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On land the Newfoundland dog is almost as good as they get as a draft dog probably only surpassed by the Bernese Mountain Dog. However in the water he is in a class all by himself both for strength and endurance.

Two years ago I wrote a column entitled Tractor of the Sea in which I discussed just how strong a draft dog the Newfoundland is in the water. The article concluded with this quote from the Italian Dog Rescue School: “Our record is one Newfoundland dog towing 40 people at the same time.” This was further quantified when my good friend and fellow Newfoundland breeder, Marie-France Drolet was preparing for an interview on Quebec television. She asked me to give her a weight that Newfs could pull in the sea. To answer her question I applied the rule of thumb used for elevator capacity and multiplied the 40 people in the raft by 160 pounds to come up with 6,400 pounds (2,900 kilograms).

As for endurance, that is covered in my current Breedlines Column on the subject of How Far Can a Newfie Swim? The record in this category is 50 miles (80 kilometers). With these facts it is obvious that the Newfoundland dog is the ultimate water draft dog. But that’s not the end of the story. Newfs are also incredibly versatile. Nowadays they are known for towing people and/or boats to safety and it is quite dramatic especially if they start the rescue by jumping out of a helicopter. However in days of old, specifically in the days of sail, Newfoundlands did perform rescues, some very amazing, but that was only a small part of their employment. Most their work involved supporting the economic activity of the fishing industry for the Island of Newfoundland. What did they haul you ask? Anything that needed to be pulled. Mainly this was the fishing nets. The mighty dogs would grab a float on the net and pull the contraption to the boat. Then they would scoop up any fish that escaped from the net. As if that was not enough, they were often hitched to carts at the shore so they could haul the catch inland. Some even used the carts to deliver the fish door to door often without a handler.

This is an important part of the breed history but not very well documented. I couldn’t even find a painting or drawing of a dog hauling a net in the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries. Found one modern photo of a fishing net being towed by a canine but he is using a modern day bumper and that just was not how they did it back then. However this re-enactment at the Maritime Museum of Pets in Pasadena by a close cousin to the Newfoundland, a Labrador Retriever, does give an idea of what primary duties of a fishing boat dog were:

Labrador Retriever re-enacting duties performed by fishing boat dog

Nineteenth century painter Sir Edwin Landseer who along with Queen Victoria saved the white and black variation of the Newfoundland dog, did make a subtle reference to the connection with fishing nets in his acrylic entitled Saved.

Saved by Sir Edwin Landseer

If you look at the bottom right corner of the above picture you will see a black object that many thought was just another rock; however it is actually a float from a fishing net.

Modern day artist, Mia Lane from Bath, Ontario, has also acknowledged the connection of Newfs and fishing nets. She is best known to the Newfoundland fancy for her depictions of Canadian dog breeds, including of course a Newf, for the 1988 Canada Post stamps commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Kennel Club. In her painting aptly entitled Captain’s Pride, she shows a Newfoundland dog lying on a fishing net:

Captain's Pride by Mia Lane

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 2013