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The Biggest Dogs in the World - There Be Giants

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Let’s face it, some people like their pets big! If you are looking for a large dog there are a number of breeds which are generally referred to as giants. Be careful, though – you should only consider these breeds if you have lots of space, lots of time and quite a deal of money. The Ark in Space takes a look at the giants of the canine world.

The English Mastiff
The English Mastiff, in terms of mass is the big daddy of all dogs and its dimensions particularly that of the male are something to be believed. Every inch of this dog gives off strength and power – if the planet Krypton had a dog then this would probably be it. The world record holding breed for weight, this dog can weigh up to two hundred and fifty pounds for a male and around fifty pounds less than a female. The breed has been around for a long time – the name probably derives from the Anglo-Saxon word for powerful –masty. It is generally recognized to be the oldest dog breed in the UK.

The dog is often used to guard, but makes a wonderful domestic pet as well. It is said that the face gives away the character if the dog and that is the case with the English Mastiff. It is very affectionate to its owners but combines both courage and dignity and will protect its owner from unfamiliar people with a polite but determined maneuver which puts the dog between the stranger and its owner. It is great with children and smaller dogs and will become firmly attached to the family unit to which it is introduced. A surprisingly gentle dog, it does have a tendency towards laziness if left to its own devices to a program of daily, regular and prolonged exercise is recommended to keep it in trim. There are no Medifast coupons for dog diets.

The Great Dane
The Irish Wolfhound (see below) usually takes the prize as the world’s tallest dog but the record at the moment is with a Great Dane by the name of Gibson who is a staggering 42.3 inches tall – a good ten inches taller than the average English Mastiff. As such the Great Dane is known as the ‘Apollo of all breeds’ and its history is thought to go back (perhaps) three thousand years. There are drawings on Egyptian tombs from this period that strongly resemble the Great Dane. The modern breed is thought to originate in either Denmark (hence the name) or, most likely Germany. Toon lovers will of course know the breed as the Scooby Doo dog!

The breed comes in a variety of colors from the common fawn and brindle to the harlequin which is a white coat with black tear patches over the entire body (a white neck is particularly sought out by owners – see Stella above). Although it is intimidatingly tall the Great Dane has an extremely friendly temperament and get on well with people, other dogs (and other pets!) alike. Some Great Danes can have certain dominance issues, which is true of pretty much each and every species of dog – and of course, supervision around young kids is essential. The Great Dane has a slow metabolism and needs a great deal of exercise to keep it in trim. A common misconception is that they do not need a lot of exercise as they generally plod along in a fairly docile way. The opposite is true – they need lots. Great Danes do suffer from some breed specific disorders and can sometimes be born blind, deaf or both.

The Irish Wolfhound
It does what it says on the packet – the Irish Wolfhound is so called because the breed originated for that very purpose, not, as many assume in its twenty first century family member role because it actually looks lupine. Although they are not the world record holder for the height of a single dog, they most certainly are on average. The male is usually between 33 to 36 inches and the female two to three inches shorter. They are not naturally inclined to guard (they were designed to hunt) but their sheer size would probably put any burglar off his task. They are also way too friendly – the chances are the Wolf Hound is more likely to approach the burglar as his new best friend than to deter him from his goal.

As such the Irish Wolfhound, more than many giant dogs can be trusted with children. They will also put up with quite a lot of ear and tail pulling (if your kids can reach) with patience and a sweet temper. They are very open to training and are of a generous and caring nature. They will – if you are out walking with them and are attacked – pretty much see off your attacker: despite their reluctance to guard they will be fearless if you are threatened. The great shame is that they are not long lived and at maximum you can hope for ten years. As with other dogs of this size they do need a lot of exercise and although originally a country dog they do take to urban living pretty well.

The Scottish Deerhound
Otherwise simply known as a Deerhound this lesser known giant breed looks like a rough coated greyhound but it is their size which distinguishes them. The history of the breed goes back to pre-Roman times and it is thought that the Scots and the Picts kept this breed to hunt deer (hence the name!). These dogs are about the friendliest you will ever meet and so, like the Irish Wolfhound, is not the best dog if you want something to guard your home. They are very eager to please and their gentle bearing means that they are loved the world over by their owners. When young, though Deerhounds get bored extremely easily and have a sort of canine ADHD which means that if you do not exercise them sufficiently you will probably come home to find your house looking like a burglar really has been there.

Living up to eleven years, these dogs like nothing more than spending the day stretched out or sleeping on your largest couch. However, it must be exercised regularly and properly and although it enjoys the company of humans this is a breed that really needs a companion with its own DNA in order to be fully happy. In other words, this dog can pine on its own but will be perfectly happy in a pair. Like all the other breeds in this article they are fine with children but should be supervised with small ones as, due to their size, they can inadvertently knock toddlers down which will distress both dog and child.

The Newfoundland
This dog just loves the water. In fact they have been used for water rescue due partly to their musculature and also due to the fact that they have webbed feet – the combination of which makes them fantastic swimmers. They have a wonderful disposition and are very loving animals. One of the easier dogs to housebreak, they are quite daffy animals and are about as laid back as a dog can get. The downside is that they have to be groomed at least once a week otherwise their gorgeous coat will become tangled.

ImageCredit Flickr User Vigneron
They are thought to be the strongest dogs in the world, beating all of the others on this list. They also make great watch dogs and are just about the best breed in the world when it comes to children – they really are the gentle giant of the dog world. Lord Byron said this about his Newfoundland (or Newfie as they are known) after it died. ‘Near this spot are deposited the remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the Virtues of Man, without his Vices. This Praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human ashes, is but a just tribute to the Memory of Boatswain, a Dog.’

The St Bernard
Originally a working dog, the St Bernard originates in the Swiss Alps where it was used in Mountain Rescue. It is a very large dog and can grow up to thirty six inches in height with a coat that can be both rough or smooth. They make wonderful pets but it is vital that thorough training takes place when the dog is young as they can be boisterous and need to be ready to take commands and be willingly controlled.

They are good with kids as long as the above is taken in to account. If you are looking for a dog for protection they are not the ideal choice. They will bark at intruders but that is about it – though of course their sheer size (like other dogs here) will probably act as a deterrent. If it were not for the St Bernard we might not have the soccer team Manchester United. In 1902 the team was about to go bankrupt and so held a fundraiser. The Captain of the team, Harry Stafford, brought his St Bernard and it drew the attention of JH Davis – an extremely wealthy brewery magnate. Davis wanted to buy the dog which Stafford refused. However, he did silver tongue Davis in to buying the entire club.

The Leonberger
From Leonberg in south west Germany this dog was bred – according to local legend – as a symbol of the lion in the crest of the town. So it is that this most leonine of dogs came in to being and the breed is gorgeous. The dog is extremely large but has an air of European elegance about it which makes it popular in well to do households. The male usually carries a lion like mane and they can reach up to thirty inches in height.

This is a very cool dog – almost unflappable – and unlike most of the dogs on this list the Leonberger can be used as a guard dog – albeit a mild one. When in a tight spot the Leonberger will use his size and weight to protect his owner rather than his teeth. This makes the breed sound a little aggressive but the Leonberger will imprint deeply and quickly on to his adopted human family. A very agile dog, the Leonberger needs a lot of exercise and often astounds it owners by its athleticism, especially considering the size of the breed. Until properly trained the dog can be a little like the St Bernard – over energetic and somewhat willful but after the third year usually calms down and becomes the gentle giant that this breed is known to be.

The Neapolitan Mastiff
This dog has history! Often used as a guard dog, its breed goes way back to the time of the Roman legions – it is just a shame there weren’t a few in the Gladiator movie. It seems that they were trained up by Roman Legions to fight alongside them. They wore harnesses upon which were sewn in spikes and blades. The Neapolitan Mastiff would then run under the horses of the enemy horses and disembowel them. They don’t do that today.

If you want a fearless guard dog that also really does prefer to be with the family rather than outside in a kennel then this could be the dog for you. However, it is not a dog for beginners and is not appropriate if you have small children. Proper training, because of its size, is paramount. If you think the ‘alpha roll’ training method will work on this breed, think again. Unless the dog is thoroughly socialized and trained they will be aggressive to strangers and other dogs in to adulthood.

The Dogs of War: A Tribute to the MWD - The Military Working Dog
If you enjoyed this feature, then why not take a look at our tribute to the MWD - the Military Working Dog.

Image Credit Flickr User US Army

Avian Architecture – the Precarious Nests of the Stork

Monday, 1 August 2011

Storks make their nests high. To us they look remarkably precarious structures, not exactly a desirable residence – the ‘des res’ of your dreams. The stork, however, thrives at height most of us would avoid like the plague. Take a look at some amazing nests of the stork.

Although many Europeans encourage storks to nest on the roof of their home – it is supposed to increase the fecundity of the householders – many would gasp at the inherent danger that lies in building one’s home on top of a deadly current of electricity. In Denmark, however, the stork is not a welcome guest and so this would be considered appropriate alternative housing. The Danish believe that if a stork builds a nest on top of your house then someone who lives there will die before the year ends. These parent storks, however, will not be on the nest for great periods of time. This stork in Hungary is flying back to the nest to feed its offspring. The visit will need to be fairly quick though – stork chicks can eat anything up to sixty percent of their body weight each day. That is quite a few fish and frogs.

What would the Health and Safety freaks in the UK make of these storks nesting over a motorway in Portugal? They would, no doubt, send them a disapproving message and ask them to move on within the next few days. The storks themselves seem to be on sentry duty, watching out perhaps for the next lorry carrying cans of worms to spill off the motorway – and open them. Birds of a feather most certainly flock together. Pity the stork in Aesop’s fable. Caught in a net with a flock of cranes by a farmer, the stork begged for its life. After all, he was no crane. The farmer did not heed the stork’s pleas and that was the end of that.

The higher the building, the greater the views the storks have of their surroundings and the more likely they are to spot the next meal for their voracious chicks. However, this rather picturesque and old building in Germany has been the recipient of the remains of the many meals that the storks have enjoyed atop the clock. This may not make them popular with the owners, but for this pair, where their guano goes will be of no concern. Many think that storks pair up for life and are monogamous throughout. The latter is correct, but the stork is a serial monogamist. Each marriage lasts for a single season and next year the bird is unlikely to have the same mate. Regardless of this, however, the storks remain loyal to each other alone throughout this period.

It is sometimes difficult to work out how the storks would begin to make their nests, considering the positions they choose. Here, their choice is right on top of an old car in Neuruppin, Germany. The mind boggles as to how they actually started this structure – it would fox most humans (let alone why or how the car got there!). Furthermore, what feat of avian architecture manages to keep this nest on top of the car? It looks as it a light gust of wind might blow it away.

Perhaps the choice of a church is appropriate. For the early Christians the stork became the symbol of the white marriage – that is one that is never consummated for religious reasons. As such they were highly respected and although this symbolism has not survived to this day it did last until the sixteen hundreds.

These storks have some cheek. However, it must be said that this electricity tower must have looked to them like some kind of ready made stork social housing project. It gives the nests some appearance of order, but the carefully done distance and spacing is simply a man-made illusion. Storks will happily live side by side with both their own and other species.

The most important element in their choice of site is not the immediacy or the species of their neighbors but rather the availability in the locality of a large and steady supply of food. Storks will eat anything that moves that is of the right size and so as well as fish and amphibians it will also eat insects and reptiles. Rodents and other small mammals are not immune to attack either, so if you have just bought that cute little kitten for your six year old, don’t let it out to play with the storks too soon.

If it’s high and has a good vantage point then your local historical monument will be a target for this bird. Here in Izmir, Turkey, a centuries old landmark has been taken over by some new (perhaps undesirable) tenants. Once the stork has decided where it wants to live it becomes something of a home body. Although the stork is migratory the same nest may be used for quite a number of years so if they are unwanted guests then this can pose something of a problem for the neighboring Homo sapiens. The nests can get rather large, too. At their largest they are often over six feet (or two meters) in diameter and, to ensure the chicks don’t tumble over the edge they are deep, too. The depth can be up to ten feet (or three meters). That’s about the same as the deep end of your local swimming pool.

It may be just a remnant of your history, like the tower in the previous picture. You might just get the hump if a stork decides to nest on one of your truly ancient monuments, and this happened recently to the Kasbah of Tamdaght in Morocco. Given the longevity of the nests this may well become a local fixture. Storks need a high vantage point from which to launch in to flight. They prefer to soar and glide which helps to conserve their energy and enables them to cover huge distances in search of a home or food. The Marabou Stork has a wingspan that is over three meters in length. As such it rivals the Andean Condor as the bird with the widest wingspan of all land inhabiting species.

Roman ruins? That will do nicely!

Modern lighting system? Whyever not?

As well as being no respecter of human history, the stork will also disregard politics. This commemoration of communist era soldiery in Poland has the possible unwanted finishing touch of a stork nest at its pinnacle. Storks appear in the warmer regions of the world, mostly, but also extend as far north as colder, wetter Poland. The neighbors of these storks do not need to worry about being kept away by the calling of the birds, however. The stork has no syrinx and so is mute. The syrinx is the vocal organ for birds and as the stork does not possess one then it is mute. This might help convince you that you would not mind a pair of storks in your vicinity. Well, the stork may not twitter but it clatters instead. For the adult stork, the clattering of bills is a means of communication and bonding – and they do it a lot.

As the stork is sociable once you have a single pair, if you have room it may not be long before they attract their friends to the neighborhood. The stork has long been a tactic used by parents anxious not to inform their children too soon of the mechanics of producing offspring. “The stork brought you”, is something that many parents have used in a sweaty palmed attempt to offset the moment when the messy, sticky truth must be revealed. However, if you lived in this house, your child may well begin to think that they will soon be in receipt of a horde of siblings, ready to overrun the house and divert parental attention away from them. Keep the knives locked away and the windows closed.

In Hebrew, the word for stork – Hasida – means someone who is religiously observant, devout and god fearing. With their nests, visible to the world, the stork became a symbol of good, dutiful parental care. If you think the Hebrew word is familiar then you are right – the word is also at the root of the name of the Hassidic movement of Judaism. Some ancient texts refer to stork parents as the most caring of the animal kingdom. It was noted that if the nest was on fire the parents would not leave their offspring behind, choosing instead to perish in the flames alongside their chicks. While this is dubious it is this sort of legend that makes the stork such a powerful symbol in many cultures.

Of course, the stork is not a bird that makes a bee line purely for houses or ancient monuments. It is quite happy, to be frank, with a pole – as long as it lends the nest the required height and vantage point. Comparatively, they may seem like the poor white trash of the stork world, but the stork is not one that is interested in aesthetics. It is a case, really of predators, what predators? Its size means that it is rarely interfered with by other birds and so as long as the nest meets the prerequisite of location, location, location then the bird is happy to make its home there. The Bible, in Leviticus, expressly forbids the eating of the bird – and if you are protected by God then what do you need to fear?

Of course as a human resident of a certain location you may not be too keen on storks making their home near – or on top – of you. So, if you see a stork gazing quizzically at your domicile – be afraid. Be very afraid.

Intellects not so vast but still cool and unsympathetic, may be regarding your roof with envious eyes.

Amung Feedjit