The 6 Biggest Breeds of Dogs
Dog breeds come in an astounding range of sizes. It’s almost hard to believe that a chihuahua and a Great Dane are the same species, but artificial selection can do some pretty drastic things to an animal breed’s appearance. You could almost argue that dogs have more phenotypic variety than almost any other species of domestic animal.
Interestingly, even the largest dogs are at least a little bit smaller than grey wolves. This is especially true of the heads and skulls of large dogs, which are smaller relative to body size than the heads of wolves. However, some of the largest dogs do rival wolves in height at the shoulder, if not in weight. Wolves generally stand around 26 to 32 inches at the shoulder, and very large dogs like Great Danes can rival that height.
But which dog breeds are actually the largest? There are quite a handful of very large breeds, several of which are roughly equivalent in size. But, these five are arguably the largest overall.
1. Great Dane
This lithe, elegant breed is well known for its unusually large size. Quite interestingly, there are depictions of dogs that look very similar to Great Danes from throughout a very long segment of ancient Greek history, from the 14th century BCE to the Hellenistic period (323-31 BC).
The Great Dane itself is descended from hybrids between English Mastiffs and Irish Wolfhounds. They were used by German nobility for hunting bear, boar, and deer. The dog’s job was to seize large game animals and hold them in place until the huntsman was able to kill it. These dogs were also companions, and often served as Kammerhunde (chamber dogs).
According to American Kennel Club breed standards, a male Great Dane should be at least 30” at the shoulder, and females must measure at least 28”. The tallest dog on record was a Great Dane named Zeus.
Despite the fact that Great Danes were bred as hunting dogs, they don’t generally show a high prey drive, and they aren’t prone to an aggressive disposition. They tend to be friendly and loyal, although they may be aggressive or nervous toward strangers or unfamiliar stimuli if they haven’t been socialized properly.
2. English Mastiff
The English Mastiff, sometimes simply known as the Mastiff, is a very large dog breed. Unlike Great Danes, which are lithe and sleek, English Mastiffs are large, heavy, and broad, with a solid build. While they aren’t as tall as some of the other large breeds, like Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds, English Mastiffs are more massive and robust. The heaviest dog on record was an English Mastiff named Aicama Zorba, who weighed in at 343 pounds.
According to the American Kennel Club breed standards for English Mastiffs, males should stand at least 30” at the shoulder, and females should stand at least 27 ½”. This breed has a docile and good-natured temperament, and a demeanor that brings the word “dignity” to mind. English Mastiffs like a good amount of exercise, including chasing tennis balls. Some dog ball throwers are made specifically for large breeds like the English Mastiff.
The Newfoundland is a very large working dog that was originally bred to assist fishermen in Newfoundland, on the east coast of Canada. They’re innate swimmers with naturally webbed feet and a thick, insulating coat, and they make excellent water rescue dogs. They also have great lung capacity and strong, robust musculature that helps them fight against strong currents and ocean waves in open water.
According to American Kennel Club standards, average height is 28” for adult male Newfoundlands, and 26” for adult females. Males tend to weigh 130-150 pounds, and females between 100 and 120 pounds.
This breed has a calm temperament, and is very good with children. However, be advised that due to their long coat, they need quite a bit of grooming.
4. Cane Corso
The Cane Corso (pronounced “kha-neh kor-so”), a variety of Mastiff, is a large Italian dog breed that serves as a companion, hunting dog, and guard dog. They’re said to be descended from the canis pugnax, a Roman dog used in warfare.
Although they’re quite muscular, Cane Corsos are generally less bulky than other Mastiffs. According to breed standards from the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, males should be about 24-28” at the withers, and females 23-26”. They’re a bit tight skinned compared to many other Mastiff breeds, although they often have a bit of a dewlap at the neck.
Unlike many Mastiffs and other large dog breeds, Cane Corsos need strong leadership, consistent training, and socialization as early as possible when they’re puppies. They’re not a breed that’s recommended for novice dog owners, but when socialized and trained correctly, they only react protectively if a real threat is present. They can be loyal, loving pets, but they’re not the easiest dog breed to work with. Corsos are pretty aggressive chewers, so you need to make sure you have some durable dog toys to withstand their power jaws.
5. Great Pyrenees
The Great Pyrenees, known as the Pyrenean Mountain Dog outside of North America, is a large working dog that serves as a guardian for herds of livestock. They range from 27-32” at the withers and over 100 pounds for a male, and 25-29” and over 85 pounds for a female. While they are quite large, their shaggy coat can give the illusion of a bit more size and mass than is actually present.
This breed is quite gentle and affectionate with children, making them an excellent choice as a family pet. They do have a guardian instinct, as they’re bred to be shepherd dogs, and they can be protective of their flock or family if necessary. Interestingly, the Great Pyrenees is actually nocturnal, and will bark at night unless they’re trained not to.
6. Irish Wolfhound
Very true to its name, the Irish Wolfhound is a large breed of dog originally bred in Ireland for the purpose of hunting wolves!
This breed is very old, dating back to 7000 BC and has served many purposes from hunting to guarding royalty. The American Kennel Club considers the Irish Wolfhound to be the tallest breed of dog, though they are more slender than other dogs its size.
Despite their intimidating size, this breed can make a great family dog as they're typically calm and reserved in temperament. Due to their large size, the average lifespan is only 7 years.
Is a Large Breed Right for You?
These are just a handful of the largest dog breeds out there, although the top two are probably Great Danes and English Mastiffs. Large dogs do tend to need room to roam and run around, so they’re not always well suited to urban apartment living. With that said, most of them are incredibly gentle and sweet, despite their size. They can make excellent and loyal family pets, and very large breeds are definitely worth considering if you’d like to adopt a purebred puppy.