Your guide to big dog breeds

Dogs can come in a myriad of shapes and sizes but if it’s a large dog you’re after, any potential new owners should be aware of several factors

Like any size dog, different breeds can be predisposed to different temperaments, health conditions and various specific considerations. Here are a few things you should know about some of the more popular large breed dogs in New Zealand.


When it comes to big dogs, the Newfie definitely makes the list, although generally a placid dog they easily grow to 100lbs/45kg with large males topping the scales at 154lbs/70kg. This huge dog is a water baby and with webbed feet and a thick double coat, they were originally bred to help fishermen.


· Newfoundlands are very friendly and make great family pets where they can be guaranteed lots of activity and attention and their placid nature makes them very tolerant of children.

· They’re very intelligent and therefore easy to train so it’s advisable they’re taught the command ‘down’ before they’re physically too large to be removed from the sofa.

· Although big they don’t require as much physical exercise as some larger dogs. In fact, too much walking and running can contribute to predisposed joint problems prevalent with this breed.

· They’re working dogs and form close bonds with their humans, they’ll be happy to be around you and equally happy to please you rather than challenge your authority.

· They’re quiet dogs who won’t often bark without good reason, they might alert you to a potential threat (or postman) but they’re unlikely to bring the house down just for the fun of it.


· They’re not a breed for neat freaks, between their shedding double coat and excessive slobber, they’ll need as much maintenance as your floor will.

· The average life expectancy of Newfoundland is 8 – 10 years which is shorter than many other breeds.

· Their larger size leaves them predisposed to several health conditions especially joint problems like hip and knee dysplasia. As they grow, significant pressure is put on their joints which is why it’s especially important to be careful how much they’re exercised when still growing.

· Their sociable nature means they don’t like being left alone so if you’re out a lot of the day, this might not be the breed for you.

· It goes without saying that they’re large dogs and therefore need a larger home and aren’t ideal for apartment living.

Great Dane

Originally used to hunt wild boars, the Great Dane is an old and noble breed with pictorial references around the world dating back hundreds, possibly even thousands of years. This giant of a dog can

easily 110lbs – 200lbs / 50kg -90kg and have no problem towering over you when stood on their hind legs.


· Despite their size, they typically have a very easy-going nature and can be quite docile making them ideal family pets and great around children.

· They’re a pretty smart dog and take well to consistent training, the close bond they often develop with their humans means they’re always eager to please.

· Although very large they don’t need as much exercise as you might think as their joints can become weakened over time.

· Their neat, short coat is easy to look after with a simple dog brush and shouldn’t need the aid of a professional groomer.

Pro/con: They’re not always aware of their size and it’s common to come across Great Danes who think they’re lapdogs, whilst this might sound (and look) cute – a 200lb dog isn’t the most comfortable thing to have on your lap.


· Like many larger breed dogs, they have a shorter life expectancy of 7 – 10 years.

· Their size and intelligence can be an annoying combo when it comes to counter surfing and finding things, they really shouldn’t be eating so make sure they’re trained early, and everything is tidied away.

· They’re predisposed to health conditions often associated with large breeds (like joint dysplasia) and deep-chested dogs (like bloat) so don’t over-exercise them and don’t let them eat and drink too quickly.

· Although all dogs can develop cancer, larger dogs are more likely to develop bone cancer (osteosarcoma) earlier so make sure any limping is checked by a vet as soon as possible.

Irish Wolfhound

If it’s the height you want in your large dog, the Irish Wolfhound could be the pet for you as they’re the tallest breed you can get. Although this sighthound might look imposing seen across a mist-covered Moore, they’re actually incredibly affectionate and gentle giants.


· They’re easy going to the point where they make useless guard dogs, they love getting to know new people, children, dogs and have even been known to befriend cats.

· Like many other sighthounds they can be incredibly active when prompted but for the most part, they’re quite content living life as couch potatoes.

· Although not hypoallergenic, their coat produces less dander and is relatively easy to take care of, a good brush every week or two should be enough to keep it looking neat.

· Comparative to their size they don’t need as much exercise as you might think, although they love to run too much exercise, especially when they’re still growing, can have a damaging impact on their limbs later in life.

· They’re quiet dogs who will bark only when it’s really necessary or they’re feeling especially playful but as they are guard dogs, they don’t usually announce every person visiting your home.


· They can have incredibly high prey drives and due to their size, the average 6ft garden fence won’t always be enough to keep them contained.

· They’re susceptible to health conditions common with sighthounds and large breeds. Dysplasia in the hips, knees and elbows are associated with larger breed dogs and sighthounds are often sensitive to anaesthesia so always try and find a vet experienced with the breed.

· Like other large breed dogs, they’re shorter lived with an average life expectancy of 6 – 10 years.

· Their size comes with several practical considerations and given this breed can stand at 7ft on their back legs, always assume if you can reach it, so can they.

Bernese Mountain Dog

The Bernese Mountain dog is a Swiss working dog bred to herd cattle and work on the farmlands of Switzerland. They’re highly intelligent and can be full of energy making them a handful for a novice owner.


· This giant breed is a working dog and highly intelligent which means they’re very trainable and they learn quick.

· They’re very loyal, eager to please and get on great with children making them perfect family pets for those who have space and time and aren’t going to leave them alone for long periods.

· They make great watchdogs because they have a loud bark and aren’t afraid to use it especially when they think they need to protect their family.

· Bernese love a hobby and are popular at agility classes, search and rescue training and other outdoor pursuits.


· Their huge size, double coat and the fact they originate from snowy mountains mean they’re not great in the heat so should always have access to cool shade on hot days.

· Because they’re intelligent working dogs they can get bored easily so need lots of attention and mental stimulation and can get destructive when left alone for long periods of time.

· Their size and the fact they have a smaller genetic foundation makes them prone to several health conditions and a shorter life expectancy of between 6 – 10 years.

· They have a lot of fur and shed a lot and they slobber so things can get messy and require a lot of maintenance.


This giant water-loving dog is a mix between Newfoundland and Saint Bernard and is designed to look like a lion, their intelligent nature combined with their size can make them quite a handful when not trained properly.


· They’re incredibly intelligent and very susceptible to training when done consistently as they love to learn.

· They can be extremely calm and quiet and form tight bonds with their human family making them great family pets.

· Like their Newfoundland cousins, they love the water and make great swimmers and they’re also great at agility and obedience training.


· Their high intelligence and high energy levels can cause them to become destructive when not stimulated or left alone for long periods of time.

· This longhaired breed sheds heavily so need lots of grooming and an owner with a good vacuum cleaner.

· Their loyal nature means they sometimes don’t understand the difference between a regular family argument and a situation they need to intervene.

Every dog is different, and their temperament and behaviour can be impacted by their environment as much as their genetics. If you’re thinking of opening your home to one of these giant breeds, ask the breeder or rescue centre lots of questions to make sure you’re as prepared as possible. All puppies need time to learn regardless of their size so it’s important to remember a larger puppy can sometimes create larger mischief so make sure you’re around to keep an eye on them

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