what is a newfoundland dog

What is a Newfoundland Dog? Breed Characteristics and History. Are They a Good Family Pet?

Newfoundlands, or “Newfies,” are large dogs that are often called gentle giants. These dogs are famous for specializing in water rescue and slobbery kisses! The Newfoundland is a working dog. 

Their bear-like appearance may seem intimidating, but these gentle dogs are known for their loyalty and sweet disposition. They were bred for pulling carts and water rescue. 

newfoundland dog facts

A Newfoundland’s calm and loving nature makes them great family pets, and they are commonly known as a patient ‘nanny dog’ for young children. 

Just remember these large dogs are strong and still an animal so you need to always supervise your children closely if you have a Newfie in the family!

History of the Newfoundland Dog

True to its name, the Newfoundland dog, as it’s known today, originated in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador in the late 1700s. 

They were originally bred to pull carts. Their large size and immense strength allowed them to pull heavy loads for long distances. 

History of the Newfoundland Dog

 They also worked alongside European fishermen, helping to haul the fishermen’s nets out of the ocean. 

Their double coat and large lung capacity made them excellent water rescue dogs, and they could be easily found working off the coast of Newfoundland. 

With their many uses and sweet temperament, their popularity quickly grew.

On the Brink of Extinction

In the late 1700s, a law was passed that restricted one dog per household. This law was put in place to protect the sheep population from free-roaming dogs. 

Because of this, the breed was close to extinction at the beginning of the 20th century. 

Fortunately, the breed was quickly brought back to life by the reputable dog breeder Harold Macpherson.

Rich Ancestry of the Newfoundland

The Newfoundland breed dates back to ancient times. Research suggests the breed goes as far back as the Viking era!

With such an ancient history, the breed’s earliest origins fall upon speculation, but there are some theories.

Developed from Black Bear Dogs

This theory aligns with the Viking era’s origin. Archeologists from the 1950s uncovered large dog skeletal remains on a Viking settlement in Northern Newfoundland. 

newfoundland dog temperament

They believed these dogs were brought to Newfoundland by the Vikings around 1000 A.D. Early writings have recorded the Vikings and their large “bear dogs.” 

Newfoundlands Evolved From Native Dogs

Newfoundlands may have originated from the native dogs of the Beothuk Indians. 

They commonly bred and used the Portuguese Water Dog, Tibetan Mastiff, and Great Pyrenees dogs to help with fishing and other duties.

Descendants of European Dog Breeds

Another plausible theory is that they were developed from the interbreeding of European dogs. They then came to Newfoundland alongside European explorers in the 15th century.

The Saint John’s Water Dog

A more recent predecessor to the Newfoundland is the St. John’s Water Dog. 

This breed originated in Newfoundland and Labrador from crossbreeding dogs brought to Newfoundland by European fishermen. 

Variations of the breed led to the creation of the Newfoundland and the Labrador Retriever. 

Newfoundland Dog Breed Classification

The American Kennel Club recognized Newfoundlands in 1886. The AKC divides breeds into seven groups based on their conformation, characteristics, and abilities. 

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The seven groups are Sporting, Non-sporting, Herding, Terrier, Toy, Working, and Hound. Newfoundlands were placed in the working group.

Newfoundland Working Group Characteristics

This group consists of 31 breeds of dogs that were originally bred to assist their owners in pulling sleds or carts, water rescue, and guarding property. 

Below are some common characteristics of a working dog breed such as the Newfoundland.

  • Intelligent
  •  Large 
  •  Powerful
  •  Watchful
  • Alert
  •   Naturally Protective
  •  Active
  •  Loyal 

How Big are Newfoundland Dogs?

Newfoundlands are considered a giant breed. A female Newfie generally weighs between 100 and 120 pounds, and a male Newfoundland can weigh as much as 150 pounds! 

With their massive head, large size, and solid black fur, you can see how giant dogs may resemble black bears.

How Tall Does a Newfie Get?

An adult male Newfoundland can reach 28 inches tall at the shoulder and can be taller than a human when standing on its hind legs. 

Fortunately, despite their sheer size and the fact that they resemble a black bear, Newfies have a naturally sweet disposition.

Newfoundland Coat Characteristics

A Newfoundland has a unique double coat that allows it to spend long periods of time in cold waters comfortably. 

Its oily outer coat is water resistant, while its undercoat is soft and thick, protecting the Newfie from cold weather. Their thick coat is medium-length and can be straight or wavy. 

A Newfoundland can have a black, brow, gray, or black and white coat. Sir Edwin Landseer was an English painter during the 18th century who became well known for his paintings of animals. 

One of his most famous paintings was of a black and white Newfoundland. The black and white variety of Newfoundland is now called Landseers after the famous artist. 

How to Care For a Newfie’s Coat

It’s no doubt that a Newfoundland’s heavy coat requires a lot of maintenance. They shed all year round and require regular grooming to keep their undercoat healthy. 

Daily brushing with a long-toothed comb can help reduce shedding and keep a Newfie’s coat knot-free between baths.

Newfoundland Health Concerns 

They are beautiful and powerful, but this large breed of working dog is still susceptible to various health issues. 

Listed below are the most common serious health problems that a Newfie can face.

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia, 
  • Heart disease such as subvalvular stenosis, 
  • Gastric torsion. 

Minor health issues include cataracts, cherry eye, and von Willebrand’s Disease. 

It’s a good idea to consult with your veterinarian on how to recognize these conditions at your Newfie’s first veterinary visit. 

Routinely Check Your Newfoundlands Ears

Their love for the water and thick floppy ears means Newfoundlands are prone to ear infections. It’s a good idea to check their ears regularly for signs of infection, which can include:

  • Redness
  • Brown or black exudate
  • Foul odor
  • Scratching 

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s time to visit your veterinarian. It’s also a good idea to consult your vet on proper ear cleaning and maintenance at your Newfie’s first appointment. 

Keeping your Newfoundland on a regular ear cleaning schedule will help to avoid potential infections.

How Should You Bathe a Newfoundland?

Typically, a Newfoundland should be bathed every one to two months or when necessary. 

It’s essential not to over-bathe a Newfie as this can dry out its oily outer coat and cause skin problems. 

Why You Should Never Shave a Newfie

Shaving a dog with a thick, double coat may seem like a simple solution to help cut down on shedding or keep a Newfie cool in the summer, but this does the opposite! 

Shaving a Newfie’s thick coat interferes with its natural ability to control its body temperature and can cause skin issues. A shaved Newfie will still shed the same amount, just shorter hairs.

Newfoundland Temperament

The AKC considers the Newfoundland dog’s sweet disposition its most important characteristic. 

A Newfie is a calm and patient dog, making it an excellent nanny dog for young children if you have the ability to keep a good eye on them. 

They are the true definition of gentle giants and make wonderful family pets. 

Training a Newfoundland

Newfoundlands are loyal and eager to please, which makes them easily trainable. 

It’s rare to see an aggressive Newfie as they have a naturally sweet temperament and are social with people and other dogs. 

However, early socialization is essential for any dog breed, and it’s always a good idea to start obedience training in puppyhood.

Newfoundland Exercise Requirements

Newfies are powerful working dogs and excellent swimmers, but they are happy to be couch potatoes. 

Daily exercise for the breed is essential for their health, but a quick thirty to sixty-minute romp or swim will do the trick. 

 What to Feed a Newfie

This is another important topic to discuss with your veterinarian at your Newfie’s first visit. Generally, an adult Newfoundland diet can be between 4 to 5 cups of high-quality dry food a day! 

Feeding a diet labeled for large breed dogs or puppies is recommended. 

It’s important to feed several smaller meals throughout the day and avoid feeding one large meal, as this can cause gastrointestinal upset and possible gastric torsion.

Newfoundland Lifespan

Unfortunately, as with many giant breeds of dog, Newfoundlands only live about 8 to 10 years. 

Regular exercise and keeping up with routine veterinary visits can help them live longer, potentially up to 15 years!

Purchasing a Newfoundland Puppy From a Breeder

It’s exciting to add a new member to your household, especially a puppy! However, it’s important to research and be sure you’re buying a puppy from a responsible breeder. 

Some breeders and puppy mills treat their animals poorly and breed dogs with known health issues.

Ask your veterinarian or research the AKC’s breed referral resources to find reputable breeders. 

A good breeder will guarantee your puppy’s health and have medical information and health certificates for the parents of your Newfoundland puppy. 

How Much Does a Newfoundland Puppy Cost?

If you choose to purchase a Newfie from a breeder, you can expect to spend between $1,000 and $3,000. 

Check your Local Shelter or Rescue

When adopting a dog from the shelter, you are not only getting a companion at a fraction of the cost but also providing a dog with a second chance at life. 

There are many Newfoundland rescues, and they will help match you with your ideal companion. 

A shelter or rescue group can give you detailed information on each dog’s personality and medical history. 

You can have “meet and greets” with a prospective match where you can introduce the dog to your family and other pets to ensure it will be a good fit. 

When you adopt a Newfie, it will already be spayed or neutered and up to date on all vaccinations. Adopting an older dog means it may already be potty-trained!

Famous Newfoundland Dogs

The Newfoundland’s versatility, loyalty, and strong desire to work has brought the breed fame and acknowledgment throughout history. 

Sergeant Gander

Sergeant Gander was a Newfoundland dog who became a mascot to the Royal Rifles infantry regiment of Canada in World War II. 

He was known to charge enemies on the battlefield and guard wounded soldiers. His last act of courage was during the Battle of Hong Kong. 

Sergeant Gander was killed when he picked up a live enemy grenade and carried it away from a group of wounded soldiers, saving their lives. 

For his bravery, he was awarded the Dicken Medal, which honors the work of animals during World War II. 

The Gander Heritage Memorial Park is named after him and displays a statue of Gander along with the soldiers of the Royal Rifles regiment. 


This famous Newfie was a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. 

He accompanied the famous explorers on their first expedition from the Mississippi River to the Pacific coast and back. 

The trip took three years, and Seaman was the only animal to survive the grueling journey. 


Nana is a St. Bernard in Disney’s film Peter Pan. She plays the role of the nanny dog to the young children. However, in the original play, Nana was a Newfoundland.

Newfoundland Dog Names

Ok, when you have such a special dog as a Newfoundland as part of the family you must have a great name for them! 

Here is a short list of some popular Newfoundland dog names to choose from.

  • Alaska
  • Amos
  • Bella
  • Brooke
  • Charlie
  • Dixon
  • Fiona
  • Jett
  • Lake
  • Misty
  • Tank
  • Winston

A Newfound Dog Short Story

One of my early childhood memories is of a giant black Newfoundland dog by grandparents had when they lived in Newfoundland Canada of all places!

This dog was huge, at least it seemed that way to me as a young child of 10 years old. But what I remember most about ‘Bear” was how friendly and playful he was with me!

I would lay down on the floor with him by my side and he would make funny noises and gently push me with his giant paws! He was playing a game with me!

We would kind of roll around on the floor together and we both were having a great time doing it. You could clearly see the joy in this dog as he found a friend in me.

Dinnertime with Bear

So you would think at dinnertime my grandparents would put Bear outside or in another room. But oh no! Bear literally almost had a seat at the table with us! 

Yes, he stayed on the floor but he was so big he could easily see over the top of the table while sitting there watching us eat!

The funny thing was that he wasn’t begging or rude trying to get our food at all! This dog was so calm and well mannered it was something else! He just enjoyed being there with us!

Of course, Bear probably knew that if he was well-behaved then when we were done eating dinner it would be his turn and he would also get some of our leftovers!

I will never forget those times with Bear. For those of you who are unsure if a big dog like a Newfoundland can be a good member of the family stop worrying about that.

My personal experience is that the Newfoundland makes one of the very best family dogs that will love you and enjoy being part of the family more so than many other breeds.

Related Newfoundland Questions

How can I learn more about the Newfoundland dog?

The Newfoundland Club of America is a great source for additional information about this amazing dog. Their website is filled with all types of fun facts about the Newfoundland dog breed.

The club dates all the way back to 1930 when they were formed to help promote and preserve this great breed.

They even offer events for the Newfoundland as well as breeder criteria and information.

Is the Newfoundland also a show dog?

Well, yes, they are often in shows and one of the favorites at that! 

But in addition to shows, there are many events for these dogs that include areas such as agility drills, dock diving, freestyle, search and rescue (SAR), and even tricks!

Most people have no idea how versatile and talented these giant dogs are. Search on Youtube and you will find many fascinating videos to see the Newfoundland dog talent showcased.

How big is the largest Newfoundland? 

Boomer is the world’s largest Newfoundland on record. He’s 7 feet long and 36 inches tall at the shoulder.

Is a Newfoundland bigger than a Great Dane? 

The Great Dane is bigger than a Newfoundland. A Newfie is longer and bulkier than a Great Dane. However, an adult male Great Dane weighs more and is taller than a Newfoundland. 

What’s the tallest breed of dog? 

The AKC recognizes the Irish Wolfhound as the tallest breed of dog. They stand almost 3 feet tall at the shoulder and up to 7 feet tall when standing on their hind legs!

Can a Newfoundland swim? 

Yes and very well! A Newfie can swim 1 to 2 mph and is powerful enough to pull adult men out of rough waters. 

How Intelligent are Newfoundlands? 

Newfoundlands are one of the most intelligent dog breeds.

Do Newfoundlands bark a lot? 

No, they are a generally quiet breed and are marked low on the AKC bark level chart. Keep in mind that this can be different for each individual dog.

Do Newfoundlands drool a lot? 

Ok, this is a common question because drooling is a recognized trait of the Newfoundland breed. 

Yes, some drool constantly, and some may hardly drool at all, but a Newfie that doesn’t drool would be rare! Just remember, drooling is just part of the charm of this dog breed.

Newfoundland Dogs are a Unique and Special Breed

The Newfoundland dog breed has a rich and noble history. They have proven to be intelligent, hardworking gentle giants throughout the centuries. 

These large dogs do require some special care, but they will repay you for your efforts with unwavering loyalty. 

If their sheer size doesn’t intimidate you, and you don’t mind wiping up puddles of drool, a Newfie may be the perfect dog for you!

what is a newfoundland dog breed for

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