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I’ve long been sceptical of a special characteristic of the Newfoundland dog even though it has been claimed by some of the best authorities. Mrs. Maynard Drury, in This is the Newfoundland, said it most succinctly: “He has an intuitive ability to recognize danger to others in circumstances completely alien to his own experience.”

How do you prove such a claim except by anecdotes? Such stories of Newfs tend to be exaggerated by those caught up in the romance of the breed. Reporting by the media in the past does not seem to measure up to today’s standards. For example, in The New Complete Newfoundland, the author, Margaret Booth Chern, talks about an article in a 1957 issue of the magazine, Yankee, which credits the Newfoundland with extra-sensory perception; problem is the writer, A.B. Stockbridge, is relating a series of stories that occurred 50 years earlier – not exactly a documented eye witness account.

Then I saw a Canadian Press story from Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba entitled Manitoba diabetic credits neighbour’s Newfoundland dog with saving his life. This story, originally published in the Winnipeg Sun, clearly demonstrated the ESP that Newfs are supposed to have when it comes to danger.

Last May Eleanor Hladki was out working in her garden when her nine year old Newf, Big Ben, left her and went to a neighbour’s deck. She found her Newf crying and looking at the door of Les Carlson. Eleanor went inside and found Les lying unresponsive on the couch with his eyes glazed over. She called for an ambulance and Mr. Carlson, who lives alone and had slipped into diabetic shock, spent the next 24 hours in hospital.

The scientific explanation is that dogs can detect low blood sugar in humans (although researchers do not fully understand this phenomenon). But does this explain how Big Ben could detect such a condition with the neighbour indoors on the next property? or how the Newf knew that this was a critical life or death situation demanding immediate attention?

What we know for sure is that Big Ben sensed a dangerous situation in the neighbouring home and immediately acted thereby saving the life of Les Carlson and I now have reason to be a little less sceptical of the notion of a danger ESP in Newfoundlands.

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

August 2002