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“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” is a saying that applies to humans. If there was a parallel expression for domestic canines, it would probably go something like this: “Attempting to improve or restore a breed by crossing it with another breed is the sincerest compliment of all.” The Newfoundland dog has been complimented in this manner on two occasions.

We’re not talking about the creation of a new breed by cross breeding; that involves using the genes from two or more breeds to create a brand new breed that is better in some selected trait(s) than any of its parent and/or grandparent breeds. Newfie genes have helped create each of the six retriever breeds as well as the Leonberger and while this is certainly a tribute to the Newfoundland breed it is not as complimentary as being chosen to improve or restore a trait or traits to an already established breed.

The first instance is fairly well known and documented. In the nineteenth century, on at least one and possibly two occasions, Newfoundlands were imported for crossbreeding to St. Bernards. The dogs at the Hospice of St. Bernard were nearly wiped out due to avalanches and disease. It was hoped that the Newfs would add traits such as resistance to cold weather and disease. It must have worked as the only complaints that I have read about concern the longer coat that some Saints have even to this day. No other breed has been honoured in this way.

While the exercise with the St. Bernards was a deliberate attempt to improve the breed, the other was a restoration of a key characteristic of another Swiss breed, the Bernese Mountain Dog. This information has just come out in the past few months. One source is a book on Bernese Mountain Dogs published in Britain and the other consists of some recent postings on the internet.

Apparently unstable temperaments had appeared in Berners possibly in an attempt to make them better watchdogs. In 1948, what may have been an accidental mating with a Newfoundland, seemed to have solved the problem. The descendants of these love pups went on to influence most of the Bernese lines that exist today both in Switzerland and abroad. What a great tribute to the Newfoundland’s wonderful temperament!

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

July 1999