From the tiniest teacup dog to dogs the size of a pony.
These animals all share a genus and species with their ancestral relative, the grey wolf.
They have the same genes, the same DNA, and all can (physical practicalities aside) successfully interbreed.
So, how has the diversity of scale that we have created affected our dogs? Does size actually matter?
And is living with a very big dog or a very tiny one, that much different from living with a small one?
In this article, we are going to look at how altering the natural size of the domestic dog, the one nature arranged for him, has affected his health. And at the practical issues involved with sharing your life with dogs of different sizes
What is is like to own a giant dog?
We all know that larger dogs take up more space. But what is it actually like to own a really big dog?
The Great Dane is one of our best known giant breeds. As an adult he may top the scales at over 150lbs. This means that he needs a seriously large and deeply padded bed to sleep on.
This won’t be cheap and will take up a lot of space in your house.
If you like the idea of buddying up and bed sharing with your dog, think again, especially if you have children. Sleeping with a ten stone dog can be dangerous.
How strong are you?
All young dogs are boisterous, and it takes time to teach them basic manners and good behaviour. In the meantime, they need restraining. This can be a practical problem for a slight person with a large dog.
Giant dogs are not cheap to run. Veterinary care is expensive. They eat a lot more than other dogs and need high quality food to keep them in good health.
They also need a massive amount of socialisation in order to ensure that all that power and strength is safe around people.
These then are some of the practical issues. Of even more concern are the health issues that affect giant dogs. We’ll look at those in a moment.
What about tiny dogs?
Living with a very small dogs has its own challenges. Especially during puppyhood.
Little dogs are easily stepped on and injured. They may also be vulnerable to attacks by other dogs if exercised in public places. Sadly, not everyone is as responsible about socialising and controlling their dog as you are.
So let’s talk about health.
Does being a giant or a midget of the dog world make any difference to your health, temperament, or longevity?
The link between size and longevity
In broad terms, we can generalise and say that smaller dogs live longer than larger dogs. This in itself is quite the reverse of what we find if we compare one species with another species.
Normally, larger species of animal live longer than smaller species of animal. Your pony is likely to outlive your hamster for example.
But it is easy to forget, that these very different breeds of dog, are actually all the same species. And the rule when looking at individuals of a single species, is that extremes in size do not bode well when it comes to health
In humans for example, gigantism is associated with a shorter lifespan, just as it is in dogs.
Less is more
In dogs the benefits of being smaller rather than larger are significant. Up to a point.
Smaller dogs, on average, live longer than larger ones. So for example a toy poodle, might live several years longer than a standard poodle, or a Labrador.
So, in broad terms, if you want to spend as many years with your new friend as possible, getting a smaller (but not very tiny) dog should be one of your priorities.
How big is too big?
Of course, many of our larger breeds live a good ten to twelve years or so. And most people would think this is a reasonable compromise if they want a largish dog.
But what about when we go beyond Labrador or Golden Retriever size. What happens when we get bigger still.
Well the news is not good I’m afraid.
Really big dogs, like Great Danes, have a significantly reduced lifespans. Your average Dane puppy might expect to live just six or seven years (source). But Danes they are not the only very large dogs whose lifespan is reduced.
In the Kennel Club’s 2004 health survey the Dogue de Bordeaux had a shocking median age of death of 3 years and 10 months (source), Neopolitan Mastiff, and several other overly large breeds are similarly affected with unnecessarily shortened lives.
I say unnecessarily because we don’t actually have to breed dogs of this size.
Let’s look at the other end of the scale. What happens if we take ‘small’ to an extreme
How small is too small
You have probably heard of teacup dogs. These are the tiniest versions of our already very small toy breeds.
A few breeders have taken the process of miniaturisation further than ever before and are producing dogs that will fit in the palm of your hand.
But just how healthy are these ‘teacup dogs’?
It turns out, not very healthy at all. There comes a point in the miniaturisation process when things start to fall apart.
Not to mention the fact that these dogs are often a result of taking the runt or least healthy member of a litter and breeding from it. An ethically questionable practice at best.
So it seems, that yet again, we mess with nature at our peril. We seem to be able to get away with changing things a little bit.
And in the case of reducing size, we may have even managed to increase the longevity of some of our breeds.
But this is certainly not the case when we make dogs bigger than nature intended.
If you want to spend the maximum number of years possible with your new friend, choosing a puppy from some of the medium to small breeds, is the way to go. Provided of course, that you choose wisely and avoid other key areas of concern, such as conformational defects.
If you’ve got this far in the Puppy Search series, you may wonder if you’ll ever find a healthy puppy! But don’t despair. There are lots of breeds in reasonably good shape. In every sense of the word.
As always, when you are looking at any group of dogs with a view to buying a puppy, it is often simply a case of avoiding individual breeds within that group, that have been taken to extremes.
Other articles you may find helpful are
- Puppy Search 3: shape and structure
- Lifespan: the long and the short of it
- Puppy Health: problems associated with conformation
The next step along your puppy search journey can be found here: Puppy Search Five: Pedigree or mutt?