This section is from the book "British Dogs: Their Varieties, History, Characteristics, Breeding, Management, And Exhibition", by Hugh Dalziel. Also available from Amazon: British Dogs.
There is, perhaps, no name that is applied to dogs of so many different characters by the general public as Retriever, and if it can be correctly used to describe the amazing varieties of mongrelism so designated, it must indeed be a most elastic and accommodating term. In fact, every big black or brown or black and white dog with a roughish curly or a wavy coat, is dubbed a retriever. If we go to the Dogs' Home, where so many of the canine street sweepings are always waiting to be claimed, we are sure to find twenty to thirty animals of most opposite and incongruous types, all classed under the generic name of retriever. Open a daily newspaper, and we are sure to find a greater or less number of big black or brown dogs lost, described as retrievers, although probably, not one of them bears more than a remote resemblance to the retriever proper, as seen in such perfection at our dog shows and field trials.
By a retriever is now understood a dog used with the gun, and which recovers and brings in to the gun lost, wounded, or dead game, and in that sense it is not applicable to the deerhound, who, although he has been termed a retriever, is only so to the extent of recovering and tracing the lost trail of the wounded deer, but manifestly cannot retrieve it in the sense that the retriever proper does smaller game.
If the definition of the retriever stopped there, there would be more justification for the general loose application of the term than there is, for it would be impossible to deny a dog's right to the name until we had proved his capacity for the work; but it is one of the good things which modern dog shows have done to define more or less clearly, not only what the working capacities of a good retriever should be, but the external appearance and all the points and physical attributes of the breed, so that a retriever proper, whether good at his business or not, is, from his tout ensemble, as easily recognised to be such as is either the pointer or the setter to be what they are.
The retriever of the present day is quite of modern production, an instance of intelligent selection and careful breeding up to a standard which has been crowned with very marked success, and reflects the very greatest credit on the skill and unwearying patience of those who have worked at it, and now see their labours crowned with success. Those who visiting a show admire the beautiful symmetry, fine intelligent countenance, and jet black coats of the retrievers, whether wavy-coated or curly-coated, and go away with the idea that the fine collection, every one of which bears the unmistakeable family stamp, is a mere fortuitous assemblage of dogs accidently alike, would be very far from the truth. The idea of which these dogs are the embodiment was conceived in the minds of certain sportsmen years ago, and has been slowly worked out, every succeeding year seeing some fault bred out and desirable points developed, till I am strongly of opinion that, if the breed has not reached perfection, it is about as near it as human effort is likely to attain; yet it is not many years since a dog in white stockings won a first prize at the Crystal Palace. In the early days of dog shows, when it was more the custom to cry out that these institutions were ruining the various breeds than is the case now, there was much discussion as to retrievers then in the course of manufacture and it was clearly enough proved, if indeed it needed proof, that dogs to do the work of retrievers, could be made by a combination of almost any breed; even a half bred bull dog has been known to do it.
A cross with the foxhound was bound to give power of steady and persistent questing, the bloodhound, the beagle, the terrier, and the colley were all suggested; but with the advent and progress of shows came the desire, which has continued to grow ever since, to combine in the same animal good looks and good qualities, and in no breed has this been better attained than in the retriever 'proper, as he is sometimes called, in distinction to the retrieving spaniel, setter, or other distinct breed that may be used to perform his special work.
Of modern retrievers there are four varieties, separated from each other by distinctions in coat and colour. These are the flat or wavy-coated, and the curly-coated, and these again are each divided into black and brown or liver-coloured.
At very few shows now is a class for liver-coloured dogs provided, the black variety having so grown in public estimation as to have pushed the liver almost out of sight; and this I, for one, regret, for there are many very excellent specimens of the reds; and I think it should be one of the objects of dog show promoters to encourage, not discourage, the production and propagation of varieties having distinct character, no matter if for the time being they should be unpopular. "Every dog has his day," says the proverb; and the time may yet come when brown retrievers will be as fashionable as blacks are now; and I think it is a pity they should now be so entirely ignored.
In considering these four varieties, we will take first the one that I think undoubtedly occupies the chief place,