The Memoirs of St. John’s Water Dog
St John’s Water Dog is an extinct breed that originated in Newfoundland and domiciled here and the
neighboring countryside. Very little is known about this breed although dog pundits believe it origin is linked to
a mixed heritage of cross breed English and Portuguese dogs.
At the turn of the 20th century, the number of these dogs reduced significantly and at
the close of the 70’s they were completely gone. Some individuals claim to have taken pictures of the last two
surviving dogs in a remote area of Newfoundland right about that time.
St John’s Waterdog is average in size but strong and it bore much semblance to the
English Labradors. Its physical features were more pronounced. Most breeds had white patches on the head and this extended down the chest to the well
developed breast and the under belly.
Documented evidence dating back as early as the 1600s mentions that the St John’s
Water breed was fairly hardy and it provided escort to Newfoundland fishermen on their fishing trips. It was
reputed for assisting fishermen in drawing the fishing nets from the water after fishing. St John’s Waterdog was
also described as a great swimmer and hunter and had more endurance than other breeds when in water and so
fishermen found great companionship in them.
The extinction of the St John’s Waterdog is blamed on the harsh laws which were
implemented to promote sheep rearing and the levies charged on dog owners as well as the prolonged quarantine by
some countries to minimize dog related diseases from spreading. Although the breed is extinct, there are breeds
that still carry some of the traits of this Newfoundland breed.
They were imported into England at the turn of the 19th century where they were
crossed with local breeds. The last surviving breeds were mixed with Labradors to create breeds that carried most
of the traits of this extinct breed. Among the progenies under the St John’s heritage line include the bay and
Some English noblemen also bred the St John’s Waterdog and successfully kept it pure
but afterwards few people did not care about breeding the dog and perhaps this led to its decline in the 20th
century. Last efforts attempts were made in the 70’s to save this breed through a cross breeding with a Labrador
but nothing much was realized from these attempts but 4 puppies whose whereabouts remain scanty.
This dog had short and smooth hair cropped close and a long narrow muzzle. Although it
had a thin body this deficiency seems to have been easily covered with the powerful legs. The legs were quite long
and straight. This breed also had a wide pronounced chest with a white patch.
An significant observation was made by a geologist who ventured into Newfoundland
regarding the attributes of this breed. The observation recorded in the memoirs helped shed light on this
mysterious and little known dog. The memoirs indicate that St John’s waterdog was the dominant breed in the whole
of Newfoundland area and quite different from the one people assumed as the typical breed.