As a Newfoundland breeder with a special interest in dog carting I am often asked what criteria I use to select a pup as a potential draft dog. My answer comes in three parts and the second part usually surprises people.
First I am particularly concerned about joint health. If a Newf has less than optimal joints, carting and other draft work may be quite therapeutic but for best performance you want orthopaedic excellence from the get go. Since it is impossible to determine this in a newborn, you must look to the parents and other ancestors. In the seven health clearances suggested by the Newfoundland Club of America, three are for joints – hips, elbows and knees. In Europe, shoulders are usually certified and this may become so here in North America in time.
Secondly, I turn to the Newfoundland breed standard as a guide to assessing a pup as a potential draft dog. Folks often think that the breed standard is just for conformation showing but it really is an overall guide for everything Newfie; you might even call it our Bible. Of course some of the items in the standard are just about appearance but there is much that relates to function and being a “draught animal” is clearly stated as such in the first paragraph.
Three sections in the breed standard are of key importance when selecting a puppy for carting. These are titled Forequarters, Hindquarters and Gait.
Like joint health, gait can’t be assessed directly in a young pup. You have to check the sire and dam for this. The standard reads: “The Newfoundland has good reach and strong drive, giving the impression of effortless power”. Reach refers to the stride in the front legs and drive to the power in the rear. To judge this takes many years to learn but the last part of the sentence quoted above can be assessed by anyone. If you can see the dog running free and it appears to be poetry in motion, then you have your “effortless power”. Kitty Drury, in the book This is the Newfoundland, said it best “Movement is the crucial test of conformation”.
At six to eight weeks of age you can stack a pup on a grooming table and examine the front and rear legs. For the front, put your hand between the legs and lift; then gently lower the front. The legs should be wide apart and the toes pointed straight ahead.
Most important is the rear. Have someone hold the pup at the front while you set the rear legs in place. You should be able to stack the legs so that they are fairly wide and straight. Straight means you don’t want the stifles (knees) to be close together or wide apart. Look for good angulation in the stifles without the appearance of crouching.
Then there is the third aspect to consider. Dogs are often described as alpha or beta. This is often misunderstood since it is not a black or white situation but rather a continuum or shades of grey. However, for the novice carter you may wish to choose a more beta dog since they will be easier to train initially for working beside you, i.e. they are less stubborn. However when you are ready for driving (riding in the cart or controlling from behind), you may have better success with an alpha; they have the confidence to be up front and alone. There are tests for temperament that can be done with a pup as young as six weeks. Your breeder should be able to help you with this.
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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