The horror! And it's all due to a wee bit of a geography misunderstanding.
Way back in the 1600s the English settled in what we now know as the province of Newfoundland in Canada. Labrador was just a bit north of Newfoundland and many early settlers clumped it all together under Newfoundland. Labradors descended from early hard-working water dogs known as St. John's Dog or lesser Newfoundland dog.
These dogs were known to go all day - bringing birds back to the hunters, pulling boats into shore, helping drag fishing nets full of fish into shore and even catching fish that got away. These dogs seemed to be working water dogs naturally. No one is 100% sure their exact genetic makeup, but it is surely the Newfoundland and the early Bloodhound, known as St. Hubert's Dogs. In the early 1800s they were imported into England, where they were embraced as hard-working water dogs.
The now extinct St. John's Dog had a white muzzle and white feet and the photo above right shows the first picture of a St. John's Dog.
The Earl of Malmesbury was said to have been so enamored of the Canadian water dogs that he imported a number of them back to England where he began his kennel dedicated to this breed.
In 1887 - In a letter from the Earl of Malmesbury to the Duke of Buccleuch he says, "We always call mine Labrador dogs and I have kept the breed as pure as I could from the first I had from Poole….known by their having a close coat which turns the water off like oil and, above all, a tail like an otter."
No matter where they come from, the Labrador Retriever is a gift that has been treasured the world over. Thank you, our neighbors to the north, for this all-around amazing breed.
If you have a Labrador inquiring mind check this well-researched article out. More on the history of the Labrador Retriever at LorkenFarms.