Everything You Need to Know About the Saint John’s Water Dog Dog Breed

If you’re looking for a loyal, friendly, and hardworking dog, the Saint John’s Water Dog might just be your perfect match. These dogs have a fascinating history and unique characteristics that set them apart from other breeds. In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about the Saint John’s Water Dog, from their origins to their temperament, health, and more.

History of the Saint John’s Water Dog

Origins and Development

The Saint John’s Water Dog, also known as the Lesser Newfoundland or St. John’s Dog, is said to have originated in the 16th century in Newfoundland, Canada. The breed was originally developed by fishermen to assist them in their work, such as retrieving fishing nets and lines, as well as hauling carts and sleds. Some experts believe that the breed is a result of a mix of European dogs and local North American breeds.

The Saint John’s Water Dog was a versatile breed, able to work in both water and on land. They were known for their strong swimming abilities and their ability to withstand cold temperatures, making them ideal for the harsh conditions of Newfoundland. They were also known for their loyalty and intelligence, making them a beloved companion to their owners.

Over time, the Saint John’s Water Dog became increasingly popular and gained recognition outside of Newfoundland. They were even used to develop other popular breeds such as the Labrador Retriever and the Newfoundland.

Role in Canadian History

The Saint John’s Water Dog played an important role in Canadian history. Not only were they a vital part of the fishing industry, but they also served as rescue dogs during the 19th century. They would rescue people who had fallen through ice or were stranded at sea. Because of their bravery and loyalty, they became the mascot of the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II.

During World War II, the Saint John’s Water Dog was a symbol of hope and courage for the Canadian people. They were seen as a reminder of the strength and resilience of the Canadian spirit, and their loyalty and bravery inspired many.

After the war, the Saint John’s Water Dog continued to be used in various roles, such as search and rescue and as guide dogs for the blind.

Decline and Extinction

Unfortunately, despite their usefulness, the Saint John’s Water Dog started to decline in popularity in the 20th century. Factors such as the decline of the fishing industry and the rise of other breeds contributed to their reduced numbers. By the 1980s, it was believed that the breed was extinct, but in the 1990s, a group of enthusiasts managed to revive the breed through careful breeding and genetic testing.

The revival of the Saint John’s Water Dog was a testament to the dedication and passion of dog lovers around the world. Through their efforts, the breed was brought back from the brink of extinction and is now thriving once again.

Today, the Saint John’s Water Dog is still used in various roles, such as search and rescue and as therapy dogs. They are also beloved family pets, known for their loyalty, intelligence, and gentle nature.

Physical Characteristics

Size and Build

The Saint John’s Water Dog is a medium to large-sized breed, with males typically weighing between 100-150 pounds and females weighing between 70-120 pounds. They have a strong, muscular build with a broad chest and a broad, round head.

Their size and build make them excellent working dogs, particularly for tasks that require strength and endurance. They are often used for water rescue, as their powerful bodies allow them to swim long distances and tow boats or people in distress.

Coat and Color

The Saint John’s Water Dog has a distinctive coat that is dense, oily, and water-resistant. Their coat can be black, brown, or white, and may have white markings. This unique coat is a result of their breeding history, as they were originally bred to work in the cold waters off the coast of Newfoundland.

Their coat requires regular maintenance to keep it in good condition. Brushing and bathing are necessary to prevent mats and tangles, and to keep their coat shiny and healthy.

Distinctive Features

One of the most distinctive features of the Saint John’s Water Dog is their otter-like tail. It is long and thick, and can be used as a rudder when swimming. This tail is an important part of their anatomy, as it helps them to maneuver through the water with ease.

In addition to their tail, the breed has webbed feet that help them swim more efficiently. This unique adaptation allows them to move through the water faster and with less effort than other breeds.

The Saint John’s Water Dog also has a keen sense of smell and excellent eyesight, making them great at tracking and retrieving. They are often used for hunting and retrieving game, as well as for search and rescue operations.

Temperament and Personality

The Saint John’s Water Dog, also known as the Lesser Newfoundland, is a breed with a friendly and outgoing personality. They are known for their loyalty and devotion to their owners, making them great family pets.

They have a gentle nature and are patient with children, making them an excellent choice for families with kids. They are also highly adaptable and can adjust to different living situations, whether it’s a small apartment or a large house with a yard.

Intelligence and Trainability

One of the most impressive traits of the Saint John’s Water Dog is their intelligence. They are quick learners and excel at obedience training and agility. They are also highly motivated to please their owners, making them easy to train.

However, it’s important to note that like any other breed, they need consistent training and socialization from an early age to ensure that they develop into well-behaved dogs. This includes exposing them to different people, places, and situations to help them become confident and well-adjusted adults.

Energy Level and Exercise Needs

The Saint John’s Water Dog is an active breed that requires plenty of exercise to keep them happy and healthy. They were originally bred as working dogs, assisting fishermen in retrieving nets and hauling in fish.

They excel at activities like swimming, hiking, and running, and they are always up for a game of fetch. However, they are also content with lower levels of physical activity as long as they get regular mental stimulation and playtime.

Interactive toys and puzzle games can help keep them mentally stimulated and prevent boredom, which can lead to destructive behavior.

Socialization and Interaction with Other Animals

Saint John’s Water Dogs are friendly and social dogs that love being around people and other animals. They are generally good with children and other pets, but it is still important to socialize them properly from an early age.

This includes exposing them to different people, animals, and environments, so they learn how to behave appropriately in different situations. Proper socialization can also help prevent behavioral problems like fearfulness and aggression.

It’s important to supervise their interactions with smaller animals like cats or hamsters, as their strong prey drive may kick in. However, with proper training and socialization, they can learn to coexist peacefully with other pets in the household.

Health and Lifespan

Common Health Issues

Just like any other breed, the Saint John’s Water Dog is prone to certain health issues. Some of the most common health concerns in this breed include hip and elbow dysplasia, eye disorders, and ear infections. Regular checkups with a veterinarian can help catch these issues early on and ensure that your dog stays healthy.

Preventative Care and Regular Checkups

Besides regular checkups, preventative care is also vital in keeping your Saint John’s Water Dog healthy. This includes vaccinations, regular exercise, and a healthy diet that meets their nutritional needs. Additionally, you should provide them with plenty of fresh water and keep their ears clean and dry to prevent infections.

Diet and Nutrition

Saint John’s Water Dogs require a high-quality diet that is rich in protein and fat. Their diet should also include fruits, vegetables, and grains for balanced nutrition. It is crucial to monitor their food intake and maintain an appropriate weight, as obesity can contribute to health issues like joint problems and heart disease.


In conclusion, the Saint John’s Water Dog is a fascinating breed with a unique history and distinctive characteristics. They are friendly, loyal, and hardworking dogs that make great companions for active families. As with any other breed, providing them with proper care, training, and attention is essential to their health and happiness.

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