The history behind the largest dog breeds often reveals dogs bred to be ancient guardians, fierce hunting hounds or royal companions.
While some owners in recent years prefer smaller dog breeds for city living, size and strength have historically been desirable factors to breed into dogs, making them better protectors and hunters.
Although imposing, the biggest dog breeds also tend to be mildly tempered and make excellent family pets. This list details some of the biggest of the big dogs, but “big” is relative; some breeds are stout and heavy while others are tall and lean.
The Kuvasz is one of the smaller big dogs, but only compared to the largest dog breeds. It has origins in the Hungarian royalty, once serving as companions to Europe’s upper echelons. Centuries later, commoners were allowed to own Kuvasz; shepherds found them very well-suited to guarding livestock.
Height: 26 to 30 inches
Weight: 70 to 115 pounds
Identified by thick, white coat
9. Scottish Deerhound
The Scottish Deerhound emerged in Scotland, bred to bring down stags in the Scottish highlands. It became a royal breed and could not be owned by anyone beneath the rank of earl; this exclusive ownership law nearly drove the breed extinct, but a breeding program in the 1800s successfully revived them.
Height: 28 to 32 inches
Weight: 75 to 110 pounds
Resembles a rough-coated, sturdier Greyhound
Has harsh and wiry coat in blue, blue gray, brindle, black, yellow and reddish fawn
8. Great Pyrenees
A shepherd’s best friend, the Great Pyrenees was bred to protect sheep on the steep slopes of southwestern Europe. In the 17th century, the breed crossed over from the peasantry to become a popular French court breed. Their powerful guarding instinct makes them trustworthy even with small children and helpless animals.
Height: 25 to 32 inches
Weight: 90 to 130 pounds
Identified by thick, weather-resistant coat in white, sometimes with different-colored markings
7. Anatolian Shepherd Dog
This powerful breed was never a pampered court dog for royalty; for 6,000 years, it served shepherds in Turkey’s harsh climate as the front line of defense against predators. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog has a fierce protective instinct and is capable of great love and loyalty, but only to his flock.
Height: 29 to 32 inches
Weight: 88 to 144 pounds
Short or rough coat in all variety of colors
Coloring and size bred to help it blend in with livestock
On average, Newfoundlands are not the world’s biggest dog breed by either height or weight, but exceptions occur. Some of these dogs can top 200 pounds and measure six feet from nose to tail, putting them on par with some of the world’s largest dogs. Nevertheless, these water-rescue dogs are nicknamed “Gentle Giants” for their disposition and girth.
Height: 27 to 30 inches
Weight: 100 to 154 pounds
Water-resistant coat may be black, gray, brown, beige or white with black markings
Three of the world’s largest dog breeds were involved in the creation of the Leonberger: the Newfoundland, St. Bernard and the Great Pyrenees. They inherited the lifesaving and water rescue abilities of their progenitors and are used today as lifeguard dogs. Their distinctive appearance, including black face masks, was allegedly bred to mimic a lion.
Height: 26 to 32 inches
Weight: 100 to 170 pounds
Thick double coat and leonine mane may be colored lion-yellow, red, red-brown or sandy
4. St. Bernard
Famous for their legendary alpine rescues, the St. Bernard is a giant dog breed named for the Great St. Bernard Hospice. The hospice is nestled in a treacherous pass between Italy and Switzerland, leading a hospice monk in the 11th century to begin a tradition of rescue dogs to pull travelers from the snows.
Height: 25 to 30 inches
Weight: 110 to 200 pounds
May have a smooth or rough coat, usually in red and white with black shading
The longest dog in history, Major F., allegedly reached a length of eight feet and six inches
3. English Mastiff
The Mastiff is the largest dog breed in terms of mass, though not the tallest. Originating in England, they served as watchdogs for thousands of years. During their long history, Mastiffs have acted as devoted guard dogs and controlled predator populations. During the Roman conquest of England, the loyalty and strength of the Mastiff impressed even Caesar.
Height: 27 to 30 inches
Weight: 120 to 220 pounds
Short-haired coats in brindle, apricot and fawn colors with black face mask
The world’s heaviest dog on record was a Mastiff weighing 343 pounds
2. Irish Wolfhound
Although lightweight, these dogs are one of the biggest dog breeds by height. Roman records describe these ancient war hounds with awe and fear. By the 9th century, Wolfhounds were exclusively owned by the nobility and contributed to a gradual decline of the breed. A revival was successful, but only by introducing other breeds into the bloodline.
Height: 30 to 35 inches
Weight: 105 to 125 pounds
Harsh and shaggy coat in gray, brindle, black, red, white or fawn
1. Great Danes
Great Danes are well-known for being the world’s biggest dog breed, or at least the tallest. The current record holder as world’s largest dog by height is Zeus, a black Great Dane that is 44 inches tall at the shoulder. Modern Great Danes are descended from lightweight ancestors in Denmark crossed with English Mastiffs in the 16th century to make them sturdier hunting dogs.
Height: 28 to 34 inches
Weight: 100 to 200 pounds
Common coat colors are brindle, blue, black, fawn, harlequin and mantle