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Example : Labrador Retriever

Take the Labrador Retriever for example, originally known as Newfoundland dogs, of which there appeared to be four distinct types. Mr. Thomas Bell, born in 1792, was for many years a professor of history at London University and he wrote :

“There are several varieties of the Newfoundland dog which differ in size, character, fur and marking.  The old smooth breed, rather with a small head, white, with small black spots scattered over the body appears now to be extinct.  The largest dogs now met with are of the breed which is very strong in the limbs; rough haired, small in the head and carries his tail very high.  He is kept in that country for drawing sledges full of wood, from inland to the seashore where he is also very useful by his immense strength and sagacity, among wrecks and other disasters in boisterous weather.  The most common breed at present is comparatively dwarf, not exceeding in height of a large water spaniel, almost wholly black…”

History of British Quadrupeds

In 1847 Mr H.D Richardson describes two varieties of Newfoundlands and two varieties of Labradors:

  • The Newfoundland, a dog of moderate stature, seldom exceeding twenty-six to twenty-seven inches, shaggy coated, pointed, wolfish muzzle, colour usually black, with a shade of brown through it, and occasionally some white.
  • Another breed peculiar to Newfoundland is a ‘short-coated’ and sharp nosed; is, by some, mistaken for the true Newfoundland breed…… and often attains the height of thirty inches.
  • The Labrador, a much larger animal, standing twenty – eight to thirty inches; it had a much shorter muzzle and more truncated, the upper lip more pendulous, a coat coarser, and the dog exhibiting greater strength than the Newfoundland.
  • The Labrador Spaniel, or lesser Labrador dog, which presents an appearance intermediate between the Newfoundland dog and the land spaniel.

Most Labradors that arrived in England came into Poole in Dorset and this was the place to buy one. In Col. Peter Hawker’s classic book, written in 1814 he writes

“I should always recommend buying these dogs already broken; as by the cruel process of half starving them, the fowlers teach them almost everything; and, by the time they are well trained, the chances are that they have got over the distemper, with which this species, in particular, is carried beyond recovery”.

Instruction to Young Sportsmen in All That Relates to Guns and Shooting, 1814

He goes on to write

“If you want to make a Newfoundland dog (Labrador) do what you wish, you must encourage him, and use gentle means, or he will turn sulky, but to deter him from any fault, you may rate him or beat him”.

Reprinted below is the fist known standard for the breed – “The Points of the St Johns Labrador Dog”

Skull15Quarters and Stifles10
Nose and Jaws5Legs, Knees and Hocks10
Ears and Eyes5Feet5
Shoulders and Chest10Coat5
Loins and Back10Colour5
The first Points of the St Johns Labrador Dog”

Note that the highest points rating went to the general structure, soundness and strength.  In terms of Temperament the standard said “Without a good disposition and temper no dog can be made into a good Retriever, and therefore this point should be carefully examined in it”.

It seems strange to me that for a working breed, only five points out of one hundred should be devoted to temperament!

One of the greatest authorities of the Labrador was J.H Walsh who writes in his book Retrievers in 1887,

“Mr Bond Moore who is considered to be the highest authority on the breed (in Great Britain) would disqualify a dog for a white toe or a white spot of the smallest kind on the breast or forehead.  This is very absurd for a dog intended for use.  Fancy dogs may be measured by any rule however artificial, but a shooting dog should only be judged by points which are relevant to his work”.

Retrievers – 1887

Thus started the break between working and show types of Labrador!

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