For to many people the mention of “intelligence” with “Newfoundland dog” is an oxymoron. When authors rate the intelligence of the different breeds, they often use a mechanical criteria such as performance in obedience trials to rank the canines. I have to admit that if that is the criteria, Newfs definitely won’t be in the top 10. This was made clear to me in my first obedience course in the summer of 1976. To this day I’ll never forget the words of the instructor when he was teaching us to have our dogs sit automatically when we stopped. He would say “Wait three seconds and then correct them; for Newfies, wait five seconds.” Then they tried to get the Newfs to sit straight. Well I soon found out that that would take more effort than it would to teach the Newf all about dog carting and water rescue. If you can’t guess where my efforts went, let me tell you that my favourite Newfie statuette (and I have a lot of them) is one depicting the Newf sitting, as they usually do, crooked on one haunch.
In my humble opinion, anything involving rote learning, like obedience trials and drill in the army, impressive as it is, does not represent intelligence. Real intelligence involves solving problems that you haven’t encountered before and such ability is important for a dog that is renown for rescuing people and as a guardian of children.
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence showing the intelligence of Newfoundland dogs; however many of them involve water rescues and people simply put this down to instincts. The land based rescues are a little harder to explain away, especially if the Newf is not being guided by a human. My favourite story involves a Newfie bitch who was given a hero award by the Newfoundland Club of America. On a blizzardy day this Newf was put out in her fenced back yard. A little while later, the family received a phone call from a neighbour expressing gratitude for the dog saving their young girl’s life. The family looked out in the yard, saw their Newf and at first, were incredulous. The neighbour’s daughter had been caught outside in the snowstorm away from her house. She couldn’t see at all and was not even able to stand up in the driving snowstorm. The Newf somehow got over the fence and came to her aid. She helped the little girl stand up and then supported her as she brought her to the door of her house and then returned to her yard.
Of course, Newfs are demonstrating their intelligence in back yards everywhere and at any age. Linda and Blake Smith of Keswick, Ontario have a Newfie puppy named Moses. He lets them know when he wants to go in the fenced yard much like any other dog. However, when he wants back in, he figured out all by himself that all he had to do was ring the doorbell. Yes he pushes the button but exactly how is unknown as no one has ever seen him do it. And if the Smiths don’t let him right away, he continues to ring the bell until they do. Now that’s a smart Newf who has his owners well trained.
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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