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Why did the British have so many distinct dog breeds?

Why did the British have so many distinct dog breeds?

Postby Spaniel » Mon Jul 03, 2017 6:44 am

Just a curious history question.

Why did the British have so many specialized dog breeds? It's a pretty small place (geographically) and I'm guessing population wise, it was always smaller than France, Spain, Germany, and Italy.

Flat coat retriever, curly coat retriever, Labrador retriever, golden retriever. I am probably forgetting some.

Pointer, Setter, Gordon Setter, (and Irish Setter or red & white setter).

Then there are a whole series of spaniels: Welsh Springer, English Springer, cocker, Clumber, Field Spaniel, and several extinct lines (Tweed Spaniel, Norfolk Spaniel, English Water Spaniel).

The British probably developed 10-15 different sheep dogs (ranging from the little Sheltie to the Old English Sheepdog, Border Collies and Rough Coat Collies to two different kinds of Corgi). I don't know much about herding dogs, but it seems odd that on one hand you have the Sheltie and Corgi, and on the other hand the Old English Sheepdog, and they all do the same job. Maybe there are more nuances to herding and ranching that I'm not aware of (whether the dog is working with a master or working independently, whether the dog is supposed to also protect the flock like a German Shepherd or Great Pyrenees, etc.) or different terrains and climates in Great Britain.

And basically the entire group of Terrier dogs originated from the British Isles. There must be 20 or more.

Does it all boil down to: (1) people lived more isolated, less-connected lives back then so there were deep regional bloodlines/breeds developed and (2) suddenly both the Industrial Revolution coincided with Victorian dog shows, so there was a rush to classify and refine these distinct breeds before they became intermixed again with increasing transportation and movement?
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Re: Why did the British have so many distinct dog breeds?

Postby reba » Mon Jul 03, 2017 8:50 am

The British love their dogs.
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Re: Why did the British have so many distinct dog breeds?

Postby Mountaineer » Mon Jul 03, 2017 8:54 am

Perhaps, because the British Isles are ancient and often regionally separate.....geographically and culturally.
I suspect the Brits do love their dogs, as well. :wink:
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Re: Why did the British have so many distinct dog breeds?

Postby DougB » Mon Jul 03, 2017 6:22 pm

Spaniel wrote:Just a curious history question.

Why did the British have so many specialized dog breeds? It's a pretty small place (geographically) and I'm guessing population wise, it was always smaller than France, Spain, Germany, and Italy.

Flat coat retriever, curly coat retriever, Labrador retriever, golden retriever. I am probably forgetting some.

Pointer, Setter, Gordon Setter, (and Irish Setter or red & white setter).

Then there are a whole series of spaniels: Welsh Springer, English Springer, cocker, Clumber, Field Spaniel, and several extinct lines (Tweed Spaniel, Norfolk Spaniel, English Water Spaniel).

The British probably developed 10-15 different sheep dogs (ranging from the little Sheltie to the Old English Sheepdog, Border Collies and Rough Coat Collies to two different kinds of Corgi). I don't know much about herding dogs, but it seems odd that on one hand you have the Sheltie and Corgi, and on the other hand the Old English Sheepdog, and they all do the same job. Maybe there are more nuances to herding and ranching that I'm not aware of (whether the dog is working with a master or working independently, whether the dog is supposed to also protect the flock like a German Shepherd or Great Pyrenees, etc.) or different terrains and climates in Great Britain.

And basically the entire group of Terrier dogs originated from the British Isles. There must be 20 or more.

Does it all boil down to: (1) people lived more isolated, less-connected lives back then so there were deep regional bloodlines/breeds developed and (2) suddenly both the Industrial Revolution coincided with Victorian dog shows, so there was a rush to classify and refine these distinct breeds before they became intermixed again with increasing transportation and movement?


Pre automobile, people lived less mobil lives. Towns and valleys developed their own breeds to meet their own needs. Probably little science, just breeding the neighbors good ratter to your good ratter or somebodies good shepherd to another good shepherd. Some areas, long haired dogs survived best, other had smooth coats. The English also brought back dogs from the ends of their empire and crossed them into domestic breeds.
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Re: Why did the British have so many distinct dog breeds?

Postby Trekmoor » Tue Jul 04, 2017 6:17 am

I think all of the possible reasons for our plethora of dog breeds are probably true. A couple of hundred years ago it was quite likely that many people never went much more than 10 miles from where they lived and worked. They bred dogs to suit the work they had for them and the terrain they would be working in.

When it did become possible to easily travel away from home it would have been noticed that another areas dogs were maybe a bit better at their work thus giving their owners a slightly easier life....so the traveller would buy one or two to make his life easier. An areas original "type" of working dog would be reduced in numbers and would maybe die out completely.

We now think of Border Collies, for example, as being of a "certain look." That was not always the case. A man called John Holmes wrote a book more than fifty years ago called "The Farmer's Dog." It contained photographs of border collies of various types. Some looked like springer spaniels, some looked like lurchers, some looked as we now expect collies to look. According to Holme's the thing that linked these dogs was mainly their style of working but their "looks" were determined by the terrain they would normally be working in.

Some dogs worked flat ground, some worked very rugged mountains....etc., etc. Some farmers wanted/needed fast dogs , some needed slower, less excitable dogs but they were all border collies.
The modern border collie has split into more than one "type" too. The dogs are now expected to be show dogs with a definite set of physical characteristics and they also have been bred only to "work" in obedience and flyball arenas. I wonder how many shepherds or farmers would take a pup with that sort of breeding ? !!! It is a bit like the splits between show and work types among the gundog breeds.

Over the years the work expected of retrievers became a bit changed in nature.....dogs more willing to "Handle" became more sought after. So exit the curly coats and the flatcoats and enter the labs and to a lesser extent the golden retrievers. Field trials contributed to the changes to gundogs too. People like to win so the people with faster dogs that would handle did most of the winning. The other people either changed their dog breed or had to accept that they would seldom win a trial !

I live in Britain and yet I have only seen three curly coats out working at shoots and I thought they were very poor workers. I judged one retriever trial in which a flatcoat bitch was working. She did very well in my opinion but the other judges didn't like ....or maybe didn't understand her "style" of work .....flatcoats look a bit settery and they wind scent far more than labs do. Despite my arguments for her she was given only a 3rd place in the trial.

We tend to breed dogs that have a certain physical "look" and also a certain style of work. If an otherwise good gundog does not fit in with our mental picture we tend to reject it .

Sorry for wandering off the subject a bit ! :oops:

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Re: Why did the British have so many distinct dog breeds?

Postby fishvik » Wed Jul 05, 2017 12:45 pm

Trekmoor said," I judged one retriever trial in which a flatcoat bitch was working. She did very well in my opinion but the other judges didn't like ....or maybe didn't understand her "style" of work .....flatcoats look a bit settery and they wind scent far more than labs do. Despite my arguments for her she was given only a 3rd place in the trial.

We tend to breed dogs that have a certain physical "look" and also a certain style of work. If an otherwise good gundog does not fit in with our mental picture we tend to reject it "

I agree. I've hunted with field trial retrievers that could never figure out retrieving in river current. They would mark where the duck fell and not move with the current and if they did get the bird they would try to swim a straight line to the blind, fighting the current instead of swimming to the bank and running back to the blind.
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Re: Why did the British have so many distinct dog breeds?

Postby JONOV » Thu Jul 06, 2017 12:17 pm

I also think there is something to the Nobility being able to have their own kennels and develop their own breeds into something they specifically wanted, that was specific to their (very substantial) estate.
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Re: Why did the British have so many distinct dog breeds?

Postby crackerd » Thu Jul 06, 2017 1:56 pm

fishvik wrote:...I've hunted with field trial retrievers that could never figure out retrieving in river current. They would mark where the duck fell and not move with the current and if they did get the bird they would try to swim a straight line to the blind, fighting the current instead of swimming to the bank and running back to the blind.


That's because they're "field trial retrievers" and trained for field trials, which don't include marks or blinds that call for retrieving in a current but do require that straight line to marks or blinds if they're competing to win. If exposed to a current for hunting - which, granted few FT retrievers do these days - they can master it as would any gundog that worked in such circumstances. But they would still probably be fighting to "hold that line" going across because the training's engrained in field trial retrievers from the start.

MG

PS "Spaniel," you somehow omitted the Sussex from your distinguished list of British gundog breeds - and wouldn't you know, in the 1890s and earlier, they were often worked as duck dogs because they held a hellacious line in the water, what with being of such a straight-line fuselage themselves. Sussex were also one of the first 10 breeds recognized by AKC.
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Re: Why did the British have so many distinct dog breeds?

Postby chiendog » Sat Jul 08, 2017 4:39 pm

"Does it all boil down to: (1) people lived more isolated, less-connected lives back then so there were deep regional bloodlines/breeds developed and (2) suddenly both the Industrial Revolution coincided with Victorian dog shows, so there was a rush to classify and refine these distinct breeds before they became intermixed again with increasing transportation and movement?"


I am currently writing about the history of pointing dog breed development in the UK for my next book, so I've been researching this topic quite a bit lately. What I can tell you at this point is that yes, geographic isolation played a role in the development of all the British breeds, but it also played a role everywhere else gundog breeds were developed (France actually created more pointing breeds than Britain and almost all of them started as 'land races', local types of dogs that developed due to geographic isolation). The main reason the Brits came up with so many specialized dog breeds is because the conditions required to develop specialized breeds of dogs were more or less perfect across much of the Kingdom for over two centuries. In other countries those conditions either came and went in a shorter span of time or were never really there in the first place.

Compared to other countries, from say 1700 to 1900 (the golden age of dog breeds) Britain was the world's only true super power with way more:
Money
Political stability
Advanced technology (specifically in terms of biology, see: Darwin, and in animal breeding see: enclosure movement and Robert Bakewell)
Education and higher rates of literacy
Culture of competition, free markets, social mobility, innovation
Natural resources (domestic and from colonies around the world)
Thriving sporting press
Dynamic art scene

Those are the main things I am exploring at the moment. I will flesh them out in the early chapters of the book (aiming for publication in a year or two).
Last edited by chiendog on Mon Jul 10, 2017 4:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby welsh » Mon Jul 10, 2017 2:22 pm

The chief reason Britain developed many breeds of dogs is the same reason Britain developed so many breeds of cattle, pigs, sheep and so on: a fascination with developing breeds driven by a simple social incentive: to be known as the developer of a superior breed.

Breed development did not answer practical needs. Breeds such as the Clumber were considered finely bred simply because any outcross was immediately evident in the coat colour; this was considered the preeminent sporting spaniel. What we now know as the English Springer was considered a mongrel throughout the 19th century. But the superior working qualities of the ESS (which breed cladistics now tells us was there all along) became evident as soon as it became a recognized breed (1902) eligible for spaniel trials (1899). The Clumber era ended with a bang.

In short, the Victorians developed many breeds simply because they could.

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Re: Why did the British have so many distinct dog breeds?

Postby polmaise » Mon Jul 10, 2017 2:27 pm

Probably because nobody else could .
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Why did the British have so many distinct dog breeds?

Postby Shellottome » Mon Jul 10, 2017 8:31 pm

The brits bred some nice dogs BUT the best dog breed came from Germany.


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Re: Why did the British have so many distinct dog breeds?

Postby ezzy333 » Tue Jul 11, 2017 9:46 am

Shellottome wrote:The brits bred some nice dogs BUT the best dog breed came from Germany.


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In your opinion.
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Re: Why did the British have so many distinct dog breeds?

Postby Steve007 » Tue Jul 11, 2017 11:58 am

ezzy333 wrote:
Shellottome wrote:The brits bred some nice dogs BUT the best dog breed came from Germany.


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In your opinion.



The original post was probably meant as a slightly-sardonic joke.
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Re: Why did the British have so many distinct dog breeds?

Postby crackerd » Tue Jul 11, 2017 2:47 pm

Steve007 wrote:
ezzy333 wrote:
Shellottome wrote:The brits bred some nice dogs BUT the best dog breed came from Germany.

In your opinion.


The original post was probably meant as a slightly-sardonic joke.


Or not (rhymes with Draht for some; rhymes with "Bullshot!" for others....)

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Re: Why did the British have so many distinct dog breeds?

Postby AtTheMurph » Tue Aug 01, 2017 3:36 pm

I think the O.P. observation is biased as America was founded by the British and more British dogs are recognizable here than breeds from other countries.

Just do a simply search for "dog breeds of (insert country name)" and you will find dozens of breeds you never heard of from places like France or Spain. But you will have heard of almost every one from Britain I would guess.
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