Newfoundlands put skills to test at Chatfield

Dogs are born to swim, save lives


Despite heavy rains, 30 Newfoundlands and their humans — destined to get wet anyway — found the conditions perfect to undergo a series of water tests at Chatfield State Park near Littleton.

Hosted by the High Country Newfoundland Club, a regional chapter of the Newfoundland Club of America, the Sept. 13-15 event allowed dogs from as far away as California and Texas the opportunity to chase after a variety of NCA titles by demonstrating proper water rescue technique in a variety of situations.

“Newfoundlands were bred to be water rescue dogs,” said HCNC secretary Meg Morrison, of Lafayette. “It’s instinctual for them. Over in Europe, they are used in the Coast Guard. The U.S. is yet to include us in the Coast Guard, but maybe someday.”

Morrison has three Newfoundland dogs, including Bojie — who is training at the top level of Water Rescue Dog Excellent — 3-year-old Rigsby, and Smooch, a 15-week old puppy. Morrison, the test chair for the recent series of water tests, said dogs at all levels of expertise showed up to compete for titles, or NCA certification.

To earn their titles, dogs do everything from leaping off boats to fetch paddles or rescue their handlers, to carrying life rings to a person in distress, to towing boats to shore.

“It’s really amazing what they are capable of doing,” said Melissa Sharp, who drove 6½ hours from Rio Rancho, N.M. with her dog Koda to undergo testing. “We’re here because we want the titles, but it’s really about having fun with our dogs.”

Sharp and Koda have been working with a trainer in New Mexico for four years, and she said there have been times where she has seen training pay off for other’s dogs, including once when high-powered winds kept a crew from rowing into shore and a friend’s Newfoundland was able to tow them in safely.

“Most of us do it because it is mainly just a demonstration of the dog’s natural abilities,” said Littleton resident Mark O’Connor, whose 7-year-old Newfoundland Panda has junior and senior rescue titles. “She kind of knows they are faking it (in testing), but if it were real she would know what to do. Instinct would just take over.”

The High Country club, whose members come from Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah, hosts two water tests a year at Chatfield, attracting dogs from all over. The next closest tests, geographically, occur in Dallas and Kansas.

For more information on the HCNC, visit


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