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Here comes the big dog breeds

big dog next to small dog advice
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The ranges of shape, colour and fur of a dog are vast. Then there is her size: some of us prefer little dogs, and some of us prefer big dogs. What about you?

By Nick Whittle

Updated on the 24/01/2020, 11:34

But in every respect a dog is a dog regardless of its size. Our feeling intimidated by the big dog is as much a result of our own prejudices as is our trusting the small dog never to bite. Learn about the nature of big dogs from an objective standpoint and it will become apparent that ‘big’ equates no more readily to ‘aggressive’ than does ‘little’.

Why are some dogs big?

Although not set in stone, the definition of a dog of a giant breed is one that weighs in excess of 50 kilogrammes. Their bodies grow much faster than those of smaller breeds but it takes longer for a big dog’s joints, muscles and bones to mature.

A Great Dane from America called Zeus was a few years ago officially recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s tallest dog. Zeus was the same size as a donkey and when he stood on his hind legs he measured 7’4’’, according to Guinness’s website.

Big dogs have been around for hundreds of years. The Ancient Greeks are known to have bred dogs called ‘boarhounds’, the forerunners of the Great Dane, and since then respective cultures have bred giant dogs to guard and to hunt.

The German nobility of the middle ages also bred large ‘chamber dogs’ in order that they may be protected from assassins and bandits, according to some historical sources.

Types of big dog breeds

Of the large number of giant breeds in the world here are just ten:

What is the personality of a big dog?

The personality of a dog varies according to the individual animal, but traits both nasty and good are in most cases determined by the owner’s treatment of a dog. A dog’s behaviour can also be dictated by the animal’s state of mind and health but in such cases treatment of an ailment or therapy will cure an uncharacteristic foible.

Big dogs are prone to nasty illnesses.
Learn about the character of the big dog before you buy ©Pixabay

Here we have listed objectively some of the advantages and disadvantages of owning a big dog as opposed to a small dog.

The advantages of the giant dog breeds are:

  • Less needy of exercise (but in essence, sufficient exercise is still required)
  • Less intimidated by people (which makes them more stable when meeting other animals and people)
  • Less nervous in general and more confident
  • Less likely to bark about insignificant things
  • Less excitable around children and more easily trained
  • Less choosy of a favourite family member; big dogs tend to get along with everyone
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The disadvantages of the giant dog breed are:

  • More protective (especially if sensing a threat, but small dogs are more likely to bite)
  • More food required (and with it the expense for food designed specifically for big dogs)
  • More likely to chew on pieces of furniture, especially when a puppy
  • More expensive to put in kennels
  • More difficult to manoeuvre and far less portable

What physical problems can big dog breeds have?

It is a widely known fact that big dogs do not live as long as little dogs. They are more prone to terminal illnesses than their smaller kin, and they seem genetically predisposed to live no longer than about eight years. The Great Dane Zeus died when he was just five years old.

The causes of this premature mortality are not entirely clear. Early death may be due to the high rate of physical growth seen in big dogs or it may be something linked to congenital defects.

Here are five illnesses that big dogs are prone to:

Cardiomyopathy: Dilated cardiomyopathy is a degenerative disease of the heart. It is a common illness of large breeds. A big dog with acute cardiomyopathy will breathe heavily and quickly; she will develop a blue tinge to her tongue and will drool.

Arthritis: Arthritis is a common ailment of the large breeds perhaps again due to the speed at which their bodies grow when they are younger. The main symptoms of arthritis in a big dog are a stiffness of joints (which affects her mobility) and pain when trying to move her limbs.

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Cervical Spondylomyelopathy: The condition is also called ‘Wobbler Syndrome’ due to its effect on the gait of the dog.

GDV: Gastric dilation and volvulus syndrome (GDV) is a serious disorder of the stomach. It is brought on by the stomach’s twisting; if this twist is prolonged and untreated, the blood supplies to the stomach and spleen are stopped and death can soon follow.

It is believed that the deep and narrow chest of the big breeds creates just enough room for the gastric strangulation to occur.

Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is a condition that is caused by the incomplete excretion of the dog’s thyroid hormone. If untreated it brings on symptoms that include bradycardia (slow heart beat), lethargy, hair loss, weight gain and skin infections.

A big dog may not need as much exercise as a little dog.
Big dogs grow faster than little dogs © Pixabay

Details of these illnesses (cause, diagnosis, treatments) can be found online. However, it should be remembered that most of these diseases are genetic malformations. As such, the only treatments worthwhile to have are those which prevent further worsening of the disease or treat pain and discomfort caused by the disease.

That being said, hypothyroidism can be completely reversed by hormone replacement therapy.

Some people just choose to own a large dog instead of a small dog. The reasons why are various, but on the whole purely subjective. Owners of large dogs will say their animals are more affectionate and more intelligent than small dogs (and of course, owners of small dogs would retaliate!).

Whatever your final decision, be sure your choice is one that is right for your dog as well as you. And for those who are dissuaded by the shorter lifespan of a large dog, remember: there is no guarantee that even a small dog will live for as long as we expect it to.