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Many large dog breeds make wonderful pets and a lot of love, but they also present several unique challenges for their owners.
Big dog breeds not only need a suitable diet, comprehensive obedience training and competent veterinary care, they also require owners have the tools, time and dedication to provide them with the quality of life they deserve.
Below, we’ll provide you with everything you need to know to be completely prepared to care for one of these large or giant dog breeds.
We have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started!
Before going further, it is important that we define “large dog breeds,” as this category can mean different things to different people.
Some people may consider a 50-pound husky to be “big,” while others may think that the term only applies to Great Danes and other big dogs topping the 150-pound mark.
Ultimately, any definition of “big dogs” is somewhat arbitrary, but, for our purposes, we’ll consider big dogs to be those with a body weight between 50 and 90 pounds.
We’d consider dogs in excess of 90 pounds to be “giant” breeds, but don’t worry – we’ll still cover them here.
Large dogs have been around for nearly as long as humans have been living alongside domestic canines, and they’ve been developed for a variety of different purposes.
Many were developed to perform physical work, such as pulling carts or driving cattle. Others were tasked with tracking or hunting large game, and still, others were used to find valuable items, protect their owners or retrieve downed birds.
But there is one consistent adaptation all of these dogs shared: They all attained fairly large body size. Most have large, muscular frames and sturdy bones, which would allow them to carry out these jobs with ease.
Many large dog breeds were also bred to be physically intimidating, although most are exceptionally gentle and loving with their families.
Because most dog owners in the developed world keep their canines as family pets, relatively few continue to perform physically demanding tasks. However, they still possess most of the characteristics that were desired by the original breeders.
By definition, big breeds are hefty animals. However, most also exhibit a number of other traits that are common to members of the size class.
A few of the most noteworthy big dog traits are detailed below.
Large dogs take several years to reach maturity. Don’t be surprised to find that your big dog may weigh as much as you do, but still act like a puppy. Most large dog breeds are playful, clumsy, and energetic until they reach 2 to 3 years of age.
Many retain this youthful exuberance for even longer than this. In fact, some don’t calm down until they are 5 or 6 years old.
Unfortunately, big breeds are susceptible to a variety of health problems that can reduce their lifespan significantly.
In fact, few large breeds live as long as small breeds. Whereas Chihuahuas, terriers and many other small breeds routinely reach 13 to 15 years of age, relatively few see their tenth birthday.
However, you can try to maximize your large dog’s lifespan by:
Many large breeds are moderate to heavy shedders, and thanks to their large size, they have plenty of hair to shed. This means you’ll probably have to learn to deal with a house full of hair several times a year.
This isn’t necessarily a problem for all owners, but those who prefer a neat-and-tidy home may want to select a dog breed that sheds relatively little.
But if you have your heart set on a German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever or other breed that sheds heavily, you may want to purchase a de-shedding tool, which will help keep your home tidy.
While there is plenty of variation in the personalities of various large dog breeds, the majority of big breeds have gentle, loving personalities.
In fact, the original breeders of many large breeds deliberately developed these loving personalities when establishing the various breeds. This helped to ensure that these powerful — and often protective — dogs would be safe for their owners.
The end result is that most large breeds — including Rottweilers, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers and Mastiffs — are loyal lumps of love with their families.
No matter what type of dog you plan on adding to your home, you must think carefully about your choice and select the best large dog breed for your family.
Below, we’ve provided short profiles of several popular large breeds, to help inform your decision. To help facilitate your decision-making process, we’ve grouped several of the most popular breeds together into six different categories:
A variety of working dog breeds reach large sizes and make wonderful pets. Most have very high energy levels and require plenty of exercise, so be sure that you can provide plenty of activity for your new dog before you select a working breed.
Some of the most popular working dog breeds include:
Believed to be descendants of wolf-dogs who crossed the Bering Strait over 4,000 years ago, most malamutes stand between 22 to 26 inches in height and weigh between 65 and 95 pounds.
This breed was officially recognized by the AKC in 1937, and they are one of four varieties of Swiss Mountain dogs.
Bernese mountain dogs thrive in cold weather, and their strength and intelligence helped them excel on the Swiss farms. However, they also make fantastic family pets, given their gentle temperaments.
These refined-looking dogs typically stand between 25 to 28 inches in height and weigh between 80 and 110 pounds.
The Samoyed is a primitive breed, first recognized by the AKC in 1906.
These fantastically furred dogs were bred to pull sleds in cold climates, such as that found in the Siberian town of Oymyakon, where the temperatures dropped as low as -60 degrees.
Though these dogs are beautiful, they certainly aren’t prissy — Samoyeds are hard-working dogs, who’ve proven to be remarkably effective performing a variety of tasks.
Relatively small by “large dog breed” standards, Samoyeds stand between 19 to 24 inches in height, and typically weigh between 45 and 65 pounds.
The Saint Bernard is an old breed, who was officially recognized by the AKC in 1885. A truly gigantic breed, these dogs can stand between 28 and 31 inches in height and weigh more than 250 pounds.
Interestingly, Saint Bernards have looked different at various points in their history. In fact, Saint Bernards haven’t always had thick fur. Before the 1830s, these dogs had short hair.
Saint Bernards were originally used by monks to find and rescue injured travelers. However, they’ve also been used to perform other tasks; for example, their size allows them to excel in guard-dog work.
Because they are required to not only intimidate intruders but physically impose their will, most guarding breeds are quite large. Most reach more than 50 pounds and several fall into the “giant dog breed” category.
Guard dogs were developed to help protect homes, families, livestock, and valuables from a variety of threats and thieves. This requires them to be not only brave and protective but loving and loyal too.
A few of the most popular large guard breeds include:
Bullmastiffs were officially recognized by the AKC in 1934. They are strong and powerful dogs, who are also intelligent, loyal and eager to please their owners.
Bullmastiffs were first used in the 1860s to guard English estates and game reservations, but they excel in a variety of guarding contexts. Bullmastiffs stand between 25 to 27 inches in height and weigh between 90 and 135 pounds.
Doberman Pinschers were officially recognized by the AKC in 1908. Tracing their origins to 19th-century Germany, these muscular dogs are known for being very sensitive, yet fearless in the face of danger.
Dobermans are somewhat slender and “pointy” by guard dog standards, but they still retain an imposing appearance, which belies the gentle love they share with their families.
Dobermans stand between 24 to 27 inches in height and weigh about 80 to 100 pounds.
German Shepherds — or German Shepherd Dogs, as they are sometimes called — were officially recognized by the AKC in 1908.
Among the most popular and most recognizable breeds in the United States, German shepherds are considered by many to be the best all-purpose dogs, thanks to their intelligence, agility, and strength.
German shepherds stand between 22 to 26 inches in height and weigh between 75 and 115 pounds. However, their fluffy coats make them appear larger than they actually are.
Rottweilers were officially recognized by the AKC in 1931. Descendants of Roman drover dogs, Rottweilers have the same black-and-tan color pattern that Doberman Pinschers do, but they possess a stockier and more robust build.
Rottweilers are incredibly intelligent, which, when combined with their intimidating appearance, protective instincts, and suspicious demeanor, makes them excellent for guard-dog work.
Rottweilers stand between 22 to 27 inches in height, and they can weigh between 85 and 130 pounds.
If you’d rather not battle soccer-ball-sized fur balls on a daily basis, consider one of the following four breeds:
Wire-haired pointing Griffons were officially recognized by the AKC in 1887. Originally bred as all-terrain hunting dogs, Griffons have a coarse, messy-looking double coat that protects them from briars and underbrush.
Their medium-length coat sheds very little and only requires occasional grooming. Wire-haired pointing Griffons stand between 20 to 24 inches in height and weigh up to 60 pounds.
Salukis are short-haired dogs, who were officially recognized by the AKC in 1929. The former royal dog breed of Egypt, Salukis were originally developed to accompany hunters.
Most owners keep their Saluki’s hair short, although some prefer to leave the fur on their legs long and feathered.
Salukis require plenty of exercise and proper obedience training, but most owners find that they make great companions. They stand between 18 to 24 inches in height and weigh up to 60 pounds.
Poodles were officially recognized by the AKC in 1887. Poodles come in three different size variations — standard, toy, and miniature — but all three belong to the same breed. The only differ in terms of size.
Although poodles have luxurious, curly coats, they typically shed very little. In fact, they are a great choice for owners who are allergic to pet dander.
Bred to retrieve downed birds from the water, poodles are smart, energetic and loving dogs, who typically bond strongly with their owners.
Standard poodles stand between 15 to 24 inches in height and weigh up to 80 pounds or so.
Komondors were officially recognized by the AKC in 1937. These mop-like dogs are instantly recognizable, and they leave quite an impression on anyone who meets one.
A relatively rare breed, Komondors were originally developed to live alongside livestock (primarily sheep, which they were bred to resemble) and protect them from predators. However, they are primarily used as companion dogs today.
Komondors stand between 25 to 30 inches in height, and they can weigh up to 130 pounds.
A lot of big dog breeds have very high energy levels and require copious amounts of exercise to remain healthy and happy. Some breeds may require an hour or more of vigorous activity each day.
But there are a few options for owners who do not have the time or inclination to spend this much time at the park with their dog. And while they’ll still require a couple of walks each day, a few breeds are usually content to hang out with you on the couch.
A few of the most notable low energy large dogs include:
Chow chows (or simply “chows” as they are often called) were officially recognized by the AKC in 1903. One of only two breeds with a blue-black tongue, chows are more compact than their fluffy coats make them appear.
Chows have deeply set almond-shaped eyes that some find intimidating. In actuality, most chows are fairly self-centered and unlikely to pay attention to passersby.
Chows usually measure between 19 and 22 inches tall, and they can weigh up to 75 pounds.
Great Danes are one of the world’s largest breeds. Officially recognized by the AKC in 1887, Great Danes were bred to hunt boar in the forests and fields of Germany.
Laid-back and low-key, Great Danes are usually friendly dogs, but they won’t hesitate to put themselves between their family members and a threat.
Most Great Danes stand between 23 and 28 inches in height and weigh up to 200 pounds.
Irish Wolfhounds were officially recognized by the AKC in 1897. Recognized by most authorities as the tallest breed in the world, Irish Wolfhounds are very large dogs.
Unlike many other gigantic breeds which trace their ancestry to mastiff bloodlines, Irish Wolfhounds trace their roots to the sighthound family tree — a group that includes greyhounds, among others.
This sighthound background makes Irish Wolfhounds surprisingly fast, and it also gives them a pretty serious prey drive. They stand between 28 and 35 inches in height, and they can weigh up to 150 pounds.
Neapolitan mastiffs were officially recognized by the AKC in 2004. Once the guard dog of choice for wealthy Italian landowners, most Neapolitan Mastiffs are kept as pets in the modern world.
Despite their droopy appearance and baggy skin, Neapolitan Mastiffs are reserved and proud dogs, who brim with a dignity befitting their noble roots.
Neapolitan Mastiffs are very large dogs, who stand between 23 to 28 inches at the shoulder. They typically weigh between 90 and 150 pounds.
It is important to select a child-friendly breed if you have kids, but because many big dog breeds are exceptionally good with kids, this is rarely difficult.
You should never leave a small child unattended with a dog, and it is important to teach children the proper way to interact with their pet. However, the following breeds are typically very gentle and tolerant of youngsters.
The boxer is a fun-loving, sensitive and friendly breed, who was first recognized by the AKC in 1904. Originally bred to be a medium-sized guard dog, boxers are typically kept as pets in the modern world.
Boxers are smart, easy to train and affectionate, but they do not like being left alone for long periods of time — they want to be with their pack as much as possible. Accordingly, they are best suited for families that like to hang out around the house.
Most boxers stand between 21 and 25 inches tall at the shoulder, and they typically weigh between 65 and 85 pounds.
One of the most popular breeds in the U.S., the Golden Retriever was first recognized by the AKC in 1925. Although they were originally developed as a hunting breed, Goldens make fantastic family pets.
Sensitive, smart, easy to train and eager to please, golden retrievers have a lot going for them. They are generally friendly with everyone they meet and make great playmates for children.
Golden retrievers stand between 21 and 25 inches tall and typically weigh between 55 and 75 pounds. However, because they are prone to weight gain, some individuals will weigh much more than this.
The Labrador retriever is the most popular dog breed in the U.S., according to the AKC, who first recognized the breed in 1917.
Labs, as they are typically called, are one of the most intelligent and easily trained breeds, and they love having a job to perform. Labs are friendly with adults and children alike, and they are often used as therapy dogs due to their loving, gentle nature.
Labs vary quite a bit in size, but most are about 21 to 24 inches tall and weigh about 50 to 90 pounds.
First recognized by the AKC in 1886, the Newfoundland is a large and lovable breed, who is among the friendliest dogs in the world.
The Newfoundland’s coat is very long and they shed rather heavily, so they aren’t a great choice for owners with allergies. However, those who aren’t bothered by their shedding habit will surely love these sweet and gentle dogs.
Newfoundlands occasionally reach very large sizes, but they range between 21 and 29 inches in height. Most weigh about 100 pounds, but some individuals tip the scales at more than 150 pounds.
Because large dog breeds take up a lot of space, and most have high energy levels, they can be inappropriate for owners who live in apartments.
However, there are a few large dog breeds that won’t mind living in a small space and will adapt well to apartment life.
A few of the best large dogs for apartments are listed below:
Officially recognized by the AKC in 1935, basset hounds are much heftier than you may suspect. And although they never reach the heights of most other large dog breeds, many basset hounds fall into the 50- to 90-pound, “large dog” category.
Basset hounds are easy-going and have very modest energy levels — a long daily walk is about all the exercise they need, making them one of the best indoor dog breeds. However, basset hounds love to socialize, so it is a good idea to take them to the dog park as often as possible.
Basset hounds stand about 11 to 15 inches high, and they can weigh up to 65 pounds.
Officially recognized by the AKC in 1992, the Shar-Pei has a laid-back personality, which makes them perfect for condos or apartments. They tend to be bond very strongly with one particular person, so they make great companions for those who live alone.
Shar-Peis require a few short walks each day, but they aren’t a high-energy breed that requires a lot of exercise. In fact, they are usually happy to just hang out on the couch or sit on the porch and watch the world go by.
Shar-peis are somewhat short, as they usually only reach heights of 18 to 20 inches. However, they are quick thick, and often weigh up to 65 pounds.
Greyhounds are one of the fastest breeds in the world, and when they aren’t lounging about with their owners, they love nothing more than going for a run.
This tendency has earned greyhounds — which were officially recognized by the AKC in 1885 — the nickname “40-mph couch potato.”
Greyhounds are often likened to cats, given their fastidious personalities, so they make good pets for those who prefer a tidy home. Greyhounds stand between 27 to 30 inches in height and weigh between 50 and 90 pounds.
Although Rhodesian ridgebacks were originally bred for hunting purposes, they lack the high energy levels that are common to most other hunting breeds. This makes them pretty well suited for apartment life.
Officially recognized by the AKC in 1955, Rhodesian ridgebacks can get all of the exercise they need from a few daily walks. However, these are somewhat mischievous dogs, so it pays to give them plenty of toys and stimulation to prevent boredom.
Rhodesian ridgebacks stand between 24 to 27 inches in height, and they can weigh up to 90 pounds.
Even though all dog breeds belong to the same species, there are a number of ways in which large dogs differ from their smaller relatives.
These differences are reflected in the care they require, specifically as it relates to their diet, exercise, and training, among other things.
Many large dog breeds suffer from bone and joint problems as they mature.
In some cases, these problems are hereditary, but they can also be caused by an improper diet or environmental factors. Often, these problems arise from a combination of all three factors.
Because many large breeds are predisposed to these types of problems, it is imperative that you feed your large dog a high-quality diet.
Check out our comprehensive review of the best large breed dog food (or our large breed puppy food review, if your new dog is less than 6 months of age) to learn more about the dietary needs of large dog breeds and to find the best food for your new dog.
Both are nutritious, delicious and reasonably priced options, which should help keep your dog healthy and happy for years to come.
All dogs require sufficient exercise, but it is especially important for large breeds, given their propensity for packing on the pounds. The exercise needs of different breeds vary, so it is important to adopt an exercise regimen that suits your dog.
For example, Huskies have very high exercise requirements, and those who don’t get to run, jump and play for at least an hour each day may develop problematic behaviors.
On the other hand, Mastiffs, Basset Hounds, and Chows have relatively low exercise requirements, and they typically get enough exercise from their daily walks.
However, it is wise to discuss your dog’s exercise requirements with your vet to avoid causing injuries. This is especially important with large breed puppies, whose bones and joints develop over an extended period of time.
There are a variety of things you can do to get your dog exercise, including the following:
If you have trouble getting your dog enough exercise, you may want to invest in a good dog treadmill. Check out our comprehensive review of the subject to learn more about treadmills for dogs, the best ways to use them and a few of the best options on the market.
All dogs require knowledge of dog commands, but given their large size, it is especially important for large dog breeds.
You can train your dog yourself, or you can opt to solicit the help of a professional trainer. It doesn’t matter which option you choose, but it is important that you start at an early age. Most large breeds are capable of learning to sit, lay down or come when called by the time they are about 7 to 8 weeks old.
Related Post: 5 Best Electronic Training Collars for Large Dogs
Unfortunately, large breeds are susceptible to a number of health problems. But if you work closely with your vet and take good care of your dog, many of these problems can be avoided.
You’ll have the best chance of keeping your dog healthy and happy if you familiarize yourself with some of the most common ailments that afflict large dogs.
Some of the most common health problems in large breeds include the following:
Hip dysplasia in dogs occurs when a dog’s hip joints fail to develop properly. This leads to cartilage damage, which causes afflicted dogs to suffer from pain, reduced mobility, and an abnormal gait.
Common symptoms of dog hip dysplasia include:
Visit your veterinarian as soon as possible if you notice any of the symptoms listed above. However, it is important to note that some dogs fail to exhibit symptoms of the disease.
Many owners find that hip and joint supplements for dogs help to reduce the symptoms associated with hip dysplasia.
While there are a variety of supplements on the market (and you should check out our comprehensive review of the subject), Nutramax Dasuquin with MSM Chewable, Large Dog is one of the best options.
The only way to be certain if your dog has it or not is to take your dog to a vet so they can do x-rays on the hips. Medications may help reduce your dog’s symptoms, but some dogs will require surgery to fix the issue.
Panosteitis (or ‘Pano’) is most commonly seen in large dogs between 6 months to 18 months in age, and it is usually the male pups that have the problem.
Pano is a bone condition that causes intermittent pain in the legs or joints. Typically, these symptoms last for a month or two, but they can last more than a year in severe cases.
The most common symptom of Pano is sporadic limping, which usually lasts for a few days or weeks. It may affect one limb or all four at the same time.
Other symptoms of the disease can include:
To properly diagnose the disease, your vet will need to perform a physical exam and take a few x-rays. When the dog has been diagnosed, your vet may prescribe medications and recommend changing his diet.
Bloat is a serious, potentially deadly condition, in which a dog’s stomach twists on its axis and fills with air. It is typically very painful and requires immediate veterinary attention
Large dogs — particularly those with deep chests — are at especially high risk of bloat. Accordingly, all large dog owners should familiarize themselves with the potential signs and symptoms of bloat.
The most common symptom of bloat is an enlarged abdomen, but you may also notice:
Immediately go to your vet if you see any signs consistent with bloat.
Gulping food too quickly is thought to be one of the reasons bloat often occurs, so many owners like to slow down their canine at chow time.
The Outward Hound Fun Feeder helps to accomplish exactly that, as it forces your dog to “chase” the kibble around the bowl a little bit during meals.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease in which your dog’s heart fails to function properly. Typically, the heart becomes enlarged and fails to pump blood with enough force.
This causes fluid to accumulate in the lungs, which can cause congestive heart failure. The condition is more common among males than females and is likely passed through familial lines.
Cardiomyopathy is generally treatable with medications, such as diuretics, which will help prevent fluid retention. Surgery is rarely required, although you’ll need to work closely with your vet to ensure your dog stays healthy.
The most common symptoms of this disease include:
There is no denying that a welcoming a large dog into your family is a huge challenge, but it can also be a remarkably rewarding endeavor that changes your life forever.
Whether you want a German Shepherd or the Doberman Pinscher to keep your family safe, or you want a low-key condo companion like a Great Dane, you’ll find that big dogs can make your life complete.
With proper care and giving them your love and attention, you’ll quickly learn that most large breed dogs are loyal, intelligent, and eager to please.
Just be sure that you provide your dog with all of his basic needs, including a high-quality food, plenty of exercise and regular veterinary care, to ensure that he enjoys a long, healthy and happy life.
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