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How do you judge something like temperament in a breed? One way is to look at the official breed standards in different countries. In Canada we say: “Known for his sterling gentleness and serenity.” Our U.S. cousins are even more unequivocal: “Sweetness of temperament is the hallmark of the Newfoundland; this is the most important single characteristic of the breed.” Overseas in England they describe the Newfie temperament as: “Exceptionally gentle, docile nature.”

A standard is by definition (Oxford Dictionary) a “… specification by which the qualities required of something may be tested…” While there is no debate that a sweet disposition is a required quality of our Newfs, I’m not sure that the show ring provides the real test of the dog’s temperament. What I like to do is scan the world wide press with the help of the internet. The popular media reflects the views of the ordinary person while simultaneously influencing it.

Unfortunately, in the European media, I have found stories of Newfs that have shown the opposite type of temperament to that in the standard and worse, these stories were reported matter-of-factly, and not as an unusual occurrence. This prompted me to do a full archival scan of the Canadian and U.S. media. To my great relief, on the continent where our gentle giants originated, I did not find even one negative article or comment about Newfoundlands. Everything was complimentary, especially in any reference to their temperament. Some examples follow:

The Assistant Travel Editor of the Dallas Morning News went to the Island of Newfoundland and described the Newfoundland dog as “a friendly 150 – pound breed with webbed feet, known for its willingness to save drowning sailors – a St. Bernard of the sea.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune quoted from the book, The Perfect Puppy: How to Choose Your Dog by Its Behavior, by Dr. Benjamin L. Hart and Linette A. Hart: “…the Newfoundland dog, though as big as a small bear, is ‘a cream puff, … quiet, nonaggressive, nondestructive, very affectionate and highly tolerant of all sorts of disturbances, including the shenanigans of little children and frisky puppies.”

My favourite media quote comes from the Providence Journal. In an article on this year’s American National Specialty, the reporter described the Newfs this way: “They are marshmallows in bear’s clothing … the dogs have the look of black bears and the disposition of cherubs.”

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 2000