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For centuries the Newfoundland dog has been famous as the ultimate water rescue dog. However there was at least one attempt to improve the best of the best. The Russian army’s Central Military School of Working Dogs, better known as the Red Star Kennels, started developing specialized breeds for military use after World War II. One of their efforts in the 1950’s and 1960’s was to create the Russian Newfoundland also known as the Moscow Water Dog, the Moscow Retriever, the Russian Water Dog and the Moscow Diver (Moskovsky Vodolaz). This last name came about because in Russia the Newfoundland was historically called the Vodolaz, which means “diver” in Russian.

Three breeds were used to create this super rescue dog. Newfoundland males were bred to Caucasian Shepherd and East European Shepherd bitches. The offspring were then mated with each other until a distinct breed was created.

Next the army turned their new breed over to the Russian navy for testing. The dogs proved to be excellent swimmers and well able to withstand the severe climate. However when they swam to drowning sailors, they were inclined to bite them rather than save them. It turned out that the dog was aggressive and did not take well to strangers. The Red Star Kennels abandoned this experiment in the late 1960’s but tried to commercialize the Russian Newfoundland. The civilians who obtained the breeding stock were not inclined to experiment like the Russian navy and they kept crossing the dogs with purebred Newfs until the Russian Newfoundland could no longer be distinguished from the original. This resulted in the new breed becoming extinct.

However the genes of the Russian Newfoundland are not completely lost. When the ultimate war dog, the Black Russian Terrier, was created by the Red Star Kennels, it was based on 14 different breeds and one of them was the Russian Newfoundland. That is how the Black Russian Terrier gets to claim Newfoundlands as an ancestor.

As far as I can determine the Russian navy has never ever allowed the Russian army to develop a breed of dog for them again.

Today in Russia there are dog training centres operating in many cities under the auspices of the federal rescue agency and the Emergency Situations Ministry and one of their objectives is to train water rescue dogs. However they are primarily sticking to the tried and true original Newfoundland dog for this purpose.

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

August/September 2011