What to Know About Newfoundlands

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on April 16, 2022
8 min read

Newfoundland dogs, or "Newfies" as they are affectionately nicknamed, were originally bred in Newfoundland, Canada to help fishermen pull in their nets and haul carts. Because of this, they are great swimmers and love to be around water. Despite their impressive size, they are friendly and sweet-tempered dogs who are so good with kids that they are sometimes referred to as "nanny dogs."

Physical characteristics. Male Newfoundlands weigh between 130 and 150 pounds and stand up to 28 inches high. Female Newfoundlands weigh between 100 and 120 pounds and stand up to 26 inches high. They are generally very muscular and have a double coat with a longer outer layer and a shorter undercoat. The Newfoundland's size is generally large.

The double coat keeps them warm in winter and cooler in the summer. The double coat also helps them to repel water while they are swimming and snow or ice in the cold winter environment for which they were originally bred.

Newfoundlands are black, grey, brown, or white-and-black. Many have a solid color, but some may also have patches of white on their chest, the tip of the tail, chin, or paws. White-and-black Newfoundlands usually have a black head, a black "saddle" or spot around the middle, and a black rear end with a white tail.

They are well-known for having large heads, usually with dark brown eyes. 

They also have webbed feet to help with swimming.

Newfoundland dog temperament. Newfoundlands are unique in that some people consider their gentle personality to be their most important trait. They are exceptionally sweet and gentle dogs who trust easily, learn quickly, and love being around children. They are also great with other dogs and love to be affectionate members of the family.

While the Newfoundland dog's personality is generally open and friendly, they will also alert you when a stranger is around. They may bark when a stranger comes by, but if they see you accept the new person, they will often warm up to them quickly. 

Newfoundland dogs have a medium energy level. They require some exercise and stimulation, but once they are tired out, they will be happy to cuddle up for the evening. 

They are often very loyal dogs and love being of service since they were bred as working dogs.

Newfoundland coat care. Since Newfies have a thick double coat, they need to be brushed about once a week. Pay special attention to the area around the tail and the ears. If they are not groomed and bathed regularly, they can start to smell bad.

Do not shave their coat. The coat is designed to keep them cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Shaving can lead to overheating in the summertime and can also cause sun damage to the dog's skin.

They shed a moderate amount, so be prepared to vacuum up some fur, especially in the warmer months. They also love water and mud, and their coat can absorb a lot of it. They may shake off when they get inside, so be sure to have a separate area for them to dry off where water and mud will not damage your belongings.

Other grooming needs. Make sure to trim your dog’s nails regularly to avoid tendon injuries and foot deformities.

You should also brush your dog’s teeth daily with pet toothpaste. As many as 66% of dogs over age 3 have gum disease, which can lead to losing teeth later in life.

Newfoundland diet. Large dogs can eat a lot, especially when they are carrying puppies. In a single year, a large breed dog will grow as much as a human grows in 20 years, so nutrition is extremely important.

Experts recommend using a large breed puppy dog food for Newfie puppies and adult dog food for adults. For puppy food, follow the guidelines on the packaging based on the weight and height of your puppy. If you can feel your dog's ribs easily, try feeding them more or ask your veterinarian for advice.

It is also important, though, not to overfeed your Newfoundland dog. Being overweight can cause joint and bone issues.

Just like humans, Newfoundland dogs need a balanced diet that includes protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals, in addition to plenty of water.

Newfoundland exercise. Newfies have a moderate amount of energy. They love swimming and going for walks with their owners. However, overexercising as a puppy can lead to health issues in an adult. A good guideline for puppy exercise is one minute of leashed exercise, like going for a walk, per week of age. So, if your puppy is 20 weeks old, take them for a 20-minute walk.

Keeping cool. Newfoundlands were bred for cold climates with long winters and plenty of snow and ice. They enjoy cooler weather. When it is hot out, make sure they have a cool and shady place to rest with plenty of water to drink and consider reducing their exercise. If a Newfie had its way, the windows would be open all the time—even in the dead of winter!

Vet care. If you have a puppy under the age of four months, you will need to bring them to the vet about once a month so they can get all their vaccinations at the appropriate age.

  • 6-8 weeks old: Distemper and parvovirus vaccines 
  • 10-12 weeks old: DHPP vaccine (distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus)
  • 16-18 weeks old: DHPP and rabies vaccines
  • 12-16 months old: DHPP and rabies vaccines

After receiving their initial vaccines, your dog will need to get the DHPP vaccine every 1-2 years and the rabies vaccine every 1-3 years.

There are also some optional vaccines for things like the flu, Lyme disease, or coronavirus that your vet may recommend depending on your lifestyle.

Make sure to give your dog flea and tick prevention medications as recommended by your vet. Heartworm prevention medication is also now recommended year-round. 

Some dogs get neutered or spayed as puppies, while others have the procedure once they are fully grown. Talk to your vet to find out the best time for your dog to get spayed or neutered. 

Over the age of four months, you may need to bring your puppy to the vet a few more times to ensure the dog is growing correctly.

After the age of one, dogs only need to go to the vet once per year. However, once they get into their senior years, some experts recommend twice-yearly vet visits to catch any health issues that come with aging before they become problematic.

The Newfoundland dog's life expectancy is between 8 and 10 years. Because they are large dogs, they may be prone to certain health conditions. 

Hip dysplasia. Like other large dog breeds, Newfoundlands often have joint issues like hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia. This occurs when the ball and socket of the joint do not fit together properly. It causes grinding and scraping that can lead to loss of cartilage and loss of movement in the joint.

To prevent hip dysplasia, make sure any breeder you use screens breeding dogs for hip dysplasia. This condition is largely genetic. By removing dogs with hip dysplasia from the breeding pool, the risk of puppies having it is reduced.

Feeding your Newfoundland puppy food that is specifically for large breed dogs is also important for preventing joint dysplasia. If the dog grows too quickly, skeletal problems can develop. The large breed puppy foods ensure your dog gets the right nutrition and grows at the best rate for their health.

Additionally, both too much and too little exercise can contribute to this condition. Too little can cause obesity, which is a risk factor for joint dysplasia in dogs. Too much can stress the joints, leading to the same condition.

Cystinuria. Newfoundland dogs are also prone to developing cystinuria. In this condition, an overabundance of the amino acid cystine is present in the body. This gets excreted in urine, but it leaves small deposits in the kidney, bladder, and ureter, leading to the possibility of stones throughout the urinary system. These stones can cause pain and inflammation.

Small stones often pass without any disruption. However, large stones or multiple stones occurring at one time can block your dog's urinary tract, leading to serious health problems. Stones can also lead to frequent urinary tract infections. If your dog appears to be in pain when urinating, or you notice blood while they are urinating, take them to the vet.

Some Newfoundland dogs are diagnosed with cystinuria as young as 6 months old. The treatment options include dietary changes, a procedure to break up or dissolve the stones, or surgery for larger or more obstructive stones.

To prevent cystinuria, breeding dogs should get genetic screening to make sure they are not a carrier of the recessive trait that causes this condition. If a dog has just one gene for cystinuria, it will not have the condition, but when paired with another dog that is also a carrier, the resulting puppies may have the condition.

Subvalvular aortic stenosis (SAS). This condition causes narrowing of the arteries that lead to the heart in dogs. A mild case is usually not problematic. However, if it is moderate or severe, it can cause your dog's heart to work too hard. This condition is most common in large breed dogs like Newfoundlands. The symptoms of this condition are usually present shortly after birth for more serious cases, and within the first year of life for milder cases.

The symptoms include weakness, fainting, and trouble breathing. Symptoms usually only show up in moderate to severe cases. In the most extreme cases, sudden death can occur. Luckily, dogs with this condition don't seem to realize they have a condition and typically act normal when not displaying symptoms.

Treatment includes beta-blockers, which help the heart to work less intensely. Surgery may also be an option depending on your dog's case.

This condition is genetic. Dogs with any case of SAS, even an asymptomatic mild one, should not be used for breeding to prevent future cases.

Newfoundlands are descended from a breed that is no longer recognized as existing—the St. John's water dog, also called the lesser Newfoundland dog. These dogs were indigenous to the island of Newfoundland. They were mixed with Portuguese mastiffs that had been brought to Newfoundland in the 1600s, resulting in the large head and bigger size of today's Newfoundland dogs. 

Genetic testing has revealed that Newfoundland dogs are closely related to other Canadian dog breeds, especially retriever breeds like Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers because the St. John's water dog was a foundational breed for other Canadian retrievers.

Newfies were working dogs who helped fishermen haul in nets and haul carts around the docks. They also often helped with water rescue efforts. Today, there is a test Newfoundlands can take to become certified as water rescue dogs.

There are also many historical accounts of loyal Newfies protecting their owners in battle or other life-threatening situations. For example, the Lewis and Clark Expedition took along a Newfoundland named Seaman. The dog reportedly protected the group from bears and buffalo along the way.

To this day, a Newfoundland dog is a good companion for families who have a lot of love to give to an affectionate and loyal dog, and who don't mind a little mess once in a while.