The Newfoundland as a Service Dog?

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A Beautiful Newfoundland: McKenzie

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.

Tom & Suzie Brown with their dog MacKenzie

Tom & Susie Brown with their dog McKenzie

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.

A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society exhibited 1838 by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer 1802-1873

A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society by Sir Edwin Landseer

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.)

McKenzie

McKenzie

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.

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McKenzie

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.

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McKenzie

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!

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Thank you McKenzie for being our cover model today!

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24 Responses to The Newfoundland as a Service Dog?

  1. Gloria Yarina February 25, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

    Wonderful article with a recap of the pros, cons and conclusion, terrific pictures, great expressive faces with a regal look and than an awe, how adorable, ready to hug!

  2. Mary E. Trimble February 25, 2015 at 2:10 pm #

    Thank you for this interesting information. The Newfoundland sounds like a dog we’d love…except for the drooling. Our first Lab, a yellow, drooled. Our Chocolate Lab doesn’t drool at all. I wonder why.

  3. Norman W Wilson February 25, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

    Great article, Doc. I would like to have had some information on their care and upkeep; both being something one would want to consider in choosing any service dog.

    • Lin Holt March 3, 2016 at 5:26 am #

      Newfoundlands require a lot of grooming, shed a lot and drool a lot. If a breeder ever says they breed “dry-mouth newfs, do not fall for it. They may drool les, due to the shape of their muzzle and mouth but they all drool. I’ve had newfs for 3o yrs…showed, bred and did rescue…all drooled to a certain extent.You either do not mind it and find it funny or you are bothered by it and it will get worse. Do not get one if it bothers you at all. It hangs from your ceilings, your walls, your Christmas tree, looks like slug tracks on your cloths along with all the fur, it is on the floors and you slip in it and they will weed out your friends and family with that stuff. I LOVE it! Grooming is a lot of work, but for me it is enjoyable. I do have one that is a service dog to help me with balance. He is wonderful!

      • Patricia gentry October 11, 2016 at 5:34 pm #

        I would like to talk to someone who has one.my newfoundland is 5 more old.I am told I would be in a wheelchair in ayear.I have inquiryed a this wonderful puppy. I am doing good with his training. But when he gets loose from his leash he runs off.I need this dog and I love him

        • Patricia gentry October 11, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

          I would like to talk to someone who has one.my newfoundland is 5 more old.I am told I would be in a wheelchair in ayear.I have inquiryed a this wonderful puppy. I am doing good with his training. But when he gets loose from his leash he runs off.I need this dog and I love him

  4. Ann Barbas February 25, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

    Beautiful dog.

  5. Ann Barbas February 25, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

    Beautiful dog and great article.

  6. Hemlata Vasavada February 25, 2015 at 10:18 pm #

    Great pictures of a beautiful dog, and good, informative article about the breed.

  7. John Finlayson February 26, 2015 at 2:27 am #

    Excellent article. Very informative.

  8. Kait Carson February 26, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

    Wonderful article. When I lived in the crown of Maine I knew a doctor. He was from one of the tropical areas of India, yet he lived in one of the coldest US climates available. After I knew him a little better I asked him why. He said two reasons, this is a great place to raise kids, and I have three Newfoundland dogs. Both were wonderful reasons. The dogs are truly gentle giants. I often saw his two youngest riding the dogs.

  9. Kathleen Kaska February 26, 2015 at 9:54 pm #

    Great article. I always learn so much from reading your blogs. Newfies are so beautiful and smart, however, I hesitate getting a dog bigger than me. What if I had to pick it up and take it to the vet?

    • Dr. B February 27, 2015 at 7:32 pm #

      Kathleen — almost fell off my chair laughing when we read your response! We should have thought of this when writing our response for reasons one might not want to get a Newfie as their service dog! Thanks for giving the MyMagicDog team some hearty chuckles today! (Trying to imagine tiny you trying to throw a Newfie over your shoulder to get him to the vet because he has a tiny thorn in his toe and can’t walk…)

  10. Suzanne Wilson February 27, 2015 at 10:10 pm #

    Interesting and informative. Can you imagine this wonderful dog at our house? Talk about a bull in a china shop!

  11. Bill Thorn March 1, 2015 at 8:05 pm #

    Newfies are beautiful animals. But they are big and intimidating and I have to agree that taking one into a restaurant or other public space would be a problem. For me also, drooling would be a big issue! I had no idea their life spans were so short. I love the picture of McKenzie staring, wistfully I think, at the strawberry shortcake on the table!

    Patricia, your blogs just keep getting better with each one!!

    Bill

  12. Suzanne March 5, 2015 at 11:47 pm #

    Really enjoyed reading your article Dr. B – I am a little slow to get with the program so did not realize for what you needed the pictures! I am so excited to see McKenzie as your model! And to everyone out there, she did NOT have a piece of that raspberry pie! Yes, Newfies are very large and agree that they really do not fit everywhere. As for the drool, McKenzie has what is termed a “dry mouth” (I do not think this is an official term – just descriptive) and until very recently really did not drool much at all (she is now eleven!). It has to do with the shape of the lower lip and one that really sags allows for the sometimes large amount of drool. After having Goldens for many years I knew I really did not want a lot of drool and was pleased when I realized McKenzie would have minimal drool (adopted at 16 months so could determine her mouth shape).

    As for concern about having to buy large amounts of dog food, McKenzie weighs about 115 lbs, is spayed, and to me does not really eat that much – 3 to 3 1/2 cups per day, although I am sure there are some out there that have a much bigger appetite!

    For anyone thinking of a Newfie, I encourage you to 1) see if there is a Newfie Club in your area and go talk to those people, 2) a breeder or two, and again go talk to them 3) a dog show is a great place to see some beautiful Newfies and again talk to the owners, 4) go to the Newfandland Club of America (I think that’s it) website.

    As for being a service dog, where Newfies are really amazing is visiting nursing homes, homes for troubled children, hospitals, schools (esp to help children with reading problems), etc. They seem to have a sixth sense as to what people need and some of the stories bring tears to my eyes. And in that capacity, there is no problem with space issues. I recommend obedience training to obtain a good citizen certificate (as well as ability to control a large dog) and then perhaps joining the Delta Society or something similar to cover liability.

    Hope this has been helpful to some. Newfies are really special but definitely need consideration for their size, common drool issue,and shedding but their gentleness and the love they give in return is priceless. And if anyone wants a few good laughs, read the book “Ninety-Nine Newfies” by Pat Seawell – amazing Newfie stories!

    Suzanne

    • Dr. B March 6, 2015 at 6:03 pm #

      A wonderful, informative response from Susie Brown, the “mama” of our cover model McKenzie. But, I need to comment on one point of misinformation: While Newfies are indeed “amazing … visiting nursing homes, homes for troubled children, hospitals, schools…” they would be classified as THERAPY dogs, not service dogs. The difference is important since therapy dogs do not fall within ADA guidelines for public access. Otherwise, thank you Suzie for the marvelous information your provided for the wonderful Newfie! Please give McKenzie some extra pats from everyone at the My Magic Dog team. We love Newfies!!!

    • Lin Holt March 3, 2016 at 6:16 am #

      Excellent reply Suzanne! I have a newf service dog but fortunately I am also able to not have to use his service all the time. I do not take him into restaurants at this time as I do not want to subject others to floating fur and flying drool. Luke does drool a lot. I think, key to using a service dog is also to be considerate of others issues and needs…which i try hard to do, and IF you are able to, don’t take them into some places. I avoid places I know he would not be welcome. Luke is perfect for me (balance issues) and for where we live (a remote island in Alaska) Because of him, I can safely still hike in the woods and negotiate my steep property. McKenzie is beautiful!
      Lin…in Alaska (and has a newf story in that book 99 Newfies 😉

  13. Kirsten June 22, 2015 at 1:27 am #

    Hi Dr. B.,
    I beg to differ on a few points…
    We train and place giant breed service dogs to provide life saving anchoring behaviors for children with autism that elope or run away suddenly. According to the published papers, the morbidity rate for this group of affected children is about 24% due to fatal accidents involving vehicles or drowning. One of the reasons we use Newfoundlands, Leonbergers, and St. Bernards that weigh in over 100lbs, is that these dogs are not dragged off their feet by these children as they impulsively launch themselves into traffic or a nearby body of water. These dogs are trained to actively brace and anchor by basic counterweight measures against the velocity of a runaway child. This active use of modified draft or carting behaviors can save a child’s life, and has been bred into these dogs for 175 years.
    Also, regarding the dog’s working lifespan, there is new research out encouraging large and giant breed owners to delay spaying/neutering until the dog is at least 18-24 months of age, so the hormones can help to fully develop the bone plates and support mature growth. We are aiming for the same service life as Guide Dogs for the Blind — 7 years. Our dogs are retired at about nine years of age. We think this is a reasonable time span for a working dog.
    Let us agree that all dogs drool. Usually this occurs around food, other dogs in season, or good smells that are being tasted and smelled. Excessive drool in giant breeds has to do with a shortened muzzle and the jowls of a dog falling loosely and opening up the mouth so the flews are flopped out and direct the saliva outside of the confines of the mouth. A “dry mouth” Newfoundland is a dog with an appropriate muzzle to jowl length. And the giant breed dog produces more noticeable saliva because they have bigger mouths.
    The ADA only requires the service dog be unobtrusive, not hidden. We do train our dogs to go under tables or lay under feet of their adult service dog handlers. The worst we see out in the field is when our service dogs relax and start to snore under the table often surprising the waitstaff in restaurants.
    These service dogs are trained to Delta Society (now Pet Partners) and Assistant Dogs International standards with over 200 hours of Public Access work alone.
    These dogs are heroes for the family’s with eloping children. Please be careful not to dismiss their very important work for children on the autism spectrum. Newfoundlands can and do, make wonderful service dogs. ,
    Thank you!

    • Dr. B July 8, 2015 at 5:14 pm #

      The above comment from Kirsten is based on the work of “Autism Anchoring Dogs” (AAD) Obviously, this is an organization that has studied and worked with children using large-breed dogs with considerable success. We applaud their efforts and appreciate this wise and useful response. To learn more about AAD and the work they do, go to: http://autismanchoringdogs.org. Thank you Kirsten for your response! It was informative and helpful.

  14. Anni November 17, 2015 at 6:40 am #

    When I was diagnosed with epilepsy in my teens, my mother decided that our next dog would be a service-dog. As I had a few unfortunate seizures at home when I was alone, my parents wanted a dog there who could react in the best way possible and maby even realize and be able to warn me a little if something was to happend.
    So along came Bellamy, the most beautiful, sweet, love-loving landseer imaginable. Bellamy sure had a whole lotta character and took a good 1.5yrs to be trained as this lil’ missy was a bit of a hellraiser for a few months. But once she calmed down, there has never been one like her.
    Luckily I have been seizure-free for years now, but I specifically remember this one time I got to see what a service-dog really does;
    I was visiting my folks in the countryside and B was outside with me. We’d been playing and after that I decided to take a walk on a field alone. As I was walking I stopped all of a sudden, the world felt a little spinnier and for a second I thought the worst was to happen. I didn’t have time to react when I felt like I was going to lose my balance, but out of nowhere, B ran right to me, placed itself sideways infront of me with a little weight at my upper legs so that I could simply lean on her ’till I felt better. She honestly came without me making a whisper. Out. Of. Nowhere.
    That dog is a furry diamond and travels around Europe with my family and me. Expensive? Sure. Worth it? Heck, I’m looking for a future puppy already ♡

  15. Patricia gentry October 11, 2016 at 5:56 pm #

    Please
    let me know if there is a training to help me use this dog for a service dog.I don’t have a lot of money .my dog is so sweet and loving and coming long on my training. But when he gets off his leash he runs a way. I have being told that I would been a wheelchair in a few years .so is hope for us

  16. Karin November 1, 2016 at 6:31 am #

    I have trained a few service dogs, and I am currently training a Newfoundland to be my secondary service dog. I disagree with many parts of this article and I would like to correct a few misconceptions.

    First of all, Newfoundlands come in a variety of sizes. I have a female and although she is very large, she is small for a Newfoundland. She isn’t too large to fit in places with the proper training to curl up and go under tables. At the moment she is a bit on the klutzy side, but that’s due to her age.

    Second, and most importantly to this discussion, not all Newfoundlands drool excessively. I have met some that do, and they would not make good service dogs; frankly it’s gross and not something I would want in my house as a pet either. But a lot of it has to do with the shape of the mouth and jowls. Dogs with a tighter mouth will drool less, and since girls have tighter mouths they tend to drool less. Some breeders advertise a dry mouth and as long as they haven’t compromised on health testing or temperament, I think it’s a good thing.

    My girl does not have a drool problem, and I didn’t even get her from a dry mouth breeder. Her face may feel a bit wet when she’s being active, and if she’s really excited about food, I’ll see some drool dripping. But that would happen with any dog. She doesn’t fling disgusting strings onto the wall or ceiling. So yes, reasonably dry mouth Newfoundlands do exist, and getting a puppy with less pendulous jowls from a breeder that strives for dry mouths should result in a dog who can do service work. That big mouth is going to leave whatever she retrieves with some drool on it, but so would a Leonberger, Great Dane, or other giant breed if they picked it up.

    My Newfie has a fabulous loving personality and a gentle nature. She always wants to be with me and loves going places. I can’t say for sure whether she will make a good service dog, as she’s young and a bit unfocused, but if she doesn’t, it will be about her individually and nothing to do with her breed. I think this breed as a whole has one of the best temperaments out there and I would like to see them utilized more as service dogs for children and for adults who need help with balance or support for PTSD.

  17. Xiomara February 25, 2017 at 7:29 pm #

    Writing this without acknowledging that the size of dog needed can depend directly on their duties, and thus berating people needing brace and mobility dogs for their physical requirements as making us unsuited to deserve to exist in public and somehow bringing all other disabled people down (look up the body needed to pull a wheelchair then ask me why I need a draft dog), is at best thoughtlessly unkind.

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