Yes, the Newfoundland makes for an incredible search and rescue dog in instances when bodies of water are involved. But its instinctual and dedicated personality allows for a Newfoundland to save in more ways than one. They are calming, loving, open animals whose instinct is to assist in any way possible. Thus Newfoundlands can do incredible work as therapy dogs for children with autism.
There are certain behaviors that an autistic child may engage in that are to his detriment. Because an adult might not always be present when these behaviors erupt, the Newfoundland acts as a surrogate guide. One such behavior that an autistic child might do is repeat motions over and over again. A Newfoundland can gently nudge a child and/or distract him away from the repetitive action.
Autism can sometimes affect a child's sleep in the form of night terrors or sleep walking. Night terrors are more severe than nightmares as they are more vivid and cause a child to lash out physically. He could hurt himself during these episodes and not remember the cause of his injuries the next morning. The Newfoundland can act as something of a night guard, giving the child a sense of security. And in the case of sleepwalking, the Newfoundland can guide the child back to his bed.
Another characteristic of autism is that it sometimes does not allow for a child to discern between sounds, thus causing him to hear a cacophony of terrifying noises all at once. This can disorient a child. But with a Newfoundland present with child, he can be comforted by holding the dog. And then once he is calm, the Newfoundland can guide him to safety or back on his correct path.
The gifts a Newfoundland can give to an autistic child are too numerous to count. Not only providing companionship, but a Newfoundland can also teach an autistic child responsibility and patience. And the difficulty an autistic child can have bonding can be mitigated by his learned social skills interacting with the Newfoundland.
Older ones in hospices and rest homes also can benefit from a pet Newfoundland. He can be a boost of morale or give the mentally challenged a responsibility that is rewarding in the companionship and loyalty that the Newfoundland offers. Therapy Dogs Incorporated or TDInc is an international, non-profit, and voluntary organization that provides Newfoundlands wherever they are most needed.
People who would like to volunteer their pet Newfoundland have to be screened by a TDInc tester/observer and observed during supervised visits. If you pass the test then you must register with TDInc. It is a worthy effort to share the immeasurable gifts of the Newfoundland with as many people as possible.