Don’t discount adopting a big dog until you read this column


Ace (A498265), a Dogo Argentino mix, seems to be a laid back and calm fellow. Once he knows you, he is a friendly, quiet dog. He would be a wonderful addition to a home willing to give him time to adjust to a new setting.

Back on my farm in Wisconsin, I had a beautiful Anatolian Shepherd who went by the name Rhett.

Rhett was a working dog. Weighing in at more than 120 pounds, he was a giant bruiser of a beast who could easily be mistaken from a distance for a fluffy pony. His size made him appear very intimidating, but it was all smoke and mirrors.

He was the kindest, most gentle soul you could ever meet. His job was to protect my sheep and goats, and it was a role he took very seriously. He spent most of his time lounging in the pasture, always from a vantage point of being able to see all the animals in his protection. Predators kept a safe distance because his booming bark made it clear he was not to be trifled with.

In the spring when babies were being born, he’d often be used as a jungle gym for baby goats who liked to frolic and climb all over him, chewing on his ears and play head-butting him. He was patient and caring with each and every one.

Up until Rhett, I had only ever had small to medium size dogs. I’m not sure why, really. It isn’t as if I have a preference for them. My pets have always just kind of picked me rather than me picking them.

Having Rhett really opened my eyes to the joys of having a large dog. He had such a different, laid back kind of vibe to him, even when he was being high-energy playful. In some ways, he was a lot easier to handle than my small dogs. Even just petting him was easier because I didn’t have to bend down.

Now, I know this can be a dicey subject, since people who own small dogs (myself included) will sometimes fervently defend why their particular breed is best. But if you look at the science, and yes studies have been done on this, big dogs are statistically better in three key categories, according to research done at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.

The research team was headed by Christine Arhant from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. It was a large ambitious study, involving a survey questionnaire that consisted of 237 questions, and was sent by mail to registered dog owners in Vienna, Austria. The final analysis was based on 1,276 completed surveys.

Of the three categories the study examined, the first was obedience, which looked at how reliably dogs obeyed the commands of “sit,” “down,” “stay” and “come” off leash.

The second category, aggression and excitability, looked at the frequency of behaviors like growling, snapping or barking at other dogs or visitors in the home. They also determined whether dogs would fight with other dogs, or pursue joggers and cyclists, is excitable when the doorbell rings, etc…

The third behavior component that they looked at was called anxiety and fearfulness. This included owner’s ratings of whether their dogs showed behaviors such as, anxiety in unknown situations, fearfulness when exposed to loud noises like traffic or fireworks, is afraid of unknown humans, dogs or crowds, seems restless and unable to relax, or frequently shows various body signs of anxiety such as lowered body posture, panting, salivation and trembling.

The findings revealed that small dogs (classified as weighing less than 44 pounds) scored lower in all three categories. So sure, small dogs on average are a little less obedient, more aggressive/excitable, and fearful than larger dogs — but they make up for it with their undeniable “cute and cuddly factor.”

Speaking as the guy with two small dogs, this might sound strange coming from me — but if you’re thinking about adopting a pet, you may want to consider looking at the more vertically gifted variety of dogs who often get overlooked in shelters. Large dogs can be seen as intimidating in a shelter setting, so adopters’ eyes seem to travel the fastest to our more petite characters.

In fact, we could really use more volunteer fosters for large dogs, too. We’re entering our busy summer season, which means we’ll be seeing a lot more animals coming through our doors in need of loving homes. And when possible, we prefer having our adoptable dogs in foster homes while they wait for permanent placement. It’s proven to improve their overall mental health, ease anxiety, and it gives us “real world” knowledge of what that dog is really like in a home environment – which helps us to find great adoption matches faster.

It is always harder for us to find foster placement for larger dogs — and don’t they deserve a cozy dog bed in the corner of someone’s living room just as much as the littles? Yes, me thinks. So if you’ve never had a large dog before, fostering is a wonderful option to test the waters and see if a large dog might be a good fit for your home.

Need some more convincing? Challenge accepted. Here are three great reasons to think about adopting or fostering a large dog:

  • They need exercise, and so do you

Dogs are great exercise motivators. They demand that you walk them and keep them physically active, which in turn, keeps you active too. But big dogs might be a little better at keeping you on the move.

Of course, it all comes down to the individual dog, but if you want to get away from screens and video games, a big dog might really help with that.

  • Training may be easier

While all dogs, in terms of size, are equally trainable, according to Animal Planet, there may be more things to consider when training a small dog compared to a larger pup.

When training a Maltese or Chihuahua, you must be careful not to waste even one kibble because some of these tiny dogs only eat a quarter of a cup of food per day. So training and managing healthy weight can sometimes be in conflict with smaller dogs.

What’s more, when training a small dog, you have to be careful that your larger stature doesn’t intimidate them and prevent them from learning.

  • You don’t have to worry about “Small Dog Syndrome”

Small breeds are known for developing what trainers call Small Dog Syndrome. Small dogs are often allowed to exhibit undesired behavior because it’s viewed as less of a nuisance and less dangerous than if it were displayed by their larger canine cousins.

Because smaller dogs are often allowed to “exhibit dominant behavior” more than a larger dog, a small dog may be more likely to yap, growl, and jump.

So if you’re on the fence of whether a small or big dog is the best match for your family, perhaps these findings will help. Or maybe it just confused you more!

So let me end with this: I’ve had small dogs. I’ve had medium sized dogs. I’ve had large dogs. They are all amazing and unique in their own ways. They are all individuals and ornery in fun and entertaining ways. In every case, they chose me – not the other way around. So just keep an open mind, and the dog that is best for you and your family will choose you when the time is right!