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Newfoundland dogs are living longer than ever except for their early days on the Island of Newfoundland. The Newfoundland Club of America offers an award for the Oldest Living Newfoundland each year and starting with 2009 they also recognize with a special certificate all Newfs that reach 14 years of age. While in the past Newfs as young as 11 years of age have been nominated for the award, now the club says don’t bother nominating your Newf unless he/she is at least 14. This bodes well for the breed but only tells part of the story.

Just breathing may qualify as living but what really counts is the quality of life. Nothing is more precious than a senior Newf, but without quality and dignity that life is a dubious accomplishment. When I first got involved with Newfoundlands in the 1970’s I read how they lived in the olden days in Newfoundland for 13 to 15 years and that they would usually work until 13 years of age. It was this latter part, working to 13 years, that especially caught my attention. In fact, this became an obsession with me.

My obsession was partly fulfilled at the Canadian National Specialty in 2002 when I entered Big Mac in one of the Carting Classes. He was 12 years and 10 months old. Someone commented ring side that he seemed slow; guess they hadn’t looked at the catalogue to see his age.

My oldest Newf, Belle, turned 13 years young on December 25th. Part of the celebrations included hauling an ice fishing sled loaded with water containers. As the photos show, Belle would stop and look back wondering why I wasn’t keeping up.

Belle carting at 13 years old
Belle carting at 13 years old
Belle carting at 13 years old

Mandatory retirement for people is on the way out in this country and I feel it should be abolished for dogs as well. In the United Kingdom they have set an age limit of eight years for their highest level of draft work and I feel that this is definitely a move in the wrong direction. Here in Canada dogs as old as 12 years old have successfully obtained the Canadian Kennel Club’s Draft Dog title.

Draft work is a great exercise for dogs and is especially good for our seniors. You can adjust the weight for your canine buddy, even starting with just an empty toboggan. He can walk at his own pace and there is almost no chance of a twisting or other injury. If you have ever suffered arthritis you know that the worst possible thing you can do is not use the affected joints and the same applies to our aging dogs.

New and better feeds, food supplements and medications are helping maintain longevity and quality of life in our aging canines. However to get the full benefit we must complement this with appropriate exercise and for seniors my first choice is some form of draft work.

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.

Newf News

January/February 2011