Earlier this month, I was reflecting on all the great things that make Canada so unique: our landscape, our athletes, our artists, our cuisine and of course our fantastic purebred dogs. Canada currently has 4 dog breeds and 2 that are, sadly, extinct. This blog will focus on and celebrate our wonderful Canadian breeds.
Newfoundlands are to the waters of Northern Atlantic Canada what Saint Bernards are to the Swiss Alps. Famous for their incredible water rescuing abilities, Newfoundland also hauled fishing nets to shore, then pull the day’s catch to market in a cart. 1 Although the breed is mostly kept these days as a beloved family pet, they are still considered the best water-rescue breed by most and used around the world.
Newfoundlands prove that sometimes you really can judge a book by its cover. The kind expression of the Newfoundland is reflective of his sweet and devoted nature. A well-bred and socialized Newfoundland is a gentle companion who tends to be particularly patient with children.
A majestic breed that can weigh more than some adult humans, the Newfoundland has a thick, dense, somewhat oily coat that protects him from the cold. The traditional colour is black, but he is also seen in a black and white, which is called “Landseer” after Sir Edwin Landseer who popularized the colour with his paintings. 2 The thick coat requires regular brushing and raking. Seasonal shedding is heavy.
The breed enjoys the great outdoors, especially pulling charts, swimming and walking with their loved ones. Being mindful of the heat and not overdoing exercise with a growing puppy is essential with a Newfoundland.
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
A long name for the smallest of the Canadian Kennel Club’s Retriever breeds. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers or “Tollers” as they are called by those who love them were developed to do a very unique job. Tollers imitate the actions of a fox, whose colour is just like theirs. They replicate the fox’s quick movements and this elicits a strange fascination from waterfowl. Ducks see a Toller playing on the shore and come over to check it out. The ducks are then brought into shot range where they are shot. The Toller then goes to retrieve the game and returns it to the hunter. 3
Photo: Dallas Drury
Playful, energetic and eager to learn the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever makes a playful family pet for active families. His athleticism and keen intelligence must be utilized or that brain and energy could be directed towards something destructive.
The Toller’s coat comes in shades or red and orange with white markings. It’s a double coat requires regular brushing to look its best and sheds heavily twice a year.
Canadian Eskimo Dog
The Government of Nunavut calls the Canadian Eskimo Dog the Canadian Inuit Dog and made the breed the territory’s official animal. 4 In Inuktitut the dog is called Qimmiq and some people in the fancy call it that too, as, while used historically, the word Eskimo is considered offensive. 5
This hardy breed has protected and worked alongside the people of the Arctic for thousands of years and is considered by many the oldest purebred dog in North America. The breed proved popular with explorers and earned a reputation as a sled dog that could pull the heaviest loads over the greatest distances on the least amount of food. As snowmobiles gained favour, the number of Qimmit declined dramatically. Their numbers went from approximately 20,000 in the 1920s down to about 200 dogs by the 1970s. 6 That’s when a project headed by William Carpenter and funded by The Canadian Kennel Club, the Canada Council and private individuals saved the breed from extinction.
Like all Nordic breeds, The Canadian Eskimo dog can be very vocal and requires lots of outdoor exercise. A large exercise area with a tall fence that is also buried into the ground is a necessity as these athletic dogs can both jump and dig. Because vegetation was never abundant where they come from, their diets have to be curated with the breed’s specific needs in mind. 7
They are a very natural dog when it comes to grooming. Weekly brushing will help the coat do what it was created to do – keep moisture out and protect the dog from both the cold and the heat. The oils in the coat are crucial to keeping the coat and skin healthy so bathing is not done frequently. 8
Early socialization along with obedience training will make this breed a valued member of an active family that understands this special breed and enjoys doing activities that utilize the dog’s incredible athleticism.
Outgoing, active and intelligent, the Labrador Retrievers have long enjoyed popularity and have been on top of the most popular breed lists here in North America for over a quarter century.
Developed in Newfoundland, he was immediately celebrated as a fisherman’s mate who could grab any fish that fell off the trawl as well as assist hunters by retrieving ducks. English sportsmen who were visiting Canada in the early 1800s loved the breed and brought them back to the UK where they quickly became the most popular British Gundog.
So what makes the Labrador Retriever so popular? It could be his handsome looks, his sweet nature, his incredible intelligence, but it’s most likely the sum of all those qualities. There isn’t much a Lab can’t do or hasn’t done. From police dogs, to guiding the blind, dock diving to obedience, Labradors have an eagerness to learn and please personality that makes training them a joy.
Labs have a short, dense coat that is short that helps them do their job in cold water. They come in 3 colours: black, yellow (ranging from light cream to fox red) and chocolate.
Labs love to be active with their people and benefit greatly from exercise. Their love of the water remains, and they will happily play fetch until it feels like your arm is about to fall off. Labs are generally friendly with children and dogs (if raised, trained and socialized properly). They tend to do best in a suburban or country setting.
Tahltan Bear Dog
For more than 500 years, the Tahltan Bear Dog served the Tahltan people of Northern British Columbia. 9 These small dogs were used for hunting both Black bears and Grizzly bears.10 Black and white, they were 12 to 16 inches high and weighed 10 to 18 pounds.11 They had large pricked ears, and a distinctive bushy tail resembling a shaving brush.12
These little dogs were carried in sacks on the hunter’s backs. On encountering a bear, working as a pack, they would distract the bear by rapidly yapping and biting at it, allowing the hunters to move in for the kill.13 These brave little dogs were incredibly tough, but at the same time gentle enough with humans that they were welcomed into their family’s tent.14 Rifles would eventually rifles replace the dogs' usefulness and lead to its demise.
By 1975, only six Tahltan Bear Dogs were known to exist.15 The final dog died in 1979, the same year the Canadian Kennel Club removed the breed, after more than a quarter of a century of no new registrations, from its list of recognized breeds.16 And with this, the courageous little Tahltan Bear Dog - the world's most recently extinct breed of dog - vanished.
Salish Wool Dog
The Salish Wool Dog lived with the Coast Salish Nations in what is now British Columbia and played an integral part in their people’s lives. 17 The breed was described as small dogs with long, thick and usually white coats. 18 They had ears that stood erect, a tail that curled over and a face with a fox-like expression. 19 The breed was developed by indigenous peoples who used their coats for blankets and garments. The breed lived among their people for centuries before contact with Europeans. 20 Remains suggest that the breed was in existence over 4,000 years ago. 21
To keep the breed pure and their unique coats strong, the people of the Coast Salish Nations would keep packs of 20-20 Salish Wool Dogs separate on islands or in gated caverns. 22 They were fed salmon and elk tallow almost exclusively. 23 Much like one would shear a sheep, the Coast Salish peoples would sheer these dogs at least once a year for their incredibly thick fleece. 24
Certain sources say that the importation of sheep (and their wool) from European settlers made keeping these dogs less and less necessary as sheep’s wool was easier to spin and less expensive. While others say that the eventual extinction of the dogs was the direct result of colonialism.26 The breed eventually became extinct over 115 years ago. 25
It’s important to take some time to celebrate our wonderful Canadian breeds. Four of which are still here, each specimen a living piece of Canadian history and each breed celebrated around the world by dedicated owners. Let us also take a moment to remember the Tahltan Bear Dog and the Salish Wool Dog. These breeds left us way too soon and are two very strong reminders of how important it is to preserve our beloved purebred dogs.
1 Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, https://newfoundlanddogclub.ca/index.html
2 Ibid., Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada
3 Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nova_Scotia_Duck_Tolling_Retriever
4 The Canadian Encyclopedia, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/dog
5 Ibid., The Canadian Encyclopedia
6 Larquoia Kennels, https://www.canadianeskimodog.com/ced-timeline
7 Ibid., Larquoia Kennels
8 Ibid., Larquoia Kennels
9 Macbeth, Mike. “Celebrating the Canadian Breeds of Dogs and Cats”. Canada Day Presentation. Pawsway Toronto ON. July 1, 2009
10 Ibid., Macbeth
11 Ibid., Macbeth
12 Ibid., Macbeth
13 Ibid., Macbeth
14 Ibid., Macbeth
15 Ibid., Macbeth
16 Ibid., Macbeth
17 Animals of the Pacific Northwest, https://animalsofpnw.com/2019/03/30/behind-the-breed-salish-wool-dog/
18Ibid., Animals of the Pacific Northwest
19 Ibid., Animals of the Pacific Northwest
20 Ibid., Animals of the Pacific Northwest
21 Ibid., Animals of the Pacific Northwest
22 Ibid., Animals of the Pacific Northwest
23 Ibid., Animals of the Pacific Northwest
24 Ibid., Animals of the Pacific Northwest
25 Ibid., Animals of the Pacific Northwest
26 City News Vancouver, https://vancouver.citynews.ca/2023/05/11/bc-coast-salish-woolly-dogs/?fbclid=IwAR2ULh9hWFoh2dLC8zhFdCXszjlc0H-BLTIpMkawYh6bMIqAlYWhHfnRlaI