Thomas & Melody Hull
Born as a canine
seaman, the Newfoundland dog was a standard piece of equipment on every fishing boat
in Canada's maritime province that gave the breed its name. Fishing has
always been Newfoundland's chief industry; the dogs hauled fishing nets
out to sea and back to the boat and retrieved objects or people who fell
into the sea. Equally at home in water or on land, the Newfoundland was
large enough to pull in a drowning man or to break the ice as he dove into
the frigid northern ocean. His lung capacity allowed him to swim great
distances and fight ocean currents.
At the end of a day's fishing, the day's catch was loaded into a cart, and the dog was hitched up to haul the load into town. Other Newfoundlands pulled wagons to deliver milk and mail throughout the island.
The origin of this working breed is disputed. Vikings and Basque fishermen visited Newfoundland as early as 1000 AD and wrote accounts of the natives working side by side with these retrieving dogs. The breed as we know it today was developed in England, while the island of Newfoundland nearly legislated the native breed to extinction in 1780. Then, shortly after World War I, a magnificent dog named Siki became not only the most famous show Newf in history, but the most famous stud dog of the breed. Most Newfoundlands in the conformation ring today can trace their pedigrees to Siki.
There are many legends of Newfoundlands saving drowning victims by carrying lifelines to sinking ships. The dogs were kept in the "dog walk" on early sailing ships. If the sea was too choppy when land was sighted, the dog carried a line to land. A Newfoundland named Seaman accompanied the Lewis and Clark expedition, and Nana, the children's "nurse" in the original Peter Pan, was a Newfoundland. Additionally, a Newfoundland was on board the Titanic, survived the sinking, swam for hours next to one of the lifeboats, and alerted the rescue ship of the proximity of the lifeboat by barking; the dog was taken in by one of the crew members.