The Newfoundland is the ultimate water dog. Newfies, while not necessarily the fastest swimmers, are definitely the strongest. They are also the only breed designed to swim underwater and in ice cold water. The breed also functions well in snowy winter conditions. A major part of this functionality is the coat, something I often refer to as a marvel of nature. It consists of two parts, a soft wooly undercoat topped with coarse, oily guard hairs; such a coat enables warmth without matting or drag in the water and, on land, sheds snow.
The national Newf clubs in both the US and Canada are doing much to preserve the working aspect of the Newfoundland dog. Both clubs sponsor working events for the Newfs and offer special titles for dogs that combine conformation championships with working achievements. Nevertheless there is an emerging threat to the full functionality of our breed. Longer coats seem to be in style. This has the advantage of making our giant dogs appear to be even larger; it also enables the controversial “sculpting” for the show ring.
Looking at the official breed standards of Canada, the US, FCI and the UK I found them all to be sufficiently vague as to permit an emerging fad. The first three are identical in calling for a “moderately long” outer coat and a “dense” undercoat. In the UK, length is not even mentioned, only the denseness of coat. So I turned to respected authors from the past to try to get some clarity on the issue.
In 1955 Margaret Booth Chern wrote “The correct body coat is important to the Newfoundland. The emphasis, however, should be on density rather than length. An overly long or shaggy coat would collect snow and ice and would not be serviceable in winter weather.” She reiterated this again in 1975. In 1978 Mrs Maynard Drury wrote “The length of coat is not the important factor. It is the correct texture and density that are most desirable.” In the 1989 edition of the official publication of the Newfoundland Club of the UK, true to their standard, the length of coat is not mentioned but the importance of a correct coat is stressed with the top coat being “straight and harsh” and the undercoat “soft and dense”.
An interesting comment appeared in Joan Bendure’s 1994 book entitled The Newfoundland, Companion Dog – Water Dog. In explaining how the chest of the Newfoundland is its keel for swimming and that it should reach at least down to the elbows, she seems to be giving a subtle warning when she states: “It is important in evaluating a Newfoundland to feel how deep the chest is, as the heavy coat of hair can make a shallow chest appear deep.”
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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