Sure, they may drool like a leaky faucet and they pose active threats to just about any piece of furniture that can be knocked over, but owners will tell you that it isn’t as bad as it seems. They’ll take the layers of hair on the carpet, and they’ll gladly listen to the occasional wall-shaking bark. They’ll suffer it all and then some because, what might come as a surprise to those aren’t familiar with the canine world is that extra large dog breeds make some of the finest pets.
They are as loving and loyal to their owners as any pet can be. They have an instinct to protect the home without displays of inappropriate aggression, and as such, are easily trained. But what is probably the most fascinating fact about these behemoths is that they are, on the whole, the best companions for children.
This article details a selection of the best in the class. Some, like the Great Dane and Saint Bernard, are instantly recognizable. Others, such as the Leonberger and the Tibetan Mastiff, are only recently coming into their own. Regardless of type, appearances can be deceiving. They do not eat a whole bag of food in a day, nor will they rip your arm out of its socket every time you take them for a walk. If you want a mixture of the Saint Bernard, Great Pyrenees and the Newfoundland, then our piece on the Leonberger breed will give your more insight on this dog.
They don’t demand 10 acres of pasture to run in, and they won’t take over your entire couch. These guys just want to love and be loved. Though, admittedly, they might give you more of a licking than you bargained for.
Perhaps the most notable of all the large breeds, the Great Dane stands head-and-shoulders above nearly every other dog, as well as many full growth adults. They are strong, powerful, and carry themselves with a nobility that refuses to be ignored. It is their gentle, unassuming nature, however, that makes them a truly special part of the canine community.
They are lighthearted, easy with children, and because they often don’t recognize their own immense size, a seemingly unending source of comedy (though it depends on your point of view). They will climb up on your furniture like a lapdog, and clear tables with a swing of a tail. Great Danes are courageous (Scooby Doo notwithstanding), affectionate, and obedient to their owners when properly trained. Drooling can be an issue, but that seems to be a trait of nearly every large dog.
Adult males average between 30 to 34 inches and 120 to 200 pounds, while adult females only average 28 to 32 inches and 100 to 130 pounds. This significant size difference between male and female Danes may be apparent in everyday situations, but it wouldn’t matter much to someone who is being confronted by such a massive head. They may make great guard dogs, but they were also bred to be so big so they could pull carts, carry packs, and bring down bears and boars with their huge jaws.
Great Danes, for all their power and size, suffer from a number of health issues. If they receive too much exercise as puppies, they can suffer muscle and bone damage, and if they eat too much are susceptible to gastric torsion (also known as “bloat”). Skin allergies are another common problem that must be addressed at the first sign of irritation. Check out our piece on what to do if your dog has skin allergies to help you address the problem. Finally, they have a life expectancy of 10 years, which is shorter on average than smaller breeds.
One look at this massive dog and you can tell that it was bred for the mountains. Their long, thick coats appear ready to handle the harshest weather the Himalayan Mountains can produce, and their huge paws provide a sturdy foundation for the steepest of slopes. Tibetan Mastiffs are in fact a hearty lot; yet they do have a side quite suited for human companionship. If given space to move about, they usually adopt good-natured temperament with the entire family.
Like most large dogs, they are courageous and have a deep desire to protect those that they have formed a bond with, even other pets. They usually don’t have much of a problem with strangers, but many do take on the role of night watchman, stalking the house at night and barking at the slightest outside disturbance.
Measuring up to 33 inches and weighing in at 160 pounds Tibetan Mastiffs are built to handle the challenges of herding flocks and keeping wolves and other predators at bay in one of the highest altitudes in the world. There is much debate behind the origins of the breed, but what is known is that, besides tending to livestock, they also played a role in guarding temples and families while hunters and warriors were away.
They remained almost a secret to the rest of the world until Queen Victoria was presented with one in 1847, and many Tibetans have been given as gifts to dignitaries ever since. Even though they are rare in Tibet these days, they can still be found tending flocks and guarding children of mountain nomads.
Tibetan Mastiffs, for the most part, are as rugged as they are hearty. They have a life expectancy of 15 years, and do not as often suffer medical problems like many of the larger breeds. They require daily exercise, especially as puppies, so they must be taken for daily walks and be allowed romp around a fenced-in yard. They shed heavily once per year, which can become extremely troublesome for owners who live in warm climates. The thick coat should be brushed at least once per week, and baths should only be given only when necessary. Too busy to groom long-haired breed like this one? Then you have to read our article on dogs that don’t shed.
When it comes to large dogs, the Saint Bernard is one of the most well-known, and one of the most intelligent. Their sheer massiveness may give many people pause, but owners will tell you that the ponderous beasts are actually the canine equivalent of teddy bears. For any family willing to deal with the size, they are extremely lovable companions who take well to training and don’t require constant supervision in order to stay out of trouble.
They are great with children, and have often been referred to as “nanny dogs” because of their gentle and protective nature. Drooling can be a problem, so potential owners must be prepared with rags and other cleaning supplies if they want to maintain their homes. Saint Bernards do require plenty of space to move around, but owners must take special care when it comes to exercise. They must be taught at an early age to heel; if not, then owners will have a difficult time handling such a powerful animal at the other end of the leash.
Saint Bernards grow up to 28 inches and 200 pounds, much of which is muscle. Their awesome presence has made them well suited as subjects for movies (the Beethoven series and Cujo) and cartoon; however, it’s the job that they were originally bred to do that makes them so awesome. Like many big breeds, they did their fair share of guarding, herding, and pulling, but they truly excelled as search and rescue dogs.
For hundreds of years, they served exclusively with the Lonely Monks at the Hospice Monastery in the Swiss Alps. Their keen sense of smell and ability to power through the snow helped save over 2,000 people trapped in blizzards and avalanches. It is said that Saint Bernards have an innate ability or “sixth-sense” to detect these danger and give warning, which may be why the monks still used them today.
Saint Bernards are relatively healthy, though they can suffer from gastric torsion if overfed, hip dysplasia, and a condition known as “wobbler syndrome,” a neurological disorder that causes the dog to walk with a “wobble.” They typically live between 8 and 10 years. Both long and short-haired varieties will need to be brushed on a weekly basis, and their nails need to stay trimmed if you want to avoid torn upholstery.
The Newfoundland is another one of the big breeds whose nature belies its size. They are hardworking sort who love to be loved by their owners and extended family. The American Kennel Club’s U.S. Breed Standard says, “Sweetness of temperament is the hallmark of the Newfoundland; this is the most important single characteristic of the breed.” And it goes without saying that this “sweetness” transfers over to how well they interact with children.
They are perhaps one of the best of all breeds to own when you have a small child, not only because they are so gentle, but also because they are patient and tolerate unintended abuse children can sometimes dole out. They are extremely sociable, and easily make friends with people outside of the family because they are intelligent enough to decide who is a threat and who should be accepted. They are slow moving and rarely bark, but do have a tendency to lean on or hop into the laps of their loved ones, as if they have forgotten how big they are.
Newfis can grow up to 29 inches and weigh as much as 150 pounds. Some say that they were bred by the Vikings, while others claim that they traveled for generations among nomadic northern Native American tribes. Their origins may be somewhat sketchy, but what is known is that they found their place among humans primarily as aides to fishermen. They are expert swimmers, happy to dive into the water to haul in nets, pull boats to shore, or retrieve any object that may have fell overboard.
Their size also makes them capable of acting like a lifeguard, much like the Saint Bernard does in the Alps. Not only do they have the strength to power through the water, they have also seen duty as pack animals, even during times of War. Although they rarely perform any of these duties, they still love to swim and haul, giving stellar performances in dog contests.
Some Newfis are susceptible to sub-aortic stenosis, a hereditary heart disease, but otherwise are a relatively healthy breed that live an average of 10 years. The main care issue, however, is their coat. They shed twice per year, and the coat must be brushed frequently to keep it clean and maintain its shine. They should be bathed only when necessary because soaps and shampoos will remove the natural oils from the coat. Instead, use a specially formulated dry shampoo. Finally, they are primarily a cool weather dog, so they are not comfortable in the heat and humidity.
These impressive canine specimens are yet another example of how large animals can become an even larger part of the family. Leonbergers are a lively sort, who have a deep desire to patriciate in everything that their family does. Owners will find that they are the one of the most active of the big breeds, and they also hold a lot less risk to property because they are well coordinated for their size. Their temperament, personality, and easy-going nature compares quite closely to the Newfoundland.
Families will find that these loveable additions have the patience to withstand all that small children can through at them. They rarely show any aggression; instead, they prefer to walk away from situations that cause them more grief than they can handle. This is not to say that the Leonberger is a pushover. They can be intimidating to unwanted strangers, and will not accept harsh training techniques.
Male Leonbergers can grow up to 31 inches and weigh up to a whopping 170 pounds, while females only reach 29 inches and rarely gain above 130 pounds. It should come to no surprise that they came about after an elaborate breeding scheme that involved a Newfoundland, Saint Bernard, and a Great Pyrenees that took place over six generations. But what may be surprise is that it appears that the Leo was not bred for specific tasks, only for show (or in some reports, to look like a lion).
Although this may resemble modern trends in designer dogs, many Leos found themselves on farms to pull carts and guard flocks along the German countryside. Whatever the motivation for creating Leos, it appears that they have retained the best qualities of their ancestral bloodlines.
Leos are prone to the same common health ailments as other large dogs; therefore, they have an expected lifespan of about 8 to 9 years. They have an extremely thick coat that undergoes heavy shedding about twice a year, so they require constant brushing to prevent matting. They need plenty of space and a cool climate to thrive, but all in all, what they most prefer is to be with the family.
Also known as the Pyrenean Mountain Dog, they are the quintessential guardians of family and territory. This is often displayed through an even-tempered seriousness that is lacking among many other large breeds. They are great with family, who they will easily view as pack mates, yet they do have an independent streak that requires you, as the alpha, to assert dominance from the beginning of the relationship. Once the pecking order is established, the Great Pyrenees will be a reliable and staunch defender of the home.
They do not have much of a tolerance for strangers, and will show aggression toward unfamiliar dogs, but they do get along, and often establish relationships with, cats and other animals. Their bark is truly fearsome, and they will use it when on watch. They also have drooling issues that can be off-putting for even the most tolerant owners.
Great Pyrenees adults average around 30 to 32 inches high and weigh approximately 110 to 120 pounds. This size points to their usefulness for guarding and herding livestock through mountain pastures, and according to the fossil record, they have been experts of rugged terrain for a few thousand years. They have been put to work much in the same way as their Saint Bernard cousins in avalanche search and rescue operations, and they have pulled carts and carried packs through the harsh environments.
Great Pyrenees have a passion for working, and seem to be happiest when given a job to do. Owners would do well to remember that they were never intended be the dog that lies beside the couch while the family watches TV. Doggie boredom can lead to ruined furniture. For more of these working dogs, see our piece on agile and active dogs to learn more.
Overall, the Great Pyrenees is a healthy breed with an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years, but they can develop skin conditions if they are routinely exposed to hot weather (after all, they are mountain dogs). They also require plenty of exercise for weight control and to stave off boredom. Shedding is a year-round experience, with an annual heavy period. Their coat requires routine brushing and should be cleaned with a dry shampoo only when necessary.
When it comes to size, the Irish Wolfhound has often been compared to a pony. Not only are they the tallest breed of dog, they are most likely the most docile as well. Most owners agree that they are completely useless as watchdogs and guard dogs. They are more likely to lick someone breaking into your home than growl at them. This mild disposition, however, does give the Hound an outstanding reputation as a pet.
They are easy to train, obedient to an extended family, and play well with children (as long as they don’t try to ride him). Puppyhood lasts two years, and in this time, they grow exceedingly fast. Before you know it, they will be surfing counters for snacks, and because of their high intelligence, they will wait until you are not looking to strike. You’ll be at an advantage when you read our tips on clicker dog training to make these big dogs obey you.
The Irish Wolfhound often grows as high as 35 inches and can weigh up to 150 pounds. When standing on their hind legs, they can measure up to 7 feet tall, which gives them an extremely wide stride that can cover to cover long distances in a short period of time. Their mobility, as well as intelligence, served them well when tending flocks while their masters were tending to other business. It is said that they were once a ferocious breed.
The Romans, as far back as 350 AD, often wrote of them, and considered them such impressive beasts that they shipped them to Rome to fight lions and bears in the arenas. They were big game hunters as well, but somewhere along the line, they were adopted by the English nobility, to become more of a status symbol than a working class animal. This removal from the fields and pastures may have contributed to the Irish Wolfhound’s current personality.
The Hound’s extreme height is the complete opposite of its lifespan. They life an average of 7 years, which is a strong reflection on the breed’s overall health. They suffer the same common maladies as most large breeds, but they are particularly susceptible to bone cancer. In fact, the Irish Wolfhound Club of America once conducted a study that in which the majority of owners reported that their pets had died of the terrible disease. In the short years they do live, their long coat needs a weekly brushing, and they have to have plenty of room to stretch their legs.
Big dogs make for some of the best companionship you could ever hope for in a pet. Their physique is equal to their heart, and when properly bred, trained, and cared for, you will get all that they got. If you decide to adopt one of these gentle giants, you must be prepared to handle their huge personalities and the controlled chaos that can come from them by merely occupying space in your home. And, sadly, you have to concentrate your loving of them in a much shorter span of years than you’d get with most other dogs. So, go ahead, you know you’ve got plenty to give.