Newfoundland

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Newfoundland

The Newfoundland, or ‘Newfie’, is a giant breed of working dog originating from the Canadian province of the same name. This gentle giant has a strong work ethic, being variously employed as a beast of burden, or mountain and water rescuer. Their placid temperament means that the breed is an ideal family dog, although their profuse drooling and heavy-shedding coat mean that they may not be suitable for the very house-proud. The fact that these dogs crave constant companionship means that they should not be left alone or confined to the outdoors for long periods.

Newfoundlands need plenty of space and regular exercise to be happy and healthy. They also require regular grooming to prevent a build-up of loose hair and dirt in the thick, waterproof, double coat. The heavy coat also means that they are prone to overheating in warm weather or if trapped in direct sunlight. The breed is very intelligent and usually easy to train. With adequate socialisation, they are outgoing and friendly dogs towards strangers and other dogs, but their imposing stature means they are also likely to be a deterrent to would-be burglars.

As a giant breed, inherited and developmental health problems are reasonably common, so it is very important to research the breeding line from which you are considering purchasing a puppy. The average life expectancy for most Newfies is around 10 years.

About & History

The origins of the Newfoundland breed are unclear, with several competing theories. The most colourful of these suggests that the breed was introduced to Newfoundland by the Vikings in the eleventh century, but this is generally accepted to be unlikely. Whatever the very earliest details, the pioneers who first colonised Newfoundland in the seventeenth century found two indigenous types of dog in the region. The larger type was the forebearer of the modern Newfie, while today’s retriever breeds were developed from the smaller ‘St. John’s Dog’. Both dogs were kept for working purposes by the local fishermen, being used to haul fishing nets, and in the case of the larger Newfoundland-type, to haul heavy equipment and carts.

The modern breed was likely developed by cross-breeding with imported European dogs, including Portuguese Mastiffs, and served a variety of functions through the following centuries. Sir Edwin Landseer often featured the breed in his famous nineteenth century paintings, with the black-and-white colour variation of the breed subsequently named in his honour.

Nowadays, the Newfie is most commonly kept as a pet, although it excels at rescue work, being used both in mountain and water rescue. Their size and power mean that they are capable of pulling an injured adult human from the water without assistance, with their webbed paws and waterproof coat making them ideally suited to this task. The two World Wars led to serious declines in the numbers of Newfoundlands being bred, but the population has steadily increased over the ensuing years, with the breed currently ranking as the 35th most popular on the American Kennel Club register.

Appearance

Newfoundland Large Photo

The Newfoundland is a very large, heavy dog, exuding strength and gentleness. The breed has a large, broad head with a pronounced occipital prominence. The muzzle is wide and relatively short, with large jowls and strong jaws. The Newfie’s eyes are dark and well-spaced, while the short-haired ears are set well back on the skull, hanging close to the side of the head.

The neck and back are broad and well-muscled, particularly in the loin, and the back should be level along the top-line. The limbs are extraordinarily strong-boned, and must be straight to allow the breed to fulfil its demanding working requirements. In motion, the Newfie has an easy, rolling gait. The paws are very large, with open, webbed digits and large pads. The tail generally hangs low when at rest, with medium-length hair along it length.

The breed has a very heavy double coat, which is hard-wearing and coarse. The tail and limbs are well-feathered. The accepted coat colours are black, brown, and Landseer (black and white), although the brown variety is not recognised in its native Canada.

Males stand 71 cm (28 in) tall at the withers on average, and weigh between 65 and 80 kg (143–176 lb), while females average 66 cm (26 in) in height and weigh 55–65 kg (121–143 lb).

Character & Temperament

The Newfoundland is an exceptionally docile and gentle dog, good with children and immensely loyal to its owners. In terms of temperament, it is usually an easy companion, being happy to lounge around in the company of its family, unless there is something exciting going on, in which case this big bear can be as enthusiastic as any small dog. It is at times like this when its size can become an issue, for having a 75 kg dog skipping around while waiting for its walk can be a problem if there are small children in its vicinity.

Also because of the breed’s size and strength, it is vital that they are well trained and socialised from an early age. Exposure to other animals and people, and providing positive encouragement during these encounters, will ensure that a Newfoundland pup will grow up a confident, happy, and trustworthy dog. The breed is usually very laid-back and reliable with other dogs and even small pets.

Trainability

Photo of Newfoundland puppy

Newfies are extremely biddable and responsive to training, with a strong natural desire to please. Their ability to learn quickly and to assimilate complex commands is central to their role as rescue dogs. Again, training should begin early, when puppies are most receptive to learning and new experiences.

It also helps to teach good manners before the puppy outweighs the owner! Group socialisation and training classes are a great idea for puppies, as they provide a rich, stimulating environment in which training is fun, as well as the opportunity to meet other pups in a neutral venue.

Health

The Newfoundland is one of the breeds with a significant number of inherited health problems. If choosing a Newfie puppy, it is vital to first research the breeder from whom you will be purchasing, as careful record-keeping and selection of breeding animals can drastically reduce the likelihood of these problems arising in a particular line.

  • Addison’s Disease – This is a reasonably common hormonal problem seen in the breed. Caused by destruction of the adrenal glands through an autoimmune process, this condition leads to poor stress tolerance. Affected dogs often have recurrent bouts of gastrointestinal upset, manifesting as vomiting and diarrhoea, but may also have more vague signs, such as excessive thirst or weight loss. In its most extreme form, Addison’s (or hypoadrenocorticism) can cause signs of severe shock, such as collapse. Although a serious health issue, Addison’s disease can be very successfully managed with medication.
  • Atopic Dermatitis – This is a form of allergic skin disease, which often presents as a seasonal itch affecting the ears, feet, and belly. Common seasonal allergens include insects and pollen, while non-seasonal forms of the condition can be due to dust mite or mould allergies.
  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy – This is the most common form of heart disease seen in large reed dogs, and is due to stretching and weakening of the muscular walls of the heart. It is most commonly seen in middle-aged and older dogs, and may present as exercise intolerance or fluid retention in either the abdomen or chest.
  • Hyperadrenocorticism – This disease is, in many ways, the opposite of Addison’s disease, which is described above. Most commonly due to tumours of one of the two adrenal glands, the symptoms of this condition are a result of excessive levels of the hormone cortisol. Weight gain, excess thirst, hair loss and increased appetite are the most common signs.
  • Elbow Dysplasia – This is particularly common in young Newfies. The elbow is a very complex joint, involving the articulation of three bones, and even slight malformations during development can lead to varying degrees of discomfort, loss of function and early onset of osteoarthritis. Screening parents for signs of dysplasia can help reduce the incidence of the condition in the breed.
  • Cherry Eye – Something which may be seen at any age, but is most common in pups, is the prolapse of a small tear-producing gland which normally sits behind the third eyelid. This is then visible as a round, flesh-coloured mass which sits at the medial corner of the eye – hence the name of the condition. This gland can be either sutured by in place or removed by a veterinary surgeon.
  • Cystinuria – Excretion of unusually high levels of cysteine, an amino acid in the urine. It can lead to the development of cysteine stones, which may need to be surgically removed to prevent obstruction of the urinary tract.
  • Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus – This very serious problem, which can arise in any dog, but is most common in giant breeds with deep chests. Often it occurs during exercise and results in the stomach twisting along its long axis, obstructing both the inflow and outflow of blood and stomach contents. This condition is commonly described as ‘bloat’ due to the enormous expansion of the abdomen which can often be seen. It can be rapidly fatal without prompt surgical intervention.
  • Haemolytic Anaemia – Seen in several pedigree dog breeds in which red blood cells are targeted and destroyed by white blood cells, leading to anaemia of varying severity. Requires immunosuppressive therapy, which may need to be continued for life.
  • Hip Dysplasia – Similar to elbow dysplasia, in that signs are usually seen in young growing dogs due to malformation of the growing hip joint. It is important not to over-exercise growing Newfoundlands in order to not promote the development of either of these conditions.
  • Hypothyroidism – Another hormonal disorder, caused by autoimmune destruction of the thyroid glands and hence low blood levels of thyroid hormone, which is responsible for maintaining a normal metabolic rate. Signs of hypothyroidism include weight gain and coat changes or hair loss.
  • Myasthenia Gravis – An uncommon condition in which antibodies are produced against an enzyme responsible for normal neuromuscular function. Signs include exercise intolerance, weakness, and collapse.
  • Patent Ductus Arteriosus – Failure of a small foetal blood vessel to close during the very early post-partum period leads to a shunting of blood between the major blood vessels. Normally obvious as ill-thrift or lethargy in young pups. Can be surgically corrected.
  • Subaortic Stenosis – Another congenital heart disorder in which narrowing of the major outflow tract from the heart may lead on to signs of overt heart failure in young dogs.
  • Taurine-responsive Cardiomyopathy – This condition is unique to Newfoundlands and Retrievers, and is a reversible form of dilated cardiomyopathy (see above). Taurine, an amino acid found in meat, can be curative if given as a supplement to affected dogs.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Newfoundlands need around an hour of exercise per day, although this may need to be curtailed in very warm weather, as they tend to overheat because of their heavy coat. Exercise need not be very vigorous, although if it is possible to allow access to water for swimming, as most Newfies will happily paddle all day.

Grooming

The double coat requires a good deal of work, as it is dense and requires work to aid in the distribution of its waterproofing oils. The breed undergoes very heavy moults in the spring and autumn, when huge clumps of hair need to be removed on a daily basis. At other times of year, thorough brushing is required several times per week. The coat also clings onto mud and dirt, and bathing is necessary every few weeks to keep the hair in good condition.

The breed’s thick nails can be difficult to cut without heavy-duty nail clippers, and care needs to be taken not to catch the vascular ‘quick’ which runs down the centre of each nail. If the dog has black nails, this quick cannot be visualised, and it may be advisable to have a professional groomer carry out the task.

Famous Newfoundlands

There have been many high-profile Newfoundlands over the course of modern history.

  • Boatswain, who was owned by Lord Byron, inspired the poem ‘Epitaph to a Dog’
  • Carlo was another poet’s dog, owned by Emily Dickinson
  • Faithful, belonged to US President, Ulysses S. Grant
  • Hairy Man was credited with helping to rescue 163 people from a disaster at sea
  • Nana was the animated carer of the family’s children in Peter Pan
  • Seaman accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expeditions in the early nineteenth century

Cross-Breeds

Their famously docile nature makes Newfoundlands a great choice for crossing with other breeds:

  • Bernefie – Cross between a Newfie and Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Golden Newfie – Cross between a Newfoundland and Golden Retriever
  • New Labralound – Cross between a Newfoundland and Labrador Retriever
  • Newfiepoo – Newfie-Poodle cross

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