Genius giants meet inner working dogs
Just lovely. Who can resist those big brown eyes and all that fluffy fur? I know I can’t. One sight makes me want to hug any Newfie and heck him with all his stupidity. There is no doubt that Newfoundland retrievers, despite their gigantic size, are the cutest dogs in the world, as well as one of the 50 most popular pet breeds. But beneath all that handsome exterior lies the bones of a working dog: solid bones bound by strong muscles, covered in a double-thick waterproof coat, and moving with webbed feet that help it to lift itself powerfully through the water.
Some say Newfies evolved from black “bear” dogs brought to Newfoundland by the Vikings around 1000 AD. Another theory suggests that they are descended from the American black wolf.
Whatever their origins, Newfoundland fishermen used these dogs to pull nets ashore and carts full of fish to market. The British Royal Navy had Newfies on board during the Napoleonic Wars to sail tow lines to other ships and rescue sailors lost at sea by sailing the tow lines in stormy seas. A Newfie named Sailor led the Lewis and Clark expedition over the Rockies. (Okay, maybe he didn’t actually lead them, but if Sailor was anything like my dog when we went hiking, you can bet he was always ahead of the trail.) And two Newfoundland Chesapeake Bay retrievers, the ancestors of the hunting breed we know.
Now that Newfoundlands are becoming more domesticated, the folks at the Newfoundland Club of America don’t want these original utilitarian attributes to disappear from the breed. That’s why they hold training sessions and certification tests all over the country where Newf owners can introduce their pets to the inner working dog that lies beneath all the huggable fur.
In order to be tested as a certified Water Rescue Dog in the senior division, a dog must receive two articles in the appropriate order; leaping from a boat to fetch an oar; determine which of the three swimmers is in distress and take the life ring to that person; pick up an object under water; taking a steward’s line from shore in a boat and then pulling that boat ashore; and jump from the boat to save the manager who is “falling” from the ship.
On a cloudy Saturday in July, I attended one of the seasonal training series Chesapeake Bay Journals summer intern, St. in Annapolis. Noah Hale, a student at John’s College. The training took place at Codorus State Park near Hanover.
It wasn’t hard to find the band. Along the grassy shore of a large lake was a row of colorful pop-up tents, and as we approached, we saw that each tent shaded at least one large dog crate, each cooled by an industrial-strength battery-powered box. fan. Some of the crates were filled with buckets of water and looked like black wool foals, but upon closer inspection, there were two liquid brown eyes on the chin and an equally liquid discharge around the chin.
Most of the dogs were outside with their owners, and most of the owners were wearing bathing suits and life jackets. Noah and I nodded knowingly to each other. We had found the right place. We were greeted by Dwight Gorsuch, president of the Colonial Newfoundland Club, the mid-Atlantic chapter of the national organization. Gorsuch lives in Rock Hall, Md., with his wife, Christine, and four — yes, four — Newfoundlands.
Gorsuch introduced us to the main coach of the day, Sue Marino, who serves as NCA’s regional club liaison. Marino has owned Newfies for over 30 years and has been a volunteer master trainer for most of that time. He came down from his home in Massachusetts to lead the session this weekend. Attendees came from as far away as New Jersey and Pittsburgh. Sue gathered two dozen dogs and their owners together to chat.
“It’s exciting for me when one of you moves on to the next stage or a light bulb goes off in your dog,” she said. “That’s all the reward I need. It’s a lot of fun and I don’t even have to work with my own dogs to enjoy it. You know when people say “my dog doesn’t swim” and swim away for the afternoon? It’s just wonderful – it makes me feel so good.”
Marino cautioned new owners to be patient when training their dogs. Often, he explained, when your dog doesn’t “get it,” it’s because you’re pushing too hard, too fast. “Everything has to be broken down into baby steps,” he said. “We have to take all the little parts of the training and practice each one so the dog understands it. Every dog is different. Train it the right way so that your dog is happy with it, you are happy with it, and you are successful with it.”
Noah and I knelt in the cool, clear water of the lake to take pictures of the first exercise: running a line from the shore to the boat. Dogs are separated by age groups. The first dog to participate was 2-1/2-year-old Cosmo, owned by Scott Dickensheets of Montpelier. Cosmo grabbed a small rubber fender attached to the line and moved toward the boat, then made a few swims. reaching areas that a woman sitting on a bow can reach. He grabbed the line and Cosmo pulled the boat ashore with the fin still in his mouth.
Now this boat was a 12-foot aluminum Smokercraft weighing 112 pounds without a motor. There were two adults in the boat, so let’s say they weighed 350 pounds together. Add oars and other gear and you’re probably talking about 500 pounds to pull from a dead stop. Cosmo did it with ease and earned the coach’s praise. “‘Fetch and hold’ is the cornerstone of water rescue,” explained Marino. “It’s very important to take the time to train it and train it well.” Other big dogs took their turns with varying degrees of success.
In the next exercise, three volunteers found themselves in chest-deep water. The one in the middle started to jump and call for help. Five-year-old Percy swam to the rescue with a bright orange life ring, which he led to one of the three men, who were clearly in distress, and pulled him to shore after the victim grabbed the ring. Percy is owned by Theresa and Scott Rainey, who came from Alexandria, Washington to attend the training.
Noah and I hung around all morning, meeting the dogs and their owners and following their activities. Colleen and Pablo Balmaseda with their 1-1/2-year-old puppy Gub in Silver Spring, Md. Colleen’s family had a Newfie when she was a kid, she told me, but Gub was their first as a couple. “We’ve been here for a couple of weekend practices,” he said. “We want to get his certificate.”
We also met Rosalynn Shum of Loudon, who brought her 8-year-old Newf Tiffany. Tiffany’s had a unique set of drunken aprons. “He used to be a show dog,” Rosalyn explained, “but he couldn’t care less about trophies.” “His purpose in life is worship,” he said. And for this, no training is needed.
New shipwrecks become Chesapeakes
In 1807, the ship Canton, sailing out of Baltimore on a stormy short track along the barren coast of Maryland, encountered a British brig taking water from Newfoundland. Her crew had given up hope of rescue and tried to drown their sorrows in drink before drowning in salt water.
Canton sent a boat to take the drunken sailors to safety. With them came a pair of submerged cubs. When they reached Norfolk, Canton’s mate bought the puppies from the rescued sailors for a guinea.
They were male and female Newfoundland water dogs named Sailor and Canton. They were believed to be born from different families. Comrade Saylor gave it to John Mercer of West River south of Annapolis. Dr. from Sparrows Point on the Gunpowder River, north of Canton Baltimore. It was owned by James Stewart.
Mercer traded Saylor to Governor Edward V Lloyd for a valuable Merino ram. Lloyd brought the dog across the bay to his ancestral home, the Wye House on his family’s sprawling plantation, where Sailor proved his worth as a natural duck-hunting retriever.
Meanwhile, Canton was also proving his duck-hunting instincts in the marshes around Carroll Island. Although it is unlikely that the two dogs were bred together, their owners each carefully selected other dogs to breed with in order to increase their progeny’s ability to bring back downed waterfowl.
Animals included in the bloodline included domestic dogs, purebred dogs, water spaniels (the source of the curly fur), and, according to at least one myth, otters. The strange result was that after 80 years of selective breeding of two separate dogs on opposite sides of the Bay, their offspring were brought together in Baltimore and found to be nearly identical. So much so that the American Kennel Club recognized the Chesapeake Bay “Duck Dog” as a uniquely American breed in 1888.
Since then, what we now call Chesapeake Bay retrievers have been considered the world’s most skilled waterfowl hunting dogs. Their “sheep” color helps them blend into the winter marsh grasses that cover duck curtains. Their greasy, double-thick fur protects them from icy water, and their instinct to find and return shot birds to their owners is legendary.
No wonder they were sought after by both proud and humble hunters. President Teddy Roosevelt owned Chesapeake, a descendant of one owned by General George Custer. It became the official dog breed of Maryland in 1964. You are St. On the grounds of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in Michaels, Md., you can see a statue dedicated to the Chesapeake Bay retriever.