With great size comes great security, and that means large dogs are content and cool-headed. “Many big dogs tend to feel secure in their own position in the world—literally and figuratively—and they often don’t feel as compelled to prove themselves,” says Denise Flaim, a dog lover, breeder and the publisher of Little Kids and Their Big Dogs.
Most large-breed dogs don’t need as much exercise as you think
Many large and extra-large dogs, such as Great Danes, were bred to be guard dogs, which requires a whole lot of sitting around. Smaller dogs, on the other hand, may be hard-wired to move (a lot). “Size doesn’t correlate to energy level. I own and breed Rhodesian Ridgebacks, for example, and as long as they get a nice long walk and some mental stimulation during the day, most adults are happy to lounge around in the house or apartment,” says Denise Flaim. “Other breeds, like many herding or retrieving dogs, are smaller, but require way more exercise to burn off their energy.” The exception: puppies. Any puppy, no matter its breed or size, is usually in what Flaim calls “the zoomy stage” until it hits at least 18 months to two years old. But gangly, still-growing-into-their-limbs, large-breed pups shouldn’t be over-exercised, or they run the risk of injury.
Big dogs are gentle giants
Larger-breed dogs are not as fragile as itty-bitty pooches, and they tend not to mind rougher handling (like kids might dish out). “Large-breed dogs are not as fragile, and they can keep up with human youngsters in the household,” says Flaim. “But that doesn’t mean parents and owners should suspend common sense. Though big dogs aren’t as delicate as some smaller breeds, children should never be permitted to ride them or grab them roughly or treat them with disrespect.” Both kids and dogs need to learn how to interact with and respect one another. (Know the signs that your dog trusts you.)
Big dogs are easier to train
Especially if you start when they are not so big, large-breed dogs can learn quickly and easily. They tend to have better manners than little nippers, which may be due to the way humans treat them. When you have a big dog, you have a bigger incentive to train him well—and stick with training to make sure he’s well behaved. “Teaching good manners and training are important for any dog, no matter what the size, but they are absolutely crucial for a big dog. It’s one thing if a toy poodle has a housebreaking gaffe, or jumps up on your guests; it’s an altogether different matter if a full-grown Great Dane does it,” says Flaim.
Large dogs are loving and loyal
Like many of their smaller brothers and sisters, large dogs are very loyal to their people. Mastiffs, for example, are an XL breed (males can weigh upward of 200 pounds!) that have been bred to protect families. “Centuries of breeding have made them hard-wired to love women and children,” says Flaim. She’s known mastiffs that respond to the sound of a kid in distress—even on TV! Another XL breed, the Leonberger, has been bred for nearly 200 years to be “impressively sized yet gentle family companions,” says Flaim. Similarly, Newfoundlands were bred to rescue drowning humans, “so they are very people focused and tolerant, too.” Knowing the history and function of the breed you are considering—and making sure you find a reputable breeder, if you are purchasing a dog—can help match you and your family with a dog that’s right for you.
Big dogs have surprising self-control
Many little dogs want to pretend they’re big by barking, jumping, and even biting. Giant-breed dogs know they don’t need to bother. “Nineteenth-century books and periodicals are filled with stories of English Mastiffs who encountered a snarly, yappy little dog with a Napoleon complex, and just nobly ignored the raving little fellow, considering such a lopsided contest to be beneath them. That kind of self-control and tolerance is what I admire about many big dogs,” says Flaim.