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Get to Know the Newfoundland: A Gentle Giant Dog Breed

His grizzly bear looks are misleading -- this large dog breed is more like a big Teddy bear.

 |  May 19th 2014  |   1 Contribution


The Newfoundland may look like a grizzly bear, but he's more like a teddy bear. This gentle giant is the sweetest of dogs, only getting tough if his family is threatened. No wonder he's among the most popular of the so-called giant breeds.

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Newfies have huge heads. Black and white Newfoundland by Shutterstock

More interesting things about Newfoundlands

  • The Newfoundland may be confused with several other giant breeds, but the Newfie is always solid black or brown, or white with black. He may be confused with the Labrador or Flat-coated Retrievers, but the Newfoundland is much larger, with a heavier coat and especially a more massive head.
  • The Newfoundland was developed on the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, in the 18th century. The first ones may have come from Great Pyrenees dogs crossed with black English Retrievers and possibly some Husky-type dogs. The result was an all-purpose, cold-water-loving dog who could haul fishing nets through water and even save people who fell in. On land, they served as draft dogs and pack animals.
  • Black and white Newfs are called Landseers, named after the 19th-century artist Edwin Landseer, who often painted them.

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"Lion, a Newfoundland Dog" by Edwin Landseer. Image by Google Cultural Institute, via Wikimedia Commons

  • European visitors to Canada took specimens back to England. Shortly thereafter, numbers dropped in North America and American breeders had to replenish their stock with English Newfoundlands.
  • The most famous Newfoundland was a dog named Seaman who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their Corps of Discovery expedition. A collar believed to have been Seaman's bears the inscription: "The greatest traveler of my species. My name is SEAMAN, the dog of captain Meriwether Lewis, whom I accompanied to the Pacific ocean through the interior of the continent of North America." Seaman was stolen by a native American tribe during their journey, but Lewis sent armed men to kill the thribes unless Seaman was returned. Unlike the many dogs the expedition's men ate during their journey, Seaman was spared. Seaman is the mascot of Lewis & Clark College.

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A statue of Seaman the dog and York from the Lewis and Clark expedition stands in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo by poster, Wikimedia Commons

  • The AKC recognized the Newfoundland in 1886.
  • A famous epitaph written by Lord Byron for his Newfoundland reads: "Near this spot are deposited the remains of one who possessed beauty without vanity, strength without ferocity, and all the virtues of man without his vices."
  • Napoleon Bonaparte was reportedly saved from drowning by a Newfoundland.
  • A Newfoundland named Swansea Jack was named the "dog of the century" after rescuing 27 people from drowning in Wales.

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Little girl and Newfoundland by Shutterstock

  • J. M. Barrie's pet Newfoundland was the inspiration for Nana, the dog in his story Peter Pan.
  • Newfs have appeared in the films Must Love Dogs and Police Academy 2.
  • A Newfoundland named Gander was awarded the Dickin Award for dying a hero in World War II. He grabbed a hand grenade thrown by the enemy and rushed back with it into their midst, where it exploded.

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Brown Newfoundland by Shutterstock

  • Two Newfoundlands have won Best in Show at the Westminster dog show, in 1984 and in 2004.
  • The Newfoundland is the 37th most popular AKC breed, up from 46th a decade ago.
  • Owners include Lord Byron, Samuel Adams, Meriwether Lewis, Ulysses F. Grant, Rutherford Hayes, Emily Dickinson, Robert F. Kennedy, and Richard Wagner.

Do you own a Newfoundland? Have you spent time with one? Let's hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you'd like us to write about, let us know that, too!

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron's Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier

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