A German Shepherd or a Great Dane will hog the whole sofa, but they’ll also shower you with love. These gentle giants are loyal, caring, and protective toward their human parents, making them ideal for families. Plus, they’re often easier to train than their purse-sized cousins. However, training them is even more important because of their shear strength.
In one study , researchers investigated the behavioral differences between dogs of different sizes. As it turns out, small dogs are often more aggressive, anxious, and less obedient than larger dog breeds.
Scientists also say that small dogs are more likely to bark excessively, jump on people, and chase other animals. Their excitable behavior can pose problems for families, new pet parents, and apartment dwellers. But with proper training, most dogs can adapt to family life and become perfect companions.
Remember, though— there are also some small breeds that are known to have a calmer temperament, and every individual has their own personality. So, there’s never a temper guarantee with any breed.
However, larger dog breeds are often easier to handle despite their imposing size. You just need to find one that fits your personality and lifestyle.
How to Choose a Dog Breed for Your Family
Smaller dog breeds are in higher demand than ever before, reports a 2019 study conducted by Royal Canin . In the U.S., the number of small dogs seen in veterinary clinics grew by 6% over the past decade, while the number of giant dogs dropped by 17% during the same period. The demand for medium-sized dogs decreased, too.
At first glance, purse-sized dogs may seem better suited for city life because they’re easy to transport and require less upkeep than larger breeds, but that’s not always the case.
What many pet parents are not aware of is that small dogs are more likely to exhibit bad behavior than larger ones, but their quirks and habits are often seen as «cute.» Although they do well in apartments and tiny houses, they still need regular exercise. That’s something you need to consider, especially if you spend a lot of time away from home or have a busy schedule.
A big dog requires even more exercise than a pug or other small dog breeds. He also needs more space to move around and may feel confined in a small apartment. Additionally, larger dogs are prone to elbow or hip dysplasia, heart disease, gastric bloat, arthritis, and thyroid problems, explains PetMD .
By comparison, small and toy breeds are more likely to develop gum disease. They also have a genetic predisposition for tracheal collapse, a major risk factor for heart disease. On top of that, smaller dogs are more prone to bone loss, fractures, metabolic disorders, and cardiovascular problems than larger breeds, notes Royal Canin.
The bottom line is, you shouldn’t choose a dog based solely on size. There are other more important aspects to consider, including your daily routine, living conditions, finances, and personal preferences.
If you’re going to buy a puppy from a breeder, inquire about his parents’ health. Make sure they have been screened for inherited diseases and other relevant conditions (e.g., hip dysplasia) so you know what to expect in the future.
Take into account these factors, too:
- The average lifespan of the breed you’re considering
- The dog’s age and activity level
- His personality and temperament
- His behavior around children and pets
- Grooming and care
- Your experience as a dog owner
- What you want from your dog
For example, some dogs—regardless of their size—shed more than others and need regular grooming.
A Golden Retriever or an Akita can be a perfect family dog, but do you have the time to brush him every few days, bathe him every month or so, and vacuum the house at least twice a week? Most importantly, are you willing to do these things for the next 10 to 15 years?
Think about what you expect from your dog, too. German Shepherds and other herding breeds are gentle, loyal, and protective, but they require a lot of exercise and mental stimulation.
If you have a small child or toddler, look for dog breeds that are gentle, playful, and loving. “ I think Greyhounds are an excellent choice, especially when young children are around. These gentle dogs are very tolerant of noise and sudden movements, need little grooming, and tend to enjoy good health. On top of this, while they can run like the wind, they do not have huge exercise requirements,» says Dr. Simon.
The same goes for Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Norwegian Buhunds, and other breeds. For example, the Buhund isn’t just one of the healthiest dog breeds but it also has an affectionate nature and enjoys spending his time around children. Plus, he’s highly trainable and eager to please.
The Challenges of Living with a Large Dog
Some of the largest dog breeds can fill your home with love. With proper training, a big dog can become your best friend, your guardian, or even your jogging partner. Plus, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that someone is keeping watch if you need that extra security.
However, big dogs are not for everyone. Boxers, Labradors, Great Danes, and other medium or giant breeds require a lot of space and have unique needs.
Medium-to-Large Dogs May Need More Exercise and Mental Stimulation
Siberian Huskies and other large dogs tend to get bored easily, which may result in destructive behavior.
For example, German Shepherds are very intelligent and require constant mental stimulation. Moreover, they have the instinct to protect their loved ones and may become aggressive without proper training.
These gentle giants also need companionship and regular exercise, which makes them ideal for pet parents with active lifestyles—but not for those who prefer to spend their time watching TV or staying cozy at home. On top of that, their thick coat requires constant grooming.
By comparison, Great Danes are relatively low-maintenance, but they still need plenty of exercise when fully grown.
Additionally, their impressive size puts them at risk for injuries —especially until age two and in their senior years. This breed also has a high risk of bloat, warns the American Kennel Club (AKC), and, therefore, you must feed them small meals and avoid exercising them before and after they eat.
Also, note that medium-to-large dogs, such as Border Collies, Huskies, Newfoundlands, and German Shepherds, generally need more mental stimulation than smaller breeds. This aspect is crucial for dogs of all sizes, but a larger dog can cause more damage in response to boredom and routine.
The Larger the Dog, the Shorter His Lifespan
Another aspect to consider is that some of the largest dog breeds have a shorter lifespan than small and medium-sized breeds. Generally, large and giant dog breeds live eight to 12 years , according to the AKC . Small breeds, by comparison, have an average lifespan of 10 to 15 years, while medium-sized dog breeds can live 10 to 13 years or longer.
Irish Wolfhounds and Great Danes, for instance, live eight to 10 years. The average life expectancy for Giant Schnauzers, Rottweilers, and Saint Bernards is 10 to 12 years, but a Bernese Mountain Dog will only live seven to 10 years. Some larger breeds, such as the Belgian Malinois, can live up to 16 years.
The link between a dog’s size and lifespan isn’t fully understood, but several theories exist.
For example, Golden Retrievers and other large breeds are prone to cancer , a factor that can affect their lifespan. Another explanation is that larger dogs age faster because their cells produce more free radicals leading to oxidative damage.
However, some dog breeds tend to be healthier than others and can live a long life. The Norwegian Elkhound, the Finnish Lapphund, the East Siberian Laika, Shiba, and other Nordic breeds are less prone to disease and have some of the lowest injury rates.
Finnish Lapphunds, for instance, can live up to 15 years or longer, according to the AKC . Plus, they are good with small children and families and thrive in cold climates.
Similarly, Norwegian Elkhounds have a long lifespan of 12 to 15 years. They’re loyal, intelligent, and highly affectionate toward their families. Just like the Buhund, they are eager to please their human parents and have a protective nature.
Raising a Larger Dog Can Take a Toll on Your Finances
No one likes to talk about money, but that’s something you must think about before getting a big dog.
Larger dogs need more food than their smaller peers, and the costs can add up quickly. You can also expect to pay more for their medications, vaccines, surgeries, and veterinary care in general. Be prepared to get a stronger dog harness , bigger beds and crates, and more toys compared to what you’d buy for a purse-sized dog.
The time spent with your buddy is priceless. But even so, you need to be realistic and consider your finances before bringing in a new family member. After all, you want to give him the best life possible—and that comes at a price.
Big Dogs Require More Responsibility and Attention
Last but not least, larger dogs require more responsibility than smaller breeds.
«We generally need to be stricter with larger dogs and dedicate more time to their training. This is especially true if they try to steal food from surfaces or jump on people. Something like jumping on top of a child may be cute in a Chihuahua, but it’s not so funny when we are talking about a Great Dane,» says Linda Simon, a veterinary surgeon and consultant for FiveBarks .
Because of their size, these gentle giants have the potential to cause more harm than a Poodle or a Shih Tzu, so it’s essential to begin their training as early as eight weeks of age , recommends Whole Dog Journal . As a pet parent, you need to teach them good leash manners, establish yourself as a «pack leader,» and stop bad behaviors before they become habits.
While you have no control over a dog’s genetic makeup, you can bring out the best in your pet and shape his behavior. With proper training, most dogs—no matter their size—can become part of a human family.
This brings us to the next point…
Why Some of the Largest Dog Breeds Are Ideal for Families
Some families may feel that larger dogs are too much to handle, but that’s not necessarily the case. Big dogs have a lot of love to offer, and they’ll go to great lengths to protect their human parents. Plus, they can handle more than smaller breeds, says Alexander Crow, a veterinary surgeon who works with HappiestDog .
«Larger dogs sometimes get a bad rep because of their size and a misunderstanding of their demeanor. They’re actually gentle giants and love to play, go for walks, and cuddle just like any other dog. What’s more, they enjoy being around people and engaging in family activities,» notes Dr. Crow.
German Shepherds and other large dog breeds can also handle more rough play compared to their smaller peers. «They won’t be bothered by a toddler or small child poking at them,» explains Dr. Crow.
If you’re struggling to squeeze more exercise into your schedule, look no further. A larger dog will need lots of walks, keeping you active year-round. This also makes them suitable for kids, allowing them to channel their energy in a safe, fun way.
Need one more reason to adopt a big dog?
As it turns out, medium-to-large dogs are more intelligent than their smaller peers, according to Psychology Today . Therefore, they’re easier to train and may adapt better to family life compared to small, giant, or toy-sized breeds. But that’s not all.
Some of the largest dog breeds also tend to be calmer and more laid-back than toy-sized dogs, says Dr. Simon. «They can be more predictable, and many are easy to train. This is especially true of the ever-popular Labrador and Golden Retriever, two breeds that frequently make it to the ‘Top 10 family dog list’ in countries around the world,» she added.
Moreover, big dogs can handle harsh weather better than smaller breeds, notes Dr. Simon. So, if you enjoy hiking, camping, or winter sports, you can count on your buddy for companionship. The same goes for families living in the Norwegian Arctic or other cold regions.
A Bernese Mountain Dog, a German Shepherd, or a Siberian Husky will be a better choice than small or toy-sized breeds for someone living in a cold climate. Great Pyrenees, Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards, and Komondors have thick coats, too, and they’ll be happy to roll in the snow and join you on hiking trips (note that dogs can get the flu, too!).
On top of that, pet parents who choose a large breed won’t have to worry about Small Dog Syndrome (SDS), a psychological condition associated with unwanted behaviors like growling, barking, jumping, or biting people and other pets.
Most importantly, large dogs are affectionate and loyal—and some have a great deal of patience. Their protective nature shouldn’t be overlooked either.
For example, Newfoundlands are often referred to as «nanny dogs» due to their behavior around children. Despite their impressive size, they’re kind, gentle, and tolerant, which makes them perfect for families.
Some of the largest breeds, such as German Shepherds and Mastiffs , are very protective of their loved ones. They may not be as playful or open to strangers as a Labrador Retriever, but they’ll do whatever it takes to guard their homes and families. The same goes for the Giant Schnauzer , a loyal, easy-to-train dog breed.
Choose the Best Dog Breed for Your Lifestyle
As you can see, some of the largest dog breeds are perfect for families. You just need to choose one that matches your lifestyle.
Remember that every dog has a distinct personality, and no two breeds are the same. Even the smartest, most tolerant ones can be pushed to their limits or develop unwanted behaviors.
As a pet parent, it’s your responsibility to ensure proper training and teach your buddy the skills he needs to become a perfect companion. Most dogs can adapt to family life if trained from a young age—but some breeds are better with children than others.
Last but not least, consider choosing a breed that’s easy to train. Arm yourself with patience (and lots of dog treats!), learn about dog training, and plan things out before welcoming your new family member.
*Hint: The Agile tactical harness can make everything a lot easier—especially when handling a larger dog, so you might want to give it a try! 😉