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Thoughts/experience with giant dog breeds.

970 Views 6 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  JackB
So I’m looking to get a new puppy in probably the near distant future (1-2 years) I’m starting to look at dog breeds and I’m a big fan of the giant breeds. So any experience/thoughts/etc on these breeds would be useful! The main breeds I’m looking at are leonberger, Newfoundland, and Bernese mountain dog. Though, I’m open to other giant breeds that would match well for me.

Good info to know about me/my lifestyle; I own a house with a decent size yard, I can take the dog to work with me (so won’t be left alone often, must get along with other dogs/people, no kids in the household (though some may visit), I would like to hike and do other activities with the dog, lots of training! I don’t mind it, I want to do anything they’re capable of! Oh I also have a good amount of dog experience.

I think I covered everything. Thanks!
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They're neat. Just find a reputable breeder who does all the health testing that is available. Compared to other dogs, giant breeds need a little more consideration when it comes to exercise/joint development for the first 2+ years of life, and nutrition. As in, for a medium/small breed these factors are still important but not as life-altering as they could be for giant breeds, if done wrong.
Definitely be careful of health testing and ask about longevity within the breeders lines.

The only other thing I can think to add is to be aware that many other dogs, who are otherwise awesome with dogs, may get overwhelmed, intimidated, and not really be eager to interact/play with a giant they don't know fairly well. This can create some strife if you intend to do something like use dog parks or other 'play with other dog' activities instead of 'be cool in the presence of other dogs'.
They are very expensive. The initial cost is very expensive... and be ready to spend a couple grand. The overall care and upkeep is very expensive. Food, vet care, grooming etc all more expensive in a giant breed dog. I can't imagine not getting those 3 breeds professionally groomed because of all the hair that needs blown out! (Unless you have your own access to a force dryer and grooming supplies, of course) Oh, and Newfies drool.. and it gets all gross in their mane. :p

One thing I can't stress enough and I don't see enough in giant breeds is they need to be kept at a proper weight. Their joints are soo much more likely to wear down with extra weight loading on them. I watched a BMD with an ACL tear become 2 ACL tears.. which lead to so many surgeries. Which eventually lead to a dog that couldn't walk or function.. that had to be pts at only 6 years old. I absolutely would not spay or neuter until they are fully grown over 2 years old.

I don't know too much about Leo's so I can't speak much on them. If you plan on hiking etc with your dog you will have to wait until they are over 2 to do any difficult and long hiking. Even then I don't believe these dogs were built for super long hikes. They can get hot easily. I see lots of Newf people with cooling coats in the Summer time. There are lots of things you can still do with your dog but I would stay away from agility or other high impact dog sports if you were thinking of that at all. As the other's have said.. they can be prone to a lot of health issues. Especially Bernese Mountain Dogs. You'll want to ask about all the health issues in their lines and longevity for sure.

They are all such nice dogs though. Love the big guys.. but they are a lot to own.
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Be ready for a lot of drool and fur, hahaha.

They can definitely be expensive and I recommend health insurance or a pretty hefty savings account. Bloat surgeries and hip dysplasia and ACL tears and pretty much everything vet related is super expensive. Also, with giant breeds it's recommended to wait until they're about 2 years old to desex them, and that costs more because the dogs are larger by that point.

In addition, with Newfs you want to find a breeder who keeps the puppies until at least 10 weeks and has them checked by a vet cardiologist at 10 weeks at the earliest to check for SAS which is a devastating heart condition.

I don't have much experience with leos or berners, but Newfs are some of the best and sweetest dogs in the world. You HAVE to find a reputable breeder, though, who breeds for health and temperament. It's super important because the last thing you want is to end up with a 150/200 pound aggressive dog when you were expecting a big bundle of cuddly love.
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We got a Great Pyr as our first dog. We researched a lot first, but clearly we selectively researched as we did not expect some of the negatives to be as tough as they were. We chose the breed because they are great with kids and small animals, that was our main concern. Issues we found in the first 18 months were the stubbornness - our girl will learn a trick very fast, sometimes she learned just by watching our cat do it - but she will only perform these tricks for food/treats. She is never even going to so much as sit when asked unless she wants something from us - like attention, stroking. She also considered our kids as litter mates rather than higher above her in the pack. We struggled hard with that as our son who was the one who begged and begged for the dog in the first place was actually quite intimidated by her, and she quickly learned that if she wanted something he had that she could move suddenly and he would drop it. She would play bite them too at first - and even though these were the gentlest nibbles, she is a big dog and sometimes it hurt a little. Basically, we were totally unprepared owners with no experience and found it hard to dominate her and train her properly. She was already too old/large when we got her to take to basic puppy training too.

She is 2 years old now and is pretty much the perfect dog for us. She sleeps like 75% of the time, lets the kids lounge all over her like a fluffy cushion, has chilled a huge amount and stopped biting tables etc as soon as we sprayed with bitter apple - we also found bully sticks were vital for all the teething etc, and she still enjoys them now.

She doesn't eat much - we feed a high quality dry food for giant breeds and honestly, if I were doing it over again, I would have kept her on regular puppy food for the first year rather than the giant breed stuff. I was so paranoid that she would grow too quickly and develop hip dysplasia or arthritis in later life, that I feel like maybe we underfed her - although not sure how we could have, since she had free access to her dry food at all times. She tends to just not eat much, and at times she has been skinny. The growth limiting diet means she is on the small size for a giant - about the size of a very large golden doodle. She is about 75kg. I'm sure it was the large breed puppy food that caused her smaller size as both her parents were large pure breds.

What else about her? I don't find grooming a problem - we brush her daily, but she only blows her coat twice a year and we aren't supposed to bathe her too much as it damages the quality of the coat... pyrs are almost self cleaning - dirt will brush off once dry. We bathe about once every two-three months or as needed, but generally she is a clean and pretty girl all the time. I took her to a groomer twice, she hated it and they didn't seem to fully understand how to look after a double coated dog so I felt it was a waste of $75.

She doesn't need much exercise - if she has access to a field or large open space she is in her element and will run around happily, but we live in a city home with a small fenced yard and she is not unhappy here - she only wants a couple of short walks a day and uses the garden for her bathroom and sentry duty. She loves to guard the house, her bark is deeper than I imagined, but our neighbours who live almost on top of us have not complained. We bring her in as soon as she starts barking. She does tend to assume land is her land - she knows next door is not as there is a husky there, but the house backing on to us - those people are on her land! She will bark to tell them off every time she sees them.

We feel very safe with her at home. If anyone comes near our house she barks and scares them away - even though if we open the door she would just love them to death. We rarely even lock our doors despite living in Philly because she is such a good home protection. We tie her leash to the porch and she babysits all the neighbourhood kids when they are out playing - she adores children and that is her favourite passtime. She also loves all other dogs immediately, but has a hard time dealing with small yappy ones that try to attack her. She just wants to be friends and doesn't understand not all dogs are nice.

What else? She is a kleptomaniac and will attempt to steal something from the dining room/kitchen on her way out to the yard every time. And if you leave dirty laundry anywhere she will eat the crotches out of everything. We lost a lot of pants and underwear before we learned to keep the laundry baskets out of reach.

Be prepared for people to be afraid of your dog, even though she/he is beautiful and gentle. Maybe it is the area I live, but I find people even cross the road to avoid walking near our girl, which is so sad because she just wants to meet everyone.
She is also a lap dog, or thinks she is. She will force her way onto the sofa between us at night and often kicks one person off so she can have more space. She never has enough of being loved on.

Would I recommend a Great Pyr as a first time dog? Nope. We were out of our depth. But they are awesome and I wouldn't swap her for anything. There is no better feeling than hugging a huge fluffy dog when you are sad.
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My comments are only based on observations of friends that have had large breeds. Recently my neighbor acquired a Leonberger puppy. Very friendly and self assured. My 6 year old Collie decided 2 minutes of play was enough for him. Some things that are not issues for smaller dogs like mouthiness or nipping can be an issue just due to the size of the dog. Training right from the beginning as my neighbors are doing is a must. Even as a puppy this dog is strong and could pull anyone down the street if his mindset was such. They were also required to feed the dog raw meat but I don't know if that is just for puppy stage or ongoing. That can get expensive.
A neighbor in my former home had a Great Pyrenees which was also very friendly to both other dogs and people. I do however remember the image of the dog deciding at some random point in his walk that he was done, would lay down n the middle of the street and despite the owners efforts to coax him along he was NOT moving. Size matters.
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