This guide is all about the biggest of the big, the giant dog breeds with big paws, big claws, and big personalities.
When welcoming a big dog into the family, it is important to do your research on the needs and temperament of the breed; to ensure the happiness and health of your pooch, you need to be able to provide the appropriate level of care.
Don’t take this to mean that if you have a small yard, or live in an apartment, that you can’t own big dogs. There are a number of big dog breeds that are perfectly happy to laze around all day – so long as you do give them plenty of exercise.
Every large dog breed has their own unique needs, though. Let’s dive into which is right for you!
- 1 What Defines a Large Dog?
- 2 The Benefits of Big Dogs
- 3 The Drawbacks of Large Dog Breeds
- 4 Big Dog Breeds
- 5 Conclusion
What Defines a Large Dog?
Oddly, there is no world-wide benchmark for when a large dog is called an extra-large dog. A general guide is that extra-large dog breeds are those that weight over 75 lbs.
That being said, weight cannot be fully relied on to determine size, as CertaPet discusses, since height must be considered too; some dogs may weigh less than 75 lbs., but if they hit 24 inches in height at the shoulder, they are still considered by most to be an extra-large dog.
There are giant dog breeds that were built for protecting cattle from predators like lions and bears (no joke!), such as the Rhodesian Ridgeback, and are thus quite heavy-boned and muscular.
Other breeds were bred for hunting, like the Irish Wolfhound, and are thus lighter and sleeker.
The Benefits of Big Dogs
Big dogs are typically a perfect family pet, as many breeds are relaxed and love to cuddle. Plus, several were created for the express purpose of guarding the family, the home, and livestock, making them very protective of those they are bonded to.
This trait also makes large dog breeds receptive to training, which is a must with animals of this size.
Aside from being the perfect living space-heater in cold weather, many big dogs are gentle giants that are wonderful with kids and other pets.
Extra-large dogs are often great working dogs; even though they are laidback and typically of a calm temperament, they will happily work or play right alongside you all day long.
Large dogs are calm and can adapt to life in an apartment surprisingly well. As long they are given enough exercise in the morning, large dogs will happily spend the day sleeping while you are at work. This is not true of all breeds, however.
Finally, a sad fact is that shelters often always have large dogs in care. People find the idea of an extra-large dog appealing… until the adorable puppy starts to grow.
Owners, or soon-to-be-owners, that actually do their research and are prepared to care for a large dog can often adopt one in need instead of going to a breeder.
The Drawbacks of Large Dog Breeds
Obviously, an extra-large dog requires an extra-large amount of food, though their dietary requirements are very similar to all other dogs.
Sadly, large dogs do have their own collection of health issues, and caring for them can rack up quite the bill.
Hip dysplasia is a common problem, as is osteoarthritis and heart problems. Large dogs also have shorter lifespans, averaging at 10-14 years.
A drawback that some may not consider is the intimidation factor. Even though many big dogs are gentle giants, their sheer size or mass can terrify people – especially those that are afraid of dogs!
If you do want a large dog, be sure to train them the “sit” and “stay” commands early on, so that they don’t terrify house-guests. Even if you know your pooch is running up to say hello and get some ear-scratches, your guests may not.
Big Dog Breeds
Height: 30-37 inches.
Weight: 100-180 lbs.
Lifespan: 6-8 years.
Probably one of the most iconic and recognizable giant dog breeds, the Great Dane is a classic gentle giant.
Known for being playful, these dogs are great family pets and will accept other pets as members of the pack with the right introduction.
Although they are calm, they do require plenty of exercise and are not the easiest to train; they are blessed with brawn over brain.
Great Danes are hugely affectionate and will do their best to be a lapdog despite their size. They can also be a bit clumsy, so small children should not be left alone with them come playtime. This clumsiness can also make smaller homes a bit of a ‘bull in a china shop’ situation.
Care and maintenance means regular exercise, infrequent brushing, and a gentle temperament from owners when it comes to discipline; Great Danes are sensitive souls.
It is recommended that owners have some dog training experience under their belts before training these animals.
Given their size, it is vital that basic obedience training starts right away, since, while Great Dane puppies are receptive to training, adults are very slow to pick up new tricks.
Height: 30-35 inches.
Weight: 115-180 lbs.
Lifespan: 6-10 years.
The Irish Wolfhound may have been bred to hunt wolves centuries ago, but today the breed finds itself as a good family dog that will bond strongly with individuals.
They are gentle and laidback and will greet strangers with affection. Although this doesn’t make them a great guard dog for the home, Wolfhounds will be fiercely protective of their owners if they sense a threat. Outside of these threats, Wolfhounds are not particularly territorial in nature.
Smart and independent, these dogs require consistent and firm training routines. As they were initially bred to hunt miles away from their owners, Wolfhounds are independent and will happily occupy themselves when left alone – although if left alone for long periods of time, they can become depressed and destructive.
Twice weekly grooming is required for the Wolfhounds, as their fur is long enough that tangles can quickly develop.
It is best to adopt Wolfhounds as puppies since the strongest bonds they form in their entire life are with the people and animals they are raised with.
These dogs are great personal guardians and are wonderful companions for kids.
Height: 27-30 inches.
Weight: 120-170 lbs.
Lifespan: 8-10 years.
Anyone that loves big, fluffy dog breeds will love the Newfoundland breed. Unique to this breed is that they were designed to be full-on working dogs that helped fishermen haul in their catches.
These big beauties are great swimmers and made of fluff and muscle, allowing them to haul nets full of fish aboard and rescue sailors that have been thrown overboard.
These large dogs are fantastic family pets! Known as ‘nanny dogs’ in Victorian times, Newfoundland dogs are gentle and kind, and are instinctively protective of their charges.
They were even used as lifeguards because of their ability to sense when people were in danger, and for how well Newfoundlands adapted to the water.
A thick coat requires brushing a few times a week, alongside daily exercise. They love water play and will happily splash in puddles, pools, or the ocean if you aren’t careful.
These dogs are relatively easy to train, but they don’t adapt well to hot or humid climates.
Here’s a video showing more details on the Newfoundland dog breed.
Height: 25-30 inches.
Weight: 110-170 lbs.
Lifespan: 10-12 years.
Big and muscular, the Caucasian Shepard is large, powerful, and certainly a sight to behold. Bred for the danger of mountainous regions, these dogs are powerhouse working dogs.
This dog is not for the inexperienced. They were bred to be the ultimate guardian of the family and farm, and will not back down from a fight – even if the odds are definitely not in their favor.
This makes them a great companion for farmers that have a lot of experience in training big dogs and who have issues with wild predators killing their herds.
However, this also makes the Caucasian Shepard a breed that isn’t great for tight quarters or young families. Not to say that these dogs cannot be gentle and loving, as they can be with the right environment and training. But, as they usually only bond with their master, they can be aloof to all others.
A distrust of strangers and an impressive amount of muscle makes training this dog a high priority. As they can be aggressive to other dogs, puppy school isn’t a good idea, and an expert trainer will be needed to instill the right behavior.
A thick coat requires brushing a few times a week, and hot or humid climates are not ideal.
Height: 28-35 inches.
Weight: 140-180 lbs.
Lifespan: 8-10 years.
Who didn’t want a Saint Bernard after seeing Beethoven as a kid? Good news is, the Saint Bernard is a wonderful family pet.
Initially bred to be a guard dog and rescue lost strangers, this dog breed is built to tackle cold, rocky environments – making them a great hiking companion.
Relaxed and calm, Saint Bernards will hardly bat an eye if a child decides to use them as a pillow, and will cheerfully greet strangers. They also love to play but don’t need to be taken on exhausting walks every day to burn off energy – although they still need plenty of exercise.
Care and maintenance involve lots of grooming and cleaning up the occasional puddle of drool. Saint Bernards also don’t handle being left alone very well, even just for the working day, so unless you work from home or are a stay-at-home parent, then be prepared for bad habits (like barking and chewing) to develop.
While somewhat independent and requiring a strict routine, training a Saint Bernard is not overly difficult. Their sheer mass makes general obedience training a must.
Height: 23-26 inches.
Weight: 100-110 lbs.
Lifespan: 5-8 years.
French Mastiffs, also called Dogue de Brodeaux, were once hunting and war dogs, but have now found their place as family dogs and guardians of the home.
Their intelligence and affectionate nature make them great around kids, and their protective instincts, as well as fierce loyalty, make them an elite guard dog.
Their bulk is covered by short, surprisingly soft fur that only requires grooming once a week. However, their signature face wrinkles do need frequent washing to prevent skin sores or infections from arising.
Sadly, this breed has a short lifespan and can be affected by entropion. The latter is a condition wherein the lower lash-line rolls inwards and irritates the eye, which can lead to an infection and eventual blindness; surgery is needed to resolve the condition.
Training requires firm leadership with the trainer positioning themselves as the ‘pack leader.’ While great family dogs, French Mastiffs don’t always get along well with other pets; puppies must be socialized.
A more active breed, this dog needs a good walk each day. They also don’t do well being left alone, and need a constant human presence from their bonded family – or else they may start to become depressed (French Mastiffs associate solitude with punishment).
Height: 30-32 inches.
Weight: 75-110 lbs.
Lifespan: 8-11 years.
Scottish Deerhounds are high-energy, high-activity dogs that were once bred to chase down deer twice their size. Not for the dog owner novice, these dogs are big, furry, and full of energy.
Perfect jogging companions and great with kids, Scottish Deerhounds are friendly, loving dogs that love to play. However, they have a strong prey-instinct and will chase down animals that are not similar in size to themselves.
This means that a sturdy, fenced-in yard is required, and letting them loose in a full dog park isn’t a great idea.
Lack of exercise will cause destructive behaviors to develop, and a large yard with ample toys (or a companion dog of similar size) is needed for daily mental and physical stimulation, alongside a long walk every day.
Training requires a deft touch and positive reinforcement. Despite the fact that their coats are somewhat long, their fur is tough and wiry, required only weekly brushing.
Height: 27-29 inches.
Weight: 120-150 lbs.
Lifespan: 11-13 years.
Anatolian Shepherds are another ultimate guard dog. Dense with muscle and independent, these dogs were bred to protect their owner’s herds from predators; thus, they have sharp protective instincts and will become aggressive or agitated if a threat presents itself.
That said, with the right training and socialization, Anatolian Shepherds can be good companions for families – although it is better to wait until the kids are hitting double digits in age before getting one.
Raising one as a puppy helps them to understand the family, including the kids, as a part of their ‘flock’ they are supposed to protect.
Training itself requires a strict routine and patience. These dogs will test your authority, and owners must establish themselves as ‘pack leader’ consistently and kindly.
Unfortunately, poorly socialized and badly trained Anatolian Shepherds can become rowdy and uncontrollable, making them a risk to themselves, other animals, and people. There is also a higher risk than most breeds for same-sex aggression.
Their thick coats require frequent brushing and be prepared for a lot of shedding come summer.
Height: 25-31 inches.
Weight: 120-170 lbs.
Lifespan: 10-12 years.
If you wanted a dog that looks like a lion and has the bark to match, this is the giant dog for you. The Leonberger is huge, even amongst the extra-large dog breeds, and is covered in a thick coat.
In spite of their intimidating size, Leonbergers are great family pets, even with young families. Their calm temperament, as well as submissive and friendly nature, makes them ideal as companions for little kids.
As with all dog breeds, a firm training routine will instill proper behavior and discipline, and good socialization as a puppy will ensure a docile pooch that won’t be aggressive to other dogs.
A dense coat requires grooming a few times a week. They can be barkers, but with enough exercise to burn off excess energy (a walk a day plus mental stimulation), Leonbergers are a calm breed.
Height: 27-30 inches.
Weight: 130-220 lbs.
Lifespan: 6-10 years.
English Mastiffs are big and bulky, one of the powerhouses of the giant dog world. Even though they aren’t much for barking, these dogs are good guard dogs and will defend their home and family; they are more likely to put themselves between family members and an attacker as a barrier over biting, though.
Not the best with young children or elderly people, as they can be a bit clumsy, English Mastiffs require lots of exercise and good training.
A lack of socialization as a puppy will make for a shy dog that won’t do well with strange people or dogs, leading to defensive behavior.
It’s important to note that these are family dogs, meaning that they don’t do well when separated from their humans. If you don’t like having indoor dogs, or those that drool, then an English Mastiff is not for you.
A short coat requires brushing only once a week.
Here’s a video showing some tips on how to care for large dog breeds.
This guide has covered some of the largest dog breeds in the world! While many were bred for hunting, guarding, or protecting the family and home, many of these breeds are gentle giants that flourish under affection and care.
Not all huge dog breeds are suitable for first-time owners, and all require proper training and socializing for a happy, calm personality, but even then, big dogs are some of the most loyal around.