Previously on ShukerNature, I documented the little-known history of a truly remarkable creature – Mexico's hump-backed izcuintlipotzotli, a truly bizarre-looking breed of domestic dog that for still-undetermined reasons is now extinct (click here to access my article). Needless to say, extinction among species of wild animal and even among breeds of domestic farm animal is well-documented, and is also, as it should be, a cause for much concern.
Conversely, the tragic reality that a sizeable number of domestic dog breeds have also died out, and for a variety of different reasons, has attracted far less attention or interest, even though some of these breeds were once very familiar – so much so, in fact, that in a number of cases their names still live on today even though they themselves are long gone.
In an attempt to rectify this sad situation, I plan to prepare an occasional (i.e. non-consecutive) but ultimately multi-part series of ShukerNature blog articles restoring to public prominence a veritable dynasty of deceased dog breeds (and which may therefore yield the most comprehensive popular-format coverage of this neglected subject ever published when complete). I'll be surveying a very diverse array of examples, grouped in the traditional classification categories utilised by official canine organisations and shows, and accompanied by many seldom-seen but fascinating illustrations of these lost breeds.
And how better to begin this major survey than with a selection of gun dogs that are now gone and hounds that no longer abound.
POINTING OUT SOME VANISHED GUN DOGS
As will be seen throughout this article, there are a range of different reasons for the extinction of domestic dog breeds, but two of the most common ones, which arise time and again in the histories of such breeds, is that they died out either through a gradual loss of interest in perpetuating them; or, by being used in crossbreeding to yield new breeds, their own original, pure-bred form eventually disappeared. Both of these reasons certainly explain the disappearance of certain breeds of gun dog.
Morphologically and behaviourally speaking, the principal groups of gun dog are spaniels, retrievers, setters, pointers, and a somewhat looser assemblage commonly referred to as griffons. They include some extremely famous, distinctive breeds, but there were once a number of others that back in their time were no less famous or distinctive but are now extinct. Take, for example, the English water spaniel.
As its name implies, this breed was used for aquatic purposes, as in procuring waterfowl, and was said to be able to dive and swim as efficiently as any duck. White and tan (or liver) in colour, it resembled a curly-coated springer spaniel, as opposed to the very dissimilar Irish water spaniel, which it pre-dated. It sported long ears and legs, and is thought to have genetically influenced several modern-day breeds, such as the American water spaniel, the curly-coated retriever, and quite probably the English and the Welsh springer spaniels too. Known as far back as Shakespearian times, this once-popular breed has been extinct for almost a century, the last-known specimen being reported in the 1930s.
Another now-deceased spaniel with aquatic proclivities was the Tweed water spaniel, again used for hunting ducks and other waterfowl. A much more localised breed than the English water spaniel, however, and with a very curly but uniformly liver-brown coat like the Irish water spaniel, it was only known from the Tweed area of northernmost England, close to the Scottish borders. It seemingly owed its demise to being used extensively in the development of the curly-coated and the golden retrievers as new, distinct breeds, and had vanished as a breed in its own right by the end of the 1800s.
A third curly-coated spaniel was the alpine spaniel, a notably large breed native to the Swiss Alps, where the local monasteries' Augustinian canons utilised it for mountain rescues of lost or injured travellers, especially near the Great St Bernard Pass, and it was the predecessor of the modern-day St Bernard dog, as well as the clumber spaniel. Due to the adverse environmental conditions habitually faced by its breed, however, coupled with an outbreak of disease, by 1847 the last known alpine spaniel specimen had died, and upon whose death the entire breed, therefore, was also dead.
Other extinct breeds of spaniel include the Spanish and Italian spaniels (the former large with dark brown/black and white fur, the latter smaller with chestnut/liver and white fur); the Scottish spaniel (white with red flecks, once bred at Rossmore Castle, Ireland, but not seen since 1908); and the Norfolk spaniel.
Also known as the Shropshire spaniel the Norfolk spaniel owed its more familiar name to a now-disproved theory that it had originally been developed and bred by the Dukes of Norfolk. Moreover, there is still much controversy as to whether it truly constituted a distinct breed, because it varied greatly in appearance, although 'typical' examples tended to resemble large English cocker spaniels, with black and white or liver and white coats. In 1903, the Norfolk spaniel officially ceased to exist when the English Kennel Cub formally incorporated its breed into that of the newly-defined English springer spaniel.
Another lost breed of gun dog is the pyrame, which resembled a fairly small black-and-tan cocker spaniel with short hair. Its limbs and squat muzzle were predominantly reddish-chestnut in colour, as was a pair of small spots above its eyes, but its back, haunches, head, and ears were black, the latter being very large and pendulous. Its head was small and rounded, and its tail was turned up at the back. It was used in England as a gun dog in the same way as other land-based spaniels, but it died out more than a century ago.
Also worthy of note here are two separate but both now-bygone breeds of water dog. Indigenous to Newfoundland, named after the latter territory's capital city, and with its origins dating back to the 1500s, the St John's water dog was technically a landrace rather than a strict breed. That is, it was bred to fulfil a specific purpose rather than exhibiting a standard, well-defined morphological form or pedigree.
Having said that, many specimens were retriever-like and shared a medium-sized, sturdy, black-furred appearance, often characterised with white, tuxedo-reminiscent chest markings. It was used in its native homeland to retrieve the nets of sailors, hauling them back onto the boats. Surviving until as recently as the 1980s, the St John's water dog helped to give rise to all of the major modern-day breeds of retriever, as well as to the Newfoundland itself, a burly working dog.
The Moscow water dog was a short-lived Soviet breed originally developed during the post-WW2 1940s in what is now Belarus from the Newfoundland and various European shepherd dogs. Never officially recognised by major kennel clubs outside what was then the USSR, it was one of several new breeds produced solely by the USSR's state-run Red Star Kennels, in order to provide its armed forces with working dogs (in the more general, non-show-specific sense of this term).
The desired purpose of the Moscow water dog was to rescue drowning sailors, but unfortunately it preferred to bite them rather than retrieve them, so its production was discontinued. By the 1980s, moreover, it had been officially homogenised with the Newfoundland as a single breed, and was thus categorised as extinct as far as its constituting a separate breed was concerned.
France's diverse array of pointer breeds, known collectively as braques, are all descended from the original braque. This was a large, sleek-furred breed reminiscent of the English pointer in shape, and whose white coat was handsomely speckled with patches or flecks of liver/chestnut.
Its ancestry dates back many centuries, but even as long ago as the 15th Century it was already being used to create what became various of the modern-day braque breeds still existing today. Of these, some authorities claim that the braque de l'Ariège or Ariège pointer is the closest in form to the ancestral braque.
Sadly, one of the modern-day braque breeds is itself now extinct, the braque du Puy or Dupuy pointer. Created in Poitou during the 1800s for hunting in the lowlands, it sported the ancestral braque's coat colour and markings, but was also very greyhound-like by virtue of its lithe, gracile build.
Reconstituted specimens, resembling Dupuy pointers outwardly, are occasionally produced today. However, they do not correspond to the latter breed genetically.
HUNTING DOWN SOME ERSTWHILE HOUNDS
Hounds include among their number some of the earliest recorded breeds of domestic dog, dating back thousands of years, such as the saluki, sloughi, and Afghan hound. Conversely, in much more recent historical times several notable breeds of hound have become extinct.
Two of the best known of these are undoubtedly the St Hubert hound and the talbot hound. Although by no means of uniform appearance (Charles IX of France actually preferred pure-white specimens), the most familiar, popular representation of the St Hubert hound is that of an all-black or black-and-tan mastiff-like breed, extremely powerful in stature and heavy-boned, with a long body but quite short legs and a very well-developed sense of smell. According to tradition, it originated in the Ardennes, Belgium, in c.1000 AD, bred by the monks at the Saint-Hubert monastery, but some have suggested that it may have arisen in France.
Several modern-day breeds owe their origin to the St Hubert hound, most famously the bloodhound, which is itself sometimes even dubbed the St Hubert hound. Tragically, due to having been interbred with several other breeds to yield new ones, by the early 19th Century there were scarcely any pure-bred St Hubert hounds remaining, and by the end of that same century the true, original strain had gone.
No less renowned in its time was the talbot hound, famed for its pure-white coat and dropped ears, and still frequently commemorated even today not only in many British heraldic devices but also in numerous public house or inn names and advertising signs throughout Great Britain. It was referred to in English literature at least as far back as the mid-1500s, and some authorities consider that it actually owed its origin to the afore-mentioned white specimens of St Hubert hound that were sometimes bred and maintained by French monarchs.
By the end of the 18th Century, however, the talbot hound had ceased to exist as a delineated breed, as did two other related forms, the northern hound (aka the North Country beagle) and the southern hound, both of which were very beagle-like in appearance and had been utilised with the talbot hound in the creation of the modern beagle breed now existing today. The talbot hound is also believed to have participated alongside the St Hubert hound in the bloodhound's development.
Due to the extensive crossbreeding that has occurred down through the centuries between France's varied native hounds, several early original breeds have become extinct. The St Hubert hound is one, and the Vendéen hound is another - a very sizeable, rough-coated, pendant-eared, reddish-brown dog used for boar hunting. However, some intimations of it are preserved in the slightly smaller but still-surviving grand griffon vendéen, which itself originated as far back as the 16th Century, the first and largest breed of griffon vendéen to be established.
Another former French breed of hound was the chien-gris de Saint-Louis or St Louis grey dog, which originated in France during medieval times, certainly being known as far back as the 13th Century when royal packs of hunting hound were composed almost exclusively of this breed. Serving like the St Hubert hound as a potent scenthound, it earned its name from its predominantly grey coat colour (although its long limbs and forequarters were tan or red), and from the canonised French king Louis IX's especial interest in it. It was rough-coated like the Vendéen hound, and gave rise to some of France's modern-day griffon breeds, particularly the griffon nivernais.
In addition to this quartet of famous breeds, several less familiar but no less noteworthy hounds have also disappeared. One very sad loss, for instance, is the long-haired whippet. Very similar to the typical smooth-coated whippet in general build and shape, it was instantly differentiated by way of its fairly long, harsh, wiry coat. However, this very distinctive-looking hound was bred out of existence in favour of its smooth-coated counterpart by about the end of the 19th Century. Today, some whippets sporting a long silky coat exist, but these are very different from their extinct wiry-haired predecessor.
Equally intriguing was the pocket beagle, which, as its name suggests, was a miniature version of the normal beagle, standing no taller than 13.5 inches. A pack of pocket beagles was owned by England's Queen Elizabeth I, and they were carried to the hunt on horseback. Three centuries later, Queen Victoria also owned a pack, consisting of nine couples, and only averaging 9-10 inches high; in 1844, these were depicted by artist William Barraud in a famous painting (reproduced below).
More recently, attempts have been made in North America to recreate this diminutive hound, which was traditionally used to hunt hares and rabbits, and the American Kennel Club does officially recognise beagles standing less than 13 inches high as a category separate from those that are taller (13-15 in). The English Kennel Club, conversely, does not make any such differentiation.
Another very distinctive breed was the Brazilian tracker or rastreador brasileiro, a highly efficient scenthound. Generally similar in shape, size, and form to the North American coonhound from which it was partly descended, it received official recognition as a distinct breed in 1967, from France's Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), but less than a decade later it had vanished, and was formally declared extinct in 1973 by both the FCI and the Brazilian Kennel Club.
Its swift demise had resulted from an outbreak of disease coupled by the inimical effects of an insecticide overdose. Attempts are currently underway to recreate the Brazilian tracker in its South American homeland by a canine club called the Grupo de Apoio ao Resgate do Rastreador Brasileiro.
Even more imposing was the American panther dog, bred specifically by Aaron Hall in Pennsylvania, USA, during the mid-19th Century to hunt pumas (also known in North America as panthers, cougars, and mountain lions). Part bloodhound, part bulldog, part mastiff, and part Newfoundland, they were so large that, once when visiting Hall at his hunting cabin, former State Game Commissioner C.K. Sober was actually able to ride on the back of one of them!
They were trained to hunt in pairs, and when a puma was cornered the pair would hold it down on both sides until the hunter arrived to dispatch it with his rifle. Following Hall's death in 1892, however, no effort was made by anyone to perpetuate this unique if formidable breed, so the panther dog swiftly died out.
As far as its date of origin is concerned, the final extinct dog breed to be reported here is also the earliest breed – namely, the Egyptian tesem. In its loosest sense, 'tesem' was used in ancient Egypt to denote any type of hunting dog, but in its stricter, more precise sense it was employed as the name for a particular breed of sight hound or gazehound that resembled a greyhound due to its long limbs and slender body, but sported a tail that curled over its back like that of a spitz, plus slim, pointed, pricked-up ears.
One of the first, and most famous, examples on record of a tesem sensu stricto was Akbaru, the so-called Khufu Dog, which was depicted on the tomb of King Khufu (reigned 2609-2584 BC) from ancient Egypt's Old Kingdom period (c.2686-2181 BC), and was wearing a collar. Other depictions of the tesem appeared during the Middle Kingdom (c.2050–1710 BC), but it had been replaced by depictions of a saluki-like breed with pendant ears and straight tail by the time of the New Kingdom (c.1550–1077 BC).
In Part 2 of this occasional ShukerNature series of articles on extinct dog breeds, I plan to review a selection of examples from the Toy and Terrier categories. These were often small breeds, but were once much-loved comforter and companion dogs.
Yet for all manner of different reasons, they gradually diminished in both popularity and number until eventually they ceased to exist, except for their likenesses, captured forever like faint canine ghosts within the rare vintage photographs and other images of them that still survive, several of which I'll be showcasing in my article – so be sure to check it out when uploaded here on ShukerNature!