In 1993, a Paris based production company, in cooperation with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in St. John’s Newfoundland, made a TV documentary entitled One Man and His Dog. I didn’t get to see it aired but a friend sent me a tape which I have viewed over and over again. I had heard about a particular segment and was dying to see it – Newfs being used for water rescue off the coast of France complete with underwater pictures of the Newfs in action.
However the underwater scenes that I was longing to view turned out to be a disappointment. They were well done from a videographer’s point of view, obviously the product of expensive equipment and skilled professionals. Unfortunately they must have left all of their technical advisors back in Newfoundland. The very things I had hoped to see were not shown. Specifically I wanted to see the modified breast stroke that the Newfie is famous for and the tail being used as a rudder. It would also have been nice to have been shown exactly how a Newfoundland dog turns a face down drowning victim face up in the water before taking him to safety. They only showed the before and after of this incredible manoeuvre.
The usual swimming style for a Newf is supposed to be a modified breast stroke and although it is often written about, I have never found it recorded on any sort of visual medium. The stroke is called “modified” because only the front legs move in a frog like motion; the back legs paddle like any other dog. This modified breast stroke is not only important as an efficient under water stroke (the Newf is the only breed designed to swim underwater), but it is also important for surface swimming. When a Newf uses the proper stroke, he has to drop down to his natural flotation point thus enabling virtually all of his power to be used for forward propulsion. The only advantage of a dog paddle is that it keeps the head higher; this is done by diverting some of the forward energy into upward power. However when swimming in ocean waves, using energy efficiently becomes of paramount importance.
Armed with my $129 camera from Costco I went to the Water Rescue Dog Seminar put on by the South Eastern Ontario Region of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada. My purpose was to get “different” shots of Newfs in the water for the newsletter that I edit, the Gentle Giant News. Well, with a definite strategy and a little luck, I exceeded my wildest dreams. The strategy was to stand on the dock next to where the Newfs were training and shoot straight down using the telephoto feature on my camera. This did not work quite as planned as black legs did not show up even through a few inches of water. Fortunately Diane Nelson had come to the seminar from Pierrefonds, Quebec with her Landseer Newf, Bozwell. You guessed it, Bozwell’s white legs showed and I caught on film a Newfoundland doing the modified breast stroke.
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.
Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.Dogs in Canada