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History of the black and white colour in Newfoundlands

written by M. Mäntylä
translated by A. Salmelin

Distinct differences in the 1800s

The differences between blacks and black and whites have been discussed since the Newfoundland was recognized as its own breed in 1878. Both colours are without a doubt Newfoundlands and have developed from the
same common ancestors. In England at the end of the 1800s, the differences between the two colours were distinct. The majority of the Newfoundland breeders refused to breed the black and white version of the Newfoundland, and only used completely black dogs, resulting in the lineages starting to separate. After the second World War, the Newfoundland dog population was small and the only logical way to get new blood was to start crossing the colours. Breeding could be continued, and the two lineages were combined. However, this lead to the colour types to become more varied. 

Descendants of the Mastiff

The landseer colour in Newfoundlands is believed to have come from large white estate dogs or butcher’s dogs. However there is not enough evidence that either of the breeds mentioned were their own breed, so it is more likely that the white colour has come from the sheep dogs or mastiffs. Currently almost all mastiffs are nearly completely brown, so this idea seems a bit mad. However the majority of original mastiffs were white, but breeders favoured the brown mastiffs and white mastiffs became rarer. From the beginning of the 1900s white was not a recognized mastiff colour. There is a completely white mastiff in the Prince Baldassare Carlo painting by Velasquez. Even though the painting was done in the 1750s, the head of the mastiff clearly resembles that of a modern Newfoundland. In 1780, Sawry Gilp painted Duke of Hamilton, and in the painting there is a short haired mastiff with colouring that would be the envy of even champion landseers. 

Blacks hunted, whites protected

Newfoundlands sometimes have curly coat, however the number of curly coated individuals has decreased. The logical explanation is that curly coated waterdogs have influenced the Newfoundlands’ characteristics. In 1620 Gervase Markham described the large rough water dog as: "their colour can be anything and I have met many white individuals". Collie-type sheep dogs and spaniels have also influenced the Newfoundland breed. The settlers who came to Newfoundland brought spaniels, and the southern French settlers who set up sheep farms brought sheep dogs with them. 

The Newfoundland island and its communities were isolated from the rest of the world and from each other. As a result, the dog populations separated from each other, even though all had the same basic characteristics: dogs were big (even if the size differed slightly), all colour combinations could be found, and all dogs were able to work in water and wanted to please the owner. The smaller, completely black dogs originated from St Pierre and Miguelo islands, the main islands and the northern parts’ dogs were black and white and had longer legs. 

Black is the major colour of the breed, and the number of browns has increased, but when speaking about history, we have to mention the colours which feel exotic to us: grey, beige and black and tan. The same goes for the two coloured, so a white dog can have brown or grey. Rawdon B. Lee’s book ‘Modern Dogs’ tells how at the end of 1800s the Newfoundlands were “large, rough-coated, curly-haired, liver and white dogs”. Henry Farguharson started breeding in 1850s and he had redwhite dogs (fox coloured). Originally there were many colour possibilities, but people preferred black and black and white dogs, so the other colours became rarer. The hunters wanted black dogs, the bigger white dogs were bred for safeguarding the home. 

The artists prefer the black and white Newfoundland

The black and whites became more popular when Sir Edwin Landseer used a black and white dog as a model for his painting ‘A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society’. George Stubbs painted ‘Duchess of Cornwall and York’s Newfoundland Nelson’ in 1803, 30 years before Landseer’s painting. Stubb’s painting has a black and white Newfondland who according to modern tastes does not have enough coat and has a too high curled tail, but whose size and colour are ideal. The same dog can also be seen in Strönlingen’s painting where the dog looks exactly the same. This means that Stubbs painted the dog as he saw it, and did not change the colourings to fit the ideal image of a Newfoundland. 

If Stubb’s dog paintings had risen to huge favour from the public and the breeders had used them as their “ideal dogs”, the black and white colour would have been called “stubbs” and the development and breeding aims would have been different. The biggest difference would have been the cleanness of the colour, meaning breeders would have strived to reduce the spotting right at the beginning. However, spotting is very hard to get rid of as it is a dominant trait and the genes responsible (T-gene) is found in browns and blacks. In browns and blacks the spotting gene has no effect on their colouring. The breed had other bigger problems, so that clean colour with no spotting could never have be the main breeding criteria. The dog painted by Stubbs was definitely an important step in the breed’s history and breeding. If it had more coat and long, straight tail, it would have been the type of dog that all breeders would have dreamed of during the past hundred years. 

Type is more important than colour

In 1887 Thomas Mansfield criticized Newfoundlands and their breeders. He claimed that Sir Landseer’s painting had damaged the breeding aims of Newfoundlands. The breeders were blinded to produce black and white dogs, but had forgotten the most important thing: breeding correctly structured dogs who meet the breed standard. In 1891 he voiced concern about how there was much to be improved in the breed. He felt that the majority of Newfoundlands had the wrong quality of coat, far too straight angulations in the front and back, and dogs needed stronger bones. Mansfield recognized the artistic value of Landseer’s painting and he liked the fact that the breed became more known because of it. That was not the issue. However he did not like that people believed the black and whites to be the  breed’s traditional colour and that the correct breed type faded even in the minds of the breeders. The reason why Sir Edwin had painted black and white Newfoundlands was that they are technically easier to paint, not because there were more of them or they were more traditional than blacks. 

The Newfoundland Club’s secretary, Mr. Gillingham was concerned about the same phenomenon and wrote in 1898: "The breed needs to have more colour varieties than just the black and white, otherwise the idea of the breed stays wrong". 

In the beginning of the 1900s the number of black and whites steadily decreased, and in a way it was very beneficial for the breed that the French settlers owned almost only black and whites and as a consequence imported many from the Newfoundland island and from Great Britan to France. As a result the black and whites spread across central Europe.  

Litter’s black and white markings:

Need to have the patience to start from the beginning 

Breeding black and whites is very difficulty and requires a lot of patience, skill and ability to continue despite hardships. The difficulty in breeding black and whites resulted in their number decreasing to alarmingly small populations during the first World War. The black and white breed type stayed alive mainly as a result to all the hard work done by Miss Reid in her Daventry kennel between the World Wars. After the second WW the breed had almost died out in England. Mr Blyth was very interested in the black and white version of the Newfoundland and his German import Nase Troll von Schartenberg brought refreshing new blood to the breed. Other significant breeders were Mrs Roberts, Mr and Mrs Handley and Miss Morrison. Mrs Roberts brought the Finnish Taaran Taru and Miss Morrison imported American Sulesjerry Seawards Sea Billow. Both bitches were used for breeding and they in addition to Troll were the basis of the new bloodlines. In 1960 Mr Frost started breeding Newfoundlands and specialized in the black and white lineages. Many other breeders continued his passion and as a result of combined work, many great dogs were bred: Hightoo Harratons Ocean Queen, Harlingen Wanitopa Moonlight, Wanitopa Comedy, Lucky Luke of Shermed and Karazan Bollinger. This list is short and missing many of the important dogs. The history of the colour varieties is of course a lot more complicated, but this is only to show how the stick legged sheep herder became the modern black and white Newfoundland. 

According to Thomas Manfield the black and white should be such type that if painted black, would not differ in any way of the black. This aim has been reached, but this has required a lot of work, sacrifices, compromises and one needs to remember that no dog is ever perfect. 

Mr Keith Frost’s Harratons landseers are known and appreciated all over the world. Frost describes good dog and ladseer breeding: "the breed standard talks about a white dog with black markings. This means that white is the dominant colour, and the white should be clean white, spotting is non-desirable. Breeding ideal coloured individuals is difficult, and there will always be dogs which are too black or have too much spotting, but the majority of the dogs should coincide with the breed standard. Pedigrees which mention the dogs’ colour and markings make breeding easier.  The most important thing is the temperament. The black and whites are more energetic and active than black, but the main concern of the breeder should be to make sure that the black and whites have the breed typical friendly temperament. 

One needs to cross the black and whites with black at regular intervals, in order to keep the right breed type. As in all breeding endeavours, the lines which are used have to be carefully selected. The mated partner should compliment the breeder’s line, and there are problems in breeding black and whites, so the blacks used should not increase spotting. The spotting cannot be seen in black Newfoundlands, however most of them carry the T-gene, which causes spotting to appear. The lines and pedigrees should be carefully examined before breeding. The aim is not to breed black dogs, which have white; so the breeder has to make sure that even if blacks are used at regular intervals, the white stays the dominant colour. In many countries where continental landseers are bred, cross mating is not allowed. This is why the dog population is different in these countries from the population found in e.g. Finland. The dogs do not have the thick coat, full body and big bones. They are taller, deeper and the coat colour is ideal; often there is no spotting, white is the main colour and the head has the white line mentioned in the breed standard.  

After the wars, the English Newfoundland population had gotten new blood from Europe and United States. The biggest problem was that the imported lines had a lot of brown gene. Even if it is genetically possible to breed brown and white dogs, the colour is not recognized in any Newfoundland breed standard, and this makes breeding black and whites even more difficult as breeders now have to avoid producing brown and whites. The risk is real and a problem in all the lines. However, some lines have considerable more brown genes in them than others. A combination which has produced brown and white offsprings should never be redone. Open communication is the basis for breeding breed typical, beautiful coloured black and white Newfoundlands. 

I myself have noticed that in breeding black and whites, it is good to use a black dog in every third generation, so that the breed structural type and temperament stay within the breed standard. I have, for example used excellent and breed typical black bitched, who have white on their chest and feet, but white should not be found anywhere else. For the male, I chose a landseer, whose both parents are black and whites. From this method, I get dogs who are not typical speciments of the breed and ones which have incorrect markinds, so advancing is difficult. I also do test matings, so I know if a dog passes on their markings with dominant genes. 

The Landseer colour is thought to be a recessive trait, but this is not completely true. The black is of course a dominant colour, but the black and white becomes dominant in just a few generations. So a third generation landseer mated with a black dog may produce only landseer offsprings. Dominant landseers are rare, but worth their weight in gold for breeding. One can use black dogs with these dominant landseers, and with luck, the puppies will be the right coloured and have a breed typical structure and temperament. 

Breeders try and get new blood from foreign countries, but this has its own risks, due to the breeding of continental landseers. The breeder has to remember that having breed typical structure is the most important thing. Unfortunately this fact is forgotten too often, and imports have a bad reputation with black and white Newfoundland breeders". 



(c) Salmelin