PetMD Editorial
Written by:
PetMD Editorial
Published: March 20, 2009

Roundly considered to be one of the most intelligent dog breeds in the world, the Newfoundlander is an ideal companion. In addition to being an excellent pack carrier and guardian for children and families, the Newfie is unmatched at water rescues. In modern times, it is brought along for hiking and camping expeditions, but is also still held in high esteem by rural families in need of a working dog.

Physical Characteristics

The Newfoundland is truly a massive dog in all respects. Standing at an average of 26 to 28 inches in height and weighing from 120 to 150 pounds, the powerful, heavily boned Newfoundland is strong enough to drag a drowning man from a turbulent sea. The massive head is set atop a thick and muscular neck, and a body both strong and broad in size. The Newfie's body is longer than it is tall, and its gait is effortlessly powerful, with a good drive and reach that covers much ground in few steps.

The Newfoundland's coat is generally black, but can also be brown or gray, and may have additional white markings. The Landseer coat, which is white with black markings, is also a common coloration. It is comprised of a dense, soft undercoat that keeps the dog warm and dry at the skin, and a medium length water resistant outer coat that is straight or wavy and coarse to the touch. The undercoat is less dense during warm months, when the Newfie will shed much of its hair.

Personality and Temperament

The Newfoundland's gentle and intelligent expression reflects it amiability and friendliness toward humans. It is regarded as one of the most intelligent dog breeds; as such, it is easily trained and enjoys the process of working with humans.

As family dogs go, the Newfoundland breed is at the top. Ever patient and loyal, it is more likely that the dog will be abused by the children in its keep than for the dog to ever harm a child. In all respects, this breed is the best suited for children.

Although aggression is never an outward trait of the Newfoundland, it will guard its human family and will position itself between the threatening intruder and the people it is protecting, exhibiting aggression only when necessary. 


Because of its heavy coat, the Newfie does not fare well in hot weather. It should be kept outdoors only in cold or temperate weather, and in summer, the coat may be trimmed for neatness and comfort, and brushed daily to manage excess shedding and prevent the coat from matting. The dog is at its best when it can move freely between the yard and the house, but still needs plenty of space indoors to stretch properly. Daily exercise is essential, as is typical with all work dogs.

Although its relaxed appearance might indicate that this breed would prefer to lounge around, the Newfie has an abundance of energy that needs to be spent in order for the dog to be at its top shape. Regular walks and romps in the park or in a large yard will keep the Newfie fit and content. Being large dogs, they do have larger appetites, but care must be taken not to overfeed them, as they can easily become overweight, stressing the organs extremities and shortening their lifespans.

In the summer, the Newfoundlander is more likely to drool, since it must pant more to keep its body temperature down, owing to its size and coat. Summertime water activities are ideal, since the Newfie excels at swimming, but keep in mind that even in the winter this breed benefits from a brisk swim. Cold water swimming is what they are built for, after all. According to some breeders, the Landseers are more active, thus requiring more exercise. In fact, it is ideal for families who enjoy camping, fishing, or hiking with an enthusiastic participant and helpful furry companion.


The Newfoundland, which has an average lifespan of 8 to 10 years, is prone to serious health conditions such as gastric torsion, Sub-Aortic Stenosis (SAS), cystinuria, canine hip dysplasia (CHD), epilepsy, and elbow dysplasia, and minor issues like von Willebrand's Disease (vWD), cataract, Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD), entropion, ectropion, cruciate ligament rupture. To identify some of these issues, a veterinarian may recommend cardiac, eye, hip, and elbow tests for this breed of dog. Additionally, some Newfoundlands are extremely sensitive to anesthesia, and most do not tolerate heat well.

History and Background

As the name suggests, the Newfoundlander hails from the coast of Newfoundland, where it was a popular working dog, both on land and water. There are no records to support the breeds true beginnings, though it is generally assumed that the Newfoundland can be traced to the Tibetan Mastiff. Amongst its chores, the Newfie would carry heavy loads for its masters as draft and pack animals, tow lines from ship to land in choppy seas as ship dogs, and rescue errant swimmers.

The Newfie was so accomplished in its ability to save the drowning that at one time they were required at lifeguard stations along the British coast. Indeed, to this day, they are remarked upon for being watchful of swimmers, for not allowing their people to go too deep, and for pulling people back to shore when they have gone too far.

As techniques go, the Newfoundlander has an intuitive sense of how to save the drowning. It allows itself to be held onto if the person is conscious, or if unconscious, it grips the person by the upper arm, so that the body rolls onto its back, head out of water, and tows it back to shore. The Newfie's web feet and swimming technique as well make it an exceptional swimmer. Rather than swimming in the usual "doggie paddle," it does the breast stroke. So common was the breed as a ship companion that historians note its role in saving the life of Napoleon Bonaparte when he fell into the dark sea on his return to France from Elba. Often, the only way ships could get to land when the sea was too choppy to cross was to send a Newfie to swim with a small boat or line.

Their work on land was just as impressive. Their powerful muscles could pull great loads for long distances, and they could work independently, with teams, and with or without human guidance. Noted tasks include hauling lumber, delivering mail, and transporting foods. The Newfoundlander could accomplish tasks that were difficult for both man and beast. History notes that a Newfoundlander named Scannon accompanied Americans Lewis and Clark during their expedition to the Pacific Northwest.

The Newfoundlander was given its name in 1775, when enthusiast George Cartwright applied the name. The "Landseer" Newfoundland, or the white and black variety, was given its name in homage to artist Sir Edwin Landseer, who often featured the black and white Newfoundlander in his paintings. The most famous Newfoundlander is perhaps Nana, the nurse dog for the Darling family in the story of Peter Pan.

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