Would a Newfoundland be a good selection as a service dog?
While the Labrador and golden retrievers are the types most used as service dogs, there are numerous breeds out there, one of which might be a better match for someone’s particular disability.
That is why, periodically, we will highlight different breeds. For people who need a larger-weight, taller dog, perhaps as a mobility aid, the Newfoundland might be considered. However, while this is a breed we love, you’ll find at the end of this article why we do not recommend this as a service dog.
But first some history, fun facts and a tribute to Tom and Suzanne Brown, who graciously sent us photos of their magnificent Newfie, “McKenzie,” for us to use.
Gee… that dog looks familiar:
If you’ve never seen a Newfoundland in “real life,” chances are you know this dog through one or both of the following ways: via the book, Peter Pan, or some of the famous paintings of Newfoundlands by artist Sir Edwin Henry Landseer.
In Peter Pan, you were introduced to a Newfoundland – who watched over Wendy Darling and her siblings. Often mistaken for a St. Bernard, the children’s “watch dog” was named, Nana.
Paintings of the magnificent Newfoundland dogs by Sir Edwin, gave rise to the name “Landseer” to distinguish between the black dogs and those with black and white coats. Some of his great paintings of the Landseer include: Newfoundland Dog Called Lion, Princess Mary and Favourite Newfoundland Dog, and perhaps his best known (shown above) A Distinguished Member of Humane Society.
The Landseer Newfoundland
In the United States and Great Britain, the black and white variety of the breed is considered a Newfoundland with a different coat configuration. In contrast to the solid colored Newfoundland generally seen, the Landseer has a white base coat and, typically, a black head, or black head with white muzzle. Many also have a black saddle and rump area. (Some European countries consider that Landseer as a separate breed, claiming that they have longer legs, along with other subtle differences.)
How did the Newfoundland get it’s name?
The breed “Newfoundland” hails from an island by the same name, off the eastern coast of Canada. Where the dog originated and its purpose are useful in analyzing it as a potential service dog: the Newfie served the coastal area as a working dog.
How was the Newfoundland breed developed?
Newfoundlands were first shown at the national dog show in Birmingham, England, in 1860. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1886. During this period, investigators and breeders did their best to find the breed’s earliest records, without success. Modern analysis suggests that the breed descended from the Tibetan Mastiff. Given that the dog was used in Europe and known for its gentle disposition, stamina and ability to work, it is likely they came to the North American continent on trader ships from Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Developed to swim and save.
The Newfoundland has a heavy, muscular frame, a thick water-resistant coat and webbed paws. All of these features make Newfoundlands adept at swimming in cold waters, such as those along the Canadian coastline. The breed is an exceptional long-distance swimmer, and its primary role in Newfoundland was to haul in fishermen nets, carry boat lines to shore and retrieve anything that fell overboard – including people. Newfies are able athletes on land as well, and have been used to pull carts delivering milk and haul lumber. Their meritorious services included both World Wars. In WWI they served as mascots and messenger dogs; in WWII they delivered critical supplies, including food and ammunition, to soldiers in blizzard conditions, and were used for search and rescue.
Today, the Newfoundland is perhaps most famous due to their ability to rescue drowning swimmers. (See Blog: A Newfoundland Hero). In fact, they were once part of the required crew at lifeguard stations along the British coast and have been reintroduced in Italy to serve the same purpose.
It is fascinating to watch a Newfoundland in training “save” someone’s life who is drowning. Instinctively the breed will grip an unconscious person by the upper arm, so that his or her body turns over, the head facing upward. The breed has its own techniques when it comes to pulling people to shore. If a swimmer is unconscious, it instinctively grips a person by his/her upper arm so that the body rolls over on his/her back with their head out of the water. People who are conscious grab onto the dog, which will then tow the person to land.
So, back to our original question: Would a Newfoundland make a good service dog?
On the plus side, Newfoundlands, in spite of their massive size, are exceptionally mellow. In fact, they have been called “The Gentle Giant.” Weighing up to 150 pounds, the breed is larger than most children. In addition to the dog’s very mild, calm temperament, people who have severe mobility problems can easily use the dog’s size to help them balance. Likewise, the ability to pull someone in a wheelchair would be relatively effortless for most of these dogs.
In sum, their large size, stable temperament, and disposition as a working dog, all indicate that this breed might be an ideal match to someone with physical disabilities.
On the negative side, you have a dog that drools constantly, especially in warm weather. Due to its thick, heavy coat, it pants to cool down, which leads to an abundance of dribble. Another unhappy feature is the fact that larger dogs do not have the longevity of smaller dogs. Training a reliable service dog generally takes up to two years, and is costly. Most people, after such rigorous training (for the person as well as the dog) want to have a reliable canine partner for an additional 9-10 years. That is: 9 to 10 years after all the training is completed. Unfortunately, the average lifespan of the Newfoundland is about 8-10 years, giving the recipient two to four years less than he would have with a considerably smaller dog. Finally, big dogs eat a lot and, as we know, dog food is expensive, especially if you’re buying a high quality product.
We do not recommend the Newfoundland as a service dog. You might be surprised by this conclusion. Obviously, we love the “Newfie.” But, thanks to federal regulations, we can now bring our service dogs anywhere the public is allowed. It’s asking a lot for a restaurant and like places to accommodate such a massive dog. We, at My Magic Dog, feel that having a service dog is a great privilege. It’s taken many years for the public to understand that people with disabilities are people first – with disabilities second. Having the aid of a service dog should not be a means to upset people; rather the dog should be no more trouble than any other device which helps someone retain his or her independence. A service dog is a wonderful asset; and a smaller, well-trained service dog will almost always be welcomed, no matter where you go. Service dogs are trained to just glide in, under the table, and lie quietly, without being noticed and without disrupting other diners or the wait staff. But just try (as we have done!) to squeeze a full-grown Newfoundland under the bistro table at your local café!