What is the Maximum Size of a Dog?

Have you ever strolled down a sidewalk, heard a loud “WOOF! WOOF!” from behind a fence, and pondered how large the barking dog is? You might imagine that they are as large as you are! But what if the dog is not just larger than you, but larger than a grown-up? How big can a dog actually get?

The answer depends on what we mean by “big”! Are we referring to height, weight, or length? The tallest dog ever recorded was Zeus, a Great Dane. He stood at 44 inches tall (or 3 feet, 8 inches) from his shoulder. Dogs, like horses, are measured from the withers—where their shoulder blades meet. Zeus broke the record for the tallest dog in 2011. Unfortunately, Zeus passed away in 2014. In 2022, a new record holder for the tallest dog emerged. He is also named Zeus and is also a Great Dane! Many previous record holders have also been Great Danes.

These giants can reach over seven feet tall when they stand on their hind legs! But what about the longest dog? Several of the most recent record holders were Irish wolfhounds. The most recent one was Farrell, an Irish wolfhound who measured 7 feet, 9 inches long from nose to tail. The longest dog in history was even longer! His name was Zorba, an Old English mastiff, measuring 8 feet, 4 inches. Zorba likely holds the record for the heaviest dog as well, although such records are not typically maintained. He weighed an astonishing 343 pounds.

These are individual dogs that broke records, but which breeds are generally the largest? The overall largest dog breeds are the Saint Bernard and the Old English mastiff. They were bred to be working dogs, and their large size was crucial for the tasks they performed. Saint Bernard dogs were bred and trained to be rescuers, assisting travelers in the Alps. In fact, they are credited with saving over 2,000 lives during their years of service.

Old English mastiffs were bred as guard dogs and fighters, known as “war dogs.” The breed is very ancient—even the ancient Romans used mastiffs as fighting dogs in their arenas. Mastiffs are so massive that they were pitted against animals like bears, lions, or tigers. Nowadays, Saint Bernards and mastiffs are primarily kept as pets. Although mastiffs were bred for fighting and guarding, they are known for their gentle temperament. Saint Bernards are even referred to as “nanny dogs” due to their friendly nature.

As you can see from the record-holding dogs, one of the tallest dog breeds is the Great Dane. Great Danes are also working dogs, originally bred to hunt boars, a type of large wild pig. Nowadays, they are mostly kept as pets. Another very tall breed is the Irish wolfhound. Can you guess what this working dog was bred for? That’s right—wolfhounds were bred for wolf hunting! Like most other large breed dogs, these former working dogs are now primarily pets.

Now that you know about the largest dogs, do you ever wonder about the smallest? You may already be aware that the chihuahua is the smallest breed. In fact, the shortest dog—a chihuahua—is approximately 11 times smaller than the tallest Great Dane.

There are various reasons for the differences in breeds, some of which are natural changes that have occurred over many years. It’s understandable that dogs from cold climates, such as huskies, have thicker coats compared to dogs from hot climates, like chihuahuas. Other changes have been influenced by human intervention. Dog owners and breeders select specific characteristics they desire in their dogs, such as size, appearance, or personality.

Now that you’ve been introduced to the largest and smallest dogs, what kind of dog would you prefer?

Give it a Try

Are you ready to explore more about dogs? Woof!

  • Many dog breeds, like retrievers and border collies, were bred for specific types of work. Research a breed with a friend or family member either online or at your local library. How do the breed’s appearance, personality, and other attributes contribute to its usefulness or desirability? Afterwards, create an informative poster or infographic using Canva or any materials you have available. Explain how the dog is adapted for its environment and work.
  • Have you ever wondered what your dog is thinking? Let your imagination run wild! Write a narrative from the perspective of a dog. Share your story with friends or family members. If you need inspiration, you can listen to Steven Butler reading from his and James Patterson’s book, Dog Diaries.
  • Many U.S. states are implementing bans on certain large dog breeds. Visit ProCon.org to learn more about the controversial issue of Breed Specific Legislation. Then, express your point of view by writing an opinion piece or creating a video. Are you in favor or against this legislation, and why? Share your thoughts with friends or family members!

Sources of Wonder

https://www.britannica.com/dictionary (accessed 16 Dec., 2023)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2022/05/12/zeus-tallest-dog-guinness-records/ (accessed 30 Nov. 2022)

https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/tallest-dog-ever (accessed 30 Nov. 2022)

https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2019/4/a-history-of-the-biggest-and-smallest-dog-breeds-from-giant-great-danes-to-tiny (accessed 30 Nov. 2022)

https://www.britannica.com/animal/Great-Dane (accessed 30 Nov. 2022)

https://www.britannica.com/animal/mastiff (accessed 30 Nov. 2022)

https://www.britannica.com/animal/Saint-Bernard-breed-of-dog (accessed 1 Dec. 2022)

https://www.britannica.com/animal/Irish-wolfhound (accessed 1 Dec. 2022)

https://www.britannica.com/animal/Chihuahua-dog (accessed 1 Dec. 2022)

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