I came across this article and thought that it would be a good follow up to the "How to Make a Chocolate Dog" post. It is long but is an interesting perspective from Mary Roslin-Williams who is considered one of the greatest Labrador breeders of all time. Her knowledge of the breed was legendary.
Does colour affect type and temperament in the Labrador?
By Mary Roslin-Williams
Mansergh Labradors – England
(This article appeared in the March/April 1977 issue of “the Labrador Retriever Magazine”)
Mary Roslin-Williams lives in the Moorland section of Yorkshire. She is a reknowned lecturer on British Literature as well as one of the most respected people in dogs in Great Britain. A sportswoman whose family has long been involved in all facets of dog life, Mrs. Williams is a licensed judge in Great Britain of Hounds, Sporting Dogs and Terriers.
I have chosen the above title for my article because this is a question I am always being asked by the novices. They are curious to know why I, myself, only have black Labradors in my kennel. While a breeder, such as Mrs. Wormald, only has yellows. Again, both the late Mr. Severn of Tibshelf Labradors and Mrs. Paulding of the Cookridges had (and in the case of Mrs. Paulding, still have) a great fancy for Chocolates, or as I call them, Livers.
As everyone knows, there is now supposedly only one Labrador, the breed embracing any whole colour, of which black, yellow and liver are the most usual. Indeed, a litter may contain all three of these colours, although as yet, there are not so many livers bred in Great Britain. Partly because, as ever, they are a bit slow to catch on; and partly because of the difficulty of breeding them with a good rich dark colour and good eye colour.
So I suppose the answer should be that there is no difference in type or temperament between the three colours. Please note I say “should be” not “the answer is”, because I have found in my own experience of Labradors and other breeds that certain things are linked with colour: type, behaviour and temperament being three of these things. Also texture and type of coat.
I am a black breeder, simply because I found that the yellows did not suit me personally, nor I them. When in the early days of my advent into Labradors, we kept a biggish kennel of working gundogs of various breeds, sometimes taking dogs in from other owners for training to the gun. My husband and I soon discovered that the colours in a breed such as the Cockers had a strong effect on the training of these lively and lovely little dogs. We bred and trained Liver and Whites and found them to be staunch, steady, and reliable, making super brood bitches and very easy to train and handle. They also had very good coats for the job. Lemon and white or lemon-roans were flightier, more difficult to train, needing to be put back to school every season for a day or two, did not face cover so well and had short, silky coats lacking in protective feathering and weather-proofing.
Blacks were grand, as were livers, being brilliant yet staunch and full of go and drive, and remained trained once you had got them right. Blue-roans were equally good, if not better and had better coats than the blacks, harder and less fluffy. But, oh dear, those liver-roans, flighty, silly, stupid (which is not the same thing), hard to train, hard to break off fur, wild as their yellow eyes and with linty fluffy coats with topknots and for some reason apt to get shot, being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But one colour suited both my husband and myself down to the ground and that was heavy black and white, with marking like a Dutch Rabbit. Those were the ones for us and we had more success in the Trials with this colour than any other and were more fond and proud of them too. They seemed to have everything we wanted class, courage and coat. We used to pick them from the litter and whatever else we kept and trained, these were the good ones.
When it came to Labradors, my husband wouldn’t touch them so I trained all my own Manserge Labradors. I also took on any Labradors that came into the kennel for training.
Funnily enough, although I was training blacks for myself, I had more yellows in to train for others than I had blacks and here beginneth chapter and verse because my immediate reaction was “Why?” On looking back, I remember that nearly all of these I took in came to us because their owners had tried to train them themselves and had failed. I found that I did not understand them myself and found them to be difficult, also extremely annoying in such things as that when I took them down to the water to teach them to swim, I almost invariably found myself swimming – having been pushed in. So perhaps they had indeed been spoiled by their owners’ abortive attempts to train them. But then I had one from the beginning, virgin soil on which to mold the dog I wanted him to be. Copper was a vast Labrador, from memory: 25 ½ inches and with legs like Oak Trees. He was without doubt the stupidest dog I have ever tried to train and it was he that drove me demented! Firstly, I found that if you put his dinner down in the same place every night and then one night covered it with an empty dog dish, he could not find it. Then he was the most awful job to teach to retrieve, because he would pick up his own check cord and bring that back to me, usually anchoring himself on the way by standing heavily on the loose end so that he couldn’t move until you went and took his foot off the end.
Then at last I taught him to retrieve and told my husband that the battle was won. “I’ll believe it when I see it”, said my sarcastic husband. So I fetched Copper, told my husband to stand well to one side and hurled the dummy up the grassy bank. “Hie Lost”, I cried and with a great gallumphing bound the elephantine Copper set off. He lolloped a few steps in the direction of the dummy which he had seen thrown, but on about the fifth stride he turned at right angles, bounded up to my husband and seizing him by the slack of his breeches propelled him in my direction. My husband had to come because he did not want to get his nice breeches all torn. The awful thing was that had the dog had a sense of humour we would have loved the joke and laughed with him. But he did that in all seriousness, thinking it was what he had to do.
Again the time I was persuading a rather frightened little puppy to follow us across a stream. I had gone down on my haunches to encourage it across to my hand, when two heavy policeman’s paws fell on my shoulders and in I went, face down yet once again. No joke intended, just the best of good-fellowship.
The third time he dunked me, I gave up.
But actually poor old Copper made a much loved dog for his owner and family, although they realised he was not of the brightest, with a bit of Jethro “Beverly Hill-Billy” about him. He actually made a very useful gundog, going shooting until about his 12 season and serving his master well. So he wasn’t such a bad old dog really, and I was secretly rather fond of the old boy.
But he did a lot to put me off the yellows for myself and subsequent attempts to train yellows made me decide that either they were wrong for me or I for them. So I stuck to blacks after that, and have ever since.
But funnily enough, I found there were three good strains of Yellows that I really liked, and admired, and that seemed to me to have all the very best points of the blacks for work and for play too. These were all three old established kennels. They were the “Knaiths”, the “Braeroys” and the “Zelstone”, and these three kennels I absolutely exempt from my strictures. Now, why should this be? I’ve pondered the point so long that I think I know the answer. They have somehow avoided the deleterious outcross that came in during the Second World War. Therefore, they avoided the surly sulky uncooperative blood that came in from the undoubted foxhound cross. From this cross has come down many evils we got from such a shocking mixture, and also, I must admit, a lot of things that made the Labradors the great show dog it has become. But alas, the recipe was altered, to my mind terribly for the worst, and only now are we starting to get back to medium-sized nice, friendly yellows. Kind, sweet and typical, deep in body with Labrador expression coat and tail, and shorter legs.
The blacks did not suffer from this cross so much. Although we could not avoid it altogether, except in the Trial lines, and they had put in a Greyhound cross, followed by a Sheepdog cross, so they too had completely lost type and temperament only in a very different direction.
The gulf between these two major divides remains to this day and is immediately obvious to the eye!
So here we had one link with coat and colour, many yellows were tainted by Foxhound blood, the blacks not so badly affected, so they had totally different characteristics. This was reflected in my own kennel, which willy-nilly eventually got some of the tainted blood in, although for years I managed to avoid it, knowing the source.
So you will understand that I tried hard to keep these bloodlines out, although I had Braeroy and Zelstone blood in my blacks. I have always been proud of those yellow lines, crediting certain things like nose and tender mouths in my dogs, largely to these yellow strains.
However, the tide has turned and largely due to Australian Ch. Sandylands Tan and his son, Ch. Sandylands Tandy, the yellows are becoming very pleasing Labradors again. With much kinder, nicer tempers, and will at last look you in the face once again instead of turning away with an uncooperative expression as many yellows have been doing for so many years now.
Now what about the blacks who eventually got the suspected blood in? Well, certain kennels kept right, so we had them to fall back on, and right well they did us. But, although I did not see this with my own eyes, I am pretty sure that somewhere in Scotland, two Flatcoats were used to restore the temperament, good mouths and kindness, which were all in danger of slipping. I was told by the owner of the Flatcoat Stud dog (and a splendid fellow he was, both for looks and work) that a Labrador had visited him and that “My old Ch. Is doing jolly well for you Labrador people and you ought to be jolly grateful to him”. When I genuinely looked astonished and said that I didn’t know what she was talking about, she replied, “Well, if you don’t know, I’m not going to be the one to tell you”. After a time I didn’t need telling because my eye told me the fact about the show dogs. Again, we are only just starting to breed out the Flatcoat traits we got in. I rather agree with the owner of the Ch. Flattie, it was a very good cross, if a cross had to be made and did us little or no harm except for longish coats, feathered tails and horrid black eyes. The second Flatcoat was introduced by a Scottish Gamekeeper. I do not know what dog was used, though I know where it was used and on what bitch. Again, it had a lasting effect on coats and tails. In both cases, livers started cropping up in the strains, rather unexpectedly. But again, no harm was done except for long coats, feathering and too dark eyes. In the Field Trial and working strains there was a sudden change of swimming style. These dogs swimming with their heads and shoulders high out of the water as they went out towards their birds, but settling down when returning, although not swimming as low in the water nor as quietly as a true Labrador does. However, this crossbreeding has now just about been assimilated and was on the whole fairly harmless.
But now we come to the Livers, which is not a true Labrador Colour. There have been attempts to breed Livers ever since the Chilonfolliats in the just pre-First World War days. Again sporadic attempts were made through the period between the world wars. But some of these were mistakes, the colour cropping up completely unexpectedly, this being because Pointers were often kenneled with Labradors, especially in the Keeper’s Grouse Kennels and mistakes occurred, often unbeknownst. So Livers cropped up and were fancied by someone, bought, bred from, and attempts were made to fix the colour. But having Pointer in and usually Liver and White Pointers at that, (although there is one famous case where a black Pointer was used deliberately), these Liver “Labradors” were extremely ugly. I remember them well, big, rawboned, ugly, plain-faced, single-coated dogs, with huge ears, yellow eyes, pink eye-rims and nostrils. Spread feet and long, thin calloused legs, the coat worn away on elbows, hocks, and buttocks. Worse still on their Pointer briskets which were sharp, not rounded, and with no coat to protect these vulnerable parts. No wonder they never caught on! But much later came the Flatcoat crosses and immediately we got pleasant, kind-faced, nice-looking Livers. They were a bit long coated sometimes. But the breeders soon turned them into real Labradors and now we get lovely Liver Labradors of super type in this colour. With a rich dark chocolate colour, good coloured eyes, brown noses and eye-rims, along with charming temperaments. They are even starting to swim well, unlike Pointer Labradors, who I have seen having to be rescued in Pointer style, dashing the water up into their own faces until they drowned in an upright position unless rescued.
There is none of that in the present Liver strains and they are becoming really true Labradors, in most cases being even more typey than the average yellow. One great thing the Livers have, in my experience, are the most wonderful undercoats, truly mousy and very often either lead, pewter or slate in colour. I must say when judging the Livers, they give me a much truer feel of a real Labrador water-dog than do many of the yellows I judge, who seem to come in all shapes and sizes, and all types of coat and tail.
So for myself, the Labradors will always be, in the words of Lady Howe, “A Black Dog”. But I do not blame the deviations of type and traits of the yellows and to a much smaller extent the Livers of today on their colour. I blame it on the crosses that were made that happened to be done in these colours. When you cross-breed, for generations afterwards, you get the results of that cross-breeding, thus the colours in which these crosses were made become linked with the traits inherited from the alien ancestors.
So in all honesty I myself must answer the Novices, “Yes, there is a difference between the colours because of these in-crosses”. They are not the same, the colour is linked to their ancestry and therefore linked to the behavior of the dog, according to how it is bred. These crosses are also getting so far back in the pedigrees (somewhere about 10 to 12 generations) behind our present day dogs that we now at last have the chance to keep in the good and eliminate the bad, and get back to true Labradors in type, temperament, coat and all the other things that were adversely affected; and to retain the beautiful conformation brought in by the hounds without their bad points and also keep the assets given back to us by the Flatcoats while breeding out the feathering, narrow skulls and black eyes.
For the first time this year, 1976, we have seen this actually happening and soon if the judges allow it, we shall have litters in which the three colours may appear without getting in the bad traits that came in with them. Indeed I am glad to say that we already have true Labradors of all three colours competing on equal terms in the show ring, all carrying the right expressions, good coats and tails, with the happy cooperative temperament we all strive to breed in our Labradors, whether black, yellow or liver.