Certainly all dogs should be well socialized and well trained. That way they can live with you and your family manage-ably as well as in the outside world. However, when you have a big dog, training becomes even more important. Picture an off leash Yorkshire Terrier that comes hurling at you from across a park – it’s hard to imagine anyone but the most dog-phobic person feeling terrified. Replace that image with a 120 pound Rottweiler and you have a different story – one that most likely doesn’t have you thinking “oh isn’t he cute”. Everything is multiplied with a large dog, if you think the above example is scary, think about housebreaking accidents.
All puppies start off adorable – that’s a given- and there’s a natural tendency to give in to puppies’ demands for attention and allow them to jump in laps or on people’s legs. Your friends or strangers may even encourage this. However, if you’re going to have a dog that’s going to be over sixty pounds you need to discourage this right from the beginning. When a puppy wants to jump IGNORE IGNORE IGNORE (remember negative attention is still attention). Of course, all of these rules apply to the littlest of dogs but if you have a Toy Poodle that jumps for the rest of his life that’s nothing but annoying. A jumping Malamute can actually knock a child or even a grown up off his feet. Although I’m using puppies as the example, the same holds true for dogs that come to you when they’re older. You can train in the same way, it just may take longer to get there – it helps to remember that patience is a virtue!
Diligence is also vital for leash walking and recall. You need to practice these early and often and use gentle leaders or sensation harnesses to help you get to where you have a well-controlled, reliable dog. Even if you get to the point where your dog is incredibly reliable off leash he should always be leashed and you should always hold on to that leash. Not only is it most likely required by the town in which you live, it’s also a comfort when other people walk by you and your dog. Even if the person walking by is a dog lover they still might be a little afraid of a substantial dog and you, as the owner of a large dog have a responsibility to the rest of the world’s large dog owners to show that we take our dog responsibilities seriously. This responsibility is even greater if your dog is both big and black. Shelters have identified what’s known as “big black dog syndrome”. Large dogs, especially dark dogs, have a harder time being placed because people are more afraid of them – perhaps because they are so often portrayed in TV and movies as threatening. The better behaved our large dogs are the more likely we can be advocates for them.
Finally, there are special health problems of the big dogs. Every breed or breed combination has health issues but large dogs need special attention paid to their joints. Advances in joint medications have helped a lot but it’s also important to do what you can – keep your dog lean and exercise them diligently. You may also want to discuss the use of joint and bone supplements with your vet.