Newfoundland Colour Enshrined in Law

This column about our beloved breed has been around for decades in Dogs in Canada magazine and since 1996 I have been chair of the committee that authored it on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada. Unfortunately Dogs in Canada published for the last time in December, 2011 leaving this feature as an orphan. However I was subsequently invited to carry on with the production of Breedlines right here in Newf News.

In this inaugural column I am thrilled to welcome Devon Nutbeem as guest columnist. Devon is a Newfoundland breeder in New Brunswick and the daughter of legendary figures in the Newfoundland dog world, Megan and Robert Nutbeem. The Nutbeems bred under the Harbourbeem prefix in Harbour Grace on the Island of Newfoundland. Megan Nutbeem has been an idol of mine since I got my first Newf in the mid 70′s and it has been a major regret for me that I never got the opportunity to pick her brain about Newfoundland dogs in Newfoundland. Fortunately Devon has memories and documents of her parents to share with us and this article is hopefully the first of many.

Ollie & Belle

Ollie & Belle

The article below came from a response by Devon on a thread on Newf-L where colours of Newfs were being discussed including the fact that the Canadian breed standard does not allow colours like brown (permitted everywhere else in the world) and grey (only in the US standard). In previous Breedlines it has been mentioned that the Canadian standard only recognizes black and Landseer (white & black) and that this is based on an Order-in-Council passed by the Government of Newfoundland. Devon now gives us the “why”.

I wonder if anyone might be interested in understanding why the colour component of the Canadian breed standard for the Newfoundland…. which originated in Newfoundland…. is enshrined in law… in Newfoundland?

Historically, and I am speaking of the past 1000 years… certainly the past 300 or so…. not merely the past 80 some odd…. in Newfoundland, the dog considered to be a pure Newfoundland (known formerly as the Greater Newfoundland) was black. In our history, other colours were suspect. Granted much of our history was handed down by word of mouth but there is enough actually written to understand the beliefs of the time. A great many dogs were exported to Britain from the late 1600′s onward… they were considered quite a prize and became quite popular there. So much so, that crosses with various other dogs took place, the most notable being that of the Newfoundland with the British White Estate dog (long since extinct) which was a forbear of the present day Landseer. It became very popular because of its striking markings and was further popularized by the famous paintings of Sir Edwin Landseer from whom its name was taken.

The St. John’s dog, or Lesser Newfoundland, had as one of it’s forbears, the Greater Newfoundland… but was itself more of a retriever type and was found in colours other than black. It was from this that the Labrador retriever was developed…. in England.

The Honourable Harold MacPherson delved into the matter both in Newfoundland and Britain over the course of his lifetime and 50 or so years involvement with the breed from the early 1900′s onward. He gathered a good deal of what was believed to be the historical aspect of the breed and it is from this as well as some other sources that the Newfoundland position with respect to its indigenous breed, evolved. I remember Mum and Dad going through material and discussing that which had been handed to them. I have now boxes of Mum’s things and am hoping to unearth a lot as I get to go through it. However, we did have two incidents at Harbour Beem during the 52 years that my parents lived in Harbour Grace, when pipes burst, flooding the basement where so much was stored in boxes and steamer trunks. A lot got thrown out and I am very worried that much may now be missing… we’ll see….

Now, I don’t doubt at all that the Newfoundland dog interbred with ships’ dogs and others that came ashore over the course of our history… they are Newfoundland “ers” after all so would hardly pass up an “opportunity”!! However, we believe that the type and purpose of the dog was so well ingrained by that time, that it didn’t affect the breed too significantly.

Therefore, notwithstanding the fact that colours can be produced from purebred Newfoundlands… I don’t think anyone is arguing the fact that such genes exist… we just aren’t necessarily too clear on how they got there.

The point of a standard is to consciously SELECT for those attributes felt to be truest to the breed while selecting against those genes responsible for health issues, as we come to understand their nature..

No doubt, various colours and combinations have popped up over the years… but the history of this breed was not made in the last 80 or so years…. it has been centuries. Contrary to a statement made in an article in the last Newftide, there WERE dog skeletons unearthed at the Viking diggings in L’Anse Aux Meadows in Northern Newfoundland… The Vikings were in Newfoundland in 1000 AD… my parents donated the bodies of 4 of our elderly Newfoundlands when they had passed away from old age in the 1960′s so that their skeletons could be compared with those unearthed at the Viking site. I don’t think that citing that Newfoundlands of colours other than black existed in the past 80 or so years is indicative of the “history” of the breed… it is too recent.

And after all that… let me say that which other countries wish to accept in terms of inclusion in their Standard is entirely up to them. That is their prerogative and certainly a case can be made that at some point in the breed’s evolution, genes became added to the pool which resulted in such things as colour expression which some may wish to embrace. Canada, through Newfoundland, wishes to select for that which it believes constitutes the original colour as well as the White and Black for its historical aspect with respect to Britain’s role in that development and the fact that the black dog does carry an expression of white factor on chest, tips of toes and tip of tail. SO… no… just because the genes exist, is NO reason to allow their expression in the standard. Just because they exist… does not mean they are correct….

Peter Maniate has been writing a column about Newfoundland dogs since January, 1996, originally for Dogs in Canada magazine and now for Newf News. The preceding column originally appeared in the May/June, 2012 issue of Newf News. 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.