Dogs of Purpose

I was reading through a few books from the 1800’s to get a better feel for the dogs and thinking that went into the creation of today’s retrievers. Well, clearly I have been doing this for a few years and that is how this blog came about… I found that there was a huge leap from the early to late 1800’s as far as dog breeds. I smile when I see the ancestor of the Springer Spaniel referred to as the Springing Spaniel in 1829 and also can’t help but notice that the Spaniel in general at that point in time ranged in size from the very tiny to the very large St. Bernard.

St Bernard, Alpine Spaniel

St Bernard, Alpine Spaniel

By the 1870’s, guns had a longer range and the need for the retrieving dog became such that there was a real quest as far as crossing to find the best mix to do the job.

At that point int time there was already established the Retriever Proper but that retriever was not quite right yet. The addition of the Spaniel which was being used when the game was small enough was missing. Of course except for in a couple of instances such as Lord Tweedmouth’s dogs who had the addition of the Tweed Water Spaniel.



In the book “Dogs: their Sagacity, Instinct, and Uses,”  George Frederick Pardon (1877) writes that a retriever proper is a mixture of an Irish Water Spaniel and a Newfoundland. This retriever has a large eye and capacious mouth. His ear smaller with shorter fur close to the head. His nose very large and his neck long and his shoulders oblique and deep and his chest very broad and powerful. The loins, back, and hind quarters strong for the carry especially over a stone wall. His legs long, straight and muscular with round moderate feet well arched. His coat flat, shining and abundant unless needed for punt shooting where it should be short. Tail should be well feather and moderately short and carried gaily. The feather should taper.

He writes that the temper is the foundation of a good retriever and needs to be good. He should be 24 inches at shoulders, moderately long in the body. The setter cross is best but may cause a problem with liking water. “An English Retriever, whether smooth or curly, should be black or black and tan, or black with tabby or brindled legs, which are indicative of it’s Labrador origin. Preference is given by many to the flat-coated or short-coated small St. John’s breed. It has a marvelous intelligence, a great aptitude for learning, a good carrier; with a soft mouth, great strength, and thorough liking for swimming.”

He goes on to say that at times he prefers the spaniel as a retriever since his nose is keener but the spaniel is limited on game size to retrieve. the spaniels he mentions are:the Golden-liver Sussex and the Norfolk Springer. A problem with using terriers is that if they have been used for ratting that they would tear apart the game.

And so it is only a matter of time that hunters would perfect their retrievers with the addition of the spaniel, a dog that on it’s own made a great retriever and who had a better nose than the Irish Water Dog.

So what was the Spaniel? This term was used for many years but it was a very open term.  There were little lap spaniels and big St. Bernard Spaniels. Dudley Marjoribanks bred in a now elusive spaniel called the Tweed Water Spaniel which we know mostly from writings about it residing along the Tweedmouth River.



Biographical sketches and authentic anecdotes of dogs , Thomas Brown

Dogs: their sagacity, instinct, and uses, George Frederick Pardon

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2 Responses to Dogs of Purpose

  1. M.R.S. says:

    Dudley Marjoribanks took the title of Lord Tweedmouth in 1881. “Tweedmouth” was in tribute to the constituency that he represented in Parliament, the area of Berwick at the mouth of the Tweed River in the Border country between Scotland and England. The water dog dog of that same area was known as the Tweed Water Spaniel (although used primarily as a retriever) and Marjoribanks obtained at least two of them from his cousin, David Robertson of Ladykirk on the Tweed River upstream of Berwick, and used them in developing his own line of yellow retrievers.

    “Tweedmouth” refers to the title given to Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks. For the river and the water dog/spaniel, it’s “Tweed”. (and of course there is also the woven fabric called tweed :-). Marjoribanks also had a distinctive pattern of tweed created for clothing staff at his Guisachan estate in Inverness-shire).

  2. Jan says:


    I just looked through every page of a copy of the actual stud book (xeroxed) and there isn’t one mention of Tweedmouth Spaniel. It only says Ladykirk bred, gift from D. Robertson. The other Ladykirk bred dog mentioned, gift from D. Roberston was named Tweed after Lord Tweedmouth’s previous retriever named Tweed who had died the previous year.

    Ladykirk bred simply means that the dogs were bred at Ladykirk which is where D. Robertson lived (a huge castle) It is not written that either dog was a particular breed. They are both listed under the heading of Retriever but that was a pretty wide open category back then. However, it appears that Lord Tweedmouth was particularly fond of yellow retrievers which is what he refers to them as at the end of his stud book after his gamekeeper dies and he writes in it on his own.

    When Elma Stonex wrote out Tweedmouth Water Spaniel, that did not come from any writing that can be found in the actual stud book. It is very possible that she was told they were Tweedmouth Water Spaniels but there really isn’t any proof coming from the stud book itself.

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