Your guide to 10 Big Dog Breeds! Big dogs come in a variety of colours, appearances, and coat types and also have many different kinds of personalities and temperaments.
This guide describes the breeding, temperament characteristics, behaviour traits, general training needs and our top training tips for 10 of the world’s most popular, big dog breeds.
Some of the top 10 big dog breeds in this guide have short hair, others are fluffy, some are suitable for families and others have long hair that needs regular grooming. Similarly, each breed has been bred for a purpose and this influences their behaviour traits. Some big dogs are easier to train to a high level of obedience training, while others are bred to work independently as livestock guardians. Finding out what motivates a dog to work, is key to training success.
If you’re considering adopting one of these 10 Big Dog Breeds; understanding their behaviour traits and training needs is vitally important to ensure their well-being and your happiness.
10 Big Dog Breeds
Table of Contents
- 10 Big Dog Breeds
- Alaskan Malamute Training Tips
- Bernese Mountain Dog Training Tips
- Black Russian Terrier Training Tips
- Bullmastiff Training Tips
- German Shepherd Training Tips
- Great Dane Training Tips
- Greyhound Training Tips
- Rottweiler Training Tips
- St. Bernard Training Tips
- Tibetan Mastiff Training tips
- Big Dog Breeds – Conclusion
1. Alaskan Malamute
Alaskan Malamutes are one of our favourite big dog breeds. They were bred for pulling heavy sledges. They also accompanied their owners for hunting seals and other Arctic mammals. One of their jobs was as pack dogs to carry life-saving supplies like food and medicines in remote snow-covered areas. These strong dogs also protected their people from wild bears! If that doesn’t earn them a spot in this guide to 10 Big Dog Breeds, I’m not sure what would!
Malamutes are loyal, loving, bold, and courageous. They are sociable towards people but can be aggressive toward other dogs.
Malamutes tend to be challenging to train due to their strong-willed and independent nature. They need an experienced and kind handler and plenty of obedience training from an early age. They do not respond well to training methods that use punishment. Positive reinforcement is the most effective and fastest way to train the malamute.
Alaskan Malamute Training Tips
- Enrol in puppy preschool and training: Ethical puppy training and puppy preschool run by qualified dog trainers helps with teaching your malamute manners, and obedience and form some of their early positive socialisation experiences.
- Be consistent: Multiple 2-minute training sessions throughout the day, using the same commands and marker words so that your malamute does not get confused.
- Use positive reinforcement training: Reward your Alaskan Malamute with treats, praise, or play for any behaviours that you’d like to see more of. This will encourage your dog to repeat the behaviour in the future.
- Socialise your puppy: Positive exposures of your Alaskan Malamute to different people, animals, and environments will help it become confident, optimistic and well-behaved.
- Exercise and mental stimulation: Provide plenty of physical and mental stimulation for your Alaskan Malamute through walks, scent games, food puzzles, stuffed Kongs, playtime, and training sessions to prevent boredom, hyperactivity and destructive behaviour.
- Loose leash walking: Alaskan Malamutes are powerful dogs that need to be trained in the foundations of loose leash walking. Teach your dog to respond to leash pressure and never use aversive training tools such as prong collars and electric shock collars.
- Be patient: Training an Alaskan Malamute can be challenging because it can be difficult to motivate them. Remember that positive reinforcement and repetition of short training sessions will aid your success.
2. Bernese Mountain Dog
Bernese Mountain Dog or the BMD was bred to be an all-purpose farm dog. It’s one of the big dog breeds that once protected and herded cattle. BMDs were also used for pulling heavy milk carts. These strong muscular dogs can pull up to 10 times their own weight – meaning almost 1000 pounds (450 kg)!
Bernese Mountain Dogs are loving, affectionate, gentle giants. They thrive on human companionship and generally get along well with kids and other pets – including cats.
Bernese Mountain Dogs are intelligent and eager to please. This makes training them easy. They are also extremely sensitive dogs and easily get hurt when scolded. This means they do not respond well to harsh training methods. Bernese Mountain Dogs make excellent watchdogs. They do well in dog sports such as obedience but being one of the top 10 Big Dog Breeds, they are too heavy for sports like agility and fly-ball which put pressure on the joints.
Bernese Mountain Dog Training Tips
Bernese Mountain Dogs are intelligent dogs that love to play with their owners. Being one of the big dog breeds, their daily food allowance will also be large. Each piece of kibble represents a potential training reward that you can use to reinforce good behaviour.
Feeding your dog its daily food allowance in a bowl throws away many training opportunities. This is particularly important with dogs that can be hard to motivate, like the livestock guardians. Utilising their daily food allowance will provide you with something that motivates this potentially stubborn big breed of dog.
Bernese Mountain Dogs are heavy shedders and being large and powerful, they should be trained from puppyhood to enjoy being groomed. They require regular brushing to remove loose hair, which would otherwise end up all over your clothes, furniture and carpet. Similarly, keeping nail trims a positive experience by associating this with tasty treats, can help make grooming this large breed easier.
3. Black Russian Terrier
Black Russian Terriers were originally bred in the USSR for military work. They were also used as guard dogs, being one of the big dog breeds that are naturally protective.
Black Russian Terriers are bold, curious, courageous, and intelligent dogs. They are naturally wary of strangers which makes them excellent guard dogs. These loyal dogs closely bond with their owners and family members. Black Russian Terriers need a lot of mental stimulation to prevent boredom. Big dog breeds can be highly destructive if their needs for stimulation and behaviour outlets are not met.
These highly intelligent dogs learn quickly as long as you train them with consistency and kindness. You also need to socialise and expose them to a variety of experiences, people, and animals to increase their comfort levels.
Black Russian Terrier Training Tips
Being one of the Top 10 Big Dog Breeds, loose leash walking should be made a priority in their dog training solution to ensure they don’t lunge and pull on walks. Similarly, the Black Russian Terrier requires significant grooming to keep its coat from matting. Grooming training should commence when the puppy is still with the breeder, to ensure this big breed is comfortable being brushed, combed, clipped and trimmed all over its body.
This giant breed of dog does not respond well to harsh training methods. The most effective training uses positive reinforcement to encourage desirable behaviours. Similarly, life skills training through a games-based approach is effective in teaching impulse control, tolerance to frustration, focus, calmness, confidence and independence.
Bullmastiffs were originally bred by English gamekeepers who wanted a big dog breed to prevent poachers from hunting their game. Today, they are mainly used as warm, dependable, and loving family dogs.
Despite their fierce looks, Bullmastiffs are loyal, loving, calm, affectionate, gentle, and docile dogs. Well-bred and well-raised Bullmastiffs are non-aggressive. In fact; they are laid-back and easy-going dogs that get along well with children and other dogs. Naturally, they need to be socialised from an early age.
Early training and socialisation are critical for a Bullmastiff. They are strong-willed dogs and that can pose a challenge when training them. These natural guard dogs do not need special guard dog training and inherently protect their property and people.
Bullmastiff Training Tips
Bullmastiffs can be stubborn dogs that benefit from reward-based training methods. Like most dog breeds, utilising their daily food allowance during short training sessions throughout the day will ensure they are learning as much as possible. Crate training is beneficial to promote calmness and independence.
Preventing separation anxiety is always a dog trainer’s aim, however, it is critically important in big dog breeds. If a large dog wants to escape to get to its owner, it can do a lot of damage to itself and anything that stands in its way. Crates offer a safe and secure environment in which the dog can relax and engage in a passive calming activity such as a stuffed Kong, long-lasting chew, raw meaty bone etc.
5. German Shepherd
German Shepherds or Alsatians were originally bred for herding sheep. Later on, this big dog breed was used as police and military dogs. Because of their endurance, smartness, courage, strength, and adaptability to any climate, they are used for bomb and drug sniffing work, tracking, search and rescue, guard dog work, etc.
Although they have a reputation for being aggressive and tough, German Shepherds are sweet dogs. Unfortunately, they are also No.3 on the list of dog breeds most likely to bite, so you need to take steps to curb their biting tendency from a young age. Poorly bred German Shepherds are also more likely to be aggressive and high-strung.
On the other hand, well-bred and well-trained German Shepherds love their family members and get along well with children and other dogs (with proper early socialisation).
German Shepherds are generally smart and easy to train. Because they were bred to be herders and working dogs, they need a lot of direction. The good thing is that they learn quickly and also retain things easily. They also have natural guarding instincts, so they do not need special guard dog training. Common behaviour problems among German Shepherds are barking and reactivity.
German Shepherd Training Tips
Training them to be calm and providing passive calming activities when they are left alone will help to prevent barking, digging, escaping and destructive chewing. They also benefit from impulse control training; when this is combined with calmness training, reactivity on walks generally stops.
6. Great Dane
Great Danes were bred for wild deer and boar-hunting. They also guarded the German nobility.
Despite their massive size, Great Danes are affectionate, sweet, loyal dogs. They are not known for barking but will alert you if alarmed. This makes them excellent guard dogs and watchdogs. These intelligent dogs can become quite a handful if not socialised from a young age.
Great Danes are moderately easy to train. However, they also have a laid-back attitude which makes it difficult to make them get up and do something! They need a lot of motivation in the form of praise and rewards.
Great Dane Training Tips
Great Danes require lots of positive social experiences from a young age to ensure they grow to be calm and confident adult dogs. Buying your Great Dane puppy from a responsible and ethical breeder will help to ensure that they have socialised their puppies adequately from the moment they are born. Similarly, puppies raised in puppy farms and by backyard breeders, are more likely to have aggression issues and die young. How a puppy is raised by a breeder from conception to 8 weeks of age, influences behaviour for the rest of their life.
Because the Greyhound can easily achieve speeds of over 40 miles/hour (64 kph), the breed was developed to hunt prey. Greyhounds could easily anticipate their prey’s move and gracefully, athletically, and agilely manoeuvre around it. Greyhounds are popular companion dogs among city dwellers as many are quite laid back and content with a long daily walk. Rescuing an ex-racing Greyhound and training them can be both fulfilling and satisfying.
Greyhounds are intelligent, sensitive, affectionate, loyal, and even-tempered dogs. They generally get along well with children and other pets (including cats). These docile and low-maintenance dogs generally do not bite and, as a rule, don’t make good guard dogs.
Greyhounds are sensitive and can be stubborn dogs. These traits can pose a challenge while training. They do not like being yelled at and generally only respond well to positive reinforcement. They also have a tendency for jumping up on people and need clear training to overcome this behaviour.
Greyhound Training Tips
This breed tends to like chasing lures and this can be used as a reward in training. Some Greyhounds are not food motivated, but by utilising their daily food allowance (meals) as their training rewards, short training sessions throughout the day can be successful.
Rottweilers or Rotties were drover dogs bred for protecting cattle and livestock. They also pulled carts laden with meat to the butcher shops.
Rottweilers often get a bad rap for being aggressive and dominant. However, a 2008 study showed that well-bred and well-socialised Rottweilers weren’t particularly aggressive toward their family members and other dogs. In fact; they can be sweet, loving, and loyal dogs with natural instincts to protect their loved ones.
Rottweilers are intelligent dogs and they are also eager to please. These qualities can come in handy when training them. These highly trainable dogs benefit from consistent, clear, and positive training methods and they mostly learn quickly (although some Rotties are known to be stubborn). Teaching them good behaviour and socialising them early on will bring out the best in your puppy.
Rottweiler Training Tips
A common behaviour problem trainers see among Rottweilers, is reactivity. Dog Reactivity looks like barking, lunging, growling and pulling on a leash when another dog is seen, heard or smelt in the distance. Reactive dogs often benefit from training that increases their tolerance to frustration, impulse control, calmness, focus and loose leash walking skills. Similarly, only ever adopt a Rottweiler puppy from one of the best breeders to ensure you receive a genetically sound pup, that’s been raised ethically.
9. Saint Bernard Dog
St. Bernard dogs were bred for search and rescue work. They could easily find lost travellers in the snow-clad mountains. St. Bernard dogs were even used as cattle, draft, and guard dogs.
St. Bernard dogs are friendly, gentle giants. They are rarely aggressive, even toward strangers. They are also not known to bite. They rarely bark and are not known to be mouthy. St. Bernard dogs are excellent for families with well-behaved children.
St. Bernards need early training and socialisation as they can be shy when they are puppies. These intelligent dogs get trained easily enough as long as you’re consistent and patient with them. They make good guard dogs and some owners take them for guard dog training.
St. Bernard Training Tips
Being a giant dog breed, loose leash walking skills are vitally important if you want to be able to take this dog out in public. Similarly, like most of the 10 big dog breeds in this guide training should focus on developing calmness, tolerance to frustration, focus and impulse control.
10. Tibetan Mastiff
Tibetan Mastiffs were bred to protect Tibetan monasteries and monks from wild animals. They were also used as guard dogs for livestock and property. A giant size breed of dog, with a weight of up to 68kg, they are one of the most powerful and high-priced dogs in the world.
The AKC describes the Tibetan Mastiff as an alert, watchful dog with excellent protective and guard dog instincts. They are gentle giants with their immediate family members and are generally loving and affectionate.
However, they may be guarded and aloof with strangers. With proper early socialisation, they can get along well with kids and other dogs. Tibetans are known for their large booming barks which they use to scare off intruders and sometimes when left alone.
The highly intelligent Tibetan Mastiff needs an experienced trainer who won’t be afraid to use non-traditional methods of obedience training. They also need positive, patient handlers and don’t like being shouted at or scolded.
Tibetan Mastiffs learn quickly and retain the things they learn fairly easily. They need consistent ongoing life skills training to overcome aggressive tendencies. They usually are good guard dogs and don’t need special guard dog training.
Tibetan Mastiff Training tips
- Start early: Tibetan Mastiffs are giant-sized dogs and need to be trained and socialised from a young age to prevent common behavioural problems such as aggression.
- Positive reinforcement training only: Reward-based training generally works faster and is more effective. Punishment-based training can increase aggression and anxiety. Try offering treats, praise, play and affection as rewards and see what your Tibetan Mastiff likes best.
- Clear boundaries from the beginning: A Tibetan Mastiff puppy that is allowed to sleep on your bed, will become a giant size dog that will still want to sleep on your bed. Be consistent and clear with your boundaries and expectations.
- Patience is key: Tibetan Mastiffs are independent and can be slow to learn. Be patient and persistent with your training, and seek the help of a dog trainer or behaviourist before problems get out of hand.
- Socialisation: Tibetan Mastiffs require socialisation in the form of positive experiences. Introduce your dog to new people, places, and experiences to help them develop confidence and become well-behaved in a variety of situations.
Big Dog Breeds – Conclusion
Failing to train big dog breeds can result in problem behaviours like reactivity, aggression, jumping up, chewing, digging, pulling, lunging, biting, escaping and barking. Many of the 10 big dog breeds in our guide, require regular grooming to keep their coats from matting and shedding heavily around the house.
The larger a dog is, the more powerful it is and the more important it is to train it to be involved as a valued collaborator during cooperative care behaviour like grooming and vet visits. Some of the larger dog breeds like the livestock guardians can be challenging to motivate. All breeds benefit from the utilisation of their daily food allowance in training. However, it is particularly important when training low-drive dogs like greyhounds, tibetan mastiffs, bullmastiffs, alaskan malamutes, saint bernards and bernese mountain dogs.
Dog training should be fun and when we discover what motivates our dogs, we can build value for working with us. This creates an obedient dog that ignores distractions, stays focussed, walks off-leash, has a fast & reliable recall and is a joy to own. Having an obedient and well-trained dog is especially important if you choose one of the big dog breeds.