Posts Tagged ‘wavy-coated retriever’

Russian gun dogs 1907

These hunters must have been borrowing heavily from the British traditions. Two setters or a setter and pointer in the cart and black retriever in the front. These men may have even been British who brought their dogs in the Russian wild for a some “primitive” rough shooting in the Irkutsk region of Siberia.

I cannot make out the birds they were hunting. Maybe snipe?


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This is an early retriever. My guess is that Nep was a St. John’s water dog with feathering, an early version of what we’d later call the wavy-coated retriever or the flat-coated retriever. The name “Nep” is short for Neptune, a very common name for St. John’s water dogs and other Newfoundland dogs from the time period.

Look at how he marks the “blackcock.”

Blackcock is another word for the male black grouse. Hens of the species are called “greyhen,” because they are gray.

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Red and white retriever

This painting is by Edward Armfield (1817 – 1896), and the bird it is retrieving is a gray partridge, which in North America has the unfortunate name of “Hungarian partridge,” even though it is almost always called the “English partridge” in the United Kingdom. (Some Americans call it a “Hun,” a term that, as German-America, find pretty offensive. We don’t turn Belgian babies into soap!)

The dog looks to be of St. John’s water dog extraction. It has the robust build of that breed, and like many that were imported into the UK during the early nineteenth century, it has feathering.

Of course, the dog likely isn’t of “pure breeding.”

Through much of the nineteenth century, retrievers were the gentry’s equivalent of the poacher’s lurcher. Each shooting nobleman bred retrievers by crossing different types of dog. As we’ve seen, this tradition heavily conflicted with the British dog fancy that came later, which demanded that every retriever be a black dog.

This dog is particularly interesting because it’s red and white. It doesn’t appear to be a liver and white dog at all. The red coloration is the same that appears on golden retrievers and Irish setters. However, it’s also a particolor, which is unlike any golden retriever living today.

But if this dog had been bred to solid black dogs, the recessive red coloration would be carried, and the chances are good that one of its descendants would have been a solid red or gold dog.

I don’t know any specifics about this retriever. I don’t know its name or where it lived. All I know is that it’s a British retriever from the early to middle nineteenth century. If anyone knows any more details, please pass them along.

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From Country Life Illustrated (27 November 1897)

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These dogs belonged to a Mr. L. Allen Shuter (no pun intended).  These are some very famous flat-coated retrievers, and they also appear in some of the early golden retriever pedigrees. The flat-coats of this time resembled what I would call working-type golden retrievers. The only obvious difference is that these dogs were black.

These images come from a Country Life Illustrated article that appeared on 10 May 1902:

Ch. Horton Rector

Horton Thyme

Horton Violet. From this photo, one can see she has obviously been nursing puppies. She reminds me of the golden retriever, Ch. Noranby Diana. who lived over a quarter century later.

Horton Violet with her puppies.

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This dog’s name was Breeze, and he was a golden retriever.

But he wasn’t one of those golden retrievers.

He was alive over twenty years before the breeding program at Guisachan began, so we can’t call him a golden retriever as we know them today.

Instead, it is more accurate to call him a “golden-colored retriever.”

Some art sites list this dog as a golden retriever, but they forget to check the actual history on the dogs we call golden retrievers. The dates simply don’t line up.

This dog was alive before retrievers ever got the distinction of being called “wavy-coated retrievers” and “curly-coated retrievers.”

However, he was a feathered dog with a waviness to his coat.

But the actual distinctions between wavy and curly-coated retrievers as defined strains dates only to about 1860.

Before that, retrievers were the gentlemen’s lurchers– performance-bred mongrels that were selected solely for performance.

Not all of these dogs had ancestry from the various dogs of Newfoundland. Some were terriers and terrier crosses. Others were greyhounds and collie-type farm dogs. There was always a contingent of regional water spaniels, as well as retrieving setters and the odd retrieving pointer or beagle.


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Yes. They do.

(Source for all photos in this post)

Yes. The purebred dog in that last identification query is a Labrador.

And you may have seen a dog like this one on this blog before.

Remember, Ch. Zelstone?

Zelstone was born in 1880, and he became a very important sire in the old wavy and flat-coated retriever breed from which both golden retrievers and modern flat-coats descend. Tracer, his son and full brother to Ch. Moonstone, was bred into the strain of yellow wavy-coated retrievers at Guisachan. Moonstone, when bred back to his mother produced a red-gold puppy, which meant that Zelstone carried the recessive red color.

Zelstone’s ancestry ran right through Henry Farquharson’s kennels— and he was mostly of St. John’s water dog ancestry. Farquharson was a major importer of dogs from Newfoundland, and although most of his dogs were of the larger type, he evidently had some of the smaller St. John’s type. It is likely that some of these were long-haired dogs. Lambert de Boillieu, a trader working Labrador during the 1850’s, mentions that long-haired dogs were of no use to the fishermen and hunters of Newfoundland and Labrador, and they were eager to have them sent off to Britain:

The dogs sent to England, with rough shaggy coats, are useless on the coast; the true-bred and serviceable dog having smooth, short hair, very close and compact to the body. I sent to England a fine specimen of these, but unfortunately the vessel which bore it had the misfortune to be wrecked on the north coast of Ireland, and all hands were lost (243-244).

The long-haired dogs likely comprised the vast majority of the dogs imported to Britain, where they were used to found the wavy-coated retriever. It is often said that the long-coats on these dogs derived from crossing the smooth-coated St. John’s water dog with the setter. However, this doesn’t theory hold up with much scrutiny. If one breeds a dog that is homozygous for the smooth-coat to a dog that is homozygous for the long-coat, you will get smooth-coated puppies. The vast majority of retrievers derived from St. John’s water dogs or “Labradors” in the British Isles during the nineteenth century were long-coated and were called “wavy-coated retrievers.” These dogs were sometimes crossed with setters or collies, but as a rule, they were almost always long-coated.

The Rev.  Thomas Pearce (“Idstone”) wrote inThe Dog (1872) that smooth-coated retrievers that were of this St. John’s water dog ancestry were quite rare in England, but it was possible to get puppies with both coats in litters. The smooths were always associated with imports from Newfoundland, but they were good workers:

The flat and shaggy, and the smooth-coated—I mean as short in the hair as a Mastiff—are sometimes found in one litter, and one of the best I ever saw was thus bred from Mr. Drax’s keeper’s old “Dinah” (imported), the father being also from Labrador. “Jack” acknowledged no owner but Mr. Drax, and died in his service at Charborough Park. During the time he was in the squire’s service he must have carried more game than any team, or half-a-dozen teams, could draw, since every year he went the circuit of Mr. Drax’s manors and estates, and the two were as much heralds of each other in Kent, Dorset, or Yorkshire, as Wells and “Fisherman” when a Queen’s Plate was to be run for. Beaters gave him a wide berth, for he was not to be induced to give up game to them, and woe betide any of the number, whom he knew by their dress—a white gaberdine with a red cross in it—if they approached to familiarity, or intercepted him whilst he tracked his game liked a Bloodhound, and stooped to his line amongst the underwood, or tried to knock over crippled game after he had viewed it and was racing it down.

He was just like his rough brother ” Tom ” —or, in fact, like “Snow,” in all but length of coat . As they,” Snow” and “Tom,” came out of the lake when we were shooting teal and widgeon, drenched with half-frozen water, I have frequently been struck with the family likeness.

But the smooth-coated dog has a lighter eye—a pale hazel with an intensely black pupil, occasionally very like what is known as a “china” or “wall-eye.” Be that how it may, they are the best of all breeds for boating; they can stand all weathers, and though men unused to them call them butchers’ dogs [a common complaint was that St. John’s water dogs with smooth coats looked like bulldogs], I think them handsome, and I know that they are sensible, and that the punt and shore men, living by adroit use of the long stauncheon gun and “flat,” look upon them as a part of their household, and in some cases—to quote the words of one old sporting farmer, to a duke who wanted to buy his horse— “no man has money enough to buy them” (pg. 128-129).

Idstone believed that the setter was the primary ancestor of the wavy-coated retriever, but we now know that during the early days of this kind of retriever in the nineteenth century that they were primarily of St. John’s water dog ancestry.

The famous depiction of Paris and Melody from an edition “Stonehenge’s” Dogs of the British Islands. Paris was said to have been a pure “Labrador” or “St. John’s water dog.” He also had long hair. Melody was a setter cross, and she looks more like a setter than even the modern flat-coated retriever, which had some Irish setter crossed in at a later date to make them even more refined.

The modern flat-coated retriever also has more or less the setter’s coat, which lacks the very, very dense undercoat that is associated with golden and Labrador retrievers. Because of this coat type in modern flat-coats,  it is much more likely that the wavy-coated retrievers were primarily of St. John’s water dog ancestry– with only occasional outcrosses to setters.

When Stonehenge provided a depiction of a St. John’s Newfoundland or Labrador dog in an edition of The Dog in Health and Disease (1879), he chose to use an image of a long-haired one.

Now, the long-haired dogs would be instrumental in establishing the old wavy-coated retriever, which eventually became the golden retriever and the modern flat-coat. These were the dominant retrievers in the British Isles through the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.  The founding president of the Kennel Club, Sewallis Shirley, was a major patron of this retriever, and he and Dr. Bond Moore, who often called his dogs “Labradors,” were instrumental in establishing the old wavy/flat-coated retriever as defined breed.  These were all long-haired dogs, but because there were only two varieties of retriever, the curly and the wavy, there was some interbreeding between those two types. Smooth-coated retrievers were very uncommon at this time, which also strongly suggests that the founding population of St. John’s water dogs that were used to found the wavy-coated retrievers were of the shaggy-type that Lambert de Boilieu mentioned. If the founding dogs were smooth-coated as the later St. John’s water dogs were, then most of the retrievers that were derived from these dogs would have been smooths. But the bulk of the evidence shows that the British retriever in the nineteenth century was almost universally long-haired.

A modern long-haired Labrador retriever in profile. Its resemblance to the old wavy-coated retriever is uncanny.

One needs to understand that the dog that these texts call a “Labrador” isn’t necessarily the same as the breed called the “Labrador retriever.”  The modern Labrador retriever traces to the 1880’s, when the line of smooth-coated retrievers that was kept by the Dukes of Buccleuch was combined with that of the Earls of Malmesbury. This was the only British retriever to be selected for the dominant smooth coat. Modern Labrador retriever are almost universally smooth-coated dogs.

However, very rarely, a long-coated puppy is born. These dogs are extremely rare– much rarer than Labradors with tan poins or brindling.

The exact origin of these modern long-haired Labradors isn’t exactly clear.

They could have always been hidden within the smooth-coated St. John’s water dog bloodlines that eventually gave us the Labrador retriever, but if this were so, it probably would be more common in the breed than it is today. I think a much more likely source for this coat is cross-breeding. Labrador, golden, and flat-coated retrievers were considered varieties of a single breed, and interbreeding the varieties was very common. When the Labrador retriever needed fresh blood, it was occasionally bred to wavy or flat-coated retrievers, which may have included dogs we would call golden retrievers. The Dukes of Buccleuch and the Earls of Malmesbury tried to keep their dogs from being bred to long-haired retrievers, which is one reason why they were so eager to import more smooths from Newfoundland. However, other breeders certainly did outcross.

Long-haired Labrador retriever puppies.

Long-haired Labrador retrievers are a sort of atavism. The dogs look very much like the old wavy-coated retriever and the long-haired St. John’s water dogs, which were essentially the same breed. They also point to the simple reality that Labrador, golden, and flat-coated retrievers are much more closely related than one might assume.

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This painting is said to be of a Labrador. We could just as easily call it a wavy-coated retriever or a St. John’s water dog with long hair.

We can tell from the hat on the table that this isn’t a giant dog. In fact, it looks like a golden retriever with border collie markings.

See earlier posts:

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From Country Life Illustrated (28 October 1899).  The picture is entitled “At the Pump.”   We also know that this dog is a “retriever proper,” because it is in the “Dog Breaking ” section. The child also gives us the relative size of this dog, which means it is definitely within the wavy-coated/flat-coated retriever size limits.

I had a golden retriever that looked exactly like this dog– except for color, of course. Strawberry, the mother of the golden boxer, had the same head shape and really coarse bone. She even had the funky ears and the tendency toward portliness. The only difference is that her coat was so full of wavy cowlicks that her coat was open. She also had a bit longer coat than this dog, but in terms of shape, she looked exactly like this dog.

She also had a vestigial topknot, which this dog also appears to possess.  It is obscured a bit in this photo, but the wavy, thick hair on the back of this dog’s head is exactly the same as Strawberry’s. The only difference is that hers was quite curly, and it stood up on end, giving her a rather Krameresque appearance.



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This is a painting of what are supposed to be Sir Walter Scott’s dogs.  The painting is by George Armfield and was said to have been painted at Abbottsford, Sir Walter Scott’s home, in 1852. The black dog at the center is said to be Maida, Scott’s favorite deerhound.

On closer inspection, one clearly sees that this is a painting of some gundogs and a small terrier-type dog.

The lemon and white dogs with feathering are either undocked spaniels or setters. These red and white or lemon and white spaniels were occasionally undocked in Armfield’s day, and they were the most common land spaniels in the British Isles during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The Clumber and the Welsh springer are likely descendants of these dogs. (Some authorities call these dogs Blenheim spaniels, but I avoid doing so in order to avoid confusion with a the red and white coloration in the two English toy spaniel breeds.)

However, there were also heavily built setters that were found throughout Great Britain during this same time period.  Whatever they are, they are of interest to anyone curious about the history of gun dogs.

In the background, two pointers are evident. These two dogs have shorter hair. One is black and white, and the other is liver and white. Both of these were relatively common colors in pointers.

However, the dog in the foreground is clearly not Maida. We have a very good idea of what she looked like. She was a cross between what we would today call a Great Pyrenees and a “deerhound,” which could mean any sort of large sight hound that was used to pursue game. Judging from the various depictions of Maida, the deerhound ancestor was probably a smooth sight hound of some sort, perhaps what was known as a “deer greyhound.” If the deerhound had been rough-coated, as all Scottish deerhounds of today are, she would have inherited this feature. She is more robust than any sight hound and she has an evident partial ruff, both of which she likely inherited from her Pyrenean sire. Cross-breeding mastiff-type dogs with large sight hounds was a common practice for producing a great “deer dog.” Many deer greyhound lines had a touch of this ancestry.

The dog in this painting obviously is not a large sight hound at all.

It is a retriever. The dog looks like it could be an early wavy-coated retriever or a St. John’s water dog (“Labrador”) with long hair. There never was a clear division between the two dogs, so either answer would be correct. It’s a retriever, not a sight hound, and it cannot be Maida.

I do not know if these dogs are actually the ones belonging to Sir Walter Scott. I have read no record of him owning any kind of retriever, although he did have a Newfoundland as a young man.

Of course, there is one other rather large reason to doubt that these dogs belong to Sir Walter Scott. The painting dates to 1854. Scott died in 1832.

So who knows whose dogs they actually were!

Still, it is a very good depiction of an either an early wavy-coated retriever or a long-haired St. John’s water dog.

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