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Two of the most impressive breeds in my opinion are the Irish Wolfhound and the Great Dane. They are truly magnificent. However, no matter how impressive tall is, our Newfoundlands must look more like a bear than a moose. Why? Because to be functional as powerful water dogs, they require relatively short legs.

Elliott & Mary

The concept of short powerful legs was documented as early as 1885 in the Kennel Gazette in Great Britain. Shorter legs meant less speed on land and probably in the water as well. However, what was lost in velocity was certainly made up for in raw power both on land and at sea. On the briny, the sheer power of the Newf is legendary as they have been documented on numerous occasions swimming out in hurricane conditions to save human lives.

While the Kennel Gazette of the UK suggested the short legs for the giant water dog back in the 19th century, interestingly it is not reflected in the current breed standard of the UK Kennel Club; however the picture and diagrams that came with their standard certainly portray the short legs.

In fairness to the UK Kennel Club, no other version of the breed standard for the Newfoundland mentions short legs directly. The closest “hint” that I could find was in the Canadian standard. Under the heading, General Appearance, the CKC standard states: “The distance from the top of the withers to the underside of the chest is greater than the distance from the underside of the chest to the ground.”

In the American Kennel Club’s breed standard, the hint is even more subtle: “The distance from the elbow to the ground equals about half the dog’s height.” However, when I waded through the Interpretive Guidelines of Judges Education Committee of the Newfoundland Club of America, I found that they even gave a percentage for the appearance of the distance from the withers to the lowest part of the chest – approximately 55%. Of course, their pictures and diagrams leave no doubt that a properly constructed Newf must have relatively short legs.

What is missing, of course, in all of these standards, is the reason for, and the importance of short legs in the Newfoundland.

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

November 2001