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This one is about “Spinner” owned by Dave and Joan Wormald of Campbellville, Ontario:

Spinner plays the role of nanny for my children (age 2 and 5) in many ways. Since I am on crutches and cannot pick them up or fend off unwanted approaches by people or other dogs, I rely on Spinner to protect them when we go for walks in the woods or to the park. When approached by people or other dogs, Spinner places himself conspicuously between the children and the approaching party. He is particularly pushy with men and does not allow them to get between him and the children, although he never growls. Other dogs are not allowed near the children and most do not approach since they can sense that Spinner is not receptive to this possibility. When the kids are playing outside, the dog is always watching them. Spinner and the dog next door, a rambunctious and overly friendly German Shepherd called Meep, are friends and play together when they get the opportunity. My 2 year old, Jennifer, is terrified of this dog, and when the dog comes over and Jennifer is outside, Spinner is extremely aggressive with Meep and growls fiercely, using his shoulder to knock her away from Jen.

These protective actions are much more apparent when Dave is not with us. This is most evident when we go for walks in the woods. When the kids and I are alone Spinner always stays within sight, on or near the trail and returns immediately when called. When Dave is with us, he ventures farther away, often out of sight, and sometimes ignores us when we call, returning when he feels like it, full of burrs and often wet. There are many other instances in which Spinner demonstrates more protective behaviour when Dave is not here. For example, when people come to the door and the kids and I are alone he is aloof and gives them what we call his “wolf look” (front legs splayed, head down, tail not wagging), but when Dave is here Spinner wags at everyone. He will walk through the house from the mud room to the front door (which he is NOT allowed to do) if someone comes into the front hall when Dave is not here. At the cottage he forgoes his wanderings in the woods to stay with the kids and I when Dave goes into town, disappearing again when Dave returns.

One of Spinner’s specific jobs is to accompany Anne, who goes to Kindergarten, to the bus. During September and October we trained him to come down to the bottom of the driveway, wait with her and return to the house after Anne had got on the bus. When the bad weather started I stayed in the house, while Anne and Spinner went alone. Spinner did this job perfectly, sitting beside her waiting for the bus, then returning to the house or the garage or off on his rounds once the bus had left. One day, however, he stood up with Anne when the bus came, instead of remaining sitting. He followed her up to the bus, and then on to the bus! The children were thrilled and patted him and laughed and encouraged him (many of them have met him at the school, where he has been several times, carrying things for me in his back pack). They let him out the back door of the bus, and he immediately walked back to the front door and up the steps again. This time the bus driver was ready for him and ordered him off. Spinner had such a great time that he tried it again the next day, but Dave was there to stop him. We have now modified our bus routine, and Anne and Spinner wait near the house where they can see the bus coming down the cross street. Anne then walks down alone while Spinner watches from the top of the driveway. If he has been let out early, before Anne goes out, he always appears from wherever he has been to wait with her. He is also always there waiting for her when she gets home, often bounding out of nowhere when he hears the bus coming.

In addition to these examples of the way Spinner generally looks after the children, there are two specific examples of protective behaviour which we have witnessed, neither of them involving our own children. At the beach last summer, Duncan, the son of the neighbours from next door began to wander away from where his mother and I were sitting. Spinner, who was lying near by, heaved himself to his feet with a big Newfie sigh and went after the child, walking around him and licking his face and herding him back to his mother. This behaviour was repeated numerous times. The most interesting aspect of this incident is that the little boy has Down’s syndrome, and the dog seemed to know that he is special, since he paid no attention to the wanderings of the other children.

On another morning, during the same visit to the cottage, Spinner was lying on the porch of our cottage, while we were still in bed. Susan, the mother of Duncan, and younger sister, Chelsea, brought Chelsea (wearing a life jacket) down to the beach and placed her in the paddle boat sitting on the shore. She then started back to the cottage to get Duncan. As she left Chelsea, Spinner got up from the porch and went to lie beside the paddle boat. When Susan returned with Duncan, Spinner got up and went back to the porch. This story was recounted to us by Susan, who was very impressed with Spinner’s instinct to protect children who weren’t even his.

When the children were babies, Spinner was even more protective. Almost every picture of them taken outside shows Spinner lying beside a stroller or a baby seat or a playpen. He would actively attack any dogs that came near the baby.

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

July 1997