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Get To Know Giant Breed Dogs

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A Bernese Mountain Dog lies on a brown couch

Giant dog breeds, also known as extra-large or gentle giants, are the biggest pups. Though they are sizeable in stature and often have a deep, loud bark, giant breeds are consistently some of the best cuddlers, the most loyal companions, and the friendliest additions to families.

What Is Considered a Giant Dog Breed?

Dogs are part of the ‘giant’ category whenever they reach roughly 90 pounds—though some begin considering dogs as giant once they’re 100 pounds. Although this is the lower weight range, giant breed dogs can easily reach the mid-100 range or even into the 200-pound category. Some common giant breeds include:

  • Akitas

  • Anatolian Shepherds

  • Bernese Mountain Dogs

  • Bullmastiffs

  • Cane Corsos

  • Doberman Pinschers

  • English Mastiffs

  • Giant Schnauzers

  • Great Danes

  • Great Pyrenees

  • Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs

  • Irish Wolfhounds

  • Komondors

  • Leonbergers

  • Newfoundlands

  • Rottweilers

  • St. Bernards

Although these giant dogs may be some of the most recognizable, many more can be added to this list, including mixed-breed dogs or mutts.

Giant vs Large Breed

The main difference between giant and large breed dogs is their weight. Breeds with an average weight range of 55-90 pounds are considered large. These breeds include:

Although all dog breeds have a standard weight range, the exact number can vary based on your dog’s age and whether they are male or female. Of course, not every dog will fall into their breed standard’s weight range. Typically, if you monitor your puppy’s weight from a young age, you should have a decent prediction of where their weight will fall when they are a full-grown adult.

How to Care for a Giant Dog Breed

There are many aspects of caring for a giant breed dog that are nearly the same as taking care of a dog of any size. However, due to their unique size, gentle giants require special accommodations.

Extra Expenses

The main difference with such a big dog is that the associated costs will also be more significant. Giant breeds could eat four cups or more of food daily, meaning you will most likely want to buy much larger bags, which will inevitably cost more. Another expense to factor into your budget is if you choose to have your dog professionally groomed. Your pup’s appointment may cost more than a smaller dog’s—there’s more fur to manage.

From puppyhood to adulthood, extra-large dogs grow exponentially, which means that you may have to purchase your pal multiple collars, leashes, crates, beds, or toys as their size changes.

Giant-Proofing Your Home

With a taller-than-average dog in your home, you may quickly discover that counter surfing (having your dog’s nose graze the counter) becomes a common occurrence. Bigger dogs have a farther reach, so food left on tables or counters could become a snack for your canine friend. To avoid upset tummies or possible trips to the emergency veterinarian, don’t leave any enticing items sitting out in the open, whether edible or not. In addition, you may want to put away any breakables on low-rise coffee tables or bookshelves. A happy dog’s tail can easily knock over anything from glassware and candles to cups and decorations.

You will also need to consider the height of any baby gates or fences around your home or property. If you are surveying your living space and considering how well it can accommodate a giant breed, don’t fret if you don’t have a ‘giant’ living space. Although it may be a slight adjustment, many giant breed dogs can be fantastic apartment pets.

Health of Giant Dogs

Although each giant breed has their own set of common health issues, as a whole, once dogs reach a certain size, many of them have a higher chance of developing particular health issues. These can include:

  • Hip or elbow dysplasia

    Both of these conditions can be caused by abnormal development and rapid growth rate. Particularly in their first year of life, giant breeds can gain an impressive amount of weight monthly. Genetics and nutritional intake can also play a role.

  • Arthritis

    Although dogs of any size can develop arthritis, a relatively common condition in senior canines, dogs of larger stature are also more apt to be diagnosed due to their rapid growth rate and the stress of their weight on their joints. A common symptom of arthritis includes stiff or slow movement.

  • Wobbler syndrome

    Also known as cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM), this disease affects the spine, specifically near the neck. Early signs of this condition can include mobility issues, such as difficulty getting up, limb weakness, and foot-dragging.

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy

    This disease of the heart occurs when the heart becomes too weak to adequately pump blood through the body. This condition can be genetic but can also be caused by factors related to nutrition and infections.

  • Cherry eye

    This condition can occur in one or both eyes and is relatively common in giant dogs. It involves the third eyelid gland, which can sometimes pop out from behind the lid.

In addition to these medical conditions, it’s crucial that dog parents are aware of gastric dilation and volvulus syndrome (GDV), which is more commonly known as gastric torsion or bloat. This is a condition that involves the dog’s stomach bloating and twisting itself around. Bloat can very quickly become severe and even deadly. Extra-large dogs, particularly those with deep chests, are at the highest risk. For any dog parent to a giant breed, it is imperative that you take precautionary steps to avoid bloat from occurring in the first place but still be aware of the common signs, just in case you need to get your dog immediate medical attention.

Giant Dog Breed Lifespan

Unfortunately, the larger the dog, often the shorter their lifespan. For comparison, small dog breeds will typically live into their teen years, while larger dogs average closer to 10-12 years. Extra-large breeds have an even shorter life expectancy—8-10 years.

Giant breeds have a shorter lifespan mainly due to how quickly they grow. Their fast growth rate causes them to age faster, meaning they will reach their ‘senior’ years earlier. Their lifespan is also cut shorter since their bodies are under more stress from their added weight.

Exercise and Training

It’s important that your dog receives some form of exercise every day, whether in the form of a walk, hike, swim, or play session. Although each dog has different exercise needs, giving them a chance to expel some energy can help ward off boredom, limit unwanted behavior, and keep your pup healthy. One of the many wonderful things about giant breeds is that after they receive some form of physical exercise, they’re often content to take a nap on the couch or hang out—they don’t always require constant stimulation.

That said, while your dog is still growing (which mainly occurs in their first year), it’s essential that you keep exercise to a minimum. Too much activity or strain could affect your growing pup’s joints and bones, leading to future health problems.

Until you can do longer or more intense hikes and walks with your dog, you can work on training. Training dogs of any size is important, but properly training a giant breed is even more so. With their considerable size comes much more strength, power, and the accidental ability to cause more damage.

In addition to teaching your dog the basic commands of sit, stay, and down, it can also be beneficial to teach your dog that they aren’t allowed to jump on people or onto the kitchen counters. Another great item to work on is “heel” and general leash manners. If you’re walking a dog that weighs just as much as you and they see a squirrel that they want to chase, you could accidentally get pulled along. However, by teaching your extra-large pal what’s expected of them when they have their harness and leash on, you won’t have to worry about your arms getting tired from being dragged around before the walk is over.

As part of your dog’s training, it’s equally important to work on socialization. Giving your pup repeated opportunities to interact with new people and dogs in various environments can help them form good social skills and a well-rounded personality. This can be monumental as your pup becomes an adult.

A Great Dane with a blue leash stands outside

Best Giant Breed Dogs for Families

Before bringing home a dog, it’s essential to do some research first. Consider how big the dog could get, that breed’s typical mannerisms and exercise needs, and other nuances such as whether they’re known to be vocal, cuddly, or independent. If you’re adopting your dog from a local shelter or rescue, talk with the facility’s staff, as they may be able to provide you with additional information about one dog in particular.

While all dog breeds have the capability to be good choices for families, some may be a better fit than others for your family and lifestyle in particular. For instance, Rottweilers can make great additions to families with older kids or teenagers, and breeds such as Bernese Mountain Dogs, Great Danes, and Alaskan Malamutes can fit well in families with younger children.

That said, it’s crucial that you never leave your dog and young children unsupervised together. Children should be taught how to interact with the family dog safely and gently. Teach your children not to pull the dog’s tail or ears or climb on them when they’re lying down. Due to the size difference, a giant breed will virtually look like a mini pony to some little kids, but it’s vital that you never let children climb onto your dog like a horse. Not only could this lead to your dog possibly showing unwanted behaviors towards kids, but the added weight on your dog’s back could easily cause injury.

Just as you should show and teach your kids how to respect their dog, it’s just as important to teach your dog how to interact with kids—an excited giant dog can easily knock any child over. However, don’t be surprised if your dog naturally takes on the role of guardian or nanny to your young kids. Gentle giants are known for having a great demeanor around kids and taking on a nurturing role.

Best Giant Dog Breeds for First-Time Owners

Many giant breeds, including Irish Wolfhounds, Newfoundlands, and Mastiffs, can be great fits for first-time dog parents. These canines can be ideal since they are easy to house train, patient, and enjoy spending quality time with you. Though some may be stubborn, many are people pleasers who don’t mind doing what is asked.

Inside Scoop on Gentle Giants

Raising and living with a giant dog can be a unique experience. To better understand firsthand what it’s like to have the pleasure of living with a gentle giant, we asked some of our employees what it’s like to be the caregiver of a dog of such a large size.

Between six team members, their dogs include eight Great Danes, a Bloodhound, an English Mastiff, a Dogue de Bordeaux, and three Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs. The full-grown dogs’ weights begin at around 100 pounds on the low end and reach nearly 200 pounds—it’s that much more pup to love. Though the lowest weight of 55 pounds for a Great Dane may sound shockingly “small” for this breed, this pup named Forrest is only four months old.

What’s the best part of having a giant breed?

All six dog parents readily agree that giant breeds are big lovebugs and goofballs—they look like giant puppies when bouncing around playing. They have a gentle temperament and cuddly nature and often enjoy giving and receiving hugs. These dogs are faithful, so you’ll never be lonely when one is around. Plus, there’s no doubt that many of these larger-than-life dogs aren’t aware of just how giant they are.

What’s something unique about your dog’s breed that you wish more people knew?

Unfortunately, some giant breeds get a bad rap. With a loud bark and mammoth size, some people may feel intimidated or uncomfortable around such large dogs. However, by better understanding these breeds, more people can see that there’s nothing to fear. In fact, with giant breeds, the only thing to be hesitant of is the amount of drool that may come with a kiss they give you.

To better shine a light on these breeds, we asked each employee what they wish more people understood about their dog’s breed. Their responses include:

  • Bloodhounds

    They are super-smart but very stubborn.

  • English Mastiffs

    Mastiffs were originally bred to hunt lions, whereas today’s breed would rather have the entire couch to themselves.

  • Dogue de Bordeaux

    This breed is truly sweet and loving. They are genuinely a gentle giant.

  • Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs

    They’re not shorthaired Bernese Mountain Dogs like everyone assumes. There are four distinct Swiss Sennenhund breeds (Bernese Mountain Dogs, Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs, Appenzeller Mountain Dogs, and Entlebucher Mountain Dogs), with the Bernese being the most well-known. The Greater Swiss, or Swissy, is the most ancient and most significant in size. These dogs are the perfect example of Velcro dogs, so much so that all three of this employee’s Swiss Dogs will sleep under her desk during work hours.

  • Great Danes

    They are very smart and sweet. Since their bodies grow so fast, sometimes it may seem like their brains kick in a bit later, but they are still fast learners that aim to please. These dogs are good-natured, sensitive, sweet, and can be just like big babies.

What’s been an unexpected aspect of having a giant breed?

One of the unexpected territories that comes along with giant breeds is the amount of drool they produce. One team member explained how they have to clean drool off their ceiling, while another recommended investing in some disinfectant wipes to help keep the cleaning process easy.

Another unexpected aspect of having a dog of this size is that, at least at first, many people seem scared of them. However, seeing how these dogs act at home would put anyone’s worries aside. They are huge cuddlers (literally) and are determined to be lap dogs no matter how big they get.

Five things future giant-breed dog parents should know

These experienced gentle giant parents have many helpful tidbits to share.

  1. All giant dogs should be well-socialized and trained from a young age. With a large and powerful dog, even a happy jump could accidentally lead to problems for you or those around you. Be prepared to stay consistent in your training even as your dog gets older, as some giant breeds can be rather stubborn.

  2. If you plan on letting your dog on your furniture, be prepared to share with a dog that has no idea how big they are.

  3. Always research a particular breed before adopting one. Each dog has unique characteristics you should be aware of before bringing them home.

  4. Enjoy and cherish them while they are still a tiny puppy, because they will grow up super-fast. Before you know it, they’ll be able to get their paws on and head over a six-foot fence—ask any Great Dane parent.

  5. Learn what it really means for things to be considered 'out of reach.' You may think your sandwich is safe on the counter, but it could disappear the second you look away.

There’s much to love about giant breed dogs and adding one to your family can be fun and rewarding. With an equally large heart, these extra-large dogs can make the perfect companions and best of friends.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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