What To Know Before Getting A Big Dog?

Land of the Giant Dogs

By Marilyn Marks,
Certified Pet Dog Trainer and Owner of The Good Dog Spot in Bloomfield

Dogs vary from tiny teacup size to the size of a small horse.  The largest breeds are called “giant” breeds and they are often overlooked as potential family pets due to misconceptions about their size.

Giant breeds include St. Bernard, Newfoundland (Newfie), Bernese Mountain Dog, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Great Dane, English Mastiff (and some of the other large mastiffs), Irish Wolfhound, and Scottish Deerhound.  There are no exact measurements to define what is giant vs. large.  To someone who prefers Yorkies, a Labrador seems huge. 

One of the first things people think when they see a giant breed is difficulty in dealing with undesired behaviors.  Fortunately, giant dogs don’t find jumping up necessary or comfortable.  Their eye and nose level is already high enough for them to obtain what they want without jumping!  Also, most of the giant dogs move much more slowly and deliberately than other dogs.  They are much less active than the average lab.  They also aren’t as likely, as you’d think, to understand that they are capable of jumping over pet gates; they can be as clumsy as puppies. 

Most of the giant breeds are couch potatoes as adults.  They do not need as much indoor or outdoor space as you might think, but they do need a couch.  It’s easier to exercise these guys with a walk than to tire out a Lab or Golden with the same distance and pace. 

Training a giant breed is no more difficult than training any other breed. By using positive motivation instead of physical yanks on a choke collar, the dog can be controlled by the use of his brain, which is the same size in all dogs. 

Large breeds fend off potential “undesirable” types by their mere size.  Nevertheless, these breeds also tend to understand their size and strength and will often instinctively lie down for puppies and children to enjoy them. 

The cost of purchasing a large breed is not significantly different from other breeds, however, you probably won’t be able to find one at the local shelter.  While purchase cost isn’t significantly different, you will have to contend with slightly increased costs in all other areas (food, boarding, vet care, pet supplies, transportation) should you choose a giant breed.  The additional cost is not something to be taken lightly; it’s important to be able to provide for your dog’s needs.

One concern of potential owners is the size of the messes left in the backyard.  Not to dwell on this unsavory topic, but stool size and ease of disposal are not that different from large (not giant) breeds, especially if you choose their diet carefully.  Premium dog food should result in smaller, firmer stools that are not too unpleasant to deal with. 

Another important consideration is the shortened life span of giant dogs.  For some reason, and it’s not due to poor breeding, giant dogs live 8 to 10 years instead of the usual 12 or so of other breeds.  It’s not easy to endure this type of loss frequently, but their giant hearts that give all that loving simply konk out.

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