The Native Dogs of Canada

by TerryMcNamee

Of Canada's four remaining recognized dog breeds, two are well known. Two more survived near-extinction in the late 20th century, thanks to people determined to save them.

By Terry McNamee © 2013

The best known Canadian dogs are the Labrador Retriever and the Newfoundland. One retrieves waterfowl and the other retrieves people, but both are descended from St. John’s Water Dogs from the island province of Newfoundland. Both were later developed in England. The first Labradors were taken to England in the mid to late 1800s. The Newfoundland evolved into a much bigger dog with a long coat plus a luxurious plumed tail. His swimming and water rescue abilities are legendary. Two other breeds remained in Canada and were developed here: the Canadian Eskimo Dog and the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.

Two Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers
Two Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers

The Labrador Retriever and the Newfoundland Dog

Labrador Retrievers are actually from the island of Newfoundland, not Labrador. They average 22-24 inches and 60-75 pounds. They have short, dense, waterproof coats and a tail that is covered in thick muscle and resembles that of an otter. Aside from adding two new colours (yellow and chocolate) very early in its development, the breed has remained virtually unchanged in over a century. They excel as gun dogs and are capable of performing many different jobs. Many are trained as assistance dogs for the handicapped. They are also very popular with police services and at border crossings for use as search dogs for detecting drugs and explosives, and make excellent search and rescue dogs.

Like the Lab, the docile, intelligent and loyal Newfoundland loves people and can be trained for many activities, although his large size (up to 150 pounds) keeps him from being chosen for some jobs. Newfs can be all black or black and white (Landseer). In some countries, brown and grey are allowed as well, but the Canadian Kennel Club disqualifies any colour other than black or black and white. Newfoundlands have tremendous strength and are excellent swimmers, and were originally used by fishermen to retrieve nets and objects from the water. Their innate instinct to rescue people from water can be honed with additional training.

Two Canadian Dog Breeds Rescued From Near-Extinction

The Qimmiq, also called a Canadian Inuit Dog or Canadian Eskimo Dog, is the original legendary “husky”. This is a very different breed from the white American Eskimo. Its history goes back thousands of years with the Inuit people of Canada’s north, who used them to pull sleds and hunt polar bears. The Qimmiq nearly died out after becoming interbred with other breeds such as the Alaskan Malamute. In the 1970s, biologist Dr. Bill Carpenter set out to rescue the breed by travelling to remote Arctic villages and locating as many pure Qimmiq as he could for a breeding program. Although numbers remain very low, today this tough survivor is no longer endangered, and it is CKC recognized.

Many Canadian Eskimo Dogs accompanied the early Antarctic explorers to the South Pole, and their descendants lived in Antarctica until just a few years ago, when they were rescued and brought back to Canada, the United States and Australia. They can be any colour. They have very dense, thick coats, big paws, plumed tails, small erect ears and slanted eyes, all designed to help them survive in the harsh climate of Canada's Arctic.

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a little gun dog whose forebears existed in Canada’s Maritimes for centuries. His coat is somewhat similar to a Newfie’s, but shorter, and it is very soft with an extremely thick undercoat. The Toller is a specialist with ducks and geese, luring them towards a hunter with his foxlike tail and playful attitude, then fetching the downed birds.

Tollers average 18-20 inches tall and 35-45 pounds. This is another versatile breed, and can do almost anything its size will allow. Tollers are always red or gold, usually with white markings on the feet, face, chest and/or tailtip.

Tollers were first Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) recognized in 1945, but almost vanished in the 1950s. Although no longer threatened with extinction, every registered Toller of today is descended from just 11 dogs registered between 1959 and 1962, and all of those trace to a female named Buffy, born in the early 1950s.

Canadian Dog Breeds That Have Disappeared

The black St. John’s Water Dog was the forerunner of the Labrador and the Newfoundland, but never became a recognized breed. There are only a handful of them left in Newfoundland, and they are no longer purebred.

The Tahltan Bear Dog was a black and white spitz-type dog developed by the Tahl-Tan people of the British Columbia interior to hunt bears. It was about the size of a large fox terrier, and had a bushy tail that was docked to half length so that it stood up like a bottle brush or whisk broom. When specimens were taken south, they died, probably of diseases to which they were not immune.

The Tahltan was CKC recognized in 1939. There were still a few purebred Tahltans alive in the 1970s, but sadly they were all neutered. Today, the breed is no longer recognized and is believed to be extinct. It is thought that a few part-bred Tahltan dogs may survive in remote regions of B.C. and could be used to revive the breed, but it would have to be done soon, otherwise the little dog with the bottle-brush tail will be gone forever.

An early St. John's Water Dog named Billy
An early St. John's Water Dog named B...
One of the last Tahltan Bear Dogs.
One of the last Tahltan Bear Dogs.
Canadian Kennel Club
Updated: 08/02/2014, TerryMcNamee
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