One of the most famous roles for Newfoundland dogs in the past was as a ship’s dog. It was customary for sailing ships to have at least one Newfoundland on board and sailors of old, often being superstitious, frequently refused to sail without such a good luck charm aboard. Newfs on ships were of course more than just a good luck item or a pretty face; they were full working crew members. Their duties included helping land boats by taking lines to or from shore, carrying items between ships, helping set and collect fishing nets and recovering articles dropped into the sea. Most lauded were their rescue feats. Their success in saving men who fell overboard are so numerous and so taken for granted that only one such incident seems to have been formally recorded. When Napoleon was escaping from his exile on the Isle of Elba, the non-swimmer Emperor fell overboard at night. If it wasn’t for the ship’s Newfoundland who dived in, located the general and brought him to safety, the Emperor Napoleon would never have gone on to meet his Waterloo. This incident has given the Newfie dog the title of “the dog that changed history”.
Just as for us humans, a dog’s past has implications for the present. In this case, it means that recreational boaters, with anything from a canoe to a cabin cruiser, can take their giant breed dog along for the sail. More than that, it has enabled this giant dog to be a house dog needing almost no exercise and being as unobtrusive as a rug – okay, a rug that you have to step over. As stay-at-home parents are more and more coming back into vogue, this is an important characteristic, since such parents may little time to exercise their Newf and want him to be with them in the house all day long.
In 1997 I was privileged to be part of the Great Newfoundland Dog Trek. About 150 Newfs along with their owners from all over North America travelled together to meet the replica of John Cabot’s ship, the Matthew, which landed in Bonavista, Newfoundland on June 24th, 1497. Besides providing an honour guard for the Queen, we were allowed to tour the replica ship with our Newfs. I was shocked by how small an ocean going vessel was during the time of sail; definitely no room for a Newfoundland dog to exercise on those long sea voyages. It then became obvious to me that either the breed never needed much exercise or evolved during the era of the sailing ship to their present state of being exercise optional.
While exercise is always an option, it actually has to be tempered, as a Newf can easily overheat. Some Newfs, specifically those with joint problems like hip dysplasia, can really benefit from exercise as long as it is the right type. The right type means exercise that combines weight resistance and aerobic exercise without overheating this first cousin to the polar bear. My recommendation is either swimming or draft work such as dog carting. Exercise to be avoided would be running with smaller more agile dogs which could cause a twisting injury and result in something serious such as a torn cruciate ligament.
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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