Bite strength is as important to a Newfoundland dog as it is for a pit fighting dog – for different reasons of course.
You often hear of the bite power of certain breeds of dogs quoted as 1200 pounds per square inch or more. Well that hardly tells the story as the tips of the canine teeth cover much less area than a square inch. There is a concentration here that makes the bite that much more powerful. A graphic illustration is the fact that a woman wearing spike heels exerts more pressure on the ground than an elephant standing on one leg.
I can’t tell you the exact strength of the Newfie bite because I haven’t a clue as to how to measure it and no one, to my knowledge, has ever bothered. However, such strength is critical for a water rescue dog. Almost every water rescue exercise depends on the Newf having a secure grip with his mouth. In Continental Europe the dog usually grasps the arm of the victim to tow them to safety. In Canada and the U.S., Newfs generally tow using a bumper and rope. In all these situations, a strong bite is a necessity.
Unlike the retriever breeds, Newfs are trained for retrieving with a soft object; this is to encourage the strong bite. Retrievers, on the other hand, are required to use their mouth more delicately so as to not damage the bird. Contrasting a soft mouth recovery of a dead bird is a Newf towing a boat with two people in it. Depending on the weight of the people and the boat, this represents a load of six to eight hundred pounds or more being dragged through the water.
Once the boat is moving, it is not too difficult to keep in motion; however starting a stationary boat is a whole different matter. The first time a dog is asked to do so, the bumper usually goes flying out of his mouth. With a little encouragement, the Newf learns to bite hard and to continue to keep a firm grip. Pups as young as four months of age can master this. The bite strength, of course, must already be present and all we trainers do is teach the dog this very appropriate use of it.
Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979. In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada. When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.
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