The image above is of Albert.
Albert was a St. John’s water dog who was actually born in Newfoundland.
He was among the last of his breed. Well, he was among the last of the lines that were free of modern Labrador retriever blood.
And he had a famous owner.
This particular dog belonged to Farley Mowat, a well-known Canadian naturalist and author.
The above photo comes from Bay of Spirits, Mowat’s memoir about his time falling in love with Newfoundland– and then having a very bad falling out with it.
Albert is described as follows:
Perhaps the most momentous event that winter was the aquisition of Albert, a young water dog from La Poille. As big as a Labrador retriever, he was a sway-backed creature, black as ebony except for his white chest, and equipped with webbed feet, the tail of an otter, and the attitude of a lord of the realm. He quickly became an integral member of our little family both ashore and afloat, where he demonstrated he was a proper seadog: sure-footed, ready for anything, and afraid of nothing (pg. 303).
“La Poille” is on Newfoundland’s Sou’west Coast. It is normally spelled “La Poile,” and it is not very far from Burgeo, where Mowat lived from 1962 until about 1968. Albert would later be featured in an episode of the the CBC series Telescope in 1970.
By then, the Mowats had taken to summering on Quebec’s Magdalen Isands, which are located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In the film, Albert and his mate– aptly named Vickie– are shown retrieving from the surf. Albert also receives a bizarre bedtime story from his master, which would give any dog nightmares!
Mowat tried to use Albert as a way of saving his breed.
Mowat believed the water dog of Newfoundland was closely related to the Portuguese water dog, a linkage that, thus far, hasn’t been revealed in any genetic studies. Like many breed historians, Mowat tried to trace these water dogs through their poodle lineage, eventually arriving at herding dogs that were native to Central Asia. These linkages have not been confirmed in any genetic studies, but they are still pretty interesting.
In order to save the breed, Mowat tried breeding Albert to a Labrador, but because none of the puppies had the characteristic white spots, he abandoned the project. There were only four pups in the litter, and both bitch pups died. The two dog pups were given to Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin.
These dogs were multipurpose hauling, hunting, and fishing dogs.
They are primary ancestor of all the retrievers, except the Nova Scotia duck-tolling retriever, which may have a bit of this blood. However, it is mostly of collie extraction. All the others, including the large Newfoundland dog and its variants, are derived from variation upon this landrace.
There still are black retriever-type dogs in Newfoundland, but these dogs heavily outcrossed to modern Labrador retriever lines, which were introduced from North America and the United Kingdom as “improved” hunting dogs.
When people say that Labrador retrievers come from Newfoundland, they aren’t exactly wrong. However, all the larger retrievers descend from this stock, and the modern Labrador retriever was developed in the United Kingdom in the 1880′s.
The dogs are derived from animals from Newfoundland, but the “improvement” happened in the United Kingdom and on Chesapeake Bay.
Albert is an idea of what a dog from this landrace looked like– at least what the last of his kind looked like.
One can create a dog that looks very much like him if one crosses a Labrador retriever with a border collie.
But the cross is an imposter.
Albert’s kind was developed on the land and on the sea.
Natural and artificial selection honed his kind.
A dog derived from the cross of a border collie and a Labrador retriever never experienced those generations of selection.
It would just look the same.