Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.
Why are German dogs so popular? Part of their popularity is due to the breeding programs that emphasize intelligence and health. German-bred dogs have to be certified before taking part in a breeding program, and eventually many genetic diseases are eliminated. The country has produced many of the best breeds and now they can be found everywhere.
Five Best Large German Dog Breeds
- Great Dane
- Giant Schnauzer
- German Shepherd Dog
This giant is not the most famous German breed. He is not the most popular among families in Germany, not the most intelligent in the show ring, and not the most sought after by police and military. The Leonberger is, though, the most impressive looking of all the large German dog breeds.
One thing I like about the breed´s looks is that they are dimorphic. The males look different than the females. Both male and female are tall, 70-75 cm (27-30 inches) and heavy, about 50-75 kilos (110-165 pounds). The story goes that the breed was developed to look like the lion on the Leonberg flag by crossing the Landseer Newfoundland, the St. Bernard, and the Great Pyrenees.
It worked. Although he stands proud and looks like a shaggy lion, the Leonberger acts like a good family dog. He is calm and confident around noises and locations that might scare other dogs, is good with kids, makes a good family member, and usually gets along with other pets and dogs.
Like any dog, he should be socialized and obedience trained. All the giant dog breeds have health problems, and unfortunately the Leonberger is no exception. They have less hip dysplasia because of the breeding program in Germany, but they are prone to bloat just as much as any big dog. Some lines also have heart problems, allergies, eyelid problems, bone cancer, and a disease called Inherited Leonberger Paralysis/Polyneuropathy (ILPN).
They usually only live about seven years. Most of them die from cancer, heart disease, and bloat. Some fanciers of this breed point out that it has few problems compared to most of the giants, but like any Mastiff type dog, the Leonberger´s life span is not long enough.
2. Great Dane
This large German dog is famous for his incredible height. The tallest dog in the world is a Great Dane that stands 112 cm (44 inches) at the shoulder, and the breed standard requires dogs to be at least 76 centimeters (30 inches) tall. Most of the dogs are far taller.
In some areas, they are shown with cropped ears (cropped ears are less likely to become injured while boar hunting). Ear cropping is no longer allowed in Germany.
They were originally bred to hunt. They are muscular and athletic, but when they are older, they are usually couch potatoes. As puppies, their activity has to be limited because of their health issues.
Great Danes have some serious health problems, like a lot of giant dog breeds that grow too fast. They suffer from hip dysplasia, are prone to bloat, and some of them have a heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy.
They usually only live about 6-8 years. Great Dane owners will point out that it is not enough, since the dogs are gentle, great members of the family, and good pets even for those who do not have experience around dogs.
This breed of dog is not as large as a Leonberger, nor is he as tall as a Great Dane. He does have presence, however, and anyone who has ever come across a Rottweiler watch dog will tell you how huge the dog was. (“He was bigger than the house!”)
They usually weigh over 50 kilos (110 pounds), but some dogs will be even heavier. They are not usually aggressive to their family and other dogs, but they do not put up well with strangers. Since the dogs are so powerful, they need to be well socialized and obedience trained.
Rotties were actually herding dogs since the times of the Romans and were also used to pull carts used by butchers in Germany. Now they are also used as guide dogs, police dogs, search and rescue dogs, and of course, they are the best family watch dog.
Like with most big dogs, hip dysplasia is a big concern. Some Rottweilers develop a disease called osteochondritis dissecans, a joint disease because they become so big so fast. Others may have eyelid problems, allergies, and skin problems. Obesity is a problem with many Rotties, and the dogs need to be kept thin to control arthritis and other health problems secondary to getting fat.
For some reason, Rottweilers are more likely to develop parvovirus than a lot of other dog breeds. Vaccinations are important in any breed, but with these dogs an owner must be extra careful. Some vets recommend not even taking the puppy out until after the last series of vaccinations at 16 weeks, but then there might be behavioral problems because of poor socialization.
Most Rotties only live 9 or 10 years. Since they are great companions and excellent watch dogs, that life span is much too short.
4. Giant Schnauzer
This dog is giant compared to the other Schnauzers but is small compared to the Leonberger. It is still smaller than the Great Dane, one of his ancestors. They usually weigh around 30 kilos (66 pounds), but some males can get up to almost 50 kilos (110 pounds).
That size made them great as a farm dog and they were originally used for driving cattle, watching the farm, and guarding the farmer´s property. Later they became a popular watch dog in the city and their size made them perfect for military dogs and good for Shutzhund, the personal protection dog sport developed in Germany.
They are impressive looking dogs, and although they do not shed much, they do need some grooming. The coat can be clipped or plucked, and the beard gets wet and nasty from drool and food so it has to be cleaned and combed out.
Giant Schnauzers have big-dog health problems like hip dysplasia, but are also prone to eye diseases like glaucoma and cataracts, several severe skin diseases, and some types of cancer. The most common cause of death is actually lymphoma and liver cancer.
There are a lot of different opinions on the average life span of Giant Schnauzers: sources claim anywhere from 10 to 15. Most report 12, 13, or 14. Coren rates this dog as the 28th most intelligent breed, above average, because they are highly trainable and if not bored will pick up new commands easily.
5. German Shepherd Dog
Most people think of this dog when German breeds are discussed. The German Shepherd Dog (GSD) is also the breed most people think of when talking about guide dogs for the blind, although the Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever often have that job now.
They haven´t really had the job all that long; in fact the German Shepherd dog breed hasn´t even been around all that long. Before the late 1800s, most shepherd dogs in Germany were of a different type. A dog with the strength and intelligence that breeders wanted was found, he was crossed with others, and the breed took off in popularity from about 1899.
GSDs are big, about 63 cm (25 inches) at the shoulders, and weigh about 30-40 kilos (66-88 pounds). They are also popular and intelligent; German Shepherd Dogs are one of the most intelligent breeds around and learn quickly and respond well after a command is learned. That is one reason they are so popular as police dogs, search and rescue dogs, obedience trained dogs, dogs for the blind, and dogs for the military.
Some of the modern dogs are not of the working type, and problems with temperament, hip dysplasia, and ears and mouth are all too common.
Besides the hip problems, German Shepherd Dogs also are prone to elbow dysplasia, bloat, ear infections, and some other more uncommon diseases. Many of the dogs develop arthritis late in life.
They live about 10 years, and during that time they usually make great companions and family members.
Two of the dog breeds from Germany, the Rottweiler and German Shepherd Dogs, are expensive but also among the most popular breeds available in the US. If you would like to own one of these great dogs, it would be worth your time to investigate your local humane society to find a purebred or GSD or Rottie cross.
Be sure that the dog´s temperament has been evaluated before you commit yourself. You should also check local rescues and Petfinder.com and search for the breed of dog you are looking for in your area. If you are not able to find the dog you are looking for, type “Dog breed-location-puppy breeders” into your search engine.
A great large German dog is out there waiting for you!
wetnosedogs from Alabama on March 25, 2013:
I love the Leonberger video, how the lady comes forward to praise the dog.