The Newfoundland dog is a large working dog. They can be either black, brown, or white-and-black (called Landseer). However, in the Dominion of Newfoundland, before it became part of the confederation of Canada, only black and Landseer colored dogs were considered to be proper members of the breed. They were originally bred and used as working dogs for fishermen in Newfoundland. Newfoundland dogs are known for their giant size, intelligence, tremendous strength, calm dispositions, and loyalty. They excel at water rescue/lifesaving because of their muscular build, thick double coat, webbed feet, and swimming abilities.
The Newfoundland breed originated on Newfoundland, and is descended from a breed indigenous to the island known as the lesser Newfoundland, or St. John’s dog. DNA analysis confirms that Newfoundlands are closely related to other Canadian retrievers, including the Labrador, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Golden Retrievers, and Flat Coated Retrievers. The Molosser-like appearance of the Newfoundland are a result of an introduction of Mastiff blood, possibly from breeding with Portuguese Mastiffs brought to the island by Portuguese fishermen beginning in the 16th century.
By the time colonization was permitted in Newfoundland in 1610, the distinct physical characteristics and mental attributes had been established in the Newfoundland breed. In the early 1880s, fishermen and explorers from Ireland and England traveled to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, where they described two main types of working dog. One was heavily built, large with a longish coat, and the other medium-sized in build – an active, smooth-coated water dog. The heavier breed was known as the Greater Newfoundland, or Newfoundland. The smaller breed was known as the Lesser Newfoundland, or St. John’s dog. The St. John’s dog became the founding breed of the modern retrievers. Both breeds were used as working dogs to pull fishnets, with the Greater Newfoundland also being used to haul carts and other equipment.
The Newfoundland dog is known for its calm and docile nature and its strength. They are highly loyal and make ideal working dogs. It is for this reason that this breed is known as “the gentle giant”. International kennel clubs generally describe the breed as having a sweet temper. It typically has a deep bark and is easy to train if started young. They are wonderfully good with children, but small children can get accidentally leaned on and knocked down. Newfoundlands are ideal companions in the world of therapy and are often referred to as the nanny dog. The breed was memorialized in “Nana”, the beloved guardian dog in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. The Newfoundland, in general, is good with other animals, but its size can cause problems if it is not trained.
A Newfoundland’s good, sweet nature is so important, it is listed in the Breed Standards of many countries; dogs exhibiting poor temperament or aggression are disqualified from showing and should never be used to breed. The breed standard in the United States reads that “Sweetness of temperament is the hallmark of the Newfoundland; this is the most important single characteristic of the breed.
The Newfoundlands (‘Newfs’ or ‘Newfies’) have webbed feet and a water-resistant coat. Males normally weigh 65–80 kg (143–176 lb), and females 55–65 kg (121–143 lb), placing them in the “Giant” weight range; but some Newfoundland dogs have been known to weigh over 90 kg (200 lb) – and the largest on record weighed 120 kg (260 lb) and measured over 1.8 m (6 ft) from nose to tail, ranking it among the largest of dog breeds. They may grow up to 56–76 cm (22–30 in) tall at the shoulder.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) standard colors of the Newfoundland dogs are black, brown, grey, and white-and-black (sometimes referred to as Landseer). Other colors are possible but are not considered rare or more valuable. The Kennel Club (KC) permits only black, brown, and white/black; the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) permits only black and white/black. The “Landseer” pattern is named after the artist, Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, who featured them in many of his paintings. Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) consider the ECT Landseer (“European Continental Type”) to be a separate breed. It is a taller, more narrow white dog with black markings not bred with a Newfoundland.
Newfoundland dogs typically have dark brown eyes, but lighter eye colors are common for the brown or grey coated.
The Newfoundland’s extremely large bones give it mass, while its large musculature gives it the power it needs to take on rough ocean waves and powerful tides. These dogs have huge lung capacity for swimming extremely long distances and a thick, oily, and waterproof double coat which protects them from the chill of icy waters. The double coat makes the dog hard to groom, and also causes a lot of shedding to occur. The droopy lips and jowls make the dog drool, especially in high heat.
In the water, the dog’s massive webbed paws give it maximum propulsion. The swimming stroke is not an ordinary dog paddle. Unlike other dogs, the Newfoundland moves its limbs in a down-and-out motion giving more power to every stroke.
There are several health problems associated with Newfoundlands. Newfoundlands are prone to hip dysplasia (a malformed ball and socket in the hip joint). They also get Elbow dysplasia, and cystinuria (a hereditary defect that forms calculi stones in the bladder). Another genetic problem is subvalvular aortic stenosis (SAS). This is a common heart defect in Newfoundlands involving defective heart valves. SAS can cause sudden death at an early age. It is similar to having a heart attack. It is common that “Newfs” live to be 8 to 10 years of age; 10 years is a commonly cited life expectancy. Newfoundlands can, however, live up to 15 years old.