Perhaps the world's most famous Newfoundland is Nana, the canine nursemaid in Peter Pan. Although fictional, she exemplifies the breed's love of children and life-saving instincts. With a history as a working dog on fishing boats in, yes, Newfoundland, the Newfie is one of the great water dogs (with webbed feet to prove it!) and still exhibits his prowess at water rescue.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

The Newfoundland is calm, sweet and friendly, especially towards children, but he can be protective if the situation calls for it. Although he's not a workaholic like some dogs, he enjoys activity, especially swimming. Canine sports in which the Newfoundland participate include obedience trials; draft, tracking and water tests; and carting and sledding. He's also an excellent companion for a hiker or backpacker and makes a super therapy dog, being just the right height for standing at a bedside.

Sounds great, right? Not so fast! The Newfoundland is a giant breed. At maturity, he will weigh 100 to 150 pounds. Giant breeds have the potential to develop serious orthopedic problems if they aren't raised carefully or if they come from irresponsible breeders, and they generally have a shorter lifespan than smaller dogs. If that doesn't faze you, a Newfoundland may well be your breed of choice.

As with any dog, early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent a Newfie from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase a Newfoundland puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people. Continue socializing your Newfoundland by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local shops and businesses.

Like any dog, Newfoundland puppies are inveterate chewers and because of their size can do a whole lot of damage. Don't give them the run of the house until they've reached trustworthy maturity. And keep your Newfoundland puppy busy with training, play and socialization experiences; a bored Newfie is a destructive Newfie.

Begin training as soon as you bring your Newfoundland puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size. Use positive reinforcement training techniques such as praise, play and food rewards. The gentle Newfie is a willing learner, and young puppies pick up new skills rapidly when they are encouraged to do so. If you plan to teach your Newfie to swim or do water rescue, let him start playing in water before he's 4 months old.

While you might think of him as an outdoor dog, nothing could be farther from the truth. Newfoundlands are devoted to their people. They should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, but when the family is home, the Newf should be with them. He should also be indoors when it's hot outside, being sensitive to heat.

The Newfoundland has a long, flat, double coat of black, brown, gray or Landseer (white with black markings). Using a steel comb and wire slicker brush, groom the coat at least a couple times a week to prevent mats and remove dead hair. Newfies shed, and regular brushing will help reduce the amount of hair floating around your house. Clean the ears, trim the nails weekly, and bathe the Newfoundland when he's dirty. Newfs drool, so get in the habit of carrying around a hand towel so you can wipe your dog's mouth as needed, especially after he eats or drinks.

Health Issues Common to Newfoundlands

In the hope of controlling the genetic diseases that already affect the breed and prevent any new ones from emerging, the Newfoundland Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in a program operated by the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC).

CHIC requires that breeders test all their breeding dogs for heart, eye, hip, and elbow diseases that are prevalent in the breed, and recommends dogs also be tested for a genetic kidney disease known as cystinuria.

All breeders should be able to show written documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) clearing your puppy's parents of hip and elbow dysplasia, heart disease, and cystinuria. PennHip certification of hips is also accepted.

Musculoskeletal Conditions

As might be predicted, given their large size, Newfs can suffer from a number of joint and structural problems. It's important that young, growing dogs be kept lean and not allowed to exercise too strenuously or eat too much, as this will lead to injuries and problems that can be crippling down the road. In fact, all Newfoundlands need to be kept lean, as obesity increases the chances they'll develop structural problems and makes them more painful when they do occur.

One such structural problem is the genetic hip deformity known as hip dysplasia. The head of the thigh bone doesn't fit properly into the hip socket, and over time the bone begins to wear away. The constant inflammation leads to arthritis. It's treated with surgery, usually total hip replacement, at the cost of thousands of dollars per hip. Untreated, the dog will suffer pain and lameness. Elbow dysplasia is a similar condition affecting the elbow.

It's impossible to know if a dog has hip or elbow dysplasia simply from examining him or watching him move. Nor can hip and elbow dysplasia be ruled out entirely just because the parents were free of the condition, although it reduces the risk. And a puppy's hips and elbows can't be evaluated; only at the age of two you can know if a dog is or isn't affected.

This condition can only be diagnosed by X-rays that then need to be evaluated by an orthopedic specialist. Each Newfoundland owner should have his dog's hips and elbows x-rayed at two years of age, regardless of whether or not he shows symptoms of lameness or stiffness.

Neurologic Conditions

Another breed-related structural problem affecting the Newfoundland is cervical vertebral instability (CVI), commonly called Wobbler's syndrome. Wobbler's is caused by a malformation of the vertebrae within the neck that results in pressure on the spinal cord. CVI leads to weakness and lack of coordination in the hindquarters and sometimes to complete paralysis. Symptoms can be managed to a certain extent in dogs that are not severely affected, and some dogs experience some relief from surgery, but the outcome is far from certain. While CVI is thought to be genetic, there is no screening test for the condition.

Cardiovascular Conditions

Their large size also puts quite a strain on the Newfoundland's heart. He's at risk for a number of conditions, including cardiomyopathy, which causes an enlarged heart. An annual heart exam is critical in catching these conditions early, and no dog with cardiomyopathy should ever be bred. The sad reality, however, is that a dog who tests fine one day can develop heart disease the next, and the puppy of two parents without heart disease can still develop it.

Gastrointestinal Conditions

Newfoundlands are also more likely than many breeds to bloat, a condition in which the stomach twists on itself, cutting off blood flow. Bloat strikes very suddenly and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums and lip licking, trying to throw up but without bringing anything up, and signs of pain. Bloat requires immediate veterinary surgery, and most dogs that have bloated once will bloat again. That means it's wise to opt for a procedure known as a gastropexy in that will keep the stomach from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure.

Urinary Conditions

Cystinuria is a genetic kidney defect that leads to the formation of bladder stones that are very difficult to manage with diet or medication and often requires surgery both to remove the stones from the bladder and to repair urinary blockages. There may be no advance signs that the dog is forming cystine stones, many veterinarians are unfamiliar with cystinuria and may mistake them for more common stones such as struvites. Urinary blockage is a life-threatening veterinary emergency.

Unfortunately, the current screening test for cystinuria is of limited use, as it frequently gives a false negative. It does not give false positives unless the dog is on a particular type of antibiotic at the time the urine sample is taken, however, so a dog that tests positive does, in fact, have the condition, even if he tested negative in the past or tests negative in the future. And there is no genetic screening test, so it's impossible to determine if a dog is a carrier or not.

A good breeder will be able to discuss how prevalent these and other conditions that have no genetic screening test are in her dogs' lines, and help puppy buyers make an informed decision about health risks to their dog.

Here's some additional information directly from the Newfoundland Club of America in regards to the conditions mentioned above:

"[Regarding] the description of cystinuria... The disorder occurring in the Newfoundland is a single gene recessive disorder for which there is a direct genetic test (i.e. The test detects the actual mutation, not a nearby marker). There is no ambiguity whatsoever regarding the test. When it occurs it is a serious clinical problem and it was discovered several years ago that there was a substantial frequency of the gene in the Newfoundland population. Breeders should certainly be aware of the genotype of their breeding stock and many breeders register the test findings with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). Given the availability of the genetic test, there is no need to ever produce the disorder. It is important that buyers are aware of this, as some less than responsible breeders may neglect testing.

While Dilated Cardiomyopathy certainly does occur in the Newfoundland, it is far from being the biggest concern for Newfoundland Breeders. Sub-Aortic Stenosis (SAS) is clearly the most important, a very serious problem that occurs with some frequency in the population. There is currently no genetic test from SAS and it appears to have a complex inheritiance, rendering the development of the test a difficult endeavor. Breeders should not breed Newfoundlands with any signs of SAS and should screen puppies with a Board-certified Veterinary Cardiologist. The OFA also keeps a cardiac registry for the Newfoundland breed.

It would probably be a good idea to mention the testing that the NCA recommends as a requirement (heart, Hip dyspasia, Elbow dysplasia, and cystinuria). These disorder are those designated to obtain a CHIC certification on your dog (the CHIC does not guarantee that the dog has been cleared, only that he has been tested). The Club also recomments CERF eye testing and thyroid testing, but those are not designations for the Newfoundland CHIC."

To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Newfoundland before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$6,000
Elbow Dysplasia High $1,500-$4,000
Cardiomyopathy High $500-$1,500
Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (Bloat) High $1,500-$7,000
Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia High $500-$2,000

6 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Newfoundland Puppy

If you've made the decision to purchase a Newfoundland, start your search for a good breeder on the website of the Newfoundland Club of America, which maintains a referral list of breeders; choose one who follows the club's Code of Ethics, which outline the responsibilities of its member breeders to the dogs they produce and the people who buy them.

Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing, and any breeder who says her lines are free of all these problems, or that they're not a concern, is either lying or knows almost nothing about Newfoundlands. Look for your puppy elsewhere.

Because the puppies are extremely appealing, be on the lookout for puppy millers and irresponsible breeders. They'll be very happy to cash your check or run your charge card, but not so happy to answer your questions about health testing and temperament in their dogs.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Newfoundlands aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Newfoundland can live to be 10 years old, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.

Puppy or adult, take your Newfoundland to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues, and in particular to watch out for the early signs of diabetes and skin problems, including ear infections.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Newfoundlands

Pet insurance for Newfoundlands costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Newfoundlands are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Newfoundlands are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Newfoundland is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.