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My favourite author on Newfs, Margaret Booth Chern, in her book The New Complete Newfoundland, states “A Newfoundland’s feet must be webbed or impurity of lineage is revealed.” I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately the breed standards used to guide conformation judges around the world do not so agree; if they did, then lack of webbing would be a disqualification and none of them disqualify a Newfoundland for lack of webbing between the toes.

The best of a bad lot in reference to webbing is the Canadian Breed Standard. It states unequivocally “Substantial webbing of the toes is always present.” It just stops short of making lack of webbing a disqualification.

The American and UK breed standards mention that the feet should be webbed and stop at that. The FCI breed standard used by the rest of the world only mentions webbing in the front feet. I had to re-read this standard several times as I could not believe it at first, but finally had to conclude that outside of Canada, the US and the UK, a Newf could have no webbing present in the hind feet and not even be faulted for it.

Worse yet, the Italian author, Emmy Bruno, argues that dogs, including the Newfoundland, do not have true swimming webbing compared to a beaver or the various water fowl. She does concede that “In the canine species, an interdigital membrane formed of thin fiber instead connects the toes.” She goes on to state that “Depending on the breed, this membrane can be more or less accentuated.” This to me is purely semantics.

However, somewhat ironically, Ms Bruno does offer the only definition that I have ever seen of how much of this “interdigital membrane” a Newf should have and it may be that a lack of such a definition is the reason why no breed standard has yet dared to make lack of webbing a disqualification. She states that the interdigital membrane should extend to the end of the second of the three bone segments in the toe. This fits with my observations of purebred Newfs and I hope that when the various breed standards undergo review, her definition of how much interdigital membrane should be present will be considered as the basis for a disqualification. Of course, I also hope that they will retain the term “webbing”.

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

September 2006