Once, it was the itsy-bitsy pooch so dinky it could be transported in a handbag that found favour among celebrities and the fashion set.
Now it seems the allure of the ‘handbag dog’ is waning, to be replaced by something rather larger. For some truly big love, you need a big dog, but could you cope with a canine that weighs more than you do?
Jill Foster spoke to six owners whose massive mutts are bigger than they are . . .
Scary? He gets bossed around by the cat!
Lizzie Jones, 30, an account manager, lives with husband Matt, 38, a manager, and their Newfoundland dogs, Murphy and Molly, and cat Popcorn.
‘I used to be terrified of dogs. As a child, I was attacked in my bed by a little yappy dog that came running up when its owners visited. Years later, my parents got a golden retriever, which is where my love of big dogs comes from.
‘We bought Murphy as a puppy four years ago for £1,600. He’s like a big teddy bear. Some people can be scared as he measures more than 6ft from nose to tail. But there’s only one boss in our house — Popcorn, our cat.
Owner Lizzie, weighs 10st, but Murphy weighs a whopping 12st. She described him as a ‘big teddy bear’ and said: ‘There’s only one boss in our house — Popcorn, our cat’
‘Murphy adores her and snuggles up and licks her, but she’s having none of it. She’ll often give him a whack across the nose when he’s getting too close. We bought another Newfoundland recently — Molly, who is about 9st — to keep him company instead, and now they snuggle up together.
‘Murphy is lazy, but loves his food and if we’re not up by 8am, he’ll bark from the bottom of the stairs to wake us. He’ll literally herd us — nudging our back legs — towards the utility room where we feed him. It costs around £100 per month for the two big cups of dry food he eats a day.
‘We’re careful with diet as he is prone to put on weight easily. But his ears prick up with he hears the word “pizza” and if we’ve ordered a “Mighty Meaty” pizza, he’ll often nick a slice.
‘He loves swimming. This breed has webbed paws, and in some countries they are still used as rescue dogs in open water. Matt loves swimming and the first time we took Murphy to a quarry pool, a group of divers were practising. Murphy thought they were drowning and dived in to save one of them. It was pure instinct. He’d never been trained.
‘Now, when we go swimming, he comes with us and I know if we get into trouble, he’d be able to drag us back to shore.’
A gentle giant who craves custard creams
Kirsty Simms, 43, is a dog walker. She lives with Neapolitan Mastiff Ugo and Great Dane Boss in Royton near Oldham.
‘I’ve grown up with large breeds all my life. Ugo, in particular, wants to be everyone’s friend.
‘He loves custard creams and would eat a packet a day if he could, but we only ever give him three or four at a time.
‘When he’s hungry he’ll nudge the cupboard door where his food is kept as if to say: “It’s in here!” He likes me to grate cheese or put tins of tuna on his food.
Kirsty weights 9st 5lb but huge Ugo weighs 11st 11lb. She said: ‘He loves custard creams and would eat a packet a day if he could, but we only ever give him three or four at a time’
‘He’s a clever dog and completely understands what you’re saying. When I’m on the phone to my friend arranging to meet her, he can hear her voice and knows where I’m off to.
‘He completed all his assessments to be a dog used in pet therapy for children and the elderly, but we didn’t pursue it because he slipped once on a smooth floor and became uncertain about walking on different surfaces.
‘Although he has the run of the house, I draw the line at him sleeping on the bed. He sleeps on the settee downstairs with Boss, an 11-week-old Great Dane puppy. I exercise him two or three times a day — he has a good run off the lead. He loves playing outside with the hosepipe too, although if you squirt him, he gets nervous and he hates having a bath!
‘Most people we meet have known him since he was a puppy so they know he’s a real gentle giant. Those who don’t can be nervous and tell me to put him on a lead, but I know he’s not dangerous. I’ve seen chihuahuas run up to him and start attacking him and he just stands there and looks at me as if to say: “Help me!” ’
Our big bouncer just loves the trampoline
Claire Ierston, 38, owns a security company. She lives in Liverpool with husband Michael, 48, a builder, their nine-year-old daughter Koren, two-year-old son Kaden, and St Bernard Hugo and chihuahua Margo.
‘I’ve had St Bernards since I was 15 and spotted one for sale in a local newspaper. It was about £400 — a lot of money, but I’ve been crazy about the breed ever since.
‘We bought Hugo in February 2015 and he’s only three but already huge. He’s 3ft 2in tall — I’m 5ft 1in — so if he wants a cuddle on your lap on the sofa, you certainly know about it.
‘He’s a big softie but we try to keep him outside as much as possible because he sheds so much hair and his slobber gets everywhere. My children adore him and Kaden loves to walk down the street with him.
Hugo is almost double his owner Claire’s weight of 8st, weighing in at a huge 15st. She said: ‘Locally, he’s something of a celebrity. People slow down their cars and ask questions about him — he’s like the king of the jungle’
‘He’s a healthy dog with a good appetite and we give him specialist food twice a day as well as raw chicken or tripe. We only give him small amounts because St Bernards are prone to bloating.
‘Surprisingly, he doesn’t need much exercise — around ten minutes’ walk, three times a day.
‘We also have a chihuahua called Margot who weighs a tiny 7lb. She loves Hugo but we have to be careful because, although he’d never harm her, if he sat on her he’d squash her. But she loves licking him and will even rest her head in his mouth, trying to lick him. He’s so gentle, he lets her do whatever she likes.
‘One of his favourite things is to fall asleep on the trampoline in the garden. If the kids want to bounce, they bounce around him but then he joins in and they have to get off because he’s so big.
‘Locally, he’s something of a celebrity. People slow down their cars and ask questions about him — he’s like the king of the jungle.’
Celebrity who’s a star with children
Ann Mason, 66, is retired and lives with partner Malcolm Winright and Irish wolfhound Nellwyn’s Dr Doolittle (affectionately called Seamus) and two other dogs in Surrey.
‘Seamus is a bit of a celebrity and has appeared in The Crown and worked for the photographer Nick Knight OBE in a Halloween film. But first and foremost Seamus is our dog and we absolutely love him.
‘I’d seen an Irish wolfhound when I was about 18 and thought it was gorgeous. I hoped one day I would own my own.
Owner Ann weighs 9st 4lb but lovable Seamus weighs 12st 6lb. She said: ‘Seamus is a bit of a celebrity and has appeared in The Crown and worked for the photographer Nick Knight OBE in a Halloween film’
‘We bought Seamus as a puppy six years ago. He cost around £1,500. He eats a lot and can be expensive to keep. He eats dog food but loves fruit and vegetables, cheese and egg, fresh meat such as chicken.
‘You have to watch his diet and, as a breed, they are susceptible to heart problems and cancer.
‘He has a strange intelligence about him, almost like a sixth sense. He gets twitchy and starts moving around if he thinks someone is coming, and within a minute or two they’ll be at the door.
‘I’m not the only one who thinks he’s a special dog. He was nominated Dog of the Year by the Irish Wolfhound Club in 2014 for his charity work visiting retired nuns, sick patients in hospital and children who are disabled and have learning disabilities.
‘He even listens to primary school children reading as a Pets As Therapy dog. It’s incredible how some children, who are too nervous or frightened to read out loud to a grown-up, will gladly do so to Seamus as he lies there with his head on their lap.’
He hogs the sofa and I end up on the floor
Lisa Thorne, 49, is an A&E nurse. She lives in East Sussex with husband Christopher, 48, a paramedic, daughter Nell, 25, and Leonberger Mr Moose (affectionately nicknamed Moo).
‘First thing in the morning, Moo will come upstairs, jump on the bed and lick me in the face until I’m awake. He’ll have a short sleep on the bed and we’ll then head off for an hour-long walk. When we return home, he has a huge bowl of raw feed, something like chicken wings, then another sleep.
‘He’s not a greedy dog and can be quite fussy. Sometimes I’ll have to hand feed him to make sure he’s eating enough. The only time he seems to get hungry is later in the evening when he wants his three Weetabix with goat’s milk.
‘We bought him four years ago and have had him since he was an eight-week-old puppy. As long as he’s around people, he’s happy.
The aptly-named Mr Moose weighs 10st 7lb but his owner Lisa is just 9st 5lb. He loves to jump on Ms Thorne’s bed every morning and lick her face until she wakes up
‘If he stood on his back legs he’d be over 6ft 6in. I’m just under 5ft 2in so if he’s on a lead, I know he could easily drag me across a field. If we ever see a cat, I make sure I put the lead around my waist in case he runs after it, but he never has.
‘He makes us laugh every day. He loves cardboard boxes and you can forget about sweeping the floor or raking the grass. He gets so excited that he’ll snatch the broom and run around with it.
‘He’s very nosy and would spend half his life at the front window watching people go by if he could. He’ll sit on the sofa like a human, with his bottom on the cushion and his legs sticking out, while I’ll end up on the floor!
‘When we go out, people will stop their cars and say: “Who is taking who for a walk?” Other dog walkers might pick up their pets as if they’re scared of him, but he’s never attacked anything in his life.
‘Sadly it’s a breed that doesn’t live very long. We had to have our previous Leonberger put down at five years old because he had cancer, so we look upon every year that we have with Moo as a bonus.’
She said: ‘He makes us laugh every day. He loves cardboard boxes and you can forget about sweeping the floor or raking the grass. He gets so excited that he’ll snatch the broom and run around with it’
He doesn’t understand his own size and strength
Karli Weir, 33, is a personal trainer. She lives with husband Michael, 32, a builder, their 15-week-old daughter Merri and Great Danes Rome, who weighs 14st, and Beau.
‘People literally scream in the park and look terrified if Rome comes bounding towards them. It’s not that he’d ever harm them, but he simply doesn’t understand his own size and strength. He just wants to be friendly but I suppose he could knock someone over if he wanted, so we keep him on a lead.
‘I’m only 5ft 1ins and my husband Michael is 6ft 2ins but even so, Rome looks like a giant next to him. When I’m sitting on the sofa, if Rome wants to sit on me I’m completely squashed.
‘He’s only two-and-a-half so he could grow even bigger. He’s very long, but I’ve no idea how tall he could be because we’ve never encouraged him to stand on his back legs or jump. Already, he must well over six foot.
Owner Karli weighs in at 9st but her pet pooch Rome tips the scale at over 14st. She said: ‘People literally scream in the park and look terrified if Rome comes bounding towards them. It’s not that he’d ever harm them, but he simply doesn’t understand his own size and strength’
‘He used to be quite a naughty puppy and was very reactive to other dogs but he gets on well with other animals.
‘We spend several hundred pounds a month on his diet because we feed him on raw meat from an abbatoir. Rome can get through 3lbs of raw meat a day as well as biscuits. The other night he went into the kitchen and pulled our chicken dinner off the worktop. He knew he was in big trouble.
‘I’ve just had my daughter and when I brought her home from hospital, I was a little worried that my dogs might be jealous. But nothing could be further from the truth and they are in love with her. Obviously, I’d never leave her alone with them but when I’m feeding her, Rome lies looking at her adoringly. He’s not interested in me any more. Whenever Merri and I come back from somewhere in the car, Rome dashes towards the car seat so he can check she’s alright and have a sniff.’