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Author's note: The format and concept of this article owes much to the famous Pam Green's (c.1992) article DON'T BUY A BOUVIER. You can find that article on the Bouvier website . Since many people who are considering purchasing a Giant may also be considering a Bouvier, and since the breeds have much in common, you might also want to visit this site, and read that article as well. The Giant Schnauzer Club of America also published an article: Is the Giant Schnauzer the Right Dog for You, published in their magazine Giant Steps, written by Daphne Cooke, which is available from them.
There are over 200 breeds of purebred dogs, certainly a breed for every personality. (Of course, some people should not own a dog of any type.) Before you buy a dog, you should assure that you are ready for the lifelong responsibility that will be the consequence of your decision. We were once prospective Giant owners, and the first thing that people who loved Giants told us was "they're not for everyone." Since most people who are attracted to Giants are also the sort who describe themselves as people who "want something different" they also tend to be people who don't listen to other people's advice. This can be a dangerous thing when you are talking about a dominant dog that can grow to weigh 80, 90 or 100 pounds, that requires obedience training, grooming, more than the average amount of exercise and high levels of involvement with its owner. Giant schnauzer rescue volunteers see hundreds of dogs a year who have been abandoned after their owners have decided that "this dog is too much for us", usually after they have outgrown their puppy cuteness and are entering adolescence. Unfortunately, by the time this decision has been reached much damage has been done, and many of these dogs end up euthanized. Don't be one of those people!
Who is the perfect person to own a Giant Schnauzer?
I wish that I could say with 100% certainty that I knew. I can tell you that the perfect giant schnauzer owner is also the kind of person who could not picture life without his dog. He or she is responsible, serious about the health and training of his companion, reliable in his daily routine, reasonably healthy himself, and willing to undertake the responsibilities of having a dog in his or her life 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He can afford, and is reliable about, veterinary care for his dog. He is trainable himself, aware that there is much to be learned in every relationship, that fairness is an essential component of discipline, and that just as "there is a reason that you are the mother/father", "there is a reason that you are the Alpha". He does not shrink from responsibility in his personal life, and his character is consistent and dependable. He does not expect that his dog will feel the same way that he does (he is a dog!), and although he establishes boundaries based on his sense of right and wrong, he is able to "live with" the imperfections of humans as well as dogs. He doesn't react emotionally to every setback, and he persists in pursuing his goals. He has the capacity to care about the well being of his companion, and he does not shrink from the inherent responsibilities of leadership. Giants are dominant dogs, bred to work and protect, and handling them properly requires more than the average amount of self assertiveness.
He may not be a "he". Both men and women can be fine owners of Giants. A Giant is a serious dog, and the breed is inherently protective as well as physically imposing. A Giant is not a dog for a child, or for an adult who is childlike in their attitude toward responsibility. It is much easier to say who should not own a Giant. If you recognize yourself in this description, search your soul. There are many ways to get whatever you need in your life - affection, companionship, admiration, protection - don't try to buy these things by buying a Giant. They may love you, they certainly will want to be with you, and they will protect you, but you can get the same results with a cat, a girl- or boyfriend, a friendly neighbor, and a registered firearm.
If you have handled challenges and adversity in your life, and have been able to meet them maturely, you may be the right kind of person to own a Giant. The negatives that follow are important factors to consider in your self-assessment of whether you are ready to become a Giant puppy owner. Please read them carefully and consider your decision seriously.
THEREFORE, DON'T BUY A GIANT SCHNAUZER IF
Your life is already so full of responsibilities that you can't devote the time, money and energy to raising a puppy.
(Examples: you just had a baby, you are about to be relocated by your job, you are not home much, you are in crisis such as divorce, illness, depression.)
It might be confusing that I have put so much stress on the perfect owner being "responsible", and now I am saying that there is such a thing as being "responsible but not available." I mean that if your existing commitments to your job, home, community, and family are already overwhelming you, perhaps you don't need another responsibility - for a living thing who will depend upon you for leadership and care for the next ten to fourteen years. Giant schnauzers are sl-o-o-o-w to mature. Crate training helps with housebreaking, but puppies also need vet care, ear taping (if they are cropped), careful exposure to people, new places, different environments, ample play, food, grooming and training. (How To Raise A Puppy You Can Live With by Rutherford and Neil is a good reference to these issues.) A lot of decisions are required early on, and bonding is a critical task of the early weeks. Intensive socialization of your puppy to people is essential, right from the beginning. Don't get a puppy now if you won't be there to follow through. (For the same reason, don't buy a puppy for a Christmas present and then spend the holidays neglecting it. This can do permanent damage!)
You really want a personal protection dog.
Let me be clear. A puppy is not going to protect you, your job is to protect it, to fill its life with experiences that build confidence and enthusiasm for its job. Giants need a job. They need attention, focus, and rules. Whether that job is being your companion, competing in a sport, or just being a pet, all Giants are inherently territorial, and many will protect you and your family if and when that becomes necessary. But those days are few and far in between. The responsibilities of ownership must be met every day! As I said earlier, a home security system starts working the day it is installed, requires no personal attention, and will actually cost less over the lifetime of its use. Giants are more than that - much more - and they will demand much more from you.
You like how they look. You think your friends will be impressed. You were told they don't shed. The puppies are just so darn cute!
Starting with the last, and going to the first, I respond:
You were told they don't shed.
Well, Giants have a double coat to protect them from the elements. You need to rake out that undercoat to keep the hair healthy. They don't shed like German Shepherds do, but would that stop a German Shepherd lover? Thousands of happy GS owners say no. But the truth is - gasp! - Giants do shed. Our hard-coated male sheds more than the females do. His hairs are hard little brittle-ish things. Giants are not low maintenance dogs, in any sense. They require raking, combing, stripping or clipping, and if you don't dust and vacuum often you will find that the double coat is also great at bringing the "great outdoors" indoors. And if you are planning on solving that problem by leaving your dog in a kennel all the time, don't get a Giant! (Why do you want a dog if you don't want him with you?) Giants that are left alone become anti-social and a danger to themselves and others. They want to be where you are.
You like how they look. You think your friends will be impressed.
We also liked how they looked. They are a beautiful breed, especially when they are healthy, properly groomed, given the right nutrition, exercised often, cared about and cared for. Who does all that? You do! How about if you don't want to spend your time grooming your dog? Well, that's o.k. if you are willing to do the regular maintenance tasks of bathing, raking, combing, nail clipping and have the income to support regular grooming that you pay for. Don't make the mistake of thinking that all Giants look like show ring Giants. It's like thinking that your daughter will look like she does on prom night all year round.
If your primary goal in life is to show your dog in a conformation ring, then go to a reputable show kennel breeder for your puppy, pay the price for a show prospect, and get ready to groom or to pay big bucks to buy the best grooming that you can. (You will still need to do those maintenance tasks.) Aren't there easier ways to impress your friends? (Buy a red sports car, over the long run it is cheaper and more humane. And, you can trade it in on another one in two years when you get tired of it.)
You don't want to do obedience training. You think that your dog should want to please you out of love.
Ah, if life were
only that way
A Giant will give back everything that you give them - and more! That works in the negative as well as the positive sense. Whether they love you or not, they are still dogs, and our rules make no sense to them until they are translated. (Read Jean Donaldson's Culture Clash for more on that.)
Obedience training is a requirement for Giant owners. It works this way: either you find a way to communicate with your dog that works for you, and you teach your dog how to please you, or your dog will soon train you, and you will not like the results. We are always training our dogs - they are hardwired to read our body language, our breathing pattern, our every movement. They are faster, stronger, and more attuned to us than we can ever be to them. We don't have a chance if the relationship isn't defined by us fairly early on. Fortunately, puppies are looking for just such communication from us. They want us to tell them what we want, what we will accept, and what is expected from them. In order to have a satisfying, lifelong relationship with a Giant, you need to teach them how to learn when they are young, receptive, and not 80 lbs of muscle, and reinforce what they learn for the rest of your and their life.
At the very least, you should teach the essential commands such as "Come", "Sit", "Stay", "Down", "Heel" or "Walk" as well as basic house manners (don't steal food, don't bite, you will accept a bath and/or grooming) with a method that is both effective and fair. Training is not just "important", it is the single greatest factor in your dog's life, determining literally whether he will live or die. (Imagine your dog running into the street into the oncoming traffic.) Most dogs that end up in shelters have never been properly trained. Even dogs that have not been trained often can be trained, hence the ability of Rescue organizations to "re-program" dogs and place them in homes. However, it takes many more positive training experiences to overcome negative training in a dog's life. We have made mistakes, too. Fortunately, with persistent effort and knowledge, these can be overcome. Make it easy on yourself - start with imprinting, go to puppy obedience and on to classes. Positively motivate and reinforce the behavior you want and need. Have fun with your training, and educate yourself. Train or be trained!
Our dogs also compete in formal obedience, which is a whole other realm of training, and they love it. We love being able to communicate with our dogs, to trust them, and to receive their respect. We work on these life skills every day, just as you would with a child. (We think training is so important, that we have included references to sources, and even articles on the subject on this site. Please email us if you need a referral to a reputable obedience training source.)
You like your life as it is, and don't really want many changes in it.
Many other breeds - especially the more docile and submissive types - will fit nicely into your life without demanding a lifestyle change. A Giant will not be satisfied with ten minutes of throwing the ball before you settle down with a cocktail and dinner. A Giant wants you to be the center of his life, but he also wants to be the center of your life. This does not mean that he will not love and care about the rest of the people in your "pack" - your family - if he is brought up in their presence. However, whoever is the leader in the family, and most particularly, the person who acts as his closest companion, leader, and trainer, will be the center of his world. He will not want to be an accessory or an after thought in your life. Like most relationships of value, the relationship with a Giant has its demands as well as its rewards. You will get what you put into it, no less and no more.
You don't want to pay too much. (You "only" want a pet.)
The price of a puppy is just the down payment on a lifetime of costs, the least of which is financial. A purebred puppy that is healthy, bred from parents with the temperament, character and health you have a right to require is going to cost you something. The costs of breeding include health care and nutrition for the mother and the puppies, vaccinations, tail docking and dewclaw removal, and may or may not include ear cropping. Reputable breeders are hard to find, and don't breed litters often. (You may have to wait for six months to a year for a specific litter.) This is not a time to be cheap! If money is a concern now, how do you intend to meet the costs of caring for this dog for the rest of its life? Your concern should be to find the best dog for you, from the most reputable source, at the right time in your life to assume this responsibility. If you are otherwise ready and qualified for this responsibility perhaps you can find a dog at a local humane society or through a breed rescue organization. If you want a pure bred Giant with a good pedigree, who will live a long and healthy life with you, count on paying $1,200-1,900. (Or maybe more!)
You want to win a lot of trophies, ribbons, etc. with your Giant (and it's the first time you've ever competed in the show ring, obedience, schutzhund, agility, etc.)
Maybe you will, and maybe you won't. The best way to assure that your dog becomes a champion, whether in the show ring, or in a sport, is to buy one that already has the title. (An adult who has proven success.) Especially if you are a novice, its good to have one experienced member of the team if you plan to compete. Although show people claim to have great success in breeding successive generations of winning dogs, in competitive dog sports, the parents' successes are only the starting point of their progeny's success. Training has a lot to do with it, handler skill, and of course, the disposition of the particular dog. For this reason, although we believe that puppies from successful parents (and grandparents) have a better shot at success, no one can guarantee you that you will replicate (let alone surpass) their parents' success.
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