The labrador dog has been recognised as a great retriever and gun dog for hundreds of years. And intelligent and trustworthy enough for seeing-eye work since World War One. Now is the time for me to buy a new Labrador puppy, young enough to train and smart enough to manage my grandchildren with care. As always, it will have to be a dog that can handle the hot Australian summers and will love running on the beach after work.
I needed to find where this breed of dog came from and how adapted to our life style it could be. My initial information came from the thelabradorsite, topped up later by the excellent work of Ben Fogle.
There was no history of native dogs existing on Newfoundland in Canada. Since most of the 18th century settlers on that island were British fishermen and hunters from Devon, they would have brought their dogs with them. Thus the first recorded sightings of the so-called “St John’s Dogs” or “Little Newfoundler Dogs” in Britain had come BACK across the Atlantic to their original home, aboard the vast fleet of cod ships. This St John’s dog had a dense, oily waterproof coat (short or long) and thick tail, oblivious to cold and happy to swim in exceptionally icy conditions.
with intelligent and soulful eyes.
awaiting further instructions.
Did those 18th century settlers not know the difference between Newfoundland and Labrador? These large provinces in the east of Canada were quite separate, divided by the Strait of Belle Isle, a huge tidal channel. So we have to assume that back in Britain, few people cared about unimportant geographical details in a very distant colony.
Fogle added another genetic pool from which the modern Labrador dog might have descended. He noted that Portuguese fishermen were also attracted to Newfoundland, that remote Canadian island, for its rich harvest of cod. The Spanish black pointer, obedient and skilled at hunting, might have mated with the Portuguese shepherd dog. This genetic mingling would have gone a long way to meet the specific needs of the fishermen. Then the new Iberian dog may have been bred with the St John’s dog whilst in Canada and brought back to Britain on the Portuguese cod ships. Not to Devon this time, but to the fishing port of Poole in neighbouring Dorset.
After the cod fleets landed in Devon or Dorset, the fishermen apparently did some brisk business on the side. Shrewd sailors sold the ice used to preserve their catch and, even more profitably, established a dog-import trade. But potential dog buyers were not going to make their decisions just on the word of a stranger. For the benefit of the locals who had assembled at the port, the fishermen had to put on a show of human-canine teamwork in which the dogs retrieved items thrown over the side of the boat.
Eastern provinces of Canada
Perhaps it was the development of the breech-loading gun in the late 19th century that made Labradors stars; they were the only dogs could that could keep up with the guns. The records of the 5th Duke of Buccleuch are clear. He imported dogs from a Newfoundland fishing fleet that sailed into the river Clyde, establishing a kennel in 1835. They too became gun dogs.
Even by the early 1830s, when Colonel Peter Hawker’s Advice to Young Sportsmen was being published, the reputation of the St John’s dog was spreading. But Colonel Hawker called this dog a Labrador, perhaps to differentiate it from the larger Newfoundlands that were already becoming popular as house dogs.
I am still committed to my beloved Labrador. However I note the experts’ conclusions. The short coated labrador is actually from Newfoundland. The shaggy coated Newfoundland emerged at about the same time in Labrador. And the Nova Scotia retriever came from the island of Nova Scotia, just south of Labrador and Newfoundland. All three breeds have distinctive webbed feet, water-resistant undercoat and are great swimmers. What more could an Australian family want?
South West counties of Great Britain