The Worlds Largest Dogs

Big dogs equal big love and loyalty. Here are the large dog breeds that earn their place at the top of the size chart. Most people will know the Great Dane but what about the lovely Leonberger?

When considering getting a dog, size is a factor, but only one of them. The dog’s personality, activity needs, and grooming requirements are some of the other things to decide upon and research.

 

Great Dane

The Great Dane is one of the most elegant and distinguished of the giant breeds. The European boar was a savage, swift, powerful and well-armed foe, requiring a superdog to hunt it. It is believed that the breed's origins can be traced to Irish Wolfhound with mixture of old English Mastiff. In 1891, the Great Dane Club of Germany adopted a standard, or official description of the breed. In 1889 in Chicago, the German Mastiff or Great Dane Club of America was founded with G. Muss-Arnolt as first delegate.

Mastiff

The breed commonly called "Mastiff" in English-speaking countries is more properly described as the Old English Mastiff. It is a giant shorthaired dog, with heavy head and short muzzle, which has been bred in England for two thousand years as a watchdog. The Mastiff has a longer history than most. Caesar describes them in his account of invading Britain in 55 B.C., when they fought beside their masters against the Roman legions. The Mastiff is described throughout history and literature denoting it's ongoing presence throughout England. The American Mastiff Club was formed in 1879, and some time thereafter disbanded. In 1920, the first Mastiff Club of America was founded and the present Club was established in 1929.

Neapolitan Mastiff

The Neapolitan Mastiff is an estate guard dog from Italy. The breed traces its roots to the dogs of war used by the Roman Army. The breed then existed on estates and farms across Italy for the past two millennia, known as the "big dog of the little man" -- the extraordinary dog of the ordinary man.

Over the centuries, breeders of the Mastino in the Neapolitan area of southern Italy focused on breeding guards for the homes and estate. They created a breed that retained the giant size, heavy, loose skin, and dewlap. This was an animal, which was a stay-at-home type, and good with the family. It was bred to detect unwanted intruders and to deter them from the property under their care. Indeed, many say that the Neapolitan Mastiffs unique type was developed purposely as an alarmingly ugly dog whose looks alone were enough to deter any intruder.

After the devastation of World War II, the breed was recognized as an unquestionable treasure of Italy and consequently, has been refined to its present form over the past 60 years. A standard was first written in 1948, later re-written for greater precision in 1971, and the Neapolitan Mastiff has thus claimed its rightful place among the international world of dogs.

After the second World War, several Italians began to organize and promote the breed. The first exhibition was held in Naples in 1946 with six Neapolitan Mastiffs being presented. The standard was first codified in 1948 by Dr. Piero Scanziani and the breed was recognized by the FCI (Federation Cynologique Internationale) in 1949. The standard was rewritten again for greater precision in 1971.

While the Neapolitan Mastiff has been recognized as a breed in the modern world only since recognition by the FCI in 1949, we can see, through bas-relief, paintings and statues dating from 3000 years before Christ, that his roots trace to the giant war dogs of Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia and Asia. Even as grand a figure as Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) was instrumental in creating the modern Neapolitan Mastiff.

By the early 1970s the breed had representatives in most other European countries and had acquired significant footholds in Germany and in the USA where a few fanciers became fascinated by the art of breeding this uniquely looking and moving dog. And we say art because the breeding of the Neapolitan Mastiff is truly an art. To quote Arch. Giuseppe Alessandra, president of the A.T.I.Ma.NA. (The International Association for lovers of the Neapolitan Mastiff), "There are three important and equal aspects to the Neapolitan Mastiff: its type, its size, and its soundness."

Alexander is known to have crossed the giant Macedonian and Epirian war dogs with the shorthaired "Indian" dogs to create the Molossus. This animal is easily recognized as the great forefather of the Neapolitan Mastiff.

When the Romans conquered Greece, they adopted the Molossus Dogs and also used them in battle, in the hunt and in the arena. The Roman invasion of England gave them access to the even larger giant Mastiff dogs there, which the Romans crossed with their own now formidable war beasts. The several different breeds that are descended from these dogs originating in many different European countries, have many traits in common: they are large powerful animals, are devoted to their masters, and are superior defenders of person and property.

As a result, the traits that make the Mastino an unusual dog are its wrinkles, dewlap, loose skin, enormous bone, and distinct lumbering gait, are created by an accumulation of recessive genes.

Bullmastiff

The known history of the Bullmastiff begins around 1860 in England. The problem of keeping large estates and game preserves free from poachers was an acute one, so they enlisted the aid of a dog. They needed fearless dogs that would attack on command, for those needs they crossed the Mastiff with the Bulldog, the Bullmastiff was founded. Dogs of dark brindle color were preferred for the work at night. They were referred to as the Night Dog. The English Kennel Club recognized the Bullmastiff as a purebred in 1924. The American Kennel Club recognized the Bullmastiff in October of 1933.

Newfoundland

There is much uncertainty about the origin of the Newfoundland. Some say that his ancestors are the white Great Pyrenees, dogs brought to the coast of Newfoundland by the Basque fishermen; others that he descended from a French hound (probably the Boarhound); but all agree that he originated in Newfoundland and that his ancestors were undoubtedly brought there by fishermen from the European continent.

Many old prints of Newfoundlands show apparent evidence of a Husky ancestor, while other traits can be traced to other breeds. At any rate, a dog evolved which was particularly suited to the island of his origin.

He was a large dog, with size and strength to perform the tasks required of him. He had a heavy coat to protect him from the long winters and the icy waters surrounding his native island. His feet were large, strong, and webbed so that he might travel easily over marshes and shores. Admired for his physical powers and attractive disposition, he was taken to England where he was extensively bred.

Today, most Newfoundlands of pedigree, even in Newfoundland, are descended from forebears born in England.

The breed standard was written for a working dog, essentially a dog as much at home in the water as on dry land. Canine literature gives us stories of brave Newfoundlands who rescued men and women from watery graves; stories of shipwrecks made less terrible by dogs that carried lifelines to stricken vessels; of children who have fallen into deep water and have been brought safely ashore; and of dogs whose work was less spectacular but equally valuable as they helped fishermen with their heavy nets and performed other tasks necessary to their occupations.

Although he is a superior water dog, the Newfoundland has been used and is still used in Newfoundland and Labrador as a true working dog, dragging carts, or more often carrying burdens as a pack horse.

In order to perform these duties the Newfoundland must be a large dog - large enough to bring ashore a drowning man. He must have powerful hindquarters and a lung capacity which enables him to swim for great distances. He must have the heavy coat which protects him from the icy waters. In short, he must be strong, muscular, and sound so that he may do the work for which he has become justly famous.

Above all things, the Newfoundland must have the intelligence, loyalty, and sweetness which are his best-known traits. He must be able and willing to help his master perform his necessary tasks at command, and also to act on his own responsibility when rescue work demands it.

Dogue De Bordeaux

The history of the Dogue de Bordeaux is a mystery, though it is believed to predate the Bullmastiff and the Bulldog. It is said that the Dogue can be found in the background of the Bullmastiff, and others claim that the Dogue and Mastiff breeds were both being accomplished at the same time. Some believe that the Bulldog is the building block of the Dogue, and again, another group believes that the Bulldog was used in breeding programs further down the line.

Another theory is the Dogue de Bordeaux originates from the Tibetan Mastiff and it is also said that the Dogue is related to the Greco Roman molossoids used for war, as there was a breed similar to the Dogue de Bordeaux in Rome at the time of Julius Caesar's reign, possibly a cousin of the Neapolitan Mastiff. Others suggest that the Dogue de Bordeaux is a descendent of a breed which existed in ancient France, the Dogues de Bordeaux of Aquitaine. Which ever theory is true, it is obvious that the Dogue de Bordeaux shares the same common links as all modern molossers.

The Dogue de Bordeaux was once classified into three varieties, the Parisian, the Toulouse and the Bordeaux, types which were bred depending on the region of France and the jobs they were required to do. Ancestral Dogues de Bordeaux had various coat colors, such as brindle and majority of white markings that carried fully up the legs.

The Dogue de Bordeaux was used as a guardian, a hunter, and a fighter. They were trained to bait bulls, bears, and jaguars, hunt boars, herd cattle, and protect the homes, butcher shops, and vineyards of their masters. The Dogue de Bordeaux was prized as protectors and was often found in the homes of the wealthy of France. A setback in the breed came during the French Revolution when many of the Dogues de Bordeaux de Bordeaux perished with their wealthy masters.

Another setback for the breed was following World War II, Adolph Hitler was said to have demanded the execution of all Dogues de Bordeaux de Bordeaux because of their devout loyalty to their owners.

Although the Dogue de Bordeaux first came to the USA in the 1890's for the ring, the first documented Dogues de Bordeaux of modern times was in 1959, Fidelle de Fenelon, and in 1968, Rugby de la Maison des Arbres. Between 1969 and 1980 imported Dogues de Bordeaux in the USA were scarce, limited to a few breeders who worked closely with the French Dogue de Bordeaux Club, the SADB.

In the 1989 the typical American family saw the Dogue de Bordeaux for the first time on the big screen in Touchstone's movie "Turner and Hooch" about a police man and his canine partner, although many people did not know that the massive slobbering animal was a Dogue de Bordeaux.

Since then the Dogue de Bordeaux has taken hold in the United States and can be found in numbers across the country. The Dogue de Bordeaux has been supported by multiple breed clubs throughout the years, and has finally found security in being assisted by the Dogue de Bordeaux Society of America.

Since 1997 the DDBSA has taken the breed's welfare in its arms, nurtured it and allowed it to flourish and take its deserved place beside the many noble breeds of the AKC.

Cane Corso

His direct ancestor is the "Canis Pugnax" (the old Roman Molossian) of which he is the light version employed in the hunting of large wild animals and also as an "auxiliary warrior" in battles.

For years he has been a precious companion of the Italic populations. Employed as property, cattle and personal guard besides being used for hunting purposes too.

In the past this breed was common all over Italy as a ample iconography and historiography testify. In the recent past he has found an excellent preservation area in Southern Italy, especially in Puglia, Lucania and Sannio.

His name derives from the Latin "Cohors" which means "Guardian,” "Protector."

Great Pyrenees

His remains are found in the fossil deposits of the Bronze Age, which roughly dates his appearance in Europe between 1800 and 1000 BC, although it is believed that he came originally from Central Asia or Siberia and followed the migration into Europe.

With the dogs' ability to scent and keen sight he was an invaluable companion of the shepherd. It was in the isolation of the lonely mountain pastures that the Pyrenean Mountain Dog developed his inherent traits of devotion, fidelity, sense of guardianship, and intelligent understanding of mankind. The Great Pyrenees was recognized by the American Kennel Club in February of 1933.

History credits the first pair to be brought to the United States by General Lafayette for his friend J. S. Skinner in 1824.

Bernese Mountain Dog

The Bernese Mountain Dog is aristocratic in appearance, and ancient in lineage. The breed has long been at home on the farms in the midland of Switzerland.

The other three are the Appenzeller Sennenhund, the Entlebucher Sennenhund, and the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. These dogs worked as drovers and draft dogs as well as watchdogs in the farmyards mainly in the Canton of Berne.

The Bernese is an extremely hardy dog, thriving in cold weather. He needs only a small amount of daily grooming to maintain his coat. The breed desires human companionship, and is a willing and quick learner

The Bernese Mountain Dog was first brought to the United States in 1926. The breed acquired AKC recognition in 1937.

One of the four varieties of Swiss Mountain Dogs, the Bernese known in its native land as the Berner Sennenhund, shares similar distinctive coloring with other varieties, but is the only one with a long, silky coat.

Tibetan Mastiff

The history of the Tibetan Mastiff - the large guardian dog of Tibet - is hidden in the mists of legend, along with the people of the high Himalayan Mountains and the plains of Central Asia. Accurate records of the genetic heritage of the dogs are non-existent.

In 1847, Lord Hardinge, Viceroy of India, sent a "large dog from Tibet" called "Siring" to Queen Victoria. England had its first dog show in 1859; and in 1873, The Kennel Club was formed with the first Stud Book containing pedigrees of 4,027 dogs. In the official classification made by The Kennel Club (England), the "large dog from Tibet" was officially designated the "Tibetan Mastiff" for the first time.

Even so, history has reserved a special place for the Tibetan Mastiff. They are considered by many to be the basic stock from which most modern large working breeds, including all mastiffs and mountain dogs, have developed. Even though a great deal has been written about them since the 17th Century, there are few specific details available.

Two more Tibetan Mastiffs were brought into England in 1874 by the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and they were exhibited at the Alexandra Palace Show, December 1875. From then until 1928, there was a trickle of imports into England and Europe. In 1928, the Hon. Colonel and Mrs. Bailey imported four Tibetan Mastiffs which they obtained while Colonel Bailey was on duty as Political Officer in Sikkim, Nepal, and Tibet. In 1931 Mrs. Bailey formed the Tibetan Breeds Association in England and the first official standard for the breed was adopted by The Kennel Club. It was also the standard used by the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI).

Earliest written accounts place a large dog around 1100 BC in China. Skulls of large dogs date from the stone and bronze ages. Ancestors of today's Mastiff breeds are believed to have accompanied the armies of the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans and later, traveled with Atilla the Hun and Genghis Khan as far west as Europe. During these centuries, it is believed that the Tibetan Mastiff remained isolated on the high plateaus and valleys of the Himalaya to develop into the magnificent animal so highly prized by the people of Tibet.

In the late 1950s, two Tibetan Mastiffs were sent from Tibet to President Eisenhower. They were taken to a farm in the midwest and nothing more was heard of them. Beginning in 1969, several Tibetan Mastiffs were imported from Nepal and India into the US. The American Tibetan Mastiff Association was formed in 1974, with a dog imported from Nepal, Jumla's Kalu of Jumla as its dog. The first National Specialty Match was held in the USA in connection with the California Rare Breeds Dog Association in October 1979 and the first National Specialty Show was held in 1983.

Today in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and other Himalayan regions, a pure Tibetan Mastiff is hard to find, though they are still bred by the nomads of the Chang-Tang plateau. They are bred and live at an average altitude of 16,000 feet, and some are brought to the Barkhor, the market that surrounds the Jokhang Temple, the holiest temple for Tibetan Buddhists, for sale. Although Tibetan Mastiffs are traditionally kept tied to the gates of the house or monastery, or tied to stakes in the nomad camps, they are let loose at night. In addition, when the flocks are moved to higher pasture, the Tibetan Mastiffs were traditionally left behind to guard the tents and the children.

The close relationship of the Tibetan Mastiff with man throughout the centuries has given the dog an almost uncanny "human" understanding. Generations of working as a guardian of yak, sheep and, more importantly, women and children, requiring always a protector and not a killer, has produced a disposition and temperament of controlled strength, initiative, and fearlessness, tempered with patience, loyalty, and gentleness.

Prior to the early 1800s, few Westerners were allowed into Tibet so little was known about Tibetan dogs. In accounts of visits to Tibet by early travelers, very little mention was made of the dogs they encountered. Marco Polo wrote of the dogs in Tibet being as large as donkeys, and Jesuit missionaries in the 17th Century, wrote of the ferocious, huge dogs ("Many of the Tibetan dogs are uncommon and extraordinary. They are black with rather long glossy hair, very big and sturdily built, and their bark is most alarming" I. Desideri, 1712). In 1800 Captain Samuel Turner, in his "An account of an Embassy to the Court of the Teshoo Lama in Tibet" mentioned his experience with huge dogs ("The mansion stood upon the right; on the left was a row of wooden cages, containing a number of huge dogs, tremendously fierce, strong and noisy. They were natives of Tibet; and whether savage by nature, or soured by confinement, they were so impetuously furious, that it was unsafe, unless the keepers were near, even to approach their dens.").

At the April 2006 Board Meeting the Tibetan Mastiff became eligible for AKC registration on September 1, 2006 and was eligible to compete in the Working Group at shows held on and after January 1, 2007. There will be an open registry for the breed until August 31, 2009.

At the August 2004 Board Meeting the Tibetan Mastiff was approved to compete in the Miscellaneous Class this became effective January 1, 2005.

In December 2003 the AKC Board approved the eligibility of some Foundation Stock breeds, which meet certain criteria, for competition in AKC Companion Events (Obedience, Tracking, and Agility), effective January 1, 2004. The breeds must have a minimum of 150 dogs with three generation pedigrees recorded in the FSS®, a national breed club with members in at least 20 states, and an AKC approved breed standard. The Tibetan Mastiff was one of 20 breeds who met the requirements. Requests by breed clubs to have their breeds compete in the various Performance Events would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The Tibetan Mastiff was recorded in the AKC Foundation Stock Service in 1996.

Black Russian Terrier

It is known that purebred animals became almost extinct in the Soviet Union during the war years, but people still needed them. The first standard for the Black Russian Terrier was published in "Regulations and Requirements for Training and Usage of Military Dogs" in 1958.

Under the leadership of Colonel G. Medvedev of the Central Military School of Working Dogs, The Red Star Kennel, the breed was developed. Just prior to this the Red Star Kennel began to sell puppies of the second and third generation crosses to hobby dog breeders creating greater diversity within the stock.

The desired characteristics were a large unpretentious, highly trainable dog to perform guard work in the varying climatic conditions of the country. Gradually the Black Russian Terrier spread to the Baltic Countries, the Ukraine and Siberia. They spread abroad as well to Finland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia and to the United States. Selected breeding crosses of the Giant Schnauzer, the Rottweiler, and the Airedale Terrier, were the most influential in the development of the breed.

The Black Russian Terrier was recognized as a breed in 1981. The USSR Ministry of Agriculture accepted the first standard on May 13th. It was internationally accepted by the FCI in 1984.

In the United States, the breed was listed with Foundation Stock Services (FSS) in March of 1996, became eligible to compete in Miscellaneous Class in August 2001, with full recognition in the Working Group July 1, 2004.

Leonberger

Heinrich Essig, a prominent citizen of Leonberg, Germany, in the 19th century, had a passion for collecting animals of all kinds. Though there is no written proof, it is said that in 1846 Essig, bred a Landseer Newfoundland female with a St. Bernard male, crossing them for 4 generations. He then outcrossed with a Pyrenean Mountain Dog, and crossed again with a St. Bernard. The Leonberger breed was born.

Large, impressive dogs were very popular, and Essig exported more than 300 dogs in the following years. He donated Leonbergers to royalty, using his position on the town-council to not only promote the town of Leonberg, but also his dogs. At one time, Garibaldi, the Prince of Wales, King Umberto of Italy, and the Czar of Russia all owned Leonbergers. Empress Elisabeth of Austria owned seven of them.

When others tried to cash in on this new breed, the official cynologists tried to ban these breeders from shows because they believed it was unethical to produce dogs only for the money. These dogs were then shown as other breeds. One dog, Ceasar, was shown as three different breeds. In Berlin he was shown as a "long-haired Alp dog" and in England, a St. Bernard. Then Dr. Kunzli, a St. Bernard expert, found him to be a beautiful Leonberger.

Today we know that there must be more dogs involved in the bloodlines than the ones Essig claims created the breed. Modern genetics claim it would be impossible to create the Leonberger from the just 3 breeds as described. Old photos show black and white dogs, black dogs, red or yellow colored dogs--all said to be Leonbergers. After Essig died in 1889, the first Leonberger Clubs were founded. In 1895, the "Internationaler Klub fur Leonberger Hunde Stuttgart" was founded and the first Leonberger breed standard was created.

All written records were destroyed following World War I. Two men, Stadelmann and Josenhans, are credited with tracking down Leonbergers, sometimes with unknown and sometimes partially known ancestors. They found approximately 30 dogs and began a breeding program with 6 males and 6 females during 1922/23. By 1927, there were 342 registered Leonbergers. Breeding continued during and after WWII, with 22 puppies registered in 1945 and 27 in 1947.

After WW II, the task of rebuilding the breed was spearheaded by a committee led by Hans Weigelschmidt as President and Albert Kienzle as Secretary. Their first task was to revise the German standard, condensing the rather long 1895 standard version.

In 1964 Robert Beutelspacher was assigned to breeding records, and introduced the first European breed-book in 1968. Beutelspacher presented the German standard to the FCI, so every judge would be working from the same standard.

Irish Wolfhound

Early Irish literature abounds in references to these large dogs which are called, interchangeably, "Irish dogs," "Big Dogs of Ireland," "Greyhounds of Ireland," "Wolfdogs of Ireland," "Great Hounds of Ireland." Irish Wolfhound is the more modern name. He was coveted for his hunting prowess, particularly in the pursuit of the wolf and the gigantic Irish elk, which stood six feet at the shoulders.

It was at this point that Captain George A. Graham gathered the remaining specimens and restored the breed. His work began in 1862, and 23 years later, under his supervision, the first breed standard was set. With the disappearance of these animals from Ireland, and the excessive exportation of the dwindling ranks of Wolfhounds, the breed was allowed to become almost extinct.

The Irish Wolfhound does best when human companionship is the core of his daily life. Because of his great size and the amount of exercise essential to his well being, the Irish Wolfhound is not a dog to be acquired without serious forethought.

At maturity, he is a calm presence within a family circle. His nature and temperament make him totally unsuitable as a guard dog. His ideal home is one, which provides fenced property of sufficient size to accommodate the galloping, natural to this athletic sighthound. Though alert he is not suspicious; though courageous he is not aggressive. Emphatically, the Irish Wolfhound is not a satisfactory choice for the city dweller or in closely populated suburbs where one might desire a guard dog to be on solitary duty from morning until night.

Hunting by sight and chase is what he was bred and historically used for.

Scottish Deerhound

The origin of the breed is of such antiquity, and the earliest descriptive names so mixed that it is unclear as to whether the Deerhound was at one time identical with the ancient Irish Wolfdog.

So highly esteemed was the Deerhound that the desire for exclusive ownership has at times endangered the continuance of the breed.

Very early descriptive names were used to identify the purpose of the dog rather than to identify a species. We find such names as Irish Wolf Dog, Scotch Greyhound, Rough Greyhound and Highland Deerhound. As the larger beast of the chase became extinct or rare in England and southern Scotland, the more delicate, smooth Greyhound took the place of the larger Deerhound.

We can definitely identify the breed as Deerhounds as early as the 16th and 17th centuries. The Highlands of Scotland, the last territory wherein the stag remained numerous in a wild state, became the last stronghold of this breed. In 1769 the breed physically and numerically ran very low.

From there on the term Deerhound has been applied to the breed, which of all dogs has been found best suited for the pursuit and killing of deer.

It was not until about 1825, when the restoration of the breed was very successfully undertaken by Archibald and Duncan McNeill, that the Deerhound regained his place of preeminence and former perfection. At all times great value has been set on the Deerhound. The history of the breed teems with romance increasing in splendor right down through the Age of Chivalry when no one of rank lower than an earl might possess these dogs. It is a well-established fact that the Scottish Deerhound of today closely conforms to authentic records of the 18th and 19th centuries in type, size and character. In character he is quiet, dignified, keen and alert, although not aggressive, has great persistence and indomitable courage.