Though man's best friends can be found in all shapes and sizes, certain breeds can reach mammoth proportions. While they may be fearsome to behold, these larger-than-average specimens can be among the more laid-back members of their species, yet they remain protective of their home and family. For dog enthusiasts craving a canine companion who is larger than life, a giant breed will deliver unconditional love on a large scale.
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Mastiffs have a long history serving mankind in a protector role, and have influenced almost every giant breed in the world. Described as early as 55 B.C. by Caesar, these giant dogs have long been used to repel poachers and other intruders on rolling estates in Italy and England. They were used as guardians of goats, yaks or even children in the mountains of Tibet. While mastiffs can be found all over the world in many different guises, the short-haired Old English mastiff, simply known as the "mastiff," is the largest, topping the scales at a whopping 200 pounds or more. Today, the mastiff is known for his calm, gentle demeanor, although he will not hesitate to defend his perceived home turf, according to the website VetStreet.
The Anatolian shepherd, from the region of Anatolia in Turkey, excels at protecting livestock, to the point at which it has been employed in African cheetah conservation efforts. Though no family dog, the Anatolian keeps careful watch over his charges and is not afraid to be vocal if an intruder approaches. At 29 inches tall and up to 150 pounds, he is a true working dog more at home protecting livestock than in the show ring. Another breed thought to have originated in Turkey, the all-white kuvasz was developed in Hungary as a hunting dog for royalty, according to the American Kennel Club. When the dogs were accessed by commoners, they became successful guardians of livestock. Weighing up to 115 pounds, the polite and reserved kuvasz is not a playful family companion, but may be very protective. The kuvasz's cousin, the Great Pyrenees, is another breed known for its characteristic white coat. Though a fierce protector of sheep and other livestock, the Great Pyrenees is a gentle, placid family companion weighing up to 110 pounds. His laid-back disposition may fool observers into underestimating his intelligence, however. The Great Pyrenees requires exercise and activity to keep him from getting into trouble at home.
Hounds and Hunters
Among the tallest breeds of dog in the world but by no means the heaviest, the Irish wolfhound, Scottish deerhound and Great Dane have a long and illustrious history of hunting with their masters. The majestic Irish wolfhound, having hunted wolves to extinction in his native Ireland, became a status symbol among Renaissance royalty in England and France. Though their commanding height, an impressive 30 to 35 inches, is intimidating to observers, the dog's gentle nature is well-suited to family life. The second-tallest breed in the world, the Scottish deerhound, were used by Scottish nobility to hunt deer. The dogs, known as the "Royal Dog of Scotland," stand up to 32 inches at the shoulder and are beloved for their affectionate nature and breathtaking speed over long distances. The Great Dane is similar to the Irish wolfhound in disposition, but his sleek coat sets his appearance apart. The Dane is not from Denmark, as his name would suggest, but Germany, where he is known as the Deutsche Dogge, according to VetStreet. Bred to hunt ferocious boars, the Dogge was later used as a property guardian. Standing up to 32 inches in height, he is shorter than the Irish wolfhound, but thanks to his mastiff ancestry he can weigh up to 190 pounds. Nowadays, his gentle nature makes him an ideal companion for a laid-back lifestyle.
Giants to the Rescue
While they are not known for being overly tall, Saint Bernards are well-known for their role in rescuing stranded travelers high in the Swiss Alps. Weighing up to 180 pounds, these large dogs take their name for the Saint Bernard Hospice, where they were prized for their abilities to sniff out lost people. The dogs would then lie down next to or on top of the person, warming them until further help could be obtained. Today's Saint Bernard is a calm, gentle family companion. His Canadian cousin, the Newfoundland, is another such rescue dog. Little is known of his origins, though the American Kennel Club notes that it is likely his ancestors were Great Pyrenees who traveled to Newfoundland with their Basque fishermen masters. Coming naturally equipped with a triple waterproof coat and webbed feet, the Newfoundland is a perfect boatman's companion and has been known for impressive water rescues. These gentle giants, weighing in excess of 150 pounds, are also known as "Nature's Nannies" and are the devoted companions of children, as described by James M. Barrie in his novel, "Peter Pan."
VetStreet: 13 Largest Dog Breeds
Conservation Institute: 10 Largest Dog Breeds in the World
American Kennel Club: Newfoundland History
VetStreet: Mastiff VetStreet: Irish Wolfhound
VetStreet: Great Dane History
VetStreet: Anatolian Shepherd
American Kennel Club: Kuvasz History
VetStreet: Great Pyrenees Personality
VetStreet: Scottish Deerhound History
About the Author
Joanna Ehlers is a parent, equestrian and animal lover. Based in Independence, Mo., Ehlers has been writing parenting, lifestyle and pet articles since 2013. Her work has been published on eBay, ApartmentList and Record. She holds a Bachelor and a Masters degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.