The Newfoundland At Your Service
Based on an article that appeared in Newf Tide written by
Jan Boggio, 1st Quarter 2000
According to Assistance Dogs International, service dogs can fulfill many
different needs for their owners. They assist "physically disabled people
by retrieving objects that are out of their reach, by pulling wheelchairs,
opening and closing doors, turning light switches off and on, barking for alert,
finding another person, assisting ambulatory persons to walk by providing
balance and counterbalance, and many other individual tasks."
The majority of service dogs currently in use in the U.S. are either Golden
Retrievers or Labrador Retrievers. Most are trained by assistance dog
organizations, then later matched with their owners.
Newfoundlands certainly don't fit the typical service dog mold. Their size (and amount of drool) can
make working with them in public a challenge.
Dick Shumer had owned Newfoundlands before his injury, and one day thought of using
Fagin (his older Newf) as a brace to help him stand when he couldn't get up from
the sofa. From there, he used his knowledge of training dogs to work with Fagin
and researched how to train an assistance dog. Fagin was not an
"official" service dog, although he worked with Dick in that capacity
until Buddy was ready to take his place.
Dick says the positive side of a Newfoundland service dog is the size and
strength of the dog. "I can place my hand on Buddy to steady myself without having to bend over too much," Dick explains.
"Buddy crawls underneath me and lifts me up when I can't walk. But the biggest asset is the intelligence of the Newf.
Buddy was a joy to train and the Newf's desire to please is very much a plus
Cathi Catlett very much agrees. She chose a Newf because of their size, intelligence,
loyalty, strength, and willingness to please. "Labs, Goldens, and Shepherds
are not big enough or strong enough to lower me into and out of a bathtub, or
into and out of my chair the way that Clayton does. I didn't want to fall out of
my chair when positively reinforcing him with a pet. I want/need Clayton to
remain focused on the task at hand and not solicit attention from others—very
important since Clayton does seizure alert/response work for me. Clayton works
for a ‘good boy,' ‘thank you,' or a soft stroke of his ear—not for
Both Dick and Cathi mentioned similar negatives: the relatively shorter
lifespan of the Newf, drool, the grooming involved, and the difficulty of
getting a Newfoundland to fit under a table when eating out.
To become certified, both Buddy and Clayton had to take the Public Access
Test offered by the Assistance Dogs International. Then both of them had to take
another test that was specialized in what they had to do to help Dick and Cathi
with their specific disabilities. Training leading up to these tests was a seven day a
week, year and a half long task.
When working, both dogs wear a harness with a backpack. The harness and backpacks are designed to handle almost all disabilities. Dick uses the
backpack to carry I.D. papers, including copies of the state and federal
regulations regarding access for service dogs, and Buddy's Assistance Dog I.D.
Cathi explains that Clayton wears a harness/backpack that allows for free
shoulder movement, "for him to pull my wheelchair if batteries were to fail, and
the pack carries our emergency medical information and medical equipment for me
that is easy for me to reach. "
Cathi explains that Clayton's ability to alert her of coming seizures is not
a trained behavior. "First you begin training the response—staying with the person during the seizure, pushing an emergency help button, retrieving the phone, and/or retrieving medication. What is the
most important in Seizure Alert Dogs is the bond between you and your dog. Once this bond starts getting strong, the dog may begin to tell you when something is different. We really don't know how they know, but we believe that the dog
picks up on an extra energy field present and possibly chemical change that is
going on in the body. "
To make sure that there is consistent behavior prior to the seizure, the
human partner will have to have someone else observe what the dog does prior to
seizures. Dogs may alert in different ways—some dogs will leave the room,
another may do some vocalization, another may touch the palm of their partner's
hand with their nose, others will get antsy, others will put their head in their
partner's lap, encouraging them to either sit or lay down, or the dog might stop
in their tracks and stare at their partner.
As anyone who is owned by Newfoundland knows, these dogs attract attention
when out in public. "People assume that they can just pet Clayton, without
asking, because they want to," Cathi says.
"People are just naturally curious and they all want to run up and pet
the dog," Dick agrees. "I have to constantly explain to people that
they cannot pet him while he is working. I usually offer to go outside the
store, find a place to sit down, and then allow the people to pet him."
Both Dick and Cathi continue to work to educate the public about the work
these special dogs perform. Dick and Buddy go to elementary schools and give
informal presentations on Assistance Dogs. Dick tells the children how to act
when they see a person that uses an assistance dog. He explains that it's not a
good thing to run up and try to pet the dog, but that it's fine to ask the
person questions about their dog. He finishes up the presentation with cart
rides for the children.
Cathi is a Certified Service Dog Access Specialist for Delta Society. She
does consultant work to educate others about public access and Assistance Dogs.
She also helps other disabled individuals train their own dogs to assist them.
Read More about Cathi and Clayton
Read More about Dick and Buddy
Back to Service Dog Page