I can’t believe it. Our Newfoundland girl Ayla is turning 12 years old tomorrow. If you are not familiar with Newfoundlands, they are BIG and they are fluffy and they generally have a life expectancy of 8 to 10 years. This means Ayla is meanwhile a very old lady. But other than being fairly subdued and extremely lazy, you could never tell. She is just as nutty and loveable as she was when she was a puppy.
It was February 23rd, 2008 when she was born near Frankfurt, Germany. Weighing just shy of 8kg (18lbs) on the day we brought her home eight weeks later, she looked like a little baby gorilla.
Since then, she has had a very exciting life, being master of the farm near Frankfurt, commander of the Winterfeldtstrasse farmers’ market in Berlin and now general of the tile floor in our Florida condo. Ayla is an all around great dog; loving, mostly chill and loyal.
While she has the nature of a much younger dog, she is showing signs of getting older. The legs are a bit stiff, she’s lazier than she used to be and her jowls are showing a distinguished salt and pepper look. But even in her old age (12 is REALLY old for a Newfie) she still greets us most mornings with a kicky dance and eats ices cubes with a vengeance.
12 Things We’ve Learned Living with a Newfie
These past 12 years have taught us a lot about this awesome dog breed. And in honor of hitting the big 1-2, here are 12 of the things we have learned. If you are thinking about getting a Newfoundland yourself, I hope these insights help you make up your mind. As you will see, not everything is sunshine and roses (like the dirt….oh the dirt), but we couldn’t imagine a better dog for ourselves than this old lady and have enjoyed (almost) every moment with our wonderful Ayla.
1. Wise When Young, Youthful When Old
One of the best things about Newfoundland Dogs are their quirky personalities. They are wise beyond their years during the puppy years, but retain a youthful temperament even when older.
When Ayla was about 4 months old, we took her camping for the very first time. The camp site was near one of the main walking paths and Ayla apparently thought someone was walking too close to our tent. The tiny fluff ball mustered her most menacing big-girl “Woof” and set herself up to “guard” us through the night. Meanwhile, 12 years later she has been known to snooze for an hour while strangers come and go through our house.
Even at 12 years old, Ayla is as goofy and youthful as ever. Newfoundlands are very smart dogs and just when you think they have outgrown some of the crazy puppy antics they show you their mischievous side, like stealing food from the counter in a moment when they think nobody is watching.
2. Anywhere the Wind Blows
I am constantly impressed with how easygoing and adaptable our Ayla is. Newfoundlands, in general, are extremely patient and like to roll with the punches, but I could never have expected how easygoing ours would be. Over the past 12 years, Ayla has lived in a house in the suburbs, a farm with a HUGE courtyard for her to roam, a third-floor walk-up in the middle of Berlin and a condo in tropical South Florida. In between, she has been on a few airplane trips and countless roadtrips. Not only that, but she has also gotten to vacation often across Europe and even a bit in Florida, ranging from sleeping in tents to staying with us in 5-star hotels.
Anywhere we go, Ayla is comfortable as long as we are around. Strangely enough, she turns into a different dog at every location and during each different circumstance: Prim and proper in the city and grungy in the country.
3. Hello my Hirsute Lady, Let Me Groom You
Newfies are big dogs, with lots of fur. Stefan has nicknamed Ayla “Pelzmuezchen” which is German for furry hat. Everything about the dog is furry. And they have not just one coat of fur, but too because there is an undercoat too.
These dogs shed… a lot! Without daily grooming their fur tends to get tangled and matted and if not taken care of is a great site for hot spots to develop. With the moist hot air (which is less than ideal for a Newfie), these can be a real issue. And the older she had gotten, the more prone to skin issues she has become. Thankfully most of our interactions with hotspots have been brief.
If you want or have a Newfie and can’t do all the grooming yourself, hire a pro to keep up with things. Your dog and your housekeeper will thank you! No one wants fur tumbleweeds all over the house.
4. Say Goodbye to a Clean House
I admit it, we totally underestimated the dirt. We’d been warned, but those cute blue puppy eyes pulled one over on us. OMG! The dirt. 140lbs of fluffy dog has a LOT of hair, which they lose twice per year (lovingly called “blowing coat”). Even if your Newfie is groomed perfectly all the time, there is hair everywhere. Should have bought stock in a vaccuum cleaner company.
If it’s not the hair, it’s the drool (yes…we did just paint over a “flooger” which got flung all the way to our 10ft ceilings). Or the water that runs from their soft lips after drinking 5 gallons of water (2 gallons of which will end up on the floor). Or the mulch, leaves and other junk caught in her fur after a walk that end up all over your home.
I can’t overstate it enough. If you are a neat freak, do not get a Newfie. Ever! Anyone who tells you they are dirty is likely understating it (out of shame for the state of their own house)…. It’s much worse.
5. Great Apartment Dogs
One wouldn’t think it based on their enormous size, but Newfies are actually great apartment dogs (especially if you have a cold air conditioner). While they do take up a lot of space (when Ayla is sprawled out on our kitchen floor not much else has space in the kitchen with her), they are not very active on their own.
Even when we had a huge back yard, Ayla preferred snoozing indoors with us. The downside to having them in an apartment, of course, is that you need to give them the exercise they would normally get exploring around the yard during daily walks instead.
Ayla used to go on two long (about an hour) and two short (15 minute) walks when she was in her prime. Now that she is an old lady, we are doing about 5 short walks of less than 10 minutes each day. Every once in a while she will want to walk further, but even those walks only last about 20 minutes. Unless we go camping; then all bets are off and it’s like we have a spry young dog again with boundless (for a Newfie) energy.
6. Gentle Soul
If you ask people what they love best about their Newfie, I am sure most would answer: their personality. While I am sure there are a few not so friendly ones out there, most are the gentlest beings you will ever find (notice, I say gentle….not graceful, that they are not).
Ayla doesn’t have a mean bone in her body and wouldn’t hurt a fly. She is great with children, other dogs and pretty much anything else. When Mack was smaller, she often used Ayla’s fur, ears, floppy lips or whatever else she could grab to help herself stand up. Not as much as a raised eyebrow came from Ayla.
7. They are BIG
Newfoundland’s are part of the giant breed family of dogs. Ayla is “only” 135 lbs and she was the runt of the litter. Her dad was close to 200lbs. That’s a lot of dog. Unfortunately, they seem to have absolutely no concept of how big they really are. Ayla still thinks she is the size of a teacup yorkie that can fit through everything.
Big happy dogs have strong happy tails that seem to be just the perfect height to swiftly knock everything off the coffee table. The panicked sounds of someone screaming “Watch the tail” as we leap up to save cups of water from getting knocked over are a nightly occurrence in our house.
When our daughter Mackenzie was small and just learned how to walk, her protector Ayla was always nearby watching. Sadly, it also meant that when Ayla got excited for Mackenzie’s walking progress, the big tail would knock the poor child flat on her bum. No wonder Mackenzie wasn’t a big fan of Ayla until she got bigger.
All kidding aside, a big dog brings all kinds of challenges you should be aware of. About a year ago, Ayla played a bit too rough and threw out her back. Carrying her to the vet required a sheet used as a gurney to take her to the car. Thankfully the vet is next to a Home Depot, so we borrowed a huge flatbed shopping cart to wheel her in. It took both of us to lift her and it was a struggle.
Likewise, when we go on road trips, the back of our Honda Pilot is filled with Ayla. We might fit a bit more stuff around her, but there’s only space for her bags and maybe another bag or two. If we had two kids instead of one, we’d need a minivan to fit all of our stuff plus the dog.
8. Stubborn as a Mule
Newfoundlands are really gentle dogs, but they definitely have a strong mind of their own. Ayla is well trained and extremely well behaved, but if she doesn’t want to, she doesn’t want to. And if a big dog like that doesn’t want to, there is no way to make her. Generally, Newfies are relatively easy to train and they tend to be super motivated by food.
When Ayla lived in Berlin, every Sunday for the afternoon walk she had a specific route in mind. For some reason on Sundays, and only Sundays, it was absolutely imperative that we walked down a specific street. Our apartment in Berlin was located between the gayborhood (Nollendorf Kiez) and the redlight district of Kurfuerstenstrasse. So every Sunday afternoon you could find us a bit out of place among the streetwalkers, pushing a stroller and walking our horse of a dog. Why did we go along with Ayla’s whims? Because she would just sit down and refuse to move if we didn’t go down that street. Even treats would only get her to move a few feet at a time, making the walk excruciating.
9. Older Newfies Need Help
Now that Ayla is older, sometimes she needs a bit of help getting up. We also had to make our apartment a bit more geriatric-dog-friendly lately to make life a bit easier for her. Thankfully our condo is on the ground floor – I am sure if we still had the third-floor walkup apartment in Berlin she would not be able to make it up (or down) those stairs anymore.
The biggest problem seems to be that her booty is just a bit too heavy to get up easily. Also, slippery tile floors are no longer so easy for her to navigate and she takes a stumble every once in a while.
We solved this problem by putting down some cheap home depot runners throughout the pathways Ayla takes most often. They are not pretty, but we love her so it’s a small price to pay. Even more helpful (because if you refer to the point above: Newfies are stubborn and would rather walk next to the runner than on it) have been Dr. Buzby’s Toegrips. While the runners provide a good surface to walk, the toegrips really help her get up after snoozing on the floor.
10. Let Me Take Your Picture
If you are walking a big dog that looks more like a bear, people stop and stare. If that big bear also loves the attention, you are bound to end up in a lot of vacation pictures and random conversations.
When Ayla was 6 months old, she got to experience her first moment of stardom during a trip to Venice. We couldn’t walk more than about 10 steps until someone stopped to talk to her, snap her picture or have her give them slobbery kisses on the mouth (Seriously….not kidding….Yuck). We didn’t count the interactions during the first trip, but during her second trip to the city, she was petted by 180 strangers in less than 4 hours.
This is the same wherever you go. In Berlin, Ayla had a favorite farmers’ market where she would relish all of the attention (and free sausages, cheese, and other goodies). Likewise in Florida, people have pulled over to the side of the road, jumped out of the car and asked to take a picture with her. If you are introverted (or sometimes just not in the mood for conversation) all this attention can be a bit troubling. Ayla, on the other hand, loves the attention so much, that her harness proudly offers “Free Hugs” to anyone.
11. “And I Would Walk 500 Hundred Miles….” Oh wait, no I wouldn’t
If you have grand dreams of running for miles in the morning or hiking the Appalachian trail with your trusty Newfie in tow, think again. While this breed has been grown to be working dogs, long distance walking is not really their bag. Newfies are inherently lazy and oftentimes getting them to go on a walk takes a bit of motivation.
When Ayla was younger she’d happily walk to the end of the earth with us, as long as the end of the earth wasn’t further than a few miles away, with a few nice breaks along the way. Now that she is older, a walk to the mailbox might require a breather before we can make the trip home complete.
In general, Newfies are not big on walking far distances. They are just too big to have great amounts of walking endurance.
12. Some Like it REALLY Cold
With all that fur and originating in chilly Newfoundland, it’s no wonder that these dogs prefer the cold weather. Great for when you end up in South Florida, like our Ayla right? Anything over the high 70’s will make her pant and drool like she is in a sauna. Thankfully our A/C is ice cold and the ice dispenser has a nearly endless supply of ice cubes for her to munch on.
While we never really had many problems with her overheating, we believe she may have been pretty close at times. When there is a cold house to retreat to after the walk this didn’t seem to bother her, but in instances where there is no A/C (like in our farm and apartment in Germany), she suffered quite a bit. Lack of A/C and the thought of what it might do to Ayla was also what made us bug out during Hurricane Irma. We don’t believe she would have survived the South Florida heat for a few days without A/C.
These last 12 years have held so many funny, amusing, wonderful moments with Ayla. We’ve been so blessed to have her in our family and hopefully will have many more happy times with her to come.