The Newfoundland is an underwater dog. To my knowledge, it is the only breed to have this characteristic. True there are many examples of individual dogs from other breeds that willingly swim under water, but these dogs are notable because they are exceptions to the rule. The strangest example that I came across was a bull dog that regularly did this, but the writer of the article certainly did not suggest that this was an attribute of the breed.
When I say that the Newf is an underwater dog, I am talking about much more than a willingness to swim below the surface of the water. In fact, some Newfs that have not been introduced to water at an early age are barely willing to get their feet wet. I assume that when Newfoundland dogs were semi-wild on the Island of Newfoundland, the dam would introduce her brood to water like a mother duck does with her ducklings. We humans have taken over most of this early indoctrinization of young pups and usually omit this element.
Besides a willingness to go under water, Newfs have several physical qualities that support their claim to being a canine submarine. The most obvious is their fully webbed feet. This is part of the show standard, but interestingly, not a disqualification. At one of our National Specialty Shows, the judge, during his remarks at the banquet, caused quite a furor when he stated that several of the champions that he had judged that day lacked webbing.
Then there are the ears. Newfs have flop ears rather than the prick ears of a wolf. This trait seems to be shared by all water dogs who have given up the advantage of being able to direct their ears to better intercept a sound wave in order to be able to seal out water. Closely related are the nostrils which so effectively shut out water, a Newf does not have to gently blow out like us humans do when under water.
Most unique is the swim stroke – most Newfs do a modified breast stroke. The breast stroke is the preferred one for underwater swimming by humans so it would seem to make sense for our Newfs as well. We call it “modified” because only the front legs use this pattern; the back legs do a dog paddle stroke like any other dog.
It is commonly remarked that Newfs use their tail as a rudder. This seems to be especially so when they are fully submerged. That big magnificent tail is much more than an ornament. Less commonly known is the fact that a Newf’s deep chest is not ornamental either; it has a definite purpose for its underwater role. A large chest enables large lungs so that the Newf can stay under water longer.
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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