The Hunters' Friend - The Retriever
Retrievers, as might be expected are specialists, at retrieving prey. Hunters have always needed their canine companions to flush out birds, 'point' out where the game is and/or retrieve prey once shot.
Sporting dogs, as defined by the American Kennel Club (AKC), include the pointers, setters, retrievers and spaniels. The main retrieving breeds are the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Curly Coated Retriever, Flat-coated Retriever, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever and Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever (above) is an all-American breed and the state dog of Maryland. The breed evolved in the Chesapeake Bay area. He is tough and powerfully built although only of medium size. The eyes are a distinctive yellow or amber colour and his coat colour should be similar to that of the surroundings where he used to work – this colour is described as brown, sedge or deadgrass! He has a harsh, wavy top coat which covers a dense, woolly undercoat, both of which contain oils which help with water- and weather-proofing. In the early days of his development he hunted waterfowl in rough and icy conditions. He is a happy, intelligent breed with a love of water. He needs an active family who spends a lot of time outdoors. He was recognised by the AKC in 1878 and measures 21 to 26 inches at the shoulders and weighs from 55 to 80 pound depending on age and sex. Although his coat is short, it needs regular brushing.
The Curly-Coated Retriever (above) has small, tight curls which give it a good resistance to water. The colour may be black or liver. It is a strong and robust breed, ideal as an all purpose hunting retriever. He will retrieve fur and feather from icy water or thick cover. The curly-coated retriever is one of the oldest of the retriever breeds and has his origins in England where it was used as a waterfowl retriever and as a game hunter. He is perhaps more independent than some retriever breeds and needs training and occupation or he will be bored and perhaps destructive. They range from 23 to 27 inches at the shoulder and were recognised by the AKC in 1924. To have the endurance to work all day, he must be balanced, agile and strong. He is an upstanding breed, erect and self-confident. In show dogs, the coat is all important and should be a dense mass of small, crisp curls.
The Flat-Coated Retriever, (above) like the curly-coated retriever, is black or liver in colour. He is full of energy and enthusiasm and if he can't be flushing and retrieving birds or game, he will settle for putting his whole heart into obedience and agility pursuits. He will even adapt to the show ring. He is slightly racier with perhaps less bone than other retriever breeds. The coat is solid, straight and flat. He is a great addition to an energetic family but needs plenty of physical and mental stimulation to keep him busy and cheerful. He measures 22 to 24 ½ inches at the shoulder, depending on age and sex. The breed standard claims the breed has a unique 'one piece' head with the long, clean head flowing into a moderately long neck when then flows into the shoulders. Character is very important in the breed. His happy, affectionate and sensible demeanour will endear him to all.
According to AKC ratings, the Golden Retriever (above) is one of the most popular breeds in the United States. The characteristics that make him such a great working companion in the field also suit him to assistance and guide work, as well as search and rescue. As might be expected, he is always a rich, lustrous gold in colour although this can vary from light to dark gold. Originally from Scotland, the golden retriever is energetic and needs regular, daily exercise. His double coat sheds seasonally so he needs regular brushing. They have a natural ruff and moderate feathering on the legs, underbody and tail. They range from 21 ½ to 24 inches and weigh between 55 and 75 pounds, depending on age and sex. With their friendly, trustworthy nature, they are truly deserving of the popularity they enjoy.
The Labrador Retriever (above) shares top billing with the golden retriever as one of the most popular dogs in the United States. Like the golden retriever, it excels as a guide dog, search and rescue dog and is also used in drug detection. Developed in Newfoundland, Canada, the Labrador retriever may be yellow, black or chocolate. Its original task was to help pull in nets and catch fish that escaped. Various crossings with other sporting dogs resulted in the emergence of an efficient retriever with a temperament suited to a range of other pursuits. As with all sporting dogs he needs regular exercise and plenty of it but is an ideal companion for a hunter or for an active family. In size and weight they are similar to the golden retriever.
The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (above) is the smallest of the group but he is still strong. 'Tolling' is the practice of encouraging a dog to retrieve a stick or ball along the shore. These actions by the dog intrigue the waterfowl which are lured within range of the gun. The dog then retrieves dead or injured birds.
This compact breed has a red coat, often with white markings. The coat may range from a golden red through to a dark coppery colour but the pigment should be deep and rich. The featherings on the tail, thighs and underbody are often lighter in colour. The coat is double and water-repellent. He is a highly intelligent dog, always looking for a task to do. He is patient with children and despite the double coat, only needs an occasional brush and/or bath. Although the facial expression is sometimes sad or worried, they become very concentrated and excited once called on to retrieve. The tail is heavily feathered and is held high and constantly moving while working. The breed was recognised by the AKC in 2003 and stands 17 to 21 inches at the shoulder.
The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA) encourages all owners to ensure the innate abilities of the breed are passed on down the generations. With this in mind, they have developed field tests and encourage owners to have their dogs assessed in this way.
All these breeds make great family dogs as well as ideal companions in the hunting field. The one criterion that needs to be met with all retrievers is that they get plenty of exercise and activity. Provided this innate need for action is met, these dogs will bring much joy to their family.