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Large Dog Breeds: Caring for Gentle Giants

Whether a dog breed is ‘large’ depends on whom you ask: Dog owners and non-dog owners may have differing opinions, and a veterinarian could offer up another suggestion entirely. But generally, a dog is considered large if he weighs more than 55 pounds. Height-wise, most people consider a dog taller than 20 inches at the shoulder to be large, but height and weight don’t always match up—some hefty breeds are short and stocky, so height isn’t the sole indicator of a dog’s size classification.

Some large dog breeds include:

  • Labrador Retriever
  • German Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
  • Boxer
  • Afghan Hound
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Bulldog
  • English Foxhound
  • Pointer

Border Collies, Goldendoodles, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Standard Poodles are breeds that may be considered medium or large, depending on individual traits or adult weight. Additionally, males in a specific breed may be much larger than females, so an individual from the breed may fall on either end of the large dog continuum—in which case, you can at least get an idea of average size based on the breed standard.

A weight heavier than 70 pounds tips a dog closer to the extra-large category. This is where Great Danes, St. Bernards, Rottweilers, and Great Pyrenees land.

Large Dogs From Around the World

The Labrador Retriever is top dog in the United States, but other large breeds from around the world include:

  • The Akita  a large dog breed from the mountainous regions of Northern Japan that consistently ranks among the AKC’s top 50 breeds
  • The Neapolitan Mastiff – an ancient giant breed with roots in Southern Italy
  • The Chow Chow – a large breed that originated in ancient Northern China and Mongolia as a hunting companion and royal kennel favorite, known for its fluffy fur and wrinkled skin
  • The Dalmatian – named for the Dalmatia region of Croatia—an area where this breed may have originated—and still ranking as one of Croatia’s most popular breeds
  • The Rhodesian Ridgeback – a member of the hound group and originating in southern Africa, most often used for tracking and protection
  • The Black Russian Terrier – developed as a military protection canine and patrol dog in the 1930s by the Soviet government—and now, a smart working dog who makes a fine partner for highly experienced dog owners
  • The Leonberger – a breed developed in Germany and a popular choice among members of royal families, composers, and as a farm and field working breed

Large Dog Breed Care

The larger the canine, the larger the supplies. Big dogs need big dog beds that offer plenty of pressure relief and support for joints and muscles. Memory foam is a preferred option for the big dog: It conforms to your dog’s shape to cradle him comfortably, taking the pressure off his joints.

When it comes to walking your big pal, a properly fitted large breed dog harness may provide more control than a collar and leash alone, especially for a puller. Choose one that fits comfortably, and consider an option designed to double as a car restraint system to keep your big dog from becoming a big distraction when you’re behind the wheel.

Dog care is about more than supplies alone—there are health and safety considerations, too:

  • Large breeds may ‘counter surf,’ which puts them at risk of eating something that could make them ill.
  • Stairs can be difficult for large dogs, especially as they get older.
  • Heavy activity, especially in puppies and young, developing dogs, puts big breeds at risk for bone or joint injuries.
  • Travel may be easier with a more compact breed—consider how you’ll transport your dog safely, and whether there’s room for him to accompany you in the vehicle.
  • Athletic large breeds may scale or leap fences to go exploring.
  • Common health concerns for large breed dogs include obesity, bloat, arthritis, joint issues, hip dysplasia, thyroid problems, and a shorter lifespan.
  • In many cases, larger breeds are more expensive to care for: They require more food, their vet bills and grooming costs may be higher, and medications or treatments administered by weight can be pricier.

What to Feed a Large Breed Dog

Feeding your large breed dog a specially formulated food from puppyhood can help him as he grows; these special preparations meet the unique needs of large breeds. Adjustments for calcium, caloric, and fat content help reduce orthopedic issues and prevent excessive weight gain in big breeds. Because large breed dogs have specific nutritional needs, feeding a small breed food isn’t recommended—small dogs need more calories and fat, which can exacerbate weight or growth problems in your large breed dog.

Puppyhood lasts longer for large breed dogs—physical growth and mental development phases stretch beyond a year for larger dogs. This means veterinarians often recommend that you feed a large breed dog puppy formula longer than you might a smaller breed.

Clipping a Large Dog’s Nails

Overgrown nails can cause discomfort or pain in any dog, but the larger the dog, the bigger the problem. Clipping a large dog’s nails can be a different kind of problem. While part of the issue lies in the size—juggling fur and pounds while clipping can be a full-body workout—there are other concerns. If your big dog is nervous or doesn’t like having his paws touched, however friendly he is, you may be putting yourself at risk.

Trimming your large dog’s nails comes down to patience and training. Take it slow, offer lots of praise, and settle for a paw per session if that’s all you can get. While nervous dogs may be desensitized over time, some dogs may require a vet visit and sedation for a proper nail  trim.

What Is the Longest Living Large Dog Breed?

While larger dogs tend to have shorter lifespans, a few big breeds tend to live longer. Belgian Shepherds may live up to 14 years, Standard Poodles up to 15, and Pointers up to 17 years. Other long-lived large breeds include:

  • Afghan Hound (12 to 14 years)
  • Alaskan Malamute (10 to 12 years)
  • Labrador Retriever (10 to 14 years)
  • Schnauzer (Giant, 12 to 15 years, )
  • Weimaraner (11 to 14 years)

What Large Dog Breed Is Right for Me?

Bringing a large dog into the family pays off—big-time. Start out on the right paw when you choose a breed with qualities that suit your lifestyle. People who prefer to keep dog hair and drool to a minimum aren’t a likely match for a Newfie, but the short-coated, less drooly Airedale Terrier may be an option. But choosing a big dog is about more than whether they shed or drool. Each type was bred for a purpose. Learn about each breed, what to expect regarding trainability, and how much exercise they need. Some large breeds need an hour or more of high-impact exercise each day, while others prefer a nap to a game of fetch.

If you live in a cold climate, consider the accommodations you’ll need to make for breeds sensitive to the cold, or choose a breed built for freezing temperatures or blowing snow. Hot climates aren’t ideal for dogs prone to overheating—large, hairy, brachycephalic breeds like the Chow, tend to fall into this category.

Rare Large Dog Breeds

A lot of rare large dog breeds have two things in common: They are rare for a reason, and they are large for a reason.

Often a breed is rare because it needs a specialized set of conditions to thrive: a copious amount of exercise every day to prevent destructive behaviors, perhaps, or near-constant human companionship to prevent howling and distress. Assertive breeds might need experienced owners; standoffish breeds might need five-star socialization. Shedders and droolers might need unfussy housekeepers. Size is usually a magnifier: A large and drooly dog will produce much more drool than a small and drooly one. And temperament concerns are much more pressing with a 150-pound dog than with a 15-pound one.

Rare breeds tend to be large because they’re often developed for a specific purpose like guarding or herding—tasks made easier with size on their side. Work-based traits like the ability to pull, to look imposing, or a penchant for search and rescue are uncommon in little breeds—a fifteen-pounder isn’t a likely lifeguard, nor would wolves hesitate to take on a tiny terrier when a meal was at stake. Bigger breeds are stronger, tougher, and more likely to leave a predator or burglar thinking twice.

The same traits that make a large dog breed rare in America also tend to make it rare in other Western countries, like Canada and Great Britain. But while rare breeds might not be suitable for a wide variety of homes, where they do suit, they can make wonderful companions, athletes, or working dogs. Let’s take a look at some rare large dog breeds in America, and what kinds of living situations might be great for them.

Large White Flock Guarding Breeds

A lot of rare, large, white dog breeds are flock guards. Many of the rare dog breeds in this group are extra large. As a general rule, flock guards are the essence of “large for a reason” and “rare for a reason:” Their substantial size helps them protect flocks against predators. So, sure, they may be indispensable for raising alpacas. But how many pet households are up for an animal bred to fight off wolves? Not a lot, and that’s why they’re rare.

Backgrounds and temperaments within this group vary, and some flock guardians have found a place in American homes and farms. The Great Pyrenees, for example, can make a calm, self-assured pet for experienced owners ready for a large dog. But most flock guarding breeds are rare in the United States. They need a flock to guard, and there simply is not a strong enough demand for their services to make them populous here.

Rare flock guarding breeds not recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) include:

  • Akbash: At 75 to 140 pounds, this Turkish livestock guardian is an imposing dog. He is generally low-energy but said to “sleep with one eye open.”
  • Bucovina Shepherd Dog: A Romanian flock guard that ranges from 110 to 200 pounds; dogs can be white with patches of grey, black, or black with red-fawn reflections. Bucovinas are strongly mistrustful of people they don’t know.
  • Kuchi, aka Afghan Shepherd: A fierce, high-stamina, independent livestock guardian weighing 85 to 175 pounds. Not well suited for life as a pet in the West.
  • Maremma Sheepdog: A large, white Italian flock guard averaging 66 to 100 pounds. A superb livestock and farm guard, but the breed club does not recommend it as a pet.
  • Polish Tatra Sheepdog: Mature dogs weigh between 80 and 130 pounds. They have an imposing bark, and they’ll bark at anything they find suspicious. (That’s a big dog with a lot of barking.)

Special considerations: Livestock guardians are bred to protect their flocks without checking in with a person. While this trait is fantastic on the steppes, mountains, and in the deserts where these dogs originated, it is an enormous potential liability in more populous settings. The meter reader, the UPS driver, the propane delivery person, the plumber, Aunt Edna, and the people coming over for dinner each represent an opportunity for a large livestock guarding dog’s judgment to differ from yours—and he won’t be wondering what your opinion is. (Or, for that matter, what your liability insurance is like.)

Protection comes naturally to these dogs, but training for anything else can be slow going. Patience and persistence are key.

Good for: Generally, guarding flocks. There are easier breeds for other purposes.

Otterhounds

The huge and hilarious Otterhound is one of the rarest dog breeds in the world. With a population of fewer than 800, the Otterhound is rarer than the Giant Panda.

Otterhounds were developed in 12th century England to help control the population of otters, which preyed on fish in stocked ponds. Weighing in between 80 and 115 pounds, the Otterhound is a rare and extra-large dog breed. (Their size is one factor that keeps them rare.)

But while their size fills the house with dog, it’s their personality that fills the house with laughter. The breed standard calls for Otterhounds to be “amiable, boisterous and even tempered” dogs. The nasally gifted, friendly, and even-keeled Otterhound is well suited for people interested in tracking, Search and Rescue, therapy work, or simply a shaggy, clownish, intelligent companion.

Special considerations: As scent hounds, these dogs will often experience nasal-induced deafness when let off leash, so a fenced area for exercise is a must. Otterhounds love water and will sometimes submerge their entire heads to drink—even in a bowl. (You’ll need some towels.) Their size makes early training a must, and training Otterhounds requires a confident, patient, and positive touch. They can be both stubborn and sensitive. But when training is fun and they are praised for their good work, these dogs’ class-clown personalities truly shine.

Good for: Experienced dog owners who love to laugh, have room for a large dog, and also have access to (ohboyohboyohboy) water.

Bergamasco Sheepdogs

This rare herding breed is intelligent, gentle, and self-sufficient. Bergamascos typically weigh about 55 to 85 pounds.

If you own a Bergamasco, though, you won’t be fielding a lot of questions about his temperament and size. People will be asking you about his coat. Some call the Bergamasco “the shaggiest dog in the world.” His coat drapes in flat mats or locks—slightly different from the cords on a Komondor or Puli, which are round.

Special considerations: Bergamasco puppies are born with typical canine hair coats. At about one year, the hair type that can form locks starts to grow in. At that stage, you must spend a few hours separating the coat into mats. After that, the coat requires little maintenance—it doesn’t shed, and no brushing or clipping is required.

The AKC recognized Bergamascos in 2015; their popularity in this country is growing. But they still rank in the bottom ten AKC breeds for popularity.

Good for: Experienced owners prepared to socialize and train a large dog with his own thoughts. (Fans of instant and unquestioning obedience should look elsewhere.) With proper socialization, Bergamascos tend to get along well with kids and other pets.

Newfoundlands

Newfoundlands are indeed large—they weigh between 100 and 150 pounds—but they are not rare. In fact, they rank in the top 25 percent in popularity among AKC breeds. They are probably among the least rare large black dog breeds. But confusion persists about “rare types of Newfoundland.”

The So-Called Rare Newfoundland Dog Breed

People wondering about rare Newfoundlands are usually thinking of one of two things: Landseers, or an internet hoax about bear hunting.

The AKC recognizes the Landseer as a Newfoundland with a black and white coat. But the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), an international confederation of kennel clubs, recognizes the Landseer as its own breed with a slightly different coat structure than the Newfoundland. So whether the Landseer is a type of Newfoundland or its own breed depends on whom you ask.

Now, to the bear hunting. Every so often a picture of “a rare type of Newfoundland bred to hunt bears” makes the rounds in online media. In the picture, forced perspective makes the dog—a Newfoundland—look enormous, and the person standing next to it look small. The dog is elevated on an exam table, and is so far in the foreground its front feet aren’t visible in the photo. The person is much farther from the camera, by the dog’s back hip.

Newfoundlands are gentle giants bred for water work. According to the breed standard, “sweetness of temperament” is the single most important trait of the breed. The idea of repurposing Newfies to hunt bears is puzzling and laughable.

Special considerations:  Newfs are giant, voluminous of coat, and deeply muzzled (which leads to plenty of drool, especially in the heat).

Good for: Fairly active people ready for an extra-large companion. Newfies need daily exercise, and their size makes training a must. But they are affectionate, eager to please, and not especially difficult to train. And Newfoundlands are known for being patient and kind with children.

Large Rare Dog Breed Mixes

Rare dog breed mixes are, well, rare. It’s just a numbers thing.

If you are considering adopting a dog you KNOW has a large rare breed in its background, find out what about the rare breed makes it rare in your area. Then you can consider whether the dog could be a good fit for your situation.

If your situation turns out to be well suited to a rare breed, and you have a large-sized space in your home and heart, reach out to breeders and owners to find out more about what these dogs are like. The right person and dog will bring each other many years of joy.

A lot of rare large dog breeds have two things in common: They are rare for a reason, and they are large for a reason.

Stay with me here; I’m serious.

Often a breed is rare because it needs a specialized set of conditions to thrive: A copious amount of exercise every day to prevent destructive behaviors, perhaps, or near-constant human companionship to prevent howling and distress. Assertive breeds might need experienced owners; standoffish breeds might need five-star socialization. Shedders and droolers might need unfussy housekeepers. Size is usually a magnifier: A large and drooly dog will produce much more drool than a small and drooly one. Temperament concerns are much more pressing with a 150-pound dog than with a 15-pound one.

The same traits that make a large dog breed rare in America also tend to make it rare in other Western countries, like Canada and Great Britain. But while rare breeds might not be suitable for a wide variety of homes, where they do suit, they can make wonderful companions, athletes, or working dogs. Let’s take a look at some rare large dog breeds in America, and what kinds of living situations might be great for them.

Large White Flock Guarding Breeds

A lot of rare, large, white dog breeds are flock guards. Many of the rare dog breeds in this group are extra large. As a general rule, flock guards are the essence of “large for a reason” and “rare for a reason:” Their substantial size helps them protect flocks against predators. So, sure, they may be indispensable for raising alpacas. But how many pet households are up for an animal bred to fight off wolves? Not a lot, and that’s why they’re rare.

Backgrounds and temperaments within this group vary, and some flock guardians have found a place in American homes and farms. The Great Pyrenees, for example, can make a calm, self-assured pet for experienced owners ready for a large dog. But most flock guarding breeds are rare in the United States. They need a flock to guard, and there simply is not a strong enough demand for their services to make them populous here.

Rare flock guarding breeds not recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) include:

  • Akbash: At 75 to 140 pounds, this Turkish livestock guardian is an imposing dog. He is generally low-energy but said to “sleep with one eye open.”
  • Bucovina Shepherd Dog: A Romanian flock guard that ranges from 110 to 200 pounds; dogs can be white with patches of grey, black, or black with red-fawn reflections. Bucovinas are strongly mistrustful of people they don’t know.
  • Kuchi, aka Afghan Shepherd: A fierce, high-stamina, independent livestock guardian weighing 85 to 175 pounds. Not well suited for life as a pet in the West.
  • Maremma Sheepdog: A large, white Italian flock guard averaging 66 to 100 pounds. A superb livestock and farm guard, but the breed club does not recommend it as a pet.
  • Polish Tatra Sheepdog: Mature dogs weigh between 80 and 130 pounds. They have an imposing bark, and they’ll bark at anything they find suspicious. (That’s a big dog with a lot of barking.)

Special considerations: Livestock guardians are bred to protect their flocks without checking in with a person. While this trait is fantastic on the steppes, mountains, and in the deserts where these dogs originated, it is an enormous potential liability in more populous settings. The meter reader, the UPS driver, the propane delivery person, the plumber, Aunt Edna, and the people coming over for dinner each represent an opportunity for a large livestock guarding dog’s judgment to differ from yours—and he won’t be wondering what your opinion is. (Or, for that matter, what your liability insurance is like.)

Protection comes naturally to these dogs, but training for anything else can be slow going. Patience and persistence are key.

Good for: Generally, guarding flocks. There are easier breeds for other purposes.

Otterhounds

The huge and hilarious Otterhound is one of the rarest dog breeds in the world. With a population of fewer than 800, the Otterhound is rarer than the Giant Panda.

Otterhounds were developed in 12th century England to help control the population of otters, which preyed on fish in stocked ponds. Weighing in between 80 and 115 pounds, the Otterhound is a rare and extra-large dog breed. (Their size is one factor that keeps them rare.)

But while their size fills the house with dog, it’s their personality that fills the house with laughter. The breed standard calls for Otterhounds to be “amiable, boisterous and even tempered” dogs. The nasally gifted, friendly, and even-keeled Otterhound is well suited for people interested in tracking, Search and Rescue, therapy work, or simply a shaggy, clownish, intelligent companion.

Special considerations: As scent hounds, these dogs will often experience nasal-related deafness when let off leash, so a fenced area for exercise is a must. Otterhounds love water and will sometimes submerge their entire heads to drink—even in a bowl. (You’ll need some towels.) Their size makes early training a must, and training Otterhounds requires a confident, patient, and positive touch. They can be both stubborn and sensitive. But when training is fun and they are praised for their good work, these dogs’ class-clown personalities truly shine.

Good for: Experienced dog owners who love to laugh, have room for a large dog, and also have access to (ohboyohboyohboy) water.

Bergamasco Sheepdogs

This rare herding breed is intelligent, gentle, and self-sufficient. Bergamascos typically weigh about 55 to 85 pounds.

If you own a Bergamasco, though, you won’t be fielding a lot of questions about his temperament and size. People will be asking you about his coat. Some call the Bergamasco “the shaggiest dog in the world.” His coat drapes in flat mats or locks—slightly different from the cords on a Komondor or Puli, which are round.

Special considerations: Bergamasco puppies are born with typical canine hair coats. At about one year, the hair type that can form locks starts to grow in. At that stage, you must spend a few hours separating the coat into mats. After that, the coat requires little maintenance—it doesn’t shed, and no brushing or clipping is required.

The AKC recognized Bergamascos in 2015; their popularity in this country is growing. But they still rank in the bottom ten AKC breeds for popularity.

Good for: Experienced owners prepared to socialize and train a large dog with his own thoughts. (Fans of instant and unquestioning obedience should look elsewhere.) With proper socialization, Bergamascos tend to get along well with kids and other pets.

Newfoundlands

Newfoundlands are indeed large—they weigh between 100 and 150 pounds—but they are not rare. In fact, they fall in the top 25 percent in popularity among AKC breeds. They are probably among the least rare large black dog breeds. But confusion persists about “rare types of Newfoundland.”

The So-Called Rare Newfoundland Dog Breed

People wondering about rare Newfoundlands are usually thinking of one of two things: Landseers, or an Internet hoax about bear hunting.

The AKC recognizes the Landseer as a Newfoundland with a black and white coat. But the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), an international confederation of kennel clubs, recognizes the Landseer as its own breed with a slightly different coat structure than the Newfoundland. So whether the Landseer is a type of Newfoundland or its own breed depends on whom you ask.

Now to the bear hunting. Every so often a picture makes the rounds of “a rare type of Newfoundland bred to hunt bears.” In the picture, forced perspective makes the dog—a Newfoundland—look enormous and the person standing next to it look small. The dog is elevated on an exam table, and is so far in the foreground its front feet aren’t visible in the photo. The person is much farther from the camera, by the dog’s back hip.

Newfoundlands are gentle giants bred for water work. According to the breed standard, “sweetness of temperament” is the single most important trait of the breed. The idea of repurposing Newfies to hunt bears is puzzling and laughable.

Special considerations:  Newfs are giant, voluminous of coat, and deeply muzzled (which leads to plenty of drool, especially in the heat).

Good for: Fairly active people ready for an extra-large companion. Newfies need daily exercise, and their size makes training a must. But they are affectionate, eager to please, and not especially difficult to train. And Newfoundlands are known for being patient and kind with children.

Large Rare Dog Breed Mixes

Rare dog breed mixes are, well, rare. It’s just a numbers thing.

If you are considering adopting a dog you KNOW has a large rare breed in its background, find out what about the rare breed makes it rare in your area. Then you can consider whether the dog could be a good fit for your situation.

If your situation turns out to be well suited to a rare breed, and you have a large-sized space in your home and heart, reach out to breeders and owners to find out more about what these dogs are like. The right person and dog will bring each other many years of joy.