If you own a large-breed dog, you know just how frustrating it can be when they begin to misbehave. I have been living with a Great Pyrenees named Cassius for over a year now, and I have certainly experienced many of the challenges that I imagine other large dog parents go through as well.
Large-breed dogs are truly one-of-a-kind. They can be gentle giants, and they can be giant mess-makers, but for whatever reason, we owners love our big dogs and can’t imagine living without them (or, frankly, living with small dogs). But there is something that you must understand about owning large dogs—they require a lot of patience and empathy.
Large dogs tend to run the house. They can bark out of protection at nearly anyone who approaches their territory, they chew through toys in moments with their ginormous chompers, and they drool on everything, and I mean everything. Large dogs like to feel like they have a job, and most of them choose the job of protecting their beloved owners.
Even when your boy or girl is being a real nutcase, it is important to maintain a calm demeanor when training or working with these breeds. After all, even some of the naughtiest dogs have some of the most loving owners because they are truly man’s most loyal and loving best friend. Here are some helpful tips to make living with your beast more of a beautiful experience.
Cassius is a homebody, for sure. We spend a lot of time chillin’ around the house and running around the backyard. Unfortunately, this connection he feels to our home has established a bit of an improper relationship between him and what he believes to be his. You see, in Cassius’s eyes, our home is his home, and he feels like it is his job to protect it and decorate it.
Let me begin by saying homes are sacred—at least to me they are. Homes say a lot about the people who live in them. If you’re thinking of selling your home, your carpets and walls can say a lot about how you maintained it while you lived there, and unfortunately, naughty big dogs and the mess they can leave behind can really scare off home buyers.
At home, large dogs need to learn their place and their responsibilities. For example, large dogs are best kept on the floor. Enabling your large dog to hang on the couch with you only reinforces the idea that he owns that couch, and he can do whatever he wants on it. This mindset leads to stains, drool, and god forbid, urine or vomit.
When you’re hanging at home with your big dog, be sure he understands where his play areas are and where his play areas are not. Establish designated zones for playing, sleeping, eating and using the bathroom. This way, large dogs won’t feel like they run the house; they will just feel like they run their special areas.
An additional tip for playtime at home—don’t wrestle with your dog. Large dogs can become aggressive if you encourage play-fighting from a young age. You won’t think this is bad at first when they are little puppies, but when they grow up to be your size, you want to be sure they haven’t developed habits of wrestling and potentially hurting visitors or new friends.
On a Walk
I have yet to meet a large breed dog who does not excessively pull on his leash while walking. Large breed dogs have a sense of independence that smaller dogs don’t always possess. Large dogs know that they are tougher and bigger than other domestic animals, so they feel more inclined to roam and wander, which can lead to leash pulling.
If not for my grace and poise (not), Cassius would have put me on my bottom during many walks in the past. There are ways, however, to help decrease this behavior and increase proper walking techniques. When Cassius starts to pull too hard, I pull his leash all the way to me so that he is just next to me, similar to a service dog. He then has to spend the next several moments close to my side before he earns the right to walk on his own.
After trying this for a short while, I found that he started pulling less. The pulling didn’t completely leave, as it usually doesn’t, but it got so much better that I was able to switch to a handheld leash rather than the waist leash I was using for extra support. Now, our walks are much easier and more enjoyable for me.
When Guests Visit
I hate to admit it, but I really hate having guests over at my house with my large breed boy. It’s not that I don’t enjoy visitors; I just don’t enjoy being up in their grill for the first five minutes of their visit trying to keep my dog from jumping up on them. Large dogs are called large for a reason. When they jump on you, they transform to your size, if not larger than you. In other words, they can easily tackle you.
And this makes most large breed dog owners nervous around other folks because, obviously, you don’t want your dog to jump up on the old lady walking down the street and knock her over. You want your dog to lie next to her gently and behave like a pet therapy pup working with seniors would.
Only this never happens. Instead, your large dogs pulls at the leash until he arrives at the stranger he wants to smell—and up to the front paws, and down goes the coffee the stranger once held.
It’s hard to control what your animal does in public, but there are ways you can eliminate your stress while entertaining at home. Something that has worked positively for me in the past is having the guests greet Cassius like a dog. Basically, the guest gets low to his level so he doesn’t feel like he has to jump, they show him some love, and then he doesn't feel so excited by their new presence.
Another option for large breed dog owners who are going a little crazy is to have your guests greet your animal in their outside space. This gives your dog plenty of space to run around, jump and be crazy without being disruptive in the house. It’s like sticking your kid in the backyard after a bunch of sugar. They do some laps and come in ready to relax.
Oh, the Barking
Large breed dog owners understand that these dogs are not just known for their size. They are also known for their bark. In my experience, the loudest and most house-rattling barks Cassius has let out were during massive wind storms or 4th of July fireworks.
I am an all-natural dog mom, so I don’t give Cassius tranquilizers to prepare for these kinds of events. I prefer to do things the old-fashioned way, which can often be more frustrating. Dog barking is one of the most frequent reasons why large dogs are rehomed. Either the owners can’t handle the barks or the neighbors can’t. Either way, barking is a very bad habit for your large doggy to get into.
When your dog is feeling especially barky, try distracting them with training biscuits. This works great for Cassius. When he is feeling scared or overwhelmed and starts to bark uncontrollably, I can almost always wrangle him in by doing simple training lessons for tiny treats. If I cut up little pieces of carrot, he will go as silent as a dove.
Distraction is a dog’s best friend. Because they have such short attention spans, distraction can help them virtually forget what they were previously upset about. Another trick that works great for barking dogs is to take them on walks during the fireworks or during windy conditions (if weather permits). This way, the dog can visually see that the noise is nothing to be scared of and will begin to associate it with something less menacing.
On Road Trips
Road trips make for some of the best memories. They allow you to see the world from the comfort of your car while also saving a bit of money. Road trips with pets, however, can get a bit messy—especially if your pet takes up an entire back seat, which large dogs surely do.
If you’re anything like me, you have not yet dog-proofed your car, and your canine fur friend gets to lounge in the backseat for the entire ride, popping his head in and out of the window and pacing back and forth in his seat. Eventually this method works out fine, once the pooch gets tired and falls asleep, but until then, road tripping can be very stressful.
If you are taking a large breed dog on a road trip, there are some key factors you want to take into account before you make your final plans. For instance, large breed dogs have to use the restroom, just like any other animal. Just because they are bigger and have larger bladders does not mean they can make an entire eight-hour trip without a potty break. Be prepared to stop more frequently than you normally would and give them plenty of time to walk or run around before going back in the car.
Another important task to remember is giving your puppy necessary snack and water breaks. When dogs ride in the car and hold their head out the window, they tend to develop very dry mouths, which can lead to severely stinky breath and even plaque problems. Be sure you have enough water in the car so your pooch can stay properly hydrated.
Entertainment is another big deal. Dogs won’t be entertained for an entire trip; you can be assured of that. They will find joy in the sights, sounds and smells for the first couple hours, perhaps take a short snooze, and wake up looking for something to play with. Bring along your baby's favorite toys and ropes. They will be happy and entertained, and you will be relaxed and comforted by the fact that they are self-soothing.
Large dogs can be the most fun to own at night when they are tired and feeling cuddly. I made the mistake of allowing Cassius to sleep in bed with us, so now we share with an extra person, basically (but I love it). Large dogs make for great body pillows. If you are not a fan of having dog hair where you lay your head, which is totally understandable, there are some tricks and tips you can follow to help promote floor or doggy bed sleeping in your large breed canines.
The biggest tip I can give may require a time machine for experienced owners, but for new owners, you can use this trick right away. While your dog is a puppy, get him in the habit of sleeping in his crate just next to your bed. Your puppy will be comforted by the sounds of your breathing and rustling and get a good night’s sleep in his private area.
Crate training at night helps reinforce the idea in your puppy that your bed is for you to sleep, and he has his own area for bedtime. If you have a sneaker (a dog who climbs up on the bed in the middle of the night), spend the first few weeks with pillows at the end of the bed to make it difficult for the dog to come up. If he attempts to sneak, you can also use the pillows as an alarm system of sorts to catch him in the act.
Don’t You Just Love ‘Em, Though?
Following some of these simple tricks at home, on walks, in the car, and elsewhere will help you feel less frustrated by the challenges your large dog puts you through. At the end of the day, owning a large dog is an extreme treat filled with loving kisses, adorable cuddles and fun times; all you have to do is remain relaxed enough to experience them fully. Don’t let a little naughtiness keep you from having a fun and fulfilling relationship with your big beast.