While Newfoundland dogs are true working dogs and do many forms of work, they are most famous for rescue work. You’ll find Newfs doing search and rescue, avalanche rescue, even cadaver rescue. However, other breeds do these forms of rescue as well. It is the water rescue that sets the Newfie breed apart. One such rescue, the saving of Emperor Napoleon from drowning as he escaped exile, enabled him to carry on to meet his Waterloo. This earned Newfs the title of the “dog that changed history”.
In modern times canine water rescue has become a sport exclusive to Newfoundland dogs. Not only are there tests set up to qualify our furry swimmers as lifeguards in Canada and the United States, but also in European countries such as Belgium, England, Finland and Germany. While many of the exercises are similar from country to country, there are also some major differences. One variation that especially caught my attention was the use of dolls in Belgium and Germany.
The use of a doll can simulate the rescue of a child while not subjecting a human child to discomfort and/or risk. Sounds great, but this is actually a special challenge. I know this from first hand experience. In the 1990’s the Maniate family was doing demos of water rescue by Newfoundland dogs. Because the simple retrieves of bumpers, life jackets and boat cushions that are done as part of the tests would not be obvious water rescue drills, I got the brilliant idea of substituting a life size baby doll so that the general public would understand without a lot of explanation. After I supplied the brain work, it was up to my late wife, Maribeth, my son, Allan, and his special Newf, Sweetheart to put this into practice.
First problem involved Maribeth’s attention to detail. She dressed the doll in baby clothes complete with bonnet. Then she carried the “baby” onto a beach in her arms as if she was real infant. Next she waded into the water and threw the doll out into the deeper water. Well this almost caused a riot as nearby bathers rushed to save the child and admonish the horrible people who would commit such an atrocity. Finally after explanations and examination of the doll, they calmed down and watched in fascination.
Next problem, Sweetheart saw the doll as just another inanimate object. In the initial practice session she grabbed the “baby” by the head with her top jaw on the face. This looked really bad and we had to give the bitch additional training so that she would grab the doll by the arm, but not too hard as the doll had to arrive to shore in good condition.
It all worked out in the end and we were then able to put on incredible demos that promoted dogs in general and Newfs in particular.
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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