NCA Water Rescue Dog Test

Last month I mentioned that the Newfoundland Club of America has developed a third level test for water rescue. This is an exciting development that not only builds on the first two levels but also adds two exercises based on water rescue dog tests in Europe. One of these is the Rescue of a Victim From Under a Capsized Boat and the other is the Rescue of an Unconscious Victim. What makes these exercises so very different from what we are use to in North America is that the dog grasps the victim rather than towing him/ her to safety. The Newf has a choice of using his mouth to grasp a hand, arm or life jacket. If the dog grabs the hand or arm, he must do so without causing pain or injury.

Not only is level three in water rescue technically more difficult and substantially so, it requires a very high level of physical fitness on the part of the dog. The fact that this third level water rescue dog test is also a physical fitness test for Newfs is manifested by the requirement for a pre-test to give the dog a Certification of Fitness. Such certification must be done within 30 days of the test. I can’t think of a better way to test the physical fitness of a Newfoundland dog than in the water. On land a Newfie can overheat even in the middle of winter. This fact is what makes the Newf inappropriate as a companion for serious joggers unless it is raining and the ambient temperature is at the freezing point.

Water Rescue Dog Tests have been criticized in the past in North America for being too artificial in that they prohibit the handler in most instances from going in the water even when this would be the natural thing to do in a real life rescue. This new test, however, has the handler meeting the dog in wading level water whenever appropriate. Another provision allows the dog to “… swim in a straight line or in an arc, according to his/her instincts.” Best of all in my opinion is a provision in the final exercise, Rescue of a Victim From Under a Capsized Boat, for the Newf to act “spontaneously”. In this exercise the boat is capsized and the “victim” yells out. While every other exercise in all three levels fails a dog who doesn’t wait for his handler’s command, this one states: Upon witnessing the “accident”, the dog will enter the water either spontaneously or upon command of the handler … Thus this new test not only raises the bar for technical complexity but also tests the dog’s physical fitness and makes allowance for natural instincts. Kudos to the Newfoundland Club of America.

Peter Maniate has been writing a column about Newfoundland dogs for the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine since January, 1996. The preceding column originally appeared in the September, 2004 issue. 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.