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Alice van Kempen, Animal Photography
Truly a gentle giant, the Newfoundland is a courageous and intelligent working dog who can masquerade as a couch potato inside the house. His docile temperament and love of children make for a wonderful family dog if you don't mind lots of slobber.
A Newfoundland made an impressive appearance in the 2005 romantic comedy “Must Love Dogs,” starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. The dog, named Mother Theresa, was actually played by two Newfie puppies; director Gary David Goldberg adopted both dogs when the filming ended.
Perhaps the world’s most famous Newfoundland is Nana, the canine nursemaid in Peter Pan. Although fictional, she exemplifies the breed’s love of children and life-saving instincts. With a history as a working dog on fishing boats in, yes, Newfoundland, the Newfie is one of the great water dogs (with webbed feet to prove it!) and still exhibits his prowess at water rescue.
Today’s Newfoundland is primarily a family companion or show dog. He has many good qualities, but his giant size and potential for health problems are factors to consider before deciding to acquire one. If you want the easygoing, patient dog that is the Newfoundland at his best, be prepared to do your homework to find him and put in plenty of effort training and socializing him once you bring him home.
The Newfoundland is calm, sweet and friendly, especially toward children, but he can be protective if the situation calls for it. Although he’s not a workaholic like some dogs, he enjoys activity, especially swimming. Canine sports in which the Newfoundland participates include obedience trials; draft, tracking, and water tests; and sledding. He’s also an excellent companion for a hiker or backpacker and makes a super therapy dog, being just the right height for standing at a bedside.
Sounds great, right? Not so fast! The Newfoundland is a giant breed. At maturity, he will weigh 100 to 150 pounds. Giant breeds have the potential to develop serious orthopedic problems -- especially if they aren’t raised carefully or if they come from irresponsible breeders, and they generally have a shorter lifespan than smaller dogs. If that doesn’t bother you, a Newfoundland may well be your breed of choice.
As with any dog, early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent a Newfie from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase a Newfoundland puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people. Once certain vaccines are given and your vet gives the go-ahead, continue socializing your Newfoundland by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local shops and businesses.
Like any puppy, Newfoundlands are inveterate chewers and, because of their size, can do a whole lot of damage. Don’t give them the run of the house until they’ve reached trustworthy maturity. Keep your Newfoundland puppy busy with training, play and socialization experiences; a bored Newfie is a destructive Newfie.
Begin training as soon as you bring your Newfoundland puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size. Use positive reinforcement training techniques such as praise, play, and food rewards. The gentle Newfie is a willing learner, and young puppies pick up new skills rapidly when they are encouraged to do so. If you plan to teach your Newfie to swim or do water rescue, let him start playing in water -- under your watchful eye, of course -- before he’s four months old.
While you might think of him as an outdoor dog, nothing could be farther from the truth. Newfoundlands are devoted to their people. They should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, but when the family is home, the Newfie should be with them. He should also be indoors when it’s hot outside, because he is sensitive to heat.
It’s important to take it easy with exercise the first two years of a Newfie pup’s life. His growth plates are still forming until he’s about two years old, and hard exercise can damage them. Take him swimming, go for walks on grass or other soft surfaces and take easy hikes, but don’t start any jogging, bicycling, steep climbs or descents, or activities that require jumping until he has reached full physical maturity at two years of age. It's always best to check with your vet before beginning any exercise program with your pet.
The Newfoundland's history is more speculation than fact. Little is known about his origins; one theory suggests that he descends from Great Pyrenees brought to Newfoundland by Basque fishermen, although why fishermen would have a flock-guarding dog on board their boat is unclear. Other potential ancestors include a French boarhound or one of the Nordic breeds. What is known is that the dogs that became today’s Newfoundland were from the eastern Canadian island of the same name. Whatever his ancestors were, they probably arrived with fishermen from Europe. The dog that evolved, shaped by his environment and the work he did, was of great size and strength with a flat, water-resistant double coat and webbed feet. Practical on land and at sea, he pulled carts, swam lifelines to victims of shipwrecks, pulled children from deep water, and helped fishermen haul in heavy nets.
The Newfoundland was taken to England where he became popular and was bred extensively. One well-known reference to a Newfoundland is Lord Byron’s tribute to his dog Boatswain, whom he described as “one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the Virtues of Man without his Vices.” In America, a Newfoundland named Seaman, acquired for $20 (a great sum at the time) accompanied explorers Lewis and Clark as they mapped the great expanse -- all the way to Oregon -- that comprised Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase. Lewis named a northern tributary of the Blackfoot River “Seaman’s Creek.” Perhaps the Newfie liked to swim there.
Newfies are portrayed as lifesavers in art and literature for good reasons: they are life savers. A Newfoundland named Rigel went down with the Titanic and swam next to a lifeboat for three hours in the icy water, apparently looking for his owner, who had gone down with the ship. The people in the lifeboat were nearly run down by the steamship Carpathia because the crew couldn’t hear their weak cries, but Rigel's bark drew notice and the people and dog were saved.
The Newfie is moderately popular today. He ranks 44th among the breeds registered by the American Kennel Club, up from 53rd in 2000.
The Newfie is known for his intelligence, loyalty, and sweetness. Even though he is a terrific guard dog, his gentle and docile disposition makes him an excellent choice for as a family dog. He thinks he’s a lap dog, and loves to lean on people and sit on their feet. The Newfie is a natural lifesaver and can be a good assistant for parents who have a swimming pool or enjoy taking the kids to the lake or ocean, although he should never be solely responsible for their safety.
Let it be said that the Newfie isn’t perfect, his heroic nature notwithstanding. Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, countersurfing and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised. And any dog can be a trial to live with during adolescence. In the case of the Newfie, the “teen” years can start at six months and continue until the dog is about two years old.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a much bigger, more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
The perfect Newfie doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Whatever you want from a Newfie, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines. The Newfie is prone to a host of health problems. Here’s a brief rundown on a few of the things you should know.
As might be predicted, given their large size, Newfies can suffer from a number of joint and structural problems. It's important that young, growing dogs be kept lean and not allowed to exercise too strenuously or eat too much, as this will lead to injuries and problems that can be crippling down the road. In fact, all Newfoundlands need to be kept lean, as obesity increases the chances they'll develop structural problems and makes them more painful when they do occur.
One such structural problem is the genetic hip deformity known as hip dysplasia. The head of the thigh bone doesn't fit properly into the hip socket; over time the joint cartilage wears away and the underlying bone suffers damage. Severe arthritis results, often affecting very young dogs. In some cases, expensive surgery is required, including total hip replacement surgery. Untreated, the dog will suffer pain and poor quality of life. Elbow dysplasia is another inherited joint problem, resulting from abnormal formation of the elbow.
The possibility of a Newfie developing hip or elbow dysplasia can not be ruled out entirely just because the parents were free of the condition, although it reduces the chances. And while a puppy's bones are still growing, it can sometimes be difficult to confirm a diagnosis, depending on which tests are performed and how severe the condition is.
Each Newfoundland owner should have his dog's hips and elbows x-rayed at two years of age, regardless of whether or not he shows symptoms of lameness or stiffness. For dogs that show lameness before that age (i.e during puppyhood), diagnostic testing should be pursued promptly.
Newfoundlands are at risk for heart disease, including dilated cardiomyopathy and subaortic stenosis (SAS). There is currently no genetic test for SAS, which has a complex inheritance, making it difficult to develop a test. Breeders should not breed Newfoundlands with any signs of SAS and should screen puppies with a board-certified veterinary cardiologist. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals keeps a cardiac registry for the Newfoundland breed.
Cystinuria is a genetic kidney defect that leads to the formation of bladder stones that are very difficult to manage with diet or medication and often requires surgery both to remove the stones from the bladder and to repair urinary blockages. There may be no advance signs that the dog is forming cystine stones, which can create a life-threatening emergency if they cause an obstruction. Fortunately, there is a genetic test for cystinuria. Given the availability of the genetic test, there is no need for a breeder ever to produce a dog with the disorder. Many breeders register the test findings with the OFA.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for these defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Newfoundland Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC), a health database. Before individual Newfies can be issued a CHIC number, the breeder must submit OFA hip, elbow and heart evaluations and a DNA test for cystinuria from a qualified laboratory. For hips, Ontario Veterinary College and PennHIP evaluations are also acceptable.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
A good breeder will be able to discuss the prevalence of all health problems in her dogs' lines, those with and without genetic screening tests, and help puppy buyers make an informed decision about health risks to their dog.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Not every Newfie visit to the vet is for a genetic problem. Newfies are known to experience ruptured cruciate ligaments. They are also among the deep-chested breeds predisposed to bloat, a condition in which the stomach distends with gas and can twist on itself (called gastric torsion), cutting off blood flow. Bloat and torsion strikes very suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums, lip licking, trying unsuccessfully to vomit, and signs of pain. Bloat requires immediate veterinary intervention, and surgery is necessary in many cases. Unfortunately, dogs that have bloated can bloat again, so most veterinarians offer a procedure known as gastropexy or "stomach tacking," which anchors the stomach to the body wall to help keep it from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Newfie at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Newfoundland has a water-resistant double coat of black, brown, gray or Landseer (white with black markings). Using a steel comb and wire slicker brush, groom the coat at least a couple times a week to prevent mats and remove dead hair.
Newfies shed, and regular brushing will help reduce the amount of hair floating around your house. Twice a year, in spring and fall, they shed heavily, called “blowing coat.” Plan to spend additional time brushing to keep all the hair under control.
Newfies also drool, so get in the habit of carrying around a hand towel so you can wipe your dog’s mouth as needed, especially after he eats or drinks. Bathe the Newfoundland when he’s dirty.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every week or two. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath. Most important, keep this water-loving dog’s ears clean and dry to help prevent ear infections.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems.
Find a breeder who is a member in good standing of the Newfoundland Club of America (NCA) and who has agreed to abide by its Ethics Guide, which prohibits selling puppies to or through pet stores and selling only with a written contract. The NCA has guidelines on how to interview and select a Newfie breeder. Look for one who wants to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Newfoundland puppy varies depending on his place of origin, whether he is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Newfie might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Newfie may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy.
With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Newfie in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Newfies available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Newfie. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Newfies love all Newfies. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Newfoundland Club of America’s Rescue Network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Newfie rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Newfie home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Newfoundland, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Newfie to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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