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.
A few years ago the Russian retriever was often met with at our shows, and Mr. E. B. Southwell's Czar scored a good number of first prizes in the variety classes, but for two seasons past I do not recollect to have seen a specimen at any show.
I believe "Idstone's " is the only book on the dog in our language that has deigned to notice this breed. And "Idstone" very summarily dismisses him thus: "I recollect seeing one of them at a battue, which attempted to fetch a hare from a thick brake, and became so entangled amongst the thorns and ' burs,' that the beaters had to cut away a quantity of his coat to liberate him, and in the confusion the hare was lost. Further comments on the Russian retriever for this country is needless."
A single glance at the dog would show anyone that he is of no use in a thick brake of thorns, briars, or whins, but it does not follow that he is of no use in this country; and the anecdote related by "Idstone" seems to me rather to reflect on the man who put the dog to work for which he was so evidently unsuited than on the dog. We have unquestionably dogs far better fitted for retrieving under any conditions in wood or wild, on land or from water, than the Russian retriever, but as a distinct variety we have room for him if only as a companion and guard, using him as a retriever under suitable conditions when required.
I have said that in dog books, in that of "Idstone" alone is he referred to, but "Stonehenge" gives a woodcut of a Russian setter crossed with English setter, which appears to me a modification of the Russian retriever.
The Russian retriever is a large leggy dog, very squarely built, with an excess of hair all over him, long, thick, and inclining to curl, a large short head, round and wide in the skull, rather short and square in the jaw, not unlike a poodle. The ears are medium sized, pendulous, heavily covered with hair; the legs are' straight, covered with long hair front and back, like an Irish water spaniel. The eyes and whole face are covered with long hair, like a modern Skye terrier, but more abundantly. The coat throughout is long and dense, and requires great care to keep it in anything like order, as it readily gets felted.
They are generally extremely docile, very intelligent, and show great power of scent, and for "tricks" of retrieving from land or water excellent, and they make good watch dogs, and it is only as companion dogs they are likely to take a place in this country. I have known three that I consider good specimens, namely, Mr. E. B. Southwell's Czar; one the property of Mr. Pople, of the British Hotel, Perth; and one that met with a tragic end, having been burnt to death in a fire which destroyed the house of his owner in Villiers-street, Strand. I should say the height of each referred to would be about 26in. at shoulder, and the colour throughout a grey.