Weighing up the pros of big dogs

Larger pets may cost more to feed and maintain but they more than reciprocate that attention, writes Katrina Lobley.

Larger pets may cost more to feed and maintain but they more than reciprocate that attention, writes Katrina Lobley.

Great Dane jokes? Sarah Eves has heard them all.

"You get the typical, 'Oh look, there's a horse - do you have a saddle for that?'," says the Petersham owner of Boo, a four-year-old, 60-kilogram Great Dane. "Some Dane owners will go off their nut and say, 'Don't call my dog a horse!' but people saying it don't know I've heard it 50 times. I don't get precious about that one. I know he's big."

Everything, it seems, is bigger when your furry friend is a large breed, including the size of the food bills. Eves estimates she spends about $200 a month feeding Boo. His diet includes dog biscuits, chicken wings and canned tuna, salmon and sardines.

(The Guinness World Records lists the world's tallest dog as Zeus, a Great Dane from Michigan, US, who stands 1.11 metres from paw to withers.)

Andrea Black, of Marrickville, spends more than that feeding her 12-year-old Old English sheepdog Dewey, who is half the weight of Boo. Because of his advanced age, Dewey needs dog biscuits that cost $120 a fortnight. He also snacks on the white meat of three roast chickens a week.

For Eves, canine food bills aren't the only thing that's big. "Your flea control is more expensive, your leads, the beds are bigger, you go to the vets and a course of antibiotics is $110," she says. But it's worth it, she says.

"Danes have a short lifespan - they have a nine- to 11-year lifespan, which is a lot less than a lot of other dogs - but what you get from them in that time makes up for it. They're a beautiful dog to own. They can be a bit un-doglike in some ways. They can be an emotional dog - they like to be with their people."

Similarly, sheepdog Dewey prefers to stick close to his owner. "The first thing people say is, "I hope you've got a big yard'," says Black. "I live in a courtyard apartment. As long as he gets two walks a day, he's not going to run around a yard anyway. He wants to be next to you all the time - if they're touching your leg, they're happy."

Eves is keen that Boo is a good ambassador for his breed. "He's a lot stronger than me but it's my responsibility in having a big dog to make sure he's under my control at all times," she says. "When you have a big dog, because they're so noticeable their behaviour is magnified. If a big dog is playing up and pulling its owner, you're going to notice."

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