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Looking Back: The Beginning of the NCA Water Test 
by Mary Jane Spackman, Historian 


As the water test season ends, and work continues on the proposed changes to the current water test regulations, it seems more than appropriate to reflect on how our current water tests came to be. 


The first NCA water trial fun match was held in 1972. Claire Carr wrote the following as an introduction to the rules and regulations that were used at that match: "Keeping in tune with the ideals of our beautiful breed, we here present what we feel is the best set of exercises to help our working Newf be a useful animal to its owner, and to depict to the world at large the diversity and unique talents of the Newfoundland dog." 


Mrs. Carr, at the request of the NCA Board, chaired the committee that was responsible for the development of the trial water test. Committee members included John and Donna Hohman, Bob and Jean Quandt, Joyce MacKenzie and Betty McDonnell. The entire test was put together via the U.S. mail. The committee became a cohesive and dedicated group. As Mrs. Carr explained, the group was comprised of active, caring individuals who gave it their all to develop this test. 


That first trial test in June 1972 evolved into the NCA water test of today. The following are the rules and regulations as presented to the NCA in 1972. 


towaboat

Basic control exercises were the same, except done totally on lead. The junior division included six exercises the same number as today, but two of the exercises have since changed. The first water exercise was called "enter water from land." In this exercise, the dog, when given a command and/ or signal by the handler, was required to enter the water, go to swimming depth and remain there until the judge instructed the handler to call the dog back to shore. This exercise was eventually replaced by the current swim with handler exercise. 


Another junior exercise was shifted from the junior division to the senior division. The underwater retrieve-shallow depth was initially included in the junior exercises, and performed just as it is today in the senior division. This exercise was replaced with the blind retrieve, which was viewed as a natural progression to the senior directed retrieve. Another change was the difficulty of the take-a-line exercise. The original take-a-line was performed at 75, rather than today's 50 feet. 


There were also six exercises in the senior division, which have basically stayed the same with just minor variations. Today's retrieve-off-boat was preceded by an exercise called enter the water from dock. This exercise required the dog to jump from a dock to retrieve a bumper, which was then delivered to the handler waiting on shore. The original directed retrieve required the dog not to retrieve a boat cushion and life ring but rather two effigies dressed in size 12 boys' clothing, complete with heads and shoes. 


The take-a-line/tow-a-boat was the same as it is today, except the distance was 100 feet instead of the current 75. The original take-a-life ring exercise required the dog to take the line to a steward holding onto a capsized boat. A substitute handler was permitted (if requested by the handler) for the rescue of a person fallen from a boat. 
The final exercise in the senior division called for the under water retrieve and it was just that. The handler and dog waded to swimming depth for the Newt, and then the handler threw the object at least three feet from the dog. The dog could make as many dives as necessary as long as he continued working. Once the dog retrieved the article, he was required to hold it until he and the handler returned to shore. 


During the testing phase of the water work rules, the committee devised a point system for each division. A total of 100 points could be earned for successfully performing the exercises. In addition, dogs were scored for willingness, ability, enthusiasm, naturalness as a team, and smoothness of performance. Dogs could earn from one to five extra points for each exercise, depending on their performance. A total of 130 points was a perfect score in each division. Any dog earning 120 points or more would have the words "with honor" included on the water test certificate. 
As proposed in 1972, the titles were to be listed before the dog's name. Junior division dogs were listed as W.D. or WD.H. (with the "H" signifying with honor), while senior division dogs were listed as WDX or WD.X.H. The point system was eventually removed because the original purpose of the water test was to promote the natural ability of the Newfoundland rather than to promote competition. 


A water trial fun match was held on September 17, 1972, based on these proposed rules and hosted by the Great Lakes Newfoundland Club. Ten dogs were entered in this match and it laid the foundation for the first NCA official water trial, which was hosted the following year by Great Lakes. The judges for the first official test were Emily and Hugh McLean, and 12 Newfoundlands were entered. At the conclusion of the test, three Newfs earned their junior titles, and one went on to earn her senior title as well. The trial's winner and the first Newfoundland to receive a senior title was Shipway's Avalon Holly, UDT WDXH, owned and handled by Claire Carr. 


After 25 years, the NCA water test has stayed much the same. Much of this is a credit to the dedication and working knowledge of that original committee. As Mrs. Carr stated in 1990, "The attitude at a test today remains much the same as in the beginning. There is a sense of camaraderie, fair play, and genuine appreciation for the wonderful instinctive behavior of a working Newfoundland. Frequently, it still brings tears to the eye of a spectator as well as an exhibitor. The test continues to provide an opportunity to encourage natural instincts in the dogs and it allows we humans the wondrous experience of working with or observing exciting natural behavior." 

reprinted from NewfTide Fourth Quarter 1997

Slideshow of some of the earliest water tests and water rescue dogs in action 1972-1979.

Images courtesy of Clair Carr and Mary Jane Spackman, NCA Historian

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