regional dogs also had a hard time competing against the “improved” breeds of retriever that were coming to the fore as the nineteenth century progressed.

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No, it’s just a goldendoodle. I’m sorry to get your hopes up. This pup even has the top-knot that screams water spaniel, but it is not.

However, this pup looks a lot like the Tweed water spaniel or Tweed water dog. The ones around Ladykirk in Scotland were said to be sandy or tawny in color, which is exactly why they were chosen to be crossed into the strain that became the golden retriever.

The Tweed water dog was said to look almost exactly like a reddish or yellow curly-coated retriever, which makes sense considering it was a cross between the St. John’s water dog and some strain of water spaniel, which is exactly how the curly-coated retriever got started.

Compare this curly-coated retriever puppy with the goldendoodle pictured above. They are quite similar, aren’t they?

Most poodle-golden crosses are recrossed back into the poodle. This increases the likelihood of not having much shedding. However, if you cross back into the retriever, well, you can get pups with golden-type coats, pups with poodle-type coats, and dogs that have some water spaniel characteristics. Both the water spaniels, then, rather obviously derived from the poodle-type English rough water dog crossed with setters and land spaniels.

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From Treytor.

Sorry, but this is a small goldendoodle named “Waffle.” This goldendoodle, though, has some throwback features that are really similar to the Tweed water dog or Tweed water spaniel.

Except for the shaggy hair on her muzzle, her coat is really quite like a Tweed water dog’s. It’s wavy to rather curly, but it’s not as long as a golden retriever or Irish water spaniel.

The reasons for this dog exhibiting such throwback features is quite simple.

Poodles are a “refined” version of the old European water dogs. There were once dozens of different strains.

In Britain, the regional strain was the rough water dog or “water rug.” This dog got absorbed into the water spaniels through regularly outcrossing. In fact, a water spaniel is descended from the rough water dog crossed with either a spaniel or setter. Some individuals developed smoother coats throw the backcrosses, while others developed smooth hair on the muzzle and tail only (like the Irish water spaniel. I have seen a goldendoodle with the same basic coat length patterns as an Irish water spaniel, except for the “rat tail.”)

The water spaniels were then largely absorbed into the retrievers, which also included the St. John’s water dog, setters, and collies as parts of their gene pool.

This little golden-poodle cross is a throwback to these older strains, both of which descend from the old European water dogs.

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