The Best Large Dog Breed for Families with Special Needs
Newfoundland Dogs: The Unique and Intelligent Dog Breed
Newfoundland dogs are a large breed of dog known for their unique physical features and friendly temperament. They feature prominently in popular culture, from Disney's "Peter Pan" movie to the cartoon "Paw Patrol". These dogs have served important roles and have a long history of as a working breed. Let’s find out what makes the Newfoundland the best large dog breed for children, families members with special needs and the elderly.
Origin of Newfoundland Dogs
Newfoundland dogs originated from the island of Newfoundland, which is located off the eastern coast of Canada. The breed is believed to have been developed through a combination of native dogs and European dog breeds such as the Great Pyrenees and the Saint Bernard.
Newfies were bred for their working abilities and their excellent swimming skills. They were originally used to help fishermen in the harsh waters of the North Atlantic, pulling in fishing nets and even rescuing crew members who had fallen overboard.
As an offshoot of their role as a hard working water dog, they became popular as pets because of their friendly and calm personality traits. By the early 1800s, these gentle giants had been exported to England, where they became known as the “nanny dog”.
Colors and Breed Standards
Newfoundland dogs have a coat that is thick and oily. It repels water and keeps them warm in arctic temperatures. It is a double layer coat with fine down that grows close to the skin and a longer top coat that covers it. They shed. A LOT. Coat maintenance is a necessity. Mats can develop quickly even with diligent brushing, especially if your Newfie plays outside a lot like ours does.
In order to maintain the genetic uniqueness of the breed, the American Kennel Club (AKC) has set specific standards for breeding Newfoundland dogs. Male dogs must be at least 28 inches tall and weigh between 130-150 pounds, and females must be at least 26 inches tall and weigh between 100-120 pounds. They recognize black, brown, grey and Landseer (white/black) as official colors.
Solid black is the most common color, followed by brown. Grey is much less common and so are the unique white and black Landseer.
The Landseer is white and black. The ideal coloration is black head, rump and tail tip with the rest of the body white.
Newfoundland dogs are described as gentle giants because they just are, I’ve never met an aggressive Newfie (but I’m sure they’re out there). They are affectionate and loyal, making them great companions for families.
They have a patient demeanor and are often very tolerant of small children and other animals. Newfies are unruffled by our grandchildren with special needs, Bear Henry patiently gets pulled, pushed, jumped on and listens to non-stop screaming without a single complaint. And he loves every minute of it.
Newfoundland dogs are versatile and are used for a variety of tasks. They are strong swimmers and are still called upon to help with water rescues (they are the official dog of the US Coast Guard) and fishing. Their strong muscular build and thick coat make them ideal for working in any type of cold, wet conditions.
Newfoundland dogs also make excellent draft dogs and are often used to pull carts or sleds. They are able to carry heavy loads for long distance and thrive on this type of work.
Newfies drink a lot of water. Gallons per day. And they can overheat in temperatures we still think are chilly.
Always have plenty of high quality H2O available for them.
Being a Service Dog
Newfoundland dogs make great service animals because of their friendly and loyal personalities. They have a strong desire to please their owners and are easily trained, making them a joy to work with. These attributes make them particularly well-suited for tasks such as assisting disabled individuals or working with children. Bear Henry is Raz’s service dog and assisted him with walking & stability during his prolonged illness. Indie trained him with help from YouTube videos and lots of articles.
Raz has been terminally ill for most of the time we’ve had Bear Henry in our lives. He serves as a barometer for Indie to be alerted to anything wrong with Raz. He will attach himself to Raz’s side if his oxygen levels get too low or he senses something is wrong. We have no doubt he could be trained to sniff out illness, assist severely impaired individuals and provide a level of comfort and care to the elderly that is extraordinary in a dog breed.
Newfoundland dogs are also great guardian dogs due to their size and strength. They are capable of defending their owners if needed, but are not typically aggressive animals. They are often described as a protective breed that will make an effort to protect their owner's home and family….our experience is that they are more bark than bite. Bear will stand his ground and sounds fierce when he barks, but he’ll avoid a direct confrontation if he can.
Newfies are able to form strong bonds with children and are often used to help look after them. There are many stories of Newfoundland dogs standing guard over sleeping children or intervening when a child is in danger. We’ve personally witnessed Bear Henry herd the children away from something he perceives as a threat.
Here’s a great example, Bear Henry was playing in the backyard with a half dozen of our grandchildren over at our son’s house. The neighbors were having work done in their yard and there was one particular worker that Bear Henry didn’t want near the babies. He would place his body between the kids and the fence, moving the babies away from the fence line if they got too close. Each time the worker approached the fence Bear growled and barked intensely at him. Our daughter in law went out to see what he was growling at and approached the fence to look. Bear Henry used his nose to push her away from the fence and herded her over to center of the yard with his rounded up group of toddlers. 😍
Lifespan and Health
Newfoundland dogs typically have an average lifespan of 8-10 years. Unfortunately, they are prone to certain health problems, such as hip and elbow dysplasia, heart problems, and certain types of cancer. Food choice is critical to avoid these issues. Grains are the enemy of a Newfie. They are highly susceptible to allergic reactions to corn, wheat and soy….all core ingredients in most dog foods. Grain free, high protein kibble mixed with raw foods is how we feed our Newfie. It’s expensive, but he’s worth every penny. Feed them 1x a day in adulthood….they like to eat and have a tendency to really pack on the pounds if they are spayed or neutered.
Choosing a Newfie
Find a reputable breeder if you want a pure bred Newfie. Plan on spending around $1000 for a puppy, maybe more with crazy prices we have now on everything. Don’t want to spend that much? Go for a mix.
Best Newfie Mixes
For the love of all that is holy…stop mixing everything with poodles. Standard poodles are not the end all of mixers and we would never consider mixing them due to the significant difference in temperament. It makes their coat a bigger nightmare than it already is, they still shed and they lose the majesty of their appearance in our opinion.
#1 - Great Pyrenees or St. Bernard
Both dogs are close cousins. Go for a NewfiePyr if you want a working livestock dog and St. Bernard for the more classic Newf personality. Great Pyrenees mixes will have the tendency to wander more and test boundaries, they are more independent than Newfoundlands tend to be.
#2 - Golden Retriever or Labrador Retriever
This mix will bring down the size of the dog a bit, while still holding the desirable personality characteristics.
Newfoundland dogs are a truly unique breed that have earned a special place in the hearts of dog lovers everywhere. After owning one, we’re hopelessly in love. Bear Henry is truly a core part of our family and we wish we had left him intact so we could find him a wife.