Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

BIG DOGS versus big acting dogs

Irish Wolfhound, Irish Kennel Club

What does it mean to be "big" in the dog world?

Well, there are traditionally two aspects that count in what it means to be a big dog -- height and bulk. Traditionally considered the tallest breed, the Irish Wolfhound is--as a rule, not counting individual exceptions -- the tallest dog. Increasingly running a close second due particularly to large individual members is the Great Dane.

Grey Great Dane

Harlequin Great Dane

The other kind of big is, as I said, made of weight and bulk. Here the top breed is generally considered to be the English Mastiff, although individual members of other breeds, particularly a few Saint Bernards, are also very beefy dogs. As breeds, mastiffs were designed to be a little bulkier than were Saints.

Fawn English Mastiff

Saint Bernard

Other large mastiff breeds would include the Neapolitan Mastiff and the Douge de Bordeaux (which is sometimes called the French Mastiff.)

Neapolitan Mastiff pup

Douge de Bordeaux or French Mastiff

There are some other large breeds out there also. The Tibetan Mastiff is big, even if you discount the fur.

Tibetan Mastiff

The Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog is also a fairly large breed, and that lovely fur just adds to the appearance of size - but there is a lot of dog under that hair.

Great Pyrenees

Then there are some other tall breeds out there.

The Scottish Deerhound and the Borzoi both have a fair
bit of height and length -- they aren't the size of dogs
you can loose in the average room.

Scottish Deerhound


Black Afghan
Not as heavy as some breeds but still easily qualifying as big dogs to anyone who has met one in person, we also have the Afghan Hound. Not only do Afghan's have a fair bit of height, there is also a lot of bone and muscle under that lovely fur.
Cream Afghan

This is not, of course, an exhaustive list of big dogs. It is more of a off-the-top-of-my-head list of big dogs.
I am thinking today about the difference between what those of us familiar with a lot of breeds of dogs consider 'big' as opposed to what people more familiar with just a few small or medium sized breeds might consider big.

I have had people for example expect Gracie - an English Bull Terrier - to be a big dog. She's not. Some people think she's a somewhat big dog, particularly if they are smaller dog people. To my mind, Gracie is literally a somewhat over sized lap dog. She fits in my lap, she leans into my lap a lot but at 39 pounds, she is slightly larger than comfortable for that role.

Graice - big personality, compact size

Like many not so big dogs, Gracie does have a big, big personality - I think this often makes her seem bigger than she is. This can be said not just of most Bull Terriers, but most terriers in general. If you want a dog that takes up less physical space but has a huge emotional and physical impact, think terrier.

On the other hand, if you can live with a dog that takes up a certain amount of physical space but doesn't overwhelm you with activity like boomeranging off the furniture, some of these big dogs are worth considering. I've always found Borzoi for example, to seem to take up less room than the average terrier. The Borzoi I've met have all been quiet, calm and easy to share a room with. They find a spot, lay down, and are undemanding.

Borzoi - calmer than the average terrier

If you ever go to dog shows watch a class of Mastiffs and then watch a class of Bull Terriers or Schnauzers. There is no comparison in activity levels. The Mastiffs quietly wait their turns, often laying down and snoozing if it is a big class. The terriers are busy bouncing and challenging each other and having their attention divided in forty directions at once, only occasionally in the direction of their handler.

Schnauzer - not exactly ready for show ring

In that sense, what makes a dog big? And what kind of big dog is easier to live with? Personality can make a dog very big and very challenging to live with. Size is often easier to live with than is the big, big personality that makes many constant demands. Not that large dogs don't have personality; in fact, they often have some of the most pleasing, comfortable personalities. Unlike little dogs, they often don't have as much to prove. They know they tower over others. They know they can knock another dog or even a person down with a paw. Many of the big breeds are easier going ... at least compared to a terrier.


A Newfie for example, can walk down the sidewalk with you, never feeling the need to challenge another dog or person. They're confident. But they're relaxed.  A terrier on the other hand, can't walk across their own living room without possibly breaking into a charge because they suddenly see someone doing something they need to supervise, or an activity that they need to be in the middle of. When that happens twenty or thirty times a day - well you have to have a certain kind of personality yourself to find that tolerable.

Landseer Newfoundland

So what kind of big dog do you prefer, if you have a preference?
Do you like the BIG boys and girls who take up a fair share of floor space - or need their own personal couch - or do you like a dog that bundles a big bunch of attitude into a more compact design?

Personally - I prefer the BIG dogs.

Bloodhounds - more big than not

I just can't figure out why I keep ending up with all these terriers....

Schnazuer - saving the world from a demon ball


  1. Hi. I love big dogs... I do not know if I will ever get a giant breed, so much dog food, so many hip problems, such a short life... But I suppose down the road it would be cool to get an older, very sweet giant breed from a rescue. I have seen several mastiffs and saints at local shelters recently. I think i could do that some day for a few years. I think I would regret never living with a giant breed dog.

    I like newfies a lot. There was a pup leonberger in our obedience class this summer. The dog gained SIX lbs a WEEK! Very sweet and mellow. I have always liked irish wolfhounds and there used to be a couple of them locally. I do not know about pyrenees though. I think they are bred for protection (of sheep) that prevents that super sweet disposition I require...


  2. Hello Kathy,

    I can't wait to see what kind of BIG dog you end up with some day ;-)

    Pyrenees are actually big sweeties, super with kids and families. They do however, require a wee bit of brushing...probably quicker to keep a Shetland Pony groomed. But Shetlands just aren't as easy going as a Pyr.

  3. The only pyrenees I know is people-aggressive, but then so is their owner.

  4. That's sad.... As with poorly behaved children though, I never expect a pet to be well behaved if the owners aren't.

    Although there is the rare individual dog that doesn't sink to the level of its owners, I would also say I have yet to meet a breed that can't be poorly influenced by their owners. People can bring out the worst in any breed.

    I think Kathy, you've probablay just inspired a future blog about the pointlessness in my opinion, of breed specific legislation. Crap owners can make any dog a danger to society.

  5. Cool idea for a column... While I don't support breed legislation, I'll also note that breeds do have disposition tendencies...which by no means mean all individual fit them, just that they are more common with that breed at least today.

    Speaking of pit bulls - I gather that the disposition of these dogs toward people trends toward the sweet side, they are real lovers. But the problem may come more with dog aggression. I don't know how the genetics of this shake out across pitties in the US today, I'm guessing that a minority have a genetic tendency toward dog aggression and that most seriously dog-aggressive pits are a) victims of irresponsible breeding and/or b) victims of abusive owners whether or not they are trying to fight them and/or c) victims of that vicious cycle of a lack of early dog-dog socialization. And I understand that, pound for pound, they are one of the strongest dog breeds around.

    I have not, to date, ever knowlingly met a pit bull. I'm eager to. I know that they have huge groups of fans who are responsible dog owners believing that they have a bad rap. I know that the regional shelters get a lot of them. And I keep hearing that they are absolutely wonderful with people. Kathy

  6. Thanks Kathy - the blog ended up being about APBT specifically - and how the breed became both the pitbull and the American Staffordshire Terrier....

    1. My daughter has Pit Bulls and has for a number of years. Very well mannered, loves children, horses and other dogs. She is a responsible owner, however, any of these dogs, Actually any dog in the hands of an irresponsible and abusive owner will not turn out well.


    2. I agree Sandra - any breed can go bad in the hands of abusive owners.

  7. to be honest they shouldnt have them if they dont wanna take care of them

  8. I own a bull mastiff and she is a wonderful lap dog (so she thinks) Very loyal and protective. She is not aggressive though she will put herself between me and anyone she does not know. Wonderful dog even with the kids

    1. Thanks for stopping in Barry - its always good to hear another person's experience with a breed :-)

  9. The "Grey" Great Dane is actually called a Blue and is a recognized color of the Great Dane Club of America and AKC.
    Gateway Great Dane Rescue

  10. tell me about pure "Balkhi Dog" Please. and pictures