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Maybe I’m a closet romantic finally coming out of the closet. In my formal writings to date I have accepted the major current theories about the origins of the Newfoundland dog, i.e. that he probably descended from dogs indigenous to the Island of Newfoundland who were bred with various breeds brought over by the fishermen of several European countries. Also accepted is the likelihood that the indigenous dogs of the native peoples were descended from Tibetan mastiffs that either came by way of the migration from Asia via Alaska some 10,000 years ago and/or from the black bear dogs of the Vikings who briefly colonized Newfoundland circa 1,000 AD; these latter dogs themselves descended from Tibetan mastiffs.

Back in the 1970’s many Newf fanciers, including my late wife, Maribeth, subscribed to the more romantic notion that our Newfs came from either the large black dogs used by inland native people as draft animals prior to the introduction of horses in the Americas or from the now extinct black wolf. The Indian dog presumably was descended from the black wolf, so either way the theory was that this wolf was the forerunnner of the Newfoundland.

Then illusions were shattered in the 1980’s when respected zoologist and Newf breeder Dr. Roger Powell from North Carolina wrote an article on the subject for Newf Tide, the magazine of the Newfoundland Club of America. He explained how it was technically impossible for the Newfoundland dog to have descended from the black wolf based on analysis of the jaw of a wolf compared to the jaw of a dog. Well for the next quarter century I resigned myself to the less romantic theories of how our breed came to be.

Just recently I started re-reading Emmy Bruno’s book entitled The Newfoundland and was enthralled with some of the passages in the section entitled Theories Regarding Origins, in particular:

Other theories refer to a cross between the Indian dog and the black wolf of America. This breed of wolf, which is unfortunately extinct, presented very particular traits. It was different from other wolves in its color, the position of its eyes, the quality of its coat, and a greater predisposition for being domesticated. Typical and unique to the female was a white star on the chest.

This excited me enough to do some research on the internet and sure enough similar facts abounded. Incredibly there is even a study from Stanford suggesting the wolves got their black colouring in an unconventional evolutionary twist from the Indian dogs back to their former ancestors. While none of this is proof positive, it sure re-opens the possibilities for us romantics.

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

March 2010