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The Newfoundland dog is often referred to as the St. Bernard of the Sea. This recognizes that Newfs do in water what the Saints use to do in the snowy Alps. While no one has used the term up to now, I feel that our Newfs should also be known as the Tractor of the Sea.

On land the Newfoundland is definitely one of the best draft dogs but in water the breed has no peer; they are simply the best. There are faster swimmers amongst the canine family and better fetchers of dead birds. Newfs do not stand out in a water sport like dock diving. Their close cousin, the Labrador Retriever, can put a Newf to shame in all of these categories but then comparing these breeds would be like comparing a sports car to a tractor.

A Newf excels in water rescue because of his ability to handle undertows and high waves better than any other breed. Even more amazing is that he can do this and still have lots of power left over to tow people or boats. This power is not just from brute strength but also from technique. Newfs are renown for doing a modified breast stroke with their front legs just like another powerful swimmer, the polar bear. Unlike the polar bear who keeps his rear legs together to act as a rudder, the Newf gets extra power from the rear legs since his tail is the rudder. Most Newfoundlands do a dog paddle in the rear but some have actually been seen doing the breaststroke with the back legs.

Tractor of the Sea

On land the power of dogs hauling has been quantified in weight pull tests but there is nothing comparable for sea towing. However I did find some quasi quantitative information.

In Russia there are dog training centres that operate under the auspices of the federal rescue agency and the Emergency Situations Ministry. In a recent article from The Voice of Russia, trainers were quoted as saying “A Labrador can tow a man weighing up to 100 kg or a small boat. The giant black Newfoundland is an excellent swimmer and diver, and strong enough to tow a yacht up to one kilometer. These dogs are born rescuers.”

In the United Kingdom, David Pugh trains Newfs to be lifesavers for the Royal Navy Reservists’ Swansea rescue team. He claims his Newfoundland, Whiz, has the power to drag up to eight people from the water at once.

On the website of the Colonial Newfoundland Club in the US, it states “The French Coast Guard has determined that a well-conditioned Newf can tow an inflatable raft with 20 people aboard two miles to shore without being unduly stressed.”

A number of videos are now on the internet depicting the incredible abilities of the highly trained water rescue dogs in Italy. While most of these dogs are Newfoundlands, they also use other breeds like Labs and golden retrievers. However in one of the videos the comment was made that a Labrador can tow four people in the water whereas a Newfoundland can pull 12 to 15 people. An online magazine, Italiansrus.com, claims that at the Italian Dog Rescue School training includes “…pulling a boat containing thirty people between three hundred meters to two kilometers.” On the website of The Irish Spotted Newfoundland Society they quote Donatella Pasquale, vice president of the school, as saying “Our record is one Newfoundland dog towing 40 people at the same time.”

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.

Newf News

May/June 2011