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Newfoundland Water Rescue

Nowhere is the bond of admiration and trust between a dog and its handler more apparent than at a Newfoundland water test. Maybe, it’s because the purpose of the event is to measure the dog’s ability to save a human life when called upon. Maybe it’s because of the intense training needed to prepare for testing.


Whatever the reason, it allows us to witness the unique traits of a special breed. The Newfoundland’s large stature and powerful muscles, its waterproof coat and webbed toes all enable it to stroke through the water with the speed and endurance to rescue a drowning man.

There are many instances on record of Newfies saving lives in water disasters. To encourage these lifesaving instincts, in 1971, a group of enthusiasts developed plans for a water trial consisting of 12 exercises, six each in two divisions, junior and senior. Two years later, the Newfoundland Club of America sanctioned its first official rescue test in Michigan. Over time, the rules have changed, mostly from observing the dog’s natural instincts, but the original concept remains intact.

Junior division exercises are fundamental. The first one, basic control, takes place on dry land. The dog’s willingness and ability to perform its owner’s bidding are tested with heeling and a recall. The five remaining exercises are performed in the water and consist of retrieving a bumper, retrieving a life jacket or cushion, delivering a rope to a swimming steward, towing a boat, and swimming calmly with a handler. Accomplishing all six tasks results in a Water Dog title, issued by the NCA.

In the senior division, the dog must retrieve two articles in the proper order, leap from a boat to fetch a paddle, discriminate between three swimmers and then carry a life ring to the one in distress, retrieve underwater, carry a line from shore to a steward in a boat and then tow that boat to shore, and leap from a boat to save its handler, who has “fallen” overboard. A dog that passes these six exercises adds the title of Water Rescue Dog to its name.

The newest division is Water Rescue Dog Excellent, or WRDX. This test is for the elite working dog, who shows a drive and stamina and instinctive working ability beyond most Newfoundlands. The six exercises consist of searching for an abandoned boat, and returning it to land; rescuing multiple victims from the side of a boat; rescue of an unconscious victim; a rescue of a victim under a capsized boat; delivering a line to shore from a stranded boat; and taking a line to mulitple drowning victims. Dogs who complete all 6 exercises earn the title of WRDX.


based on the article “Newfie to the Rescue” by Chet Jezierski, AKC Gazette, 1996

photos by Steve Urback









The Dog

The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state that the dog is full of love.
I've also found, by actual test,
A wet dog is the lovingest.

Ogden Nash



History of Newfoundland Club of America Water Tests




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