From time to time on the facebook page/s for the Murray River Retriever and on other discussion forums, the question is sometimes asked as to what is the correct colour for a Murray River Retriever, and sometimes people do make specific requests to locate a Black MRR puppy. With that in mind I would like to try and answer the question accordingly. Note though that my thoughts are my own and don’t try to represent any any breeder nor any registered association.
From the breed standard, the standard colour for a Murray River Retriever is Liver. Some Murrays are pure liver in colour all over, others can have a few white hairs on the chest and others have the full white diamond on the chest. Like most modern Retrievers, Murrays share DNA lineage with the St Johns Water Dog which although now extinct lives on today in the white chest that many retrievers have. Having any amount of white hair on the chest is of no consequence either way in the colour standard of a Murray River Retriever.
So what then is the go with Black Murray River Retrievers?
First off, let me confirm that yes it is quite true that there have been litters of Murray River Retriever Puppies where there have been examples of black pups. As enthusiasts of the breed are aware, the Murray River Retriever Association are working on a DNA profiling exercise that is tracing the history of the Murray River Retriever and various DNA samples have been taken and analysis made in the technical lab to determine the origins of the breed. Some difficulty has been encountered relating to the fact that some of the breeds that are believed to be likely ancestors of this breed are now extinct and we are seeing results that suggest DNA that is consistent with, but not from a specific breed of dog. As an example DNA was located that is consistent with the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, so what this tells us is that whilst both breeds are unique, the same ancestry factors in at an earlier point. As a result there is also DNA in common with the Curly Coated Retriever and as stated before the St Johns Water Dog, both of which have and had black as a primary colour for the breed. So then its hardly a great surprise if a black pup from time to time could be observed. as more DNA data becomes available, that picture may well become clearer to us.
(The last known St John’s Water Dog photographed with its owner from Canada. – Wikipedia). Black with the White Diamond.
So how about that picture I have seen of the Cream Coloured Murray River Retriever? – (this photo is a Clumber Spaniel, I don’t have copyright to the other picture)
Whilst black puppies have been observed in Murray River Retriever litters, Cream is quite rare. The current thinking is that these cream coloured dogs are from a strain that contains Clumber Spaniel DNA via an ancient outcross. It is important to note that the Murray River Retriever has traditionally been a working dog used for well over a century to retrieve game from the Murray River. Breeding Standards 100 years ago were far different to today’s ANKC regulations and the simple fact is that working dogs were bred with the best available and suitable working dogs that were close to hand at the time and that these dogs may have been of a different breed altogether. This occurred not just with the Murray, but with pretty much every type of working dog breed in Australia. It is the reason that Dingo DNA has been located in the Kelpie breed, believed to be around 7% for example. Still as time has moved on and resources become more plentiful, breeding standards were set and we moved to the current situation where we now find ourselves.
So what is the future then for the Black and the Cream coloured Murray River Retriever? Are they likely to be bred in or bred out?
This question has been raised a few times and there is no real definitive answer to it one way or the other at this stage. Let me state that this is a personal blog and the content contained within is my own thoughts, yet as much as I cant answer that question, I can add a few thoughts of my own to it. Its my view that it probably cant be answered until the full DNA profile of the breed is in. Whilst I mentioned the Clumber Spaniel earlier, that is a likely scenario and one that is being factored into DNA scoring. It may well be that other information still yet comes to light here. Yet if it was proven that Black and Cream DNA was located from the beginning of this breed, then questions would need to be asked about how those colours are then represented if at all in the modern breed.
What I would also put up for comment is that DNA testing also has detected DNA from the Irish Water Spaniel and the Long Haired Dachshund in some examples. Again likely from historical outcrosses that have influenced the evolution of the breed. As it so happens there is also considered to be two distinct types of Murray River Retriever, one of which being sometimes referred to as the Gippsland style. The difference being in the size and perhaps being in relation to the possibility of Long Haired Dachshund and Clumber Spaniel DNA being present in these smaller examples. Its my view that if people are happy to accept two types of sizing in the same breed (also quite common in other breeds), and to go as far as to work towards preserving these two styles in the same breed, that historical colour would not be out of the question to be put up for discussion also.
In the breed standard, a clause has been added to allow for “the occasional outcross”, if required, this is to ensure that the DNA remains fresh and to prevent against inbreeding if DNA results showed a problem that needed to be dealt with. In which case I suspect most would turn to an Irish Water Spaniel or a Curly Coated Retriever in the belief that this best represents the closest relative to the Murray River Retriever. Its my view that whilst a Curly Coated Retriever is a cousin of the Murray, the Irish Water Spaniel is not, and is not a strong candidate for the role. It could well be that the Curly Coated Retriever has a case and perhaps so too does the Clumber Spaniel, It may be that people wish to keep the liver standard pure, and it may also be that people have a distinct desire to have a Black or a Cream coloured Murray and would entertain the idea of an outcross to specifically get that result.
Ultimately in my own mind I love this breed any way it comes, its clearly up to people and members of the MRRA to breed their animals within the specified guidelines as you see fit to do so. Hopefully this article has gone some way to set out a little of the historical background as to why different pictures of Murrays have been observed in different colours. As to where that information then goes, I guess that is left entirely up to the people that make up the community of Murray lovers now extending all over Australia and into New Zealand and beyond. I suspect a watch and see response may well prove to be the current answer in the intermediate future.
For more information on the Murray River Retriever as usual feel welcome to hit the facebook and website pages at – https://www.facebook.com/groups/Murrayriverretriever/ and http://www.mrr.org.au/