The Reality of Owning a Large Breed Dog
When we first discussed getting a dog I desperately wanted a Schnauzer. A dog that was going to be reasonably low maintenance, didn’t shed too much, and was small enough to be easily portable. My husband on the other hand decided he wanted us to get a German Shepherd. Pretty big, with an unjustified reputation and long hair…..lots of hair.
I fought the Schnauzer corner as long as I could, but eventually my husband managed to wear me down, and we wound up with our gorgeous, bouncy, large breed dog.
To be fair she actually thinks she’s a small dog a lot of the time, but she really isn’t, and over the years I have been able to say ‘I told you so’ several times to my husband about why large dogs are hard work. I’d like to share some of those reasons with you.
Small dog in a big dog’s body
I think I can safely say that this applies to every single large breed dog in that none of them actually realise their own size. They still want to play boisterously with other dogs no matter whether it’s a Great Dane or a Chihuahua. It’s all well and good, until the Chihuahua gets slightly underfoot and ends up in the vets with concussion.
Also, one of my initial reasons for wanting a Schnauzer was so that I could have him curling up on my lap for cuddles in the evening. Fortunately for me, my Shepherd is a little aloof in the cuddle department, but when she deigns to accept some affection there is no stopping her climbing onto my lap. It’s lovely, but just a tad heavy.
Lack of Spacial Awareness
A little like Gulliver in the land of Lilliput, my dog can cause havoc by just wagging her tail in close proximity to ornaments and small children. She can take up the entire sofa in one stretch, and luckily we’ve never let her sleep on the bed as I can guarantee we’d be on the floor.
If at all possible it’s always best to be able to provide a good outdoor space for your large breed pup to run around and play in. Whereas a smaller dog would probably be perfectly happy sniffing around a courtyard garden, that just isn’t going to cut it for your large size friend who needs the space to frolic without apology.
Sure you can leave the cooked chicken on the kitchen work top when you leave the room, but don’t expect it to be there when you return. Whereas a small dog would have to construct elaborate climbing apparatus, large dogs generally just have to stand on their back legs to rob you blind.
So the chicken isn’t really that much of a problem, other than being annoying, but you most definitely have to be ultra cautious leaving things like chocolate or medication lying around even at higher levels.
Some large breed dogs have even learned the skill of opening internal doors by jumping up and pressing down on the handles with their front paws. Nature always finds a way.
Shorter Life Span
Generally larger mammals live longer than small ones. For example, elephants have a lifespan of around 70 years whereas the mouse would live for only 2 years. Unfortunately this is not necessarily the same when we look at one species at a time.
For our lovely canine companions it is true that smaller breeds live longer, simply due to the fact that they don’t age as quickly as their larger friends. There’s no proven scientific reason found as yet, but it is suggested that its purely because large breeds grow faster and age quicker.
While smaller dogs do have their own set of health problems that they are more prone to, larger breeds can really suffer from some of the following:
Hip and/or Elbow dysplasia, which is an orthopaedic condition where the joints don’t fit properly; panosteitis, which is a bone inflammation in young, growing dogs; Bloat and Torsion, where the stomach can either fill with air or actually flip over on itself; Dilated Cardiomyopathy, a serious heart condition in which the heart becomes inflamed and doesn’t function properly; Aortic Stenosis, a serious heart disease where the area just below the aortic valve becomes narrow, obstructing blood flow; Spondylolitheses, which is a malformation of cervical vertebrae; Cruciate ligament tears; and finally Arthritis…which I can relate to as well!
And just when we thought this segment couldn’t get more depressing, as your large breed dog does get older or disabled, it’s also harder to care for them purely down to their size and your ability to lift and manoeuvre them safely.
Yes, that gorgeous comfy looking dog bed with the paw print pattern is going to be double the price than a smaller one. Yes, the larger collars and leads will be more expensive whether they are plain or pretty or studded with diamantes. Yes, the food bill is going to be double or treble or quadruple the price depending on the amount of fuel your pup needs to live life to the full. Yes, the medication is going to cost more when your big fur baby is poorly. Yes, the bigger, stronger toys are going to be way more expensive than tiny, cute squeaky ones that burst at the first squeeze. There’s no way around it Im afraid. Time to ask for a pay rise.
While your small dog can literally fit into a handbag, I’m not sure my Shepherd would relish the thought of jumping into a suitcase on wheels for me to go shopping with her. In all seriousness, and handbags aside, you actually need to consider what vehicle you have when you own a large breed dog.
When we first got our girl I had a Mini. It didn’t last long. The mini, that is. Obviously after our pup reached a certain size and weight I could no longer lift her without hurting my back so we had to consider a car with a hatchback that she could jump into easily, and with enough space for her to manoeuvre in on long journeys. I do still miss my Mini, but such is life.
While most people wouldn’t mind you visiting them with a fairly unobtrusive spaniel, turning up for a coffee with a Great Dane is not going to go down too well generally. This goes for friends, family, shops, etc. etc. Thankfully more and more pubs and hotels are starting to welcome our four legged friends these days as people are understanding that they are family too.
As a German Shepherd owner, I’ve experienced people crossing to the other side of the road to avoid us, and even come across those who lift up their small dogs and children so they are ‘out of reach’. Its a sad fact of life that non doggy people can and often do see larger breeds as more of a threat, whereas in reality any breed of dog has the ability to have a bad day if it wants to, just like us.
I am entirely of the opinion that every single dog should have training. Let me rephrase that. Every single dog OWNER should have training.
As a large breed owner you have to be extremely aware of how to look after and train your own dog. Not because they need more training, far from it. It’s mainly due to the fact that a) large dogs are strong and you need to have good control before they can cause any havoc, and b) other people are often more wary of large dogs, so it’s good practice to have your dog under control so that it is not placed in a compromising position.
If you are house proud in anyway, you will have to kiss that goodbye once a large breed dog enters your life. My house used to be pretty pristine, but now it generally has muddy paw prints everywhere and nose marks on most of the furniture. There’s only so much we can pass off as modern art unfortunately.
After a particularly muddy walk, don’t think for one moment that just because your large breed dog’s belly is higher off the ground that it means he or she will be in any way cleaner than a small dog. They get just as filthy, and just to compound the fact, you wont be able to lift them up the stairs and put them in the bath for a good wash. Instead its outdoors in the cold and wind, washing them down with a sponge and a bucket of soapy water, which they will undoubtedly find hilariously funny to keep knocking over.
And the hair…. think tumbleweeds across the desert and that gives you a good idea of what our lounge looks like.
Last but not least, big dogs = big poo.
So there you have it. Pretty much most of the problems that you are likely to encounter with your plus size pooch. Yes, it makes life a little more tricky on occasion, but just think of all the plus size love that they can give too.
Over the eight and a half years that we’ve been lucky enough to have our girl in our lives, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t occasionally looked back at my decision and wondered how much easier life would have been with that Shnauzer. But would I have ever swapped our gorgeous German Shepherd? Not for all the world.
Its not often my husband is right, but I’ll let him have this one.
This article was written for Dogs Monthly Magazine and featured in their July issue. Click here for more about navigating stiles with large dogs!
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