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In 1972 the Government of Newfoundland declared by way of an Executive Order (Order-in-Council) the Newfoundland dog to be the official animal emblem of the Province. This tribute was long overdue in the native land of the breed. Unfortunately the relationship of the Newfoundland dog and the Newfoundland authorities was not always so wonderful.

In 1780, the Governor of Newfoundland issued a decree limiting the legal ownership of Newfoundland dogs to one per household. This order was intended to promote the raising of sheep by restricting potential predators. The sheep were apparently not helped appreciably but the damage to the dogs was horrendous. Many of the Newfs were destroyed or exported. Fortunately a few devotees of the breed broke the law and enabled the breed to survive on the Island.

The Newfoundland government tried again in 1885 to promote sheep in the form of the Sheep Protection Act. This Act gave local jurisdictions the power to charge a hefty dog licensing tax as well as the right to prohibit dogs all together. While this legislation was not specifically directed against Newfs but rather designed to limit all non sheep herding dogs, it also failed to exempt the giant working dog that had become a symbol of the Island. This was somewhat ironic as two years later, the same government honoured the Newfoundland dog by issuing the very first stamp ever to commemorate an animal.

In 1906 Pauline Johnson, in an article in the Montreal Standard, summed up the breed thusly:

…but, strange to tell, one never sees a really thorough-bred Newfoundland dog. The blood has become “collified,” and the hair has lost its curl, and the animal its erstwhile size.
A seemingly cruel law obtains througout the colony regarding these dogs, every one of which must have attached to its neck a wooden clog, weighing seven pounds, and measuring eighteen inches in length. These clogs are frequently fastened by a length of heavy iron log-chain. The poor creature goes through life hampered by this monstrosity. Its gait becomes marred, and its forelegs battered and bowed.

Fortunately all of these laws hampering the Newfoundland dog no longer exist and the giant canines, while still few in number, are well promoted and loved throughout their native land.

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

November 2009