Was Old Yeller a Golden Retriever?

by Anne Woods

    A fictional canine hero, Old Yeller is a stray dog who “adopts” a rural Texas family during the late 1860s and is infected with rabies while defending them. The Newbery Honor-winning novel “Old Yeller,” written by Fred Gipson, came out in 1956. The following year, Disney released a film with Spike in the title role. He was part yellow lab, making him a distant relative of golden retrievers. The dog he portrayed, however, was likely a yellow black mouth cur.

    Gipson doesn’t identify Old Yeller’s breed, but he says many of the family’s neighbors have cur dogs. Based on Old Yeller’s appearance and behavior, he most likely was a yellow black mouth cur, and authoritative websites -- including Internet Movie Database -- state this as fact. Yellow black mouth curs exhibit many characteristics similar to Old Yeller’s. These hunting dogs tackle bears, as well as deer and boar; Old Yeller fights both a bear and a wolf. These dogs are loyal and fiercely protective of people they love, a characteristic that matches Old Yeller’s devotion to his family.

    Spike, who played Old Yeller in the film, was a yellow lab and mastiff mix, although some sources, such as Turner Movie Classics, claim he was a yellow black mouth cur. The Weatherwax family, who owned and trained Spike, adopted him from an animal shelter, and one of their relatives confirmed his lab and mastiff ancestry.

    About the Author

    Anne Woods holds a master's degree in literature from the Pennsylvania State University. She has more than a decade of professional experience writing for newspapers, magazines, corporate communications offices, and websites, with specialties in pets, travel and literature.

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