Giant breeds of dogs, while often the calmest and most friendly of pets, are often seen by the general population as scary and aggressive dogs. In many cases this is because of poorly trained and socialized giant breed dogs that have been in the headlines, but also because their very size, rather stern and thoughtful facial expressions and even their loud, deep barking just frightens people.
It is doubly important for owners of giant breeds to have the ability to consistently and effectively control their dogs while out in public. They also have to be able to leave their dogs at home without the dog's causing noise problems or behavioral problems in the neighborhood, which can really cause difficulties for both the owner and the dog. Early training and socialization of the giant breed dogs is absolutely essential as they do have their own unique challenges with regards to training.
One of the biggest issues with the giant breed dogs is that they have often been bred to be independent thinkers and problem solvers. While an invaluable breed trait that is highly sought after by owners, it can make training difficult. These are not dogs that will perform tricks just for the sake of getting a treat; rather these are dogs that move with purpose and think through daily activities without responding automatically to a voice command. This doesn't mean, however, that giant breeds aren't highly obedient; it simply means that owners have to build a strong bond and training routine with these dogs to encourage and reinforce this type of behavior.
Leash training and training your dog to heel and respond when outside of the yard or off your property is typically one of the first aspects of training for giant breeds. This is because a human is not going to be able to pull or physically move these dogs. A 200 pound dog on the end of a leash can easily pull over all but the largest person and certainly can create havoc on a crowded street. Teaching giant breed puppies to respond to the leash and to verbal commands when on the leash is essential. Unfortunately when owners don't ensure this is done at an early age they turn to inhumane training options such as prong collars and other devices to manage the dog's behavior through pain. Early training will allow owners to use positive reward systems and follow the same training programs for any other breed of dog.
Halters, also known as halties, can be a good option for training these giant breeds. They allow the owner to control the entire head, not just the neck area of the puppy or dog. Halters are often used as an initial training method and then a switch is made to traditional collars. Harnesses are not recommended for the giant breed puppies as they may actually encourage pulling unless the owner is very familiar with using these training devices. The sheer size of these dogs at maturity often makes a harness impractical for long term use, however some of the giant breeds may be suitable for pulling small carts, which can make the use of a harness in early training very practical.
Another consideration for owners is to quickly teach their giant breed puppies how to properly greet people. While they may be cute when they are jumping up on your legs to greet you, when they are taller than you are and can easily push you over this isn't so cute anymore. Before the jumping habit even gets started, teaching your giant breed puppy to sit to greet others is the best possible option. By teaching this early your giant breed puppy will always be welcoming and non-threatening to others, even people that are naturally leery or even frightened of large dogs.
To do this simply teach your giant breed the sit command in a regular training session, then tack in on to the end of the come command. Have a few treats and even provide a favorite toy when the dog completes the come/sit routine. Never attempt to force your dog to sit or to punish your dog for not sitting. This will only damage the dog's willingness to come to you. If the dog doesn't sit in the two command routine go back to work on the sit command in isolation until he or she has it mastered. Ignoring or turning your back on the giant breed puppy when it jumps up is often all the correction needed.
Teaching your giant breed dog socialization with new people and pets needs to start immediately when you bring the dog home. By allowing your puppy to have lots of positive interactions with people and animals they become comfortable and confident in the world. When dogs and puppies are confident and relaxed, they are much less likely to show signs of possessiveness, territoriality and aggression. In reality most giant breeds of dogs are very calm and non-aggressive, however they will be very staunch defenders of their family and property.
If you are going to use your giant breed dog as a personal protection dog or as a guard dog, work with a trainer that has experience in positive rewards type of training that meets your comfort level. Avoid any type of training that includes negative punishment or aggression types of training, this will often lead to a dog that develops very serious behaviors and may become a dangerous dog. A dog trained in these specific skills should never be aggressive but should respond with only the amount of protective behavior required given the situation. Since giant breeds are thinking breeds, they are often very naturally gifted and attuned to this type of training and problem solving.
As with any breed of dog socialization includes providing play time and training with other dogs. Owners of giant breeds cannot overlook how essential it is for their puppy, which is often up to about 18 months of age, to get to just be a puppy as well. Finding other large or giant breed owners to arrange play times and training exercises or just going for a walk together is all part of training essentials for these wonderful dogs.