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You can tell a lot about a breed by the various monikers they are given or by the expressions following “known as”. For the Newfoundland dog the most common nick name is “the gentle giant”. This refers to the Newf’s calm disposition with humans. However this expression has lost a lot of its significance since many other giant breeds have also claimed the title.

Another common nick name for Newfoundlands is “nature’s babysitter” and this one seems to be unique to our breed. It reflects the fact that Newfs are not only very good with children but are natural protectors of our young.

Appearance is exemplified by the term “bear dog”. In fact the Newf was known by this name before being dubbed the Newfoundland in 1775. Newfs, except for the face and tail, look very much like a black bear and share many common characteristics with the polar bear.

The Newfoundland is commonly described as an “instinctive rescue dog”, a characteristic shared with only one other breed, the St. Bernard. Of course the Newf is an instinctive water rescue dog whereas the St. Bernard is an instinctive alpine rescue dog. This gives rise to a common reference to the Newfoundland as “the St. Bernard of the Sea”, a tribute to both these wonderful breeds. It also helps explain that when the Saints needed outside genes in the 19th century to strengthen the breed, the giant breed dog chosen for that honour was the Newfoundland.

The Newfoundland is commonly referred to as a “life guard dog” in reference to his saving of lives from a watery grave. Of course saving famous people adds to that moniker. The most famous drowning victim saved by a Newf was Napoleon when he escaped from his captivity on the Island of Elba. The emperor was a non-swimmer and fell overboard during his flight at night. The ship’s dog, a Newfoundland named Boatswain, was the only one to notice and he jumped in the water and saved Napoleon so that he could go on to meet his Waterloo. From this historical event came the moniker “the dog that changed history”.

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

April/May 2011