Newfoundland

Introduction to the Newfoundland

The beloved Newfoundland is one of the most well-known breeds from Canada. This giant, water-loving dog has long been known for their prowess in rescuing people in the water. They are natural swimmers and they love the water. They originated, as their name suggests, in the Canadian province of Newfoundland. Newfoundlands also tend to be very good with children. For this reason they are sometimes thought of as “nanny dogs” and they can make a good pet for autistic children. They also make good therapy dogs. Despite their giant size, Newfies are gentle, patient dogs. They usually get along well with other pets in the home. Because of their large size they do require quite a bit of space so not everyone can keep a dog this big. The Newfoundland is usually easy to train but you should start training and socialization early, as you would expect with such a large breed.

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History of the Newfoundland

The early history of the Newfoundland is closely related to the history of the Labrador Retriever. Both breeds are believed to be descended from dogs in the Newfoundland part of Canada that were probably brought to the area by Portuguese fishermen in the 16th century. These dogs were already in the area when the first colonists arrived. Portuguese fishermen were using dogs that looked like Portuguese Water Dogs as early as 1297 AD, as found in this monk’s story of a drowning sailor pulled from the sea by a dog who had a “black coat, the hair long and rough, cut to the first rib and with a tail tuft.” Poodles, which also originated as water retrievers, were also popular with fishermen. It seems likely these some of these black dogs may have been the source of the dogs that were found in Newfoundland.

In 1662 Basque fishermen brought Great Pyrenees to Newfoundland. The Great Pyrenees is a giant breed, best-known as a livestock guardian dog but these fishermen apparently used them to help with the fishing. According to the Great Pyrenees Club of America (GPCA) and other sources, some of these white dogs were crossed with the black curly-coated dogs that were already present in Newfoundland. These crossed produced the Landseer or black and white Newfoundlands which are still seen today. Many of the early Newfoundlands seen in paintings and drawings are black and white instead of black, though we usually associate the breed with black dogs today.

As more cross-breeding took place, the original dogs in Newfoundland divided into the greater Newfoundland which was a large, heavy, mastiff-like dog with a longer coat. This dog became the Newfoundland as we know it today. The other dog that resulted became the lesser Newfoundland. This dog was medium in size, active, with a short coat. It became known as the St. John’s Water Dog. (Some people refer to the St. John’s Water Dog as a landrace breed. It’s almost certain that these dogs are the descendants of dogs brought to Canada by early European visitors. Unfortunately, the last of the St. John’s Water Dogs died out in the 1980s so DNA testing would be hard or impossible.) This dog would become the foundation breed for the Labrador Retriever and most other retriever breeds we have today. Both the greater and lesser Newfoundland dogs were most definitely water dogs, helping fishermen bring in their nets full of fish. The greater Newfoundland – the Newfoundland as we know him today – was also kept as a cart dog. He would pull carts like a little pony.

(If you are interested in far more details about the possible origins of the Newfoundland we can recommend Retrieverman’s blog.)

Newfoundlands became popular in Britain, the U.S., and many other parts of the world in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were popular in the show ring in the 19th century, especially in England, but their numbers declined in Canada during this time. After the World Wars breeders had to work to rebuild their numbers. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1886. Today the Newfie is quite popular. They are the 35th most popular breed in the U.S. by registration statistics. The AKC places the breed in the Working Group.

Newfoundland Health-Related Issues

If you are interested in a Newfoundland we encourage you to visit the parent club web site for the breed. Their health page provides information on various issues sometimes found in Newfoundlands including common problems, inherited health disorders, and research supported by the club.

As with many giant breeds, Newfoundlands can be subject to hip and elbow dysplasia. Patellar luxation, cruciate ligament rupture, osteochondritis dessicans (OCD), and other musculo-skeletal problems can also occur in Newfoundlands.

Cystinuria, a difficult urinary disease, occurs more frequently in Newfoundlands than in other breeds. Eye problems such as cataracts, cherry eye, entropion, and ectropion can also occur in Newfoundlands. Endocrine system disorders such as hypothyroidism, Addison’s disease, and Cushing’s disease may also affect some Newfoundlands.

A heart defect affecting the valves called subvalvular aortic stenosis (SAS) occurs in some Newfoundlands.

Newfoundlands can have difficulty handling high heat and humidity. Giant breeds like the Newfoundland can be more prone to experiencing heat stroke so it’s important to take extra care with them.

Seizures are possible in any dog. They can occur for a variety of reasons including fevers, head trauma, poison, disease, and more. There is some thought that they are occurring with more frequency in Newfoundlands or people may be discussing them more openly.

Newfoundlands have long, floppy ears so they may be more prone to ear infections than some breeds. Be sure to dry your Newfie’s ears well if your dog goes swimming. Bacteria can grow inside the ear canal if it remains moist.

You can check the database for health statistics regarding the Newfoundland on the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) web site.

Newfoundland Temperament

Newfoundlands are often described as “gentle giants” and this phrase fits the breed. They have long been considered a sweet, gentle dog.

At home Newfoundlands are known for being devoted, patient, sweet dogs. They are good with children and other animals. Because of their very large size they could knock a toddler over accidentally but they tend to be very gentle. (As usual, we always recommend that adults supervise dog-children interaction, no matter how sweet the dog.)

According to the Newfoundland Club of America in the breed standard, “Temperament: Sweetness of temperament is the hallmark of the Newfoundland; this is the most important single characteristic of the breed.”

Newfies are moderately active dogs, despite their large size. If you have room for a Newfoundland, we highly recommend the breed – but they do need room. They aren’t the kind of dog that runs and plays all the time, however. They are simply very large dogs that take up a lot of space. They eat more than a small dog. Their vet bills will cost more – even for basic vaccinations and check-ups. A giant dog bed costs more than a small dog bed. Even dog toys for giant breeds cost more. If you are interested in a giant breed, be prepared to spend more.

The Newfoundland also drools. They have large flews (“flews” is the name for the long lips that hang down over the dog’s mouth). Dogs that have long flews, such as Bloodhounds, Setters, some mastiff breeds, and some other breeds often tend to drool more than other dogs that aren’t blessed with such lip pulchritude. If you have one of these breeds it’s usually a good idea to keep a towel or a roll of paper towels handy. Some owners have their drooling dogs wear bibs so the drool won’t get in their dog’s hair all the time.

Snoring is also possible with this breed.

Newfies are eager to please and do well with training, especially if you start early. Early socialization is also a good idea. This is not because the Newfoundland is at all a dangerous dog. But they are very BIG. Any dog that will grow to weigh over 100 pounds needs to respond to your commands. They also need to be well-socialized and have very positive feelings toward people from a young age.

Newfies are great at swimming, including swimming long distances. They have genuine life-saving instincts in the water. Tales of these dogs rescuing humans are too numerous to recount. You can find some of them on the Wikipedia page for the breed. (We caution that some of the information on this page is not accurate, such as the history of the breed.) The Newfoundland’s heavy coat protects him in cold water.

Today the Newfoundland is at home on land or water. He’s good at obedience, tracking, agility, draft pulls (pulling weight in contests), and carting.

Newfoundland Grooming

Male Newfoundlands are about 28 inches tall; female Newfoundlands are about 26 inches tall. Males weigh between 130 and 150 pounds. Females weigh between 100 and 120 pounds. The breed is quite muscular with heavy bone. According to the AKC dogs can be black, brown, gray, or white and black. In Canada, only black or Landseer (black and white) are allowed.

Newfies have a thick double coat and webbed paws which assist them with swimming.

The breed requires regular brushing once or twice a week to remove dead hair and cut down on shedding but they only need a minimum of grooming to look their best. A brush will remove most dirt. Loose undercoat can be removed with a coat rake or wide-toothed comb. Bathe as needed.

Newfoundlands are not clipped.

DO check ears regularly for mites, excess earwax, and other problems. Keep the ears dry and clean as needed to avoid ear infections.

Clip your Newfoundland’s nails regularly.

The Colonial Newfoundland Club provides more details about how to groom your Newfoundland.

Newfoundland Fun Facts

  • One of the most famous Newfoundlands, though a fictional dog, is Nana in Peter Pan.
  • George Gordon, Lord Byron wrote his famous epitaph to his dog Boatswain, a Newfoundland: “Near this spot are deposited the remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the Virtues of Man, without his Vices. This Praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human ashes, is but a just tribute to the Memory of Boatswain, a Dog.”
  • Several Newfoundlands have won Best In Show at Westminster. The most recent was Josh in 2004.

Common Newfoundland Mixes

Giant breed dog mixes are not in much demand but we did find a few online. We found a Komondor/Newfoundland mix; a Newfoundland/Chow Chow mix; a Labrador Retriever/Newfoundland mix; a Newfoundland/Bernese Mountain Dog mix; and that’s about all.

Newfoundland FAQ’s

What is a Newfoundland Life Expectancy?

Newfoundlands live to be 8 to 10 years old. Like some other giant breeds, their life expectancy is shorter than some small and medium-sized breeds.

Are Newfoundlands easy to train?

Yes, Newfoundlands are considered to be intelligent and eager to please. Ideally, training should start while your Newfie is a young puppy and still very small.

Do Newfoundlands shed a lot of hair?

Yes, Newfies can shed a lot. They shed a little all the time but they have two big sheds per year in the spring and autumn when they “blow coat.” At these times they will shed most of their old hair to grow new coat. Be prepared to brush your dog a lot during these times. Brushing will help remove the dead hair before it falls all over your house.

Do Newfoundlands make good apartment pets?

No, we would not recommend the Newfoundland as an apartment pet. Their giant size would make them unsuitable for most apartments. They have moderate exercise requirements but still need a chance to run and play every day.

Are Newfoundlands good with Children?

Yes, the Newfoundland is very good with children. They are typically sweet dogs with a natural understanding that they need to be gentle with children. However, we still recommend that you supervise play between dogs and small children, just to be safe.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta is a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine Dog News. She's also the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com Award winner for 2013. In addition, she's written Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Healthy and Happy.

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