What do I mean when I use the words BIG DOG? A big dog is one who, when laying in your bed, takes up more space than you do. A dog who, when not properly leash trained, could drag you down the street chasing after a rabbit. Or one who could potentially break your toe if he stepped on it. I learned that lesson the hard way.
In a nutshell, a big dog is one who, when fully mature, will reach about 50 pounds or more and range in size from a Labrador retriever and German shepherd to the mighty Mastiff.
With big paws, comes big responsibilities. If you are considering opening your home and your heart to a big dog through purchase or adoption, consider these 5 facts before you do.
1. BIG DOGS Cost More
If you are considering purchasing a large or giant breed puppy, plan to pay more. Big dogs are generally more expensive to purchase, reaching into the thousands for a well-bred puppy. Beyond that you can expect to pay more for quality, species appropriate food and veterinary care. People often mistakenly believe if they purchase kibble at $20 for a 55-pound bag, they can cut down on the food expense for their big dog. This type of thinking is short-sighted. It may lead to lower costs today, but at what expense to your new puppy’s health tomorrow?
Budget accordingly for food. Secondly, veterinary expenses will be higher for your big dog. From larger doses of preventative vaccines and medications to surgical expenses, if required, your big dog will cost you more than a smaller breed. One of my rules of thumb, as it relates to finances, is: if you are going to need a payment plan on the purchase alone, a big dog is not the best choice for you.
2. BIG DOGS Have Special Nutritional and Health Related Needs
Big dogs start out as incredibly fast growing puppies. This accelerated growth means that large breed puppies are extremely sensitive to nutrient and caloric imbalances, deficiencies, and excesses, all of which can adversely affect your puppy’s health.
The goal with a large breed puppy is to feed them a balanced, species appropriate diet which allows them to grow slowly and evenly. This can be accomplished by feeding commercial foods that are specially formulated for large breed puppy and large breed adult dogs, or a balanced raw diet. These foods will generally be lower in fat, calories, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D. These nutrients in excess have been linked to a range of developmental orthopedic diseases such as Hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD), Panosteitis, and Osteochondrosis.
It is important never to over feed your large breed puppy. Keep in mind, your puppy’s growth should not be a sprint, it should be a marathon. And only the healthy finish the race. Lastly, proper feeding and nutrition can decrease the risk of bloat, or gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), which is common especially in deep-chested giant and large breeds like Great Danes and St. Bernards. Feeding smaller meals 2-3 times a day rather than one big meal, and limiting food and water intake immediately before and after exercise, are two steps you can take to minimize your big dog’s risk of bloat.
With respect to health, big dogs disproportionately suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia, bloat and cancer as compared to smaller breed dogs. In fact, according to PetMD, 8 of the 9 breeds with the highest incidence of cancer would be considered a big dog. Arthritis, cardiomyopathy, hypothyroidism, and a variety of eye disorders are also conditions which can occur in big dogs.
Before you throw in the towel, there are many steps you can take to minimize the risk of any one of these conditions in your big dog. First, ONLY buy a puppy from a reputable breeder who performs health testing on the dogs they are breeding. The tests recommended will vary by breed, but nearly all breed clubs have recommended tests that should be done prior to breeding in order to decrease incidence of disease in the breed. Secondly, follow the advice above with respect to feeding. This is a simple step that you have full control of. There are a plethora of terrific resources out there that can help you if you are unsure, but your national breed club is one of the best places to start if you have questions about your breed.
3. BIG DOGS Need More Space and Exercise
It is a common misperception that many big dogs such as Mastiffs, St. Bernards, and Newfoundlands, are just big lazy dogs that lay around and do not require much exercise. That could not be further from the truth. Big dogs fall into the following groups within the American Kennel Club: Working Group, Sporting Group, Hound Group, and Herding Group. ALL of these dogs were bred with specific jobs, or functions, to be able to perform. Most, if not all of these breeds, will become bored and destructive if not given adequate space, stimulation and exercise. While the required amounts of exercise will vary depending on the breed, very few of these breeds will be suitable or happy confined to a small apartment.
4. BIG DOGS Need Training
Trust me from experience, you do NOT want to be the person being dragged behind your big dog or to have a big dog that is not friendly toward other dogs or strangers. Positive training methods using treats, toys and fun as rewards work best. Period. Socialization is absolutely critical and should start as soon as the puppy’s eyes and ears open at about 3 weeks of age.
Plan to budget for group training and socialization classes. These classes will give you the opportunity to get your big dog out with new friendly people and other dogs and allowing them to experience how wonderful both can be. The investment in positive training early in your big dog’s life will pay off in creating a well-mannered, and bomb-proof canine good citizen.
5. BIG DOGS Have a Short Lifespan
Large and giant breed dogs age more rapidly than smaller breeds. This rapid aging causes their bodies to work harder to reach their normal adult size. Consider the difference between a Yorkshire terrier and a Mastiff. A Yorkie may only reach 8 pounds when full grown, while a male Mastiff can reach 200 pounds or more. That is a lot of growing which occurs in a relatively short period of time. As such the average life span of a Mastiff is 8 year with only 25% or so reaching 10 years of age, while the average lifespan for a Yorkie is 13-16 years.
By doing adequate research on the breed you are considering, laying out a realistic budget for care and training, critically screening reputable breeders who health test their dogs, and following the aforementioned tips on exercise and nutrition you will have the recipe for a happy and healthy big dog, IF a big dog is the right choice for you.
Stephanie is the owner and founder of Big Dog Mom, a blog dedicated to large and giant breed dogs. Stephanie has an MBA and a Bachelor’s Degree in Microbiology from The Ohio State University. Growing up with Great Danes, and sharing her adult life with four Mastiffs and a Labrador Retriever, Stephanie has been involved in the big dog pet and show world her entire life. She proudly shares her life with her husband, her two beautiful children and, the inspiration for Big Dog Mom, her two mastiffs, Junior and Sulley.
Stephanie is a self-proclaimed non-expert, but passionate seeker of knowledge who invites all big dog lovers to her growing BIG DOG community. At Big Dog Mom you will find more terrific BIG DOG information in articles like Top 7 Questions To Ask A Breeder When Buying A Big Puppy, Selecting A Dog Breeder? 10 Things To Consider Before You Tie The Knot, A Bomb Proof Big Dog Starts With A Socialized Puppy, and The Ultimate Guide To Cutting Dog Nails And Having Them Love You For It. Follow Big Dog Mom on BigDogMom.com, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.