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Every breed has characteristics that make it unique and special, and, in some cases, they have a quality that is so outstanding, it virtually defines the breed. A good example of this is the bloodhound and its ability to scent track.

The Newfoundland is blessed with multiple unique traits, all of which, in combination, define the breed. However, many in the Newf fancy, myself included, believe that the temperament of the Newf is its single most defining characteristic. For example, in the show standard of the American Kennel Club, the sweet disposition of the Newf is referred to as the “hallmark” of the breed.

In the Canadian Kennel Club standard, there is certainly no doubt of the importance of temperament to the Newfoundland breed. It says:

He is known for his sterling gentleness and serenity. Any show of ill temper … is to be severely faulted. Bad temperament is a disqualification.

The above description, excerpted from the temperament section of the standard, is further reinforced by the disqualifications section which lists “bad temperament” first in the list of disqualifications.

The descriptions found in the show standards are fine for their purpose, but they don’t help the average person understand the true uniqueness of the Newfie temperament. Certainly, the newcomers to the fancy who bring their new dog out to an event and want to introduce their Newf to another Newf the same way that they would introduce one child to another, do not understand the special temperament of the breed. These people express great shock as the dog whose face they’ve shoved their dog’s face into reacts rather negatively. The simple fact is that a Newfoundland is a dog and interacts with other dogs the same way as most breeds do. Therefore, a Newf should be trained and handled with other dogs just like any other dog. The best way to learn how to do this is to take your Newfie pup to group obedience classes just like every other good dog owner would do.

So what is so special about a Newf’s temperament? It is in relationship to humans and to baby animals. This special relationship then goes double for baby or young humans. Unfortunately, even this is often misunderstood. Since a dog does not have hands, it uses its mouth for this purpose. This is often manifested in a negative way as puppy nipping. How do you tell if a puppy is using its mouth as a hand or a weapon? Well, as a hand, the mouthing will be confined to grabbing an appendage or piece of clothing; as a weapon, it could be a face.

Instead of teaching a puppy to never grab a person’s skin or clothing, some people tease and play with their pup in such a way as to actually encourage this type of behaviour. Inevitably human skin gets “scratched” and the poor pup gets blamed for biting. If an adult dog is allowed to get this way and blood is drawn after human skin has been between the teeth, you can forget about convincing a judge or just about anyone else that the dog didn’t bite. You and I will know the truth, but your dog may suffer the consequences.

By all means celebrate and treasure the wonderful temperament of your Newfoundland, but learn how to train and handle him so that you can enjoy him to the fullest.

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 1998