If you enjoy living large, there’s nothing wrong with selecting a breed to match your lifestyle. Large dogs tend not to live as long as smaller ones do, and they are more expensive to feed, but their imposing size and tender affection more than make up for it. Only a few of the giant breeds on this list were intended as guard dogs, but that makes little difference since their size alone can be quite intimidating. Many of these breeds are quite safe around children and are especially tolerant of them, allowing the little tykes to dress them up with aplomb.
The Newfie is more than gentle—he’s a positive force for good in the world. This is the preeminent water-rescue breed. Newfies are not overactive, but they enjoy hikes in cool weather and swimming anytime. Newfoundlands love people, especially children, whom they will rescue at the drop of a hat, even when they aren’t in any trouble. The breed has no faults of character, but drawbacks include shedding, drooling, and the inability to handle heat.
#2: Bernese Mountain Dog
Stable and patient with children, the Bernese is a wonderful family dog. They need kind, consistent handling, and they will repay you with more love than you can imagine. This breed also varies greatly in size, and males tend to be much larger than females. They thrive in cold climates and are put off by heat and humidity. Like the large Newfoundland, they tend to shed and drool.
The ancient Mastiff was meant to impress, and he does so admirably. Adoring to his family, he is extremely reserved with strangers, a tribute to his guard dog heritage. And while he will suffer no end of silly antics from the family children, he will not endure a threat to any of them. The most stable and imposing of protection dogs, the Mastiff is a definite keeper. They shed—massively—but are otherwise quite easy to groom.
#4: Great Dane
Despite the name, there is nothing Danish about this breed. They are German, and their original function was to chase wild boar around the woods; they later became estate guard dogs. Despite this active history, the Great Dane needs surprisingly little exercise for his considerable size. They object to being alone and can be destructive when left unattended for long periods. The Great Dane does best when taken out to meet lots of people, which will help prevent unwanted guarding behavior from creeping in.
#5: Saint Bernard
Today’s Saint Bernard is a far cry from the fearsome guard dog of yore. The modern Saint is a saint indeed, slow and patient, amenable to training and fond of pulling little carts, preferably with a youngster inside. And of course, they are justly famous for their snow rescue work. Yes, Saint Bernards shed, slobber, and drool, and young Saints are boisterous. As they grow older, they settle down nicely.
#6: Irish Wolfhound
One might think that a dog bred to run down and kill wolves would be a dangerous dog to have about the house, but one would be wrong. A sweeter-tempered, more sedate, and kindly creature never existed. Irish Wolfhounds thrive in a place where they can stretch those long legs, but they are quiet in the house and respond well to obedience training. They’re also a tad clumsy. The Scottish Deerhound is a similar dog with similar good points.
#7: Great Pyrenees
The Great Pyrenees is a superior protector who takes his job very seriously. If you have anything that needs protection, from your house to your Chihuahua, you can count on this dog. In fact, one drawback to the breed is that they may be overprotective. Great Pyrenees are not particularly playful—too much work to do, apparently —but they are quiet indoors and make you feel safe.
#8: Alaskan Malamute
This is a real working breed that’s probably a poor choice for the first-time dog owner. They adore snow and cold and make wonderful sled and draft dogs. A major fault in the Alaskan Malamute is his tendency to be aggressive to strange dogs, but this tendency can be overcome with a strong and experienced owner. He is usually extremely friendly (even cuddly) to all people. This breed, although generally easygoing, needs a ton of exercise and also sheds heavily. While in some ways a complex and challenging dog, the Alaskan Malamute is a rewarding companion like no other for the experienced owner.
The Leonberger is a huge yet athletic breed that enjoys water sports, pulling sports, and hiking. He’s a great watchdog but is usually quite friendly to people. One drawback is dog-on-dog aggression; a Leonberger does not usually get along with other dogs of the same gender. Like many large breeds, they prefer a colder climate.
#10: Dogue de Bordeaux
This mighty giant requires at least moderate exercise, but adults are fairly sedate indoors. Many people are fooled into thinking this is a couch potato. The Dogue de Bordeaux is a powerful, independent dog who needs a strong and experienced owner. Most are quite gentle—until they aren’t. This is a dog who can fight hard and win when he feels that he or his family is threatened. They slobber and snore, and some can be aggressive with other dogs.
More equally fine large breeds: Anatolian Shepherd, Bullmastiff, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, and Scottish Deerhound.
Big but not that big: Collie, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, and Rottweiler.
Diane Morgan is a pet care expert in Williamsport, Maryland, who has authored numerous books on dog care and nutrition, and has also written many dog breed and horse books.