SPARKS — Everyone has their personal preference for how big is “too big” when it comes to a pet. Some people believe big dogs are more relaxed and lovable, while others just like the novelty of owning a gigantic canine. Whatever the reason, the result often is that people overlook the nuances of caring for particular breeds and sizes of dogs.
There are many different large dog breeds. Whether it is a Saint Bernard, Newfoundland or mastiff, the dog must fit an individual’s personality and lifestyle.
According to Lori Juenke, co-founder of Saints of the West rescue in Reno, Saint Bernards are not a dog for a chaotic lifestyle.
“I enjoy the Saint’s temperament. They are very sweet, loving dogs and they like to lounge around and not do much,” Juenke said. “They are attention-seeking dogs and they aren’t a dog you can just leave out in the backyard, come home to, feed twice a day and go to bed. They want to go out with you and the family.”
June Gibson, president of Newfoundland Health and Rescue, said a Newfoundland’s size can intimidate people, but they are not watch dogs.
“The breed was originally used to save people and pull in fishnets, they are a water dog,” Gibson said. “Newfoundlands are probably one of the most gentle dogs you could own and are a wonderful, docile dog for children.”
One problem rescue shelters stress is that people should educate themselves before choosing to own a big dog.
Robyn Roth, co-founder of Sugarland Ranch in Reno, a mastiff rescue shelter, said that no matter the breed, people need to do their homework.
“You have a large animal to provide care for and be well educated to their specific needs,” Roth said. “People need to do that with any breed, although the potential liability seems to be far less with smaller animals.”
She said mastiffs have unique quirks that need to be tended to and experience is key when owning a large dog.
“Mastiffs have many dispositions and characteristics,” Roth said. “You are handling a very large animal, which means unless they are well socialized and handled properly, you have a potential problem on the end of the leash. You can’t take a novice dog owner who has only owned poodles and give them a mastiff because if you bring a mastiff to a dog park and let it loose, it is a lot different than letting a little poodle run loose because it is a 200-pound dog.”
Juenke pointed out that people don’t realize what they are getting into and easily give up instead of finding solutions to the problems they have with their big dog.
“I had one lady call and when I asked why she wanted to give up her Saint Bernard, she said the dog had torn up the couch, sprinkler system and furniture,” Juenke said. “The dog was a puppy and was destroying the house when she wasn’t home.”
Juenke said she suggested the owners put the dog in a crate when they weren’t home, which fixed the problem.
“People just don’t know where to get answers or they don’t want to,” Juenke said. “It is really important that people know, if they want a big or small dog, the health risks for that dog and how much it will cost in food and vet care.”
According to AVMA.org, the official site for the American Veterinary Medical Association, the size of the dog and space needs to be taken into consideration before owning a large dog.
“Larger dogs require more space than smaller ones, and they may be harder to maintain in an apartment or condominium,” the website states. “Whatever the size of your dog, it must be provided with access to the outdoors multiple times a day for elimination and exercise.”
Juenke said quality food is important in a large dog’s diet because it provides the dog with much-needed calories, instead of filler calories that some cheap dog foods supply.
Medical care costs for large dogs are significantly higher because they are more prone to bone and joint problems. Roth said mastiffs are especially subject to orthopedic issues that have to be repaired.
“One example is a torn cruciate, which is similar to a human ACL injury,” Roth said. “That problem requires an elective surgery that can cost up to $4,000. People need to be financially prepared and carry pet insurance because veterinary care costs will go up.”
There are several online resources that can help potential dog owners decide which breed is best for them. Juenke also encourages people to go to the American Kennel Club Dog Show in Carson City.
“You can see over a thousand dogs and it’s a good place to talk to people and find out what is good or bad about your particular dog,” Juenke said.