The early history of the Newfoundland breed is uncertain. Some fanciers believe that its ancestors were dogs that were brought to the Canadian province of Newfoundland by European fishermen. Others feel the breed was actually native to that area and were already there when the Europeans arrived.
These giant dogs are known for their love of water, and in the early days, they worked side by side with the fishermen. They would swim from the shore to the fishing boat and back again, hauling nets and ropes. When the catch was brought in and loaded into a cart, the Newfoundland would then pull the cart into town. They certainly made life easier for the men who harvested the oceans.
The Newfoundland was officially recognized as a breed by the AKC in 1886.
The first thing you notice about the Newfoundland is its sheer size. Standing up to 28 inches tall at the shoulder and weighing up to 150 pounds, this dog is big. The Newfie is considered a giant breed, and rightly so.
The second thing you notice is the drool! If you don’t like slobber, this is not the right pet for you. They have very droopy jowls and they often have strings of saliva hanging from them. An important part of a Newfie’s grooming kit is a washer or hand towel to regularly wipe their muzzle.
Newfoundlands have a soft gentle expression, and this coupled with their dark eyes make them particularly endearing. Their coarse outer coat covers a thick water resistant undercoat, which kept them warm in the days when they swam in the cold waters around their island home.
They come in a range of colors, including black, brown and gray. One particular colour combination has its own name – the Landseer is a Newfoundland that is white with black markings. These dogs were named after a British painter, Sir Henry Landseer. In some parts of the world, they are considered to be a completely separate breed to the Newfoundland.
The Newfie loves being with people, so this is not a breed to leave in the backyard with little attention. They want to be inside with you, which can be a challenge. You may need to rearrange your home to accommodate its size. They tend not to be fast movers, but instead amble from place to place.
Newfies are calm, gentle dogs who are patient with people and other animals. They are not aggressive, so they don’t make a good guard dog, however they will bark to warn you that someone is around. Having said that, their appearance is often enough to deter any unwanted visitors.
As you’d expect with their history, Newfies love water. They’ll take every opportunity to swim in it, paddle in it or lie in it. Your Newfie will really appreciate the opportunity to get wet whenever they can.
Some Newfie owners find their dogs hard to train, because they are so laid back. However, they are as intelligent as any other dog, and just as capable of learning.
Unfortunately, these massive dogs do have some health problems that potential owners need to be aware of.
As one would expect from a giant breed, Newfies are prone to hip dysplasia and also elbow dysplasia. The size and weight of these colossal dogs can make life very difficult if they have sore hips and elbows.
The breed has a hereditary condition called cystinuria, which is a problem with the metabolism of some amino acids. The result is an increase in the amount of cystine in the urine, and a greater risk of the dog developing bladder stones. Fortunately, scientists have identified the gene responsible for this condition, and a DNA test can identify affected dogs before they are bred.
Newfoundlands may also be affected by a genetic heart problem called subvalvular aortic stenosis. This affects blood flow through the heart, and it causes a heart murmur which can be detected from a very early age. The result of this condition can be congestive heart failure or even sudden death.
Responsible breeders will screen their stud animals before breeding them. This will help to reduce the chances of their pups being born with any of these debilitating conditions.
In spite of their size, Newfoundlands are quite a low maintenance breed. Because they are bred to work with people, they do need some exercise, and enjoy a daily walk. They are quite happy with a sedentary lifestyle which may lead to them being overweight, so keep an eye on their waistline and cut back their food intake if you need to. If you live near water and your Newfie can swim regularly, it’ll be very happy. Because they aren’t particularly active, a Newfie is quite content in an apartment or a house with a small back yard.
Their coat will need a thorough brushing weekly, to remove loose hair and dead undercoat. You need to be prepared to sweep regularly, as these dogs do shed quite a bit.
One thing to keep in mind is that you need to be able to afford the care of a giant breed. Worming tablets, flea control, and even medication prescribed by your veterinarian are all dosed by body weight. The bigger the dog, the more they need, so a Newfoundland can be an expensive animal to care for properly.
The English poet Lord Byron owned a Newfoundland, Botswain, and his poem “Epitaph to a Dog” describes this breed perfectly:
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.”
The Newfoundland is a wonderful family pet, because it is so gentle, relatively easy to look after, and very good with youngsters. The only thing to watch is that its size could be a problem with toddlers or very small children, as it may inadvertently knock them over.
If your budget has room for properly looking after one of these big softies, you’ll enjoy cuddling up to your Newfie for up to 10 years.