While Newfoundland dogs are commonly known to have been aids to fishermen in the days of sail, it is less well known that they were and are fishers in their own right. Fish are their most natural prey and that diet was foremost for them as they evolved in the 16th to 19th centuries.
Writers of old such as Major-General William Nelson Hutchinson who wrote Dog Breaking in the mid 1800’s have left us with vivid images of Newfs fishing:
At certain seasons of the year the streams of some parts of North America, not far from the coast, are filled with fish to an extent you could scarcely believe, unless you had witnessed it and now comes the Munchausen story. A real Newfoundland, belonging to a farmer who lived near one of those streams, used, at such times, to keep the house well supplied with fish. He thus managed it:
He was perfectly black, with the exception of a white fore-foot, and for hours together he would remain almost immoveable on a small rock which projected into the stream, keeping his white foot hanging over the ledge as a lure to the fish. He remained so stationary that it acted as a very attractive bait; and whenever curiosity or hunger tempted any unwary fish to approach too close, the dog plunged in, seized his victim, and carried him off to the foot of a neighbouring tree, and, on a successful day, he would catch a great number.
Hutchinson also included an etching to illustrate the luring or tolling of fish. It was entitled INVITATION TO A WHITE BAIT DINNER.
Nowadays when given a chance, Newfoundland dogs still fish. In the late 1990’s my friend, Lloyd Nelson, bought a property in Whitby, Ontario that had a stream crossing through it in which salmon swam upstream to spawn. His Newf, Napoleon, who had spent years prospecting with him in wilderness areas, learned to fish on his own. When he saw the salmon he would catch them and bring them ashore and share with the other Newfoundlands. Eventually he taught the others to fish and they carried on his legacy. These salmon were much larger than the usual prey fish of one to three pounds so they were left on shore and eaten over a number of days.
It is not unusual to see a Newfoundland portrayed with catch in hand, or rather in mouth:
In fact you can even buy jewellery portraying this from Show Dog Jewellery with this scene as a belt buckle, pendant, hair clip, necklace, etc.
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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