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Dogs and bears share a common ancestor on the evolutionary tree. No dog reflects this relationship more than our Newfies who were once known as the bear dog. From the rear, with their bear like roll, it is quite easy to mistake a Newf for a black bear. Surprisingly for many people, it is not the black bear that is most similar to the Newfoundland dog among the bear family.

Except for colouring, the black bear is really not that similar. This bear can live on vegetation and hibernates during the cold weather – how un-Newf like?

The bear species that I like to call “first cousin” to our bear dogs is the polar bear. The white colour that is associated with this species is actually an optical illusion. The coat is clear allowing the sun to get to the skin which is black. Thus the outer colouring of a polar bear is black just like a Newfie. Also like the Newf, these arctic bears have a dense, woolly, insulating layer of underhair covered by a layer of stiff, shiny, guard hairs. The fur is oily and water repellant as per the Newfoundland dog and they can shake off water and any ice that forms just like a Newf

Some other similarities:

  • A polar bear’s ears lie flat against the head when swimming.
  • A polar bear’s nostrils close when under water.
  • Polar bears are strong swimmers.
  • While polar bears do not have a long tail to act as a rudder, they get a rudder effect by using their rear legs and feet.
  • A polar bear’s fore paws (the ones used for swimming) are webbed.
  • Like a Newf, polar bears are a diving mammal and underwater swimmer.
  • A polar bear has excellent underwater vision.
  • When not searching for food or love, polar bears like to sleep or rest.
  • A polar bear has more problems with overheating than with cold.

I had heard that polar bears were left handed so I tested every Newf that I could to see if they were also of a sinister persuasion. My method of testing was to shake a paw. Most Newfs offered their left paw first, so I concluded that Newfs are also left handed. Then my research revealed that it is only a myth that polar bears are left handed and that they use either paw equally.

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

December 2003