Newfoundlands: Tender Titans

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Often confused with a black St. Bernard, which they are not, Newfoundlands, or Newfies, are extra large, massive behemoths of canines that are coincidently in the habit of saving lives on a regular basis. So, you say, a St. Bernard. Only if a St. Bernard has webbed feet and swims like Neptune himself. Newfies are insanely strong for a dog breed, able to pull over 2000 pounds (that’s a full ton), rescue grown men who fall overboard during storms, and break through feet of ice to grab a drowning child in hypothermia-inducing waters and never once puncture the skin with his great maw. Yes, these are impressive and amazing dogs, and they commit impressive and amazing acts because the instinct has been bred into them.

Newfies originated in Newfoundland, Canada, where they were used by fisherman to really be an extra pair of hands, or paws, and go where men could not. They would take out fishing nets and bring them back in, heavy with fish; they were the rescuer when someone fell overboard; they were the Clydesdale-like power that pulled huge sleds laden with mail or equipment; they were used to pull lumber and, during World War 1, they pulled supplies and munitions in blizzard conditions through Alaska and the Aleutians.

Their greatest exploits, however, are when they save the lives of drowning and shipwreck victims. There are many tales of their bravery and power, like the one that awarded a Newfie a medal: in 1919, a stalwart Newfoundland dog pulled a lifeboat brimming with 20 people to safety, by clamping his powerful jaws onto the lead line and paddling them to shore. An unnamed Newfie is credited for saving Napoleon Bonaparte’s life when he was knocked overboard from rough seas. Storm, hail, sleet, or rain, nothing stops this titanic fur ball from doing his job. And that whole ‘looks like a black St. Bernard thing’? Well, it’s actually the other way around. After an epidemic of distemper nearly obliterated the St. Bernard population in the Switzerland, the hospice monks sent away for Newfies, who resembled them, to rebuild the stock. The modern Labrador Retriever is also descended from the Newfie.

With an oily and thick double overcoat to keep him dry when he’s in water, the Newfoundland also has fully webbed feet, which help him displace large amounts of water when he swims. Males can weigh in at 130-160 pounds, and females at 100-120 pounds. They grow anywhere around 22-28 inches at the shoulder. Monster-sized bones offer him mass and weight, while his heavy musculature allows him to charge through rough tides and currents. A barrel-chest cradles the gigantic lung capacity allowing him to stay in water for extended periods of time, which he very much likes to do. Newfies sport loose jowls, which do cause him to slobber a lot, but they make sure he can easily breathe through the water when carrying something in his mouth, too. The Newfoundland dog does not doggy paddle as most other breeds; instead he uses a modified breast stroke, where his paws push out and down in a controlled and effortless manner.

Known Health Issues
Newfies are susceptible to hip and elbow dysplasia, which are malformed hip and elbow joints or sockets that may eventually cause extreme arthritis and even lameness. They are also prone to cystinuria, an hereditary illness that causes calculi stone to form in the bladder, which can lead to blockage. Subvalvular aortic stenosis, another genetic disorder, is a rather common defect that affects the heart valves, and can force sudden death at a young age.

The Newfie is a gentle giant with a sweet disposition, very kind, patient, benevolent, and loyal. He is also a brave beast, exceptionally good with small children, and makes a fine watchdog. As all dogs, he needs to be socialized and trained young, but his personality is such that he is easy to train. They are slower than most dogs in movement due to their great size, but he isn’t lazy. In fact, he needs a good deal of exercise to keep his massive frame limber and well worked. Newfies are intelligent, generous, calm, and trustworthy. They shed copious amounts, however, and need to have their undercoat fully brushed out twice a year. The undercoat refuse is literally the size of the dog. Again, they slobber, and they need their human contact. They are a poor choice for an apartment, and their titanic size makes them unsuitable for many small houses, too. To be fair to the dog, one would need a large home, preferably with access to a swimming area, and a big back yard. Owners would also need to be prepared for lost of drool and grooming. Given these things, though, a Newfoundland will be an excellent, safe addition to the family and he’ll keep you safe, in return.

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