Last summer I got a real eye opener when I taught water rescue dog seminars for breeds other than Newfs; some of these dogs were good, really good. One day when water rescue dog tests are opened up to breeds other than Newfoundlands, they may do as well as the Newfs. This got me to thinking – are Newfs really that special in the water?
Often in this column I have talked about the ability of Newfs to swim in ice cold water, but it has been brought to my attention that some Labrador Retrievers do this as well – of course the Labs are descended from the Newfies. The underwater swimming ability of the Newfs is probably exclusive to our breed although I remember reading about a Bulldog that enjoyed swimming underwater; however I am sure this was a quirk of nature and that this breed is not about to displace Newfs as the canine world’s premier submariner.
One thing that I noticed in training other breeds for water rescue is that most were doing the exercises solely as exercises. For example there was a collie that was in training for his CDX title which involves retrieving an object; this collie was also comfortable in the water and really excelled in the simple retrieve exercise. However when he was asked to take out a line to a drowning victim he did not do so well. Here I spotted a crucial difference; the collie was obeying the commands of his handler very well, but the cries for help from the drowning victim didn’t seem to do a thing for him. A Newf at the same seminar, with almost no retrieving training did much better, obviously responding to a human’s distress call. This would have solved my question about Newfs being special in the water except for Tinkerbelle, a Dogue de Bordeaux, who was also at my seminars. She amazingly showed a true rescue instinct, so much so, that I recommended that she be declared an honorary Newf and allowed to take part in a more advanced seminar being run by the South Eastern Ontario Region Newf Club. Just like the underwater swimming Bulldog, one dog does not necessarily reflect the whole breed, so time will tell if Dogues will rival Newfs as aquatic lifesavers.
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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