When people who are not familiar with our breed first visit a Newf kennel and see a sea of black dogs, they often remark “How can you tell them apart?” Of course once you are accustomed to the breed you see a distinct facial expression on each and every one of them. This expression is partly genetic but also is a reflection of uniqueness of personality and of the current mood.
Newfoundland breed standards typically address expression, the only exception being that of the UK. The AKC standard states “Expression is soft and reflects the characteristics of the breed: benevolence, intelligence and dignity.” In Canada we have essentially the same wording but add “… but capable of fun.”
Key to expression are the eyes. In the NCA’s Illustrated Guide it points out “Eyes that are prominent, bulgy, set too close together, and /or light colored serve to spoil the soft, sweet Newfoundland expression.” What the dog does with their eyes is a study in itself: they can open them wide or keep them nearly shut; eyeballs can be rolled or off to the side or looking down. They can also be looking right through you or deliberately avoiding contact; they can be in motion or quite still. It was only when I gave my attention to Newfie eyes that I really understood the phrase “The eyes are the window to the soul.”
Another aspect of the facial expression comes from the ears. Joan Bendure in her book, The Newfoundland, Companion Dog – Water Dog, says “In repose the ears will lie flat against the skull. When the dog is alert the ears will be raised, the back edge of the ears will be brought forward away from the head and the front edge of the ear will stay close against the cheek. When the dog is being submissive, the ears will be held low and back.”
Also important for expression is the positioning of the jaws and the head carriage, especially the famous head tilt, which is sure to con another treat from you.
I’ve been struggling to explain expression in the Newfoundland as words can hardly do this concept justice. Fortunately Shel Munro of Sunderland, Ontario has shared with me a photo of two of her Newfs, Hannah and Stevie, that illustrates expression as only a picture can do.
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