The Newfoundland

An adaptable, gentle giant

The Newfoundland, a gentle giant among canines, is a striking dog bound to elicit admiring comments wherever he accompanies his owner. A sweet, devoted companion, the Newf will protect children, haul leaves and firewood, save drowning people, and compete successfully in obedience and tracking trials.


Born as a canine seaman, the Newf was a standard piece of equipment on every fishing boat in Canada's maritime province that gave the breed its name. Fishing has always been Newfoundland's chief industry; the dogs hauled fishing nets out to sea and back to the boat and retrieved objects or people who fell into the sea. Equally at home in water or on land, the Newfoundland was large enough to pull in a drowning man or to break the ice as he dove into the frigid northern ocean. His lung capacity allowed him to swim great distances and fight ocean currents.

At the end of a day's fishing, the day's catch was loaded into a cart, and the dog was hitched up to haul the load into town. Other Newfoundlands pulled wagons to deliver milk and mail throughout the island.

The origin of this working breed is disputed. Vikings and Basque fishermen visited Newfoundland as early as 1000 AD and wrote accounts of the natives working side by side with these retrieving dogs. The breed as we know it today was developed in England, while the island of Newfoundland nearly legislated the native breed to extinction in 1780. Then, shortly after World War I, a magnificent dog named Siki became not only the most famous show Newf in history, but the most famous stud dog of the breed. Most Newfoundlands in the conformation ring today can trace their pedigrees to Siki.

There are many legends of Newfoundlands saving drowning victims by carrying lifelines to sinking ships. The dogs were kept in the "dog walk" on early sailing ships. If the sea was too choppy when land was sighted, the dog carried a line to land. A Newfoundland named Seaman accompanied the Lewis and Clark expedition, and Nana, the children's "nurse" in the original Peter Pan, was a Newfoundland.

Newfs and St. Bernards

A bumper sticker sold by the Newfoundland Club of America reads, "No, I'm not a black St. Bernard!"

Actually, it is the St. Bernard that looks like a Newfoundland. Around 1860, the St. Bernards at the hospice in Switzerland were almost wiped out by an epidemic of distemper. Since the breeds look similar, the Monks imported some Newfoundlands to regenerate their famous rescue dogs. These crosses led to the birth of the first long haired St. Bernards, a variety that proved unsuited to snow rescue when ice balls formed and clung to the hair, weighing the dog down. To this day, at the hospice, when a long haired St. Bernard is born, it is rejected as a throwback to the Newfoundland.

Saints and Newfs are similar since they were bred for similar jobs. Both breeds are large enough to pull a man to safety. Male Newfoundlands average 28 inches at the shoulder and weigh around 150 pounds. Females average 25-26 inches tall, and weigh around 115 pounds. Individuals vary in size, and symmetry takes precedence over size. The Newfoundland differs from the St. Bernard by many features adapted to the water. A Newf's eyes should be tight to keep out water and infection with no haw, the third eyelid seen in the St. Bernard.

A Newf's drop ears also keep out water, and very loose flews (droopy upper lips) allow him to breath while carrying something as he swims. While most Newfs are black, recessive colors brown or bronze (the color of an Irish Setter) are acceptable. Black and brown combine with a recessive dilution gene to produce gray and cream-colored dogs. Solid colors may have splashes of white on the chest, toes, and tail.

Another color combination is the Landseer, named for artist Sir Edwin Landseer, who featured this striking white and black dog in many of his paintings. The Landseer Newf is a white dog, with a black head, black on the rump extending onto the tail, and an evenly marked black saddle over the back. Solid-color dogs with markings other than white are disqualified in the conformation ring.

The Newfoundland has a stiff, oily outer coat of moderate length and afleecy undercoat to adapt to the harsh climate of its home island. The oil repels water. A Newfoundland can swim for hours, yet remain completely dry and warm at the skin. The breed has completely webbed feet and swims with a breast stroke instead of a dog paddle.

Newfs at work

The hallmark of the breed is his sweet and gentle temperament. This combined with his devotion and eagerness to please his owner make the Newfoundland the best of the giant breeds in the obedience ring. In 2003, two Newfs – one of them a breed champion – earned the coveted American Kennel Club Versatile Companion Dog (VCD1) award by completing titles in obedience, agility, and tracking competitions. (Obedience and agility titles require that the dog achieve three qualifying scores in the novice level of competition; the tracking title is awarded after a single successful completion of a tracking test.)

In 2004, a Newf named Josh defied the odds and won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Josh beat many of the country's top dogs for the honor, including CoCo, the Norfolk Terrier who won the AKC/Eukanuba Invitational in December 2003.

Today, the Newfoundland Club of America encourages Newf owners to maintain the breed's working instincts by awarding working titles in both water and draft work.

The junior title, Water Dog (WD), and the senior title, Water Rescue Dog (WRD), put the Newfs through a difficult series of life saving water rescue exercises. Dogs earn the Draft Dog (DD) title by maneuvering and hauling various draft apparatus. A team of two or more Newfs performing the same set of exercises required for DD can earn the Team Draft Dog (TDD) title. The NCA draft test is being adopted by many other breed clubs.

Finally, to encourage well-rounded Newfoundlands, the NCA bestows the ultimate honorary certification of Versatile Newf (VN) on any Newf who earns the titles of AKC breed Champion, obedience Companion Dog, and the NCA WRD and DD.

Finding a puppy

A Newfoundland puppy should never be bought on impulse. Like pups of many breeds, they are irresistible. Unfortunately, however, too many Newfoundlands end up in dog pounds or abandoned when that "cute little teddy bear" grows into a 150 pound dog who won't stay out of the swimming pool. Newfs are heavy seasonal shedders, and, due to their loose lip flews, they drool *a lot* and can sling slobber up to 20 feet. While they can be kept out doors in the coldest weather, they prefer to be in the house, close to their family, so they are not the breed for someone who is house proud. If you really want to buy a Newfoundland puppy, try to visit a kennel or breeder first to meet one of these giant dogs in person. Spend some time with adult Newfs, then decide if this is still the right breed for you.

A responsible Newfoundland breeder will welcome your visit, and will guarantee, in writing, against hip dysplasia and other congenital defects, including a heart defect known as subaortic stenosis, a condition that is a problem for the breed. If a breeder does not offer information about health screenings and clearance certificates for these diseases, walk away.

A Newfoundland requires thorough combing once a week (more during shedding season), and requires a fair amount of brisk exercise with you; otherwise he will probably be just as happy to lie around becoming unhealthy, fat, and lazy.

If you cannot deal with huge volumes of hair and are grossed out by dog drool, look for another breed.

Once your puppy is old enough to receive his rabies shot, it is time to enroll him in a basic obedience class. He will love learning to please you. Within months, he will grow into a large draft animal, capable of moving 2000 pounds, but through obedience training, he'll learn to adjust his great strength and to be careful not to injure his human companions. Even though he'll grow quickly and can weigh 100 pounds or more in less than a year, he'll still be a puppy, with puppy bones, muscles, and brain that need time to mature. Like most large breeds, he'll not be truly grown up until he's at least two or three years old.

If you don't have the time or inclination to take your dog to obedience classes, opt for a breed that doesn't weigh more than many adult women when full grown. Newfie rescue groups are inundated with dogs, some with poor temperament and ill-health because unscrupulous breeders failed to screen for genetic diseases, assess the temperament of their breeding dogs, and socialize their puppies and some because owners weren't prepared for a very big dog that shed, drooled, and took up too much space.

The Newfoundland is a wonderful addition to a family that can deal with hair, slobber, and hugeness and is willing and able to teach the dog good manners before it weighs 100or more pounds.

The best description of the character of the Newfoundland dog is the epitaph written by Lord Byron inscribed on the grave of his 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
who was born at Newfoundland, May 1803,
and died at Newstead Abbey,
November 18, 1808.

For more information about the Newf, visit the Newfoundland Club of America and check out the books below.

(Be sure and also see Ozzie Foreman's article "Newfoundlands can go home: The great Newfoundland Dog trek of 1997," her account of an exciting and rewarding trip across Canada to participate in the 500th anniversary celebration of the voyage of John Cabot from Britain to Newfoundland. The Foremans took Redi and Spirit, their two Newfs, and Kitty, their American Staffordshire Terrier, and headed for the wilds of Canada to join the trek that began in British Columbia on June 1, 1997. The trek reached Newfoundland in plenty of time for the June 24, 1997, ceremonies – 130 Newfs strong!)

[More on finding a dog]

Ozzie Foreman

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