In the 1830s, the 5th Duke of Buccleuch, Walter Francis Montagu Douglas Scott, was one of the first to import dogs from Newfoundland on to his estates in the Scottish borders for use as gun dogs because of their excellent retrieving capabilities. He was known for his enlightened stewardship and vision of land management mixed with sporting ambition. Another proponent of these marvellous Newfoundland dogs, or Labrador retrievers as they later became known, was the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury who bred them for use in duck shooting on his estate at Heron Court on the south coast, particularly because of their acknowledged expertise in waterfowling, their 'close coat which turns water off like oil' and a tail 'like an otter'.
In the early 1880s, the 6th Duke of Buccleuch and the 3rd Earl of Malmesbury met while shooting and the first two entries in the Stud Book of the Duke of Buccleuch's Labrador Retrievers were in fact the gifts made by Lord Malmesbury to the 6th Duke. When these dogs were mated with bitches carrying blood from those originally imported by the 5th Duke, a strong bloodline was developed beginning with Buccleuch Ned in 1882 and Buccleuch Avon in 1885. In fact, the Buccleuch Kennel is almost unique in as much as the original pure strain has thus far been strictly maintained since the breed reached these shores in the 1830s. All Buccleuch Labradors can be traced back to those first imported dogs. Eventually a kennel of 30 to 40 couples was maintained with keepers responsible for training the dogs while the 6th Duke's youngest son, Lord George Scott, managed the breeding programme.
While Buccleuch Labradors were never actually trialled, being bred entirely for 'work' purposes, the bloodline has formed the ancestry of many champions over the years, including the first labrador to be placed at a retriever trial in 1906 (FTCh Flapper). The main characteristics of the traditional Buccleuch Labrador are a good nose, a tender mouth, and an intelligent and courageous temperament. Their heads are often shorter than the average labrador, they have a thick double coat and frequently have the 'otter' tail. The pure strain can only throw black puppies.
By the 1920s the kennel contained 150 dogs, however the 7th Duke was not active in maintaining the line and no new dogs were imported between 1890 and 1930 due to a Sheep Protection Act in Newfoundland and the introduction of quarantine restrictions. The advent of war in 1938 and a distemper epidemic in 1948 took their toll on the kennel leaving it substantially run down. Some progress was made at this time by the Earl of Dalkeith (the present 9th Duke) along with a full-time dog handler and much use was made of Vaulter, a dog displaying the old characteristics of a broad head, thick double coat and short otter tail and many of today's Buccleuch Labradors can be traced back to him.
After the present Duke was elected to the House of Commons, responsibility for the kennel fell to the Head Gamekeeper and litters have been produced mainly to meet the needs of Keepers across the Bowhill, Langholm, Boughton and Queensberry Estates. The 9th Duke has been a Patron of the Labrador Club of Scotland since 1952 and it is hoped that, with the appointment of David Lisett, winner of the Irish (Dec. 2003) and British Spaniel Championships (Jan. 2004), in 2004 as dog trainer and handler under the direction of Roy Green, the Sportings Manager, and the Earl of Dalkeith, a breeding programme can be re-introduced at Queensberry for the enhancement and maintenance of the Buccleuch Labrador bloodline using the current Buccleuch stud dogs. It is also the intention, that for the first time in its history, the Buccleuch Kennel will itself take part in field trials.
A new and exciting departure for the Buccleuch Kennel is the introduction of a Cocker Spaniel breeding programme starting with Pebble, the foundation bitch, belonging to Lord Dalkeith's daughter, Lady Amabel Scott. A Buccleuch Springer strain will also be created using David Lisett's prize-winning dogs. Future puppies will be bred and trialled under the Buccleuch name.
Watch this space ........
Information taken from various in-house sources as well as 'Black from the Past' by Graham Cox published in The Field, December 1995, and 'Buccleuch and the History of the Labrador Retriever' by Jack Vanderwyk.