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All future dog guardians aim to find the perfect match for their home and family, and opting for a shelter pet is always a compassionate choice. However, some pervasive misconceptions about large dogs keep even the most well-intentioned future pet guardians from considering larger dog breeds. But finding the ideal dog is less about the size and more about personality and lifestyle. Each dog is an individual with a unique personality and specific needs—it’s a matter of willingness to meet those needs. While shelter dogs of all breeds and sizes have a myriad of benefits to offer and deserve a loving home, these misplaced assumptions make it significantly harder for these gentle giants to get adopted.
A recent pet owner survey indicates that only around 36 percent of US households opt for large dog breeds, while 48 percent choose small dog breeds. Most myths preventing dog owners from choosing a larger dog are completely unfounded and leave many larger dogs to languish in shelters, while also preventing adopters from considering the full range of options that could lead to a perfect match. We’ve set out to debunk these myths and show you why adopting a large breed dog might in fact be the best option for you.
The truth behind common misconceptions
Larger and older dogs are untrainable
Even the most well-behaved dog requires some training when adopted. Regardless of whether the dog is small or large, they need to adjust to their new home and understand behavior rules and routines.
Dogs are rarely untrainable—pet owners can work together with trainers to teach their rescue dogs basic obedience cues. Many older dogs are especially eager to learn. In fact, older dogs tend to be past their high-energy, rebellious phase, which makes them calmer and more relaxed and thus easily trainable.
Additionally, adult dogs who are past the puppy stage generally have fewer accidents and can likely skip the potty-training stage altogether. It's also more likely that a bigger (and older) dog has already received some basic training cues in the past.
Big dogs are aggressive
To the chagrin of animal shelters nationwide, people often conflate the size of larger dog breeds with aggression. In reality, there is no factual basis for this assumption, and many big dogs are actually gentle giants with easy-going temperaments. Furthermore, a study from the University of Helsinki found that small dogs are in fact more prone to behave aggressively than large or medium-sized dogs. Ultimately, behavioral problems tend to have little to nothing to do with a dog’s size or breed but rather its individual personality and past experiences. This also disproves another common misconception: That big dogs make good guard dogs.
Large dog breeds are more susceptible to illnesses and degenerative conditions
Although it is true that small dogs tend to have longer lifespans than larger dogs, the biggest indicator of inherited genetic disorders exists mostly among purebreds because of hereditary traits. By keeping an eye on your dog’s nutrition, exercising them regularly, and educating yourself on common illnesses and degenerative conditions, you can significantly decrease your dog’s risk—regardless of their size.
Big dogs tend to be overweight
Obesity is not a size-specific problem. Both small and large dogs can become overweight if they are fed the wrong foods, too much of it, or don’t exercise enough. The best way to keep any dog at an optimal weight is to feed them the right types of food in adequate portions and to exercise them according to their particular needs.
Big dogs aren’t suitable for families with kids
This myth couldn’t be any further from the truth. Compared to small dogs, big dogs actually tend to be the better option for families, especially families with small children. Large dogs tend to be more patient, self-controlled, tolerant, gentle, and protective of their families, which makes them great family dogs. Once again, the determining factor will be the dog’s individual personality and training. If you provide your dog and your children with the appropriate ways to interact with each other respectfully, they will make for wonderful companions.
Large dog breeds need a lot of space and cannot live in smaller apartments
Independent of their size, dogs are extremely adaptable to their environment. As long as your dog’s needs for physical exercise and mental stimulation are met, they will be happy just about anywhere. A dog’s needs differ according to its personality, age, energy levels, and temperament and are not determined by its body size.
Big dogs make traveling harder
With pet sitting and boarding options readily available, traveling has never been easier for pet owners. Taking your large dog with you is also an option on road trips—they can keep up and keep you company on any adventure.
Why a large dog breed might be the perfect match for you
When it comes to lovability, adaptability, and trainability, there is no difference in large dog breeds compared to smaller dogs. Gentle companions, home lovers, bundles of energy, couch potatoes, watchful guard dogs—all of these different personalities can be found across any dog breed, regardless of size.
And that’s not all: big dogs offer big rewards! A bigger dog means owners can look forward to giant hugs, kisses, and affectionate petting sessions. And for anyone looking to achieve cardio-related fitness goals, big dogs make great workout partners that can keep up and motivate. Rather than limiting your search based on size, make sure to find a dog with the right personality that fits your lifestyle. Your future best friend just might be lazing in the big-dog section waiting for their new home.
San Francisco SPCA has a big variety of adoptable pets for you to choose from—help your four-legged soulmate find their home with you! And even if you can’t adopt or foster a pet at this time, you can still support shelter animals by donating. Click here to learn more about ways to save animals with San Francisco SPCA.