It is said there are over 700 breeds of dog recognized around our planet. Each breed has its own distinct features but none match the uniqueness of the Newfoundland. In previous columns I have discussed or mentioned many of these, particularly those related to a Newf’s special abilities in water. Now I would like to give an overview of our breed’s unique and semi-unique characteristics in no particular order:
LONGEST TOES – When I first heard about this I was dubious and called one of my girls over. Stella weighs about 135 pounds, only 15 pounds lighter than me so I figured she would be a good test subject. Her middle front toe measured 3.5 inches, same as my middle finger. I was astounded – guess all the fur hides the fact. Of course this makes sense as the longer the toes, the more webbing to aid in swimming.
DIETARY TAURINE – In 1998 it was discovered that Newfs or at least some of them require taurine in their diet. Unlike cats, their eyesight is not affected by lack of taurine but heart problems can arise. This makes the Newfoundland one of only a handful of dog breeds confirmed to have such a dietary need. Most mammals post nursing can manufacture their taurine from other amino acids in their food. It makes sense that Newfs are one of the exceptions as they evolved on an Island where the main food source, fish, is the richest source of taurine, hence no need for Mother Nature to weed out the ones that couldn’t make their own.
BREAST STROKE – Our bear dogs are the only canines that do a modified breast stroke instead of the traditional dog paddle. Most commonly the front legs alternate at a 45 degree angle. This can be seen on various You Tube videos; one such is found at Jackson the Newfoundland dog swimming. However some Newfs even do it with their rear legs as can be seen at Newfoundland dog swimming. Then there are a few that didn’t get the memo like Bozwell owned by Diane Nelson of Pierrefonds, Quebec who moved both front legs together at a ninety degree angle as shown in this photo that I took back in 1999:
UNDER WATER SWIMMERS – Using the breast stroke makes sense for a Newf as they are the only breed that is known for swimming under water and that is the stroke that we humans use for this activity. Being able to swim under water makes it easier for Newfoundlands to catch fish in the ocean as they were want to do. Also they can completely close their nostrils so they don’t have to blow out like humans who dive, thus allowing more “down time”.
WINTER SWIMMING – Newfs are the only breed designed to swim all year round including the dead of winter. That is one of the reasons why I have referred to them as first cousins to the polar bear. Pups as young as four months of age have successfully swam in the winter months. A close relative, the Labrador retriever, can swim until November but after that risks “cold tail”.
BEAR LIKE ROLL – Quite unique among canines is the rolling motion of Newfs when they walk. In the CKC breed standard it is written thus “A slight roll is present”. No wonder that seen walking from behind a Newf is often mistaken for a black bear. Unfortunately some folks have very erroneously thought this characteristic was a sign of joint problems including veterinarians.
LONG OILY COAT – Only the Newfoundland has this. There are a few other breeds with oily coats but none of them have long coats. While not yet generally accepted this is a key reason why some of us believe that Newfs have special dietary needs.
DANGER INTUITION – This feature of Newfs is only supported by anecdotal information but there are so many anecdotes that it has to be mentioned. The stories range from warning their human of a washed out bridge in the dark to refusing to sail on a doomed ship.
WATER TOWING STRENGTH – Absolutely unmatched in this area, a Newf has towed a raft with 40 people aboard, about 6400 pounds. Also impressive is watching a four month old Newfy puppy towing a row boat with two adult humans aboard.
DISTANCE SWIMMING – No other breed is even in the running. Longest swim recorded for a Newfoundland is 50 miles/80 kilometers but some ocean sightings suggest they have done even better than this.
UTERINE WEBBING – While a Newf is not the only web footed dog, in fact many breeds are, some not even water dogs, only a Newfoundland has the webbing present as soon as the foot is formed in the uterus.
INSTINCTIVE RESCUE DOG – Only two breeds are so classified, the Newfoundland and the Saint Bernard. That is why, because of their very many water rescues of humans, Newfs have been referred to as the Saint Bernard of the Sea.
LONGEVITY AS A GIANT – In modern times the giant dog breeds are renowned for being short lived. Many are placed in a five to eight year life expectancy range. Several pet health insurance plans classify giant breed dogs as geriatric as early as five years of age. An exception is the Newfoundland. While we are not yet back to their ancestral life expectancy of 13 to 15 years you can reasonably expect at least 10 years and more and more we are seeing 12 and 13 year old Newfs.
CHILD GUARDIAN – Last but most definitely not least is the Newfoundland’s special concern for human children. Many breeds are good with children and several will also protect their family’s kids but what sets Newfs apart is that they naturally protect all children. Over the past 40 years I have witnessed this time and time again, Newfoundland dogs protecting children that they have never met before. The example that stands out most in my mind is that of an 18 month old Newf who was up for adoption. At the meet and greet, the mother blocked her toddler from a staircase; next time the child went to the stairs, the Newf blocked his way and turned him back into the room. The Newf was adopted!
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