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When the two types were brought to England about 1800 the smaller dog came to be known variously as the Newfoundland, the lesser Newfoundland, the St. John's dog and the Labrador. (Some authorities believe the latter two were separate types of sub-breeds.) When Colonel Peter Hawker in his Advice to Young Sportsmen (1814) praised the sporting qualities of the smaller dog and referred to it as the Labrador, the name stuck.
By the year 1885, the Labrador was firmly established as a sporting breed in Britain, particularly in the Border Country of Scotland. In 1904 a Labrador was entered in a field trial at Sherborne, England, where it won a certificate of merit, and by 1910 the breed was recognized as supreme among retrievers. The qualities which made it so were (and are) intelligence, train-ability, keenness of scent, resourcefulness, speed on land and in water, courage and perseverance, a notably amiable disposition and, above all, the indescribable quality called style.
In the United States the Labrador is by far the most popular of the retrieving breeds. Until the middle '30s the Lab and the Chesapeake ran neck-and-neck in American Kennel Club registrations (126 compared to 178 in 1935), but by 1956 there were 5,510 Labradors to 803 Chesapeakes, with the golden retriever in between with 2,604 registrations.
The Chesapeake Bay retriever
In 1807 the ship Canton rescued the crew of a sinking Newfoundland brig bound for England and landed the rescued men and two puppies at Norfolk, Virginia. These puppies became the rootstock of the Chesapeake Bay retriever, a breed renowned for toughness, courage and willingness. Probably the rescued Newfoundlands were crossed with local yellow-and-tan 'coon hounds, with perhaps a soup�on of spaniel thrown in; at any rate the Chesapeake soon became a favorite of market gunners and baymen in the region, where commercial wildfowling was big business and a good retriever was money in the bank. The baymen were ruthless in weeding out unsound or unwilling animals, until the breed was famous for ruggedness of body and mind, with a disposition somewhat less tractable than the Labrador's and a coat so thick and water-resisting that the Chesapeake can work comfortably through the worst winter weather.
Critics of the Chesapeake find them too surly to train easily and too slow-moving in the field. But the gunner who wants a stouthearted, hard-working and virtually weatherproof retriever to share his blind or pit will insure the Chesapeake's survival so long as wildfowl fly and winters are bitter cold.
The golden retriever
Retriever field trials
A Labrador retriever sits beside his handler in a field. He has been trained since puppyhood to retrieve dead and wounded ducks and pheasants. He is keyed up and vibrantly eager to get to work, now that his handler has brought him up to the "line." Suddenly a wounded pheasant bursts from the tall grass a few feet from the dog and runs straight at him; the Labrador has scarcely to move to seize the crippled bird in his jaws, then turn and present it alive and kicking to his handler.