As a Giant Schnauzer owner, there are a few comments I often get. “Your dog is so pretty! Is it a giant Scottie dog?” (Swap in poodle, Russian black terrier, water dog, doodle, etc.) “Oh! I’ve grown up with the minis. I didn’t even know they came this big!”
Despite a lack of familiarity, giant schnauzers are wonderful dogs, even if they’re somewhat lesser known in the United States. As a giant schnauzer fan, I don’t understand why they aren’t more popular. They’re a working breed who thrive as show or service dogs and make great family guardians and companions. They’re known for being loyal and alert, as well as strong-headed but trainable for the dedicated parent. (source)
Since they’re often overlooked and lesser known, here are a few things I’d like to share about what it’s like to live with and love a Giant Schnauzer:
#1 They are—as the name implies—giant.
The second comment I get, often from those who own Mini Schnauzers, is “What?! Your first dog is a Giant Schnauzer?” Yep! And she’s the best. However, as a Giant Schnauzer enthusiast, I know they can be a handful of joy, personality, and…well…size.
While giant schnauzers aren’t true giants like Great Danes or Irish wolfhounds, they’re tall! You’re not going to do well stuffing them into a small apartment. A male can stand as high as 27.5 inches—meaning part of training is going to be keeping an eye out to make sure they aren’t counter surfing.
And while Giant Schnauzers are generally said to weigh up to 100 lbs, it’s not uncommon to meet male giants who run larger.
#2 They have hair and not fur, a potential plus for people with allergies.
As someone with dog dander allergies, I was drawn to this breed because I discovered that I don’t react to hair. In fact, to make sure that I wasn’t allergic, I visited the breeder and cuddled a mom dog, rubbed my face in a puppy’s fur, let a puppy lick me, and rubbed their spit in my eye. (I know…) I was lucky not to have a reaction, but some people might, so this isn’t a universal endorsement. But it was a good—and fun—test.
(However, I should note that as working dogs, Giant Schnauzers need a lot of activity. My giant, Opti, is often exploring our yard or going out on long hikes where she gets dirty, rolls in the grass, and picks up all kinds of pollen and burrs. So while I don’t have reactions to her directly, she does inadvertently carry a lot of allergens!)
#3 Haircuts (and hair maintenance) become a regular thing.
Giants have a distinctive and distinguished look because of the Schnauzer cut that emphasizes their beard, eyebrows, and the furry “boots” on their legs. I love how they look. Bearded dogs remind me of gruff old men—which makes me laugh when I see Opti’s face. (It’s also part of the origin story of her name.)
However, if you don’t shave your dog yourself, hair maintenance can be cost-prohibitive.
In the summer, we’ve found that Opti needs a shave every four weeks (or more often) to prevent her from getting too hot and keep her regular hair brushing manageable. As noted earlier, her paws, legs, underbelly, and beard, with their long, soft hair, can become magnets for unwanted and potentially dangerous interlopers like foxtails and ticks. Careful brushing and inspections are particularly critical for Giant Schnauzer health.
#4 They’re hot (maybe water) dogs.
Giant schnauzers originated in cooler German climates. In the U.S., where many giants find their home in warmer places like California, Texas, and Florida, giants sometimes get hot and gravitate toward the water, be it the sea, kiddy pools, mud holes, buckets, or human-sized pools.
Even before she began to swim, Opti was always the one dog at the park cooling her paws in the water bowl and dunking her beard for a thorough soak. (Related note, get ready for sloppy mopping of your floors via beard, or training your pup to wipe their beard on a towel.)
Swimming came fairly easily for Opti—all she needed was a handful of encouraging attempts and water enthusiast pup friends on her pack walks. While this may not be true for all dogs, a giant’s athleticism and love for water generally lead to having a knack for swimming.
If you don’t have room for a kiddy pool in your yard, some schnauzer parents will shave their pup’s legs and beard to give them some relief during the summer, and letting their hair grow back for the winter.
#4 They’re called velcro dogs for good reason.
Giant Schnauzers are affectionate companions. While their desire to cuddle may vary, they’re known for loving their person and always wanting to be around them. Even though Opti isn’t a sit-in-my-lap-even-though-she’s-too-big dog, she’s been known to follow me to the bathroom on occasion, sometimes even bringing a snack.
#5 They thrive with proper socialization.
They’re notorious for showing a strong preference for their owner(s) and can be fiercely territorial—a throwback to their breeding as a guard dog. Therefore if you want a dog that is confident and friendly to other people and dogs, proper socialization from a young age is critical.
Many dog sites warned us away from getting a giant schnauzer as novice dog owners, partially because of their strong-headed personalities, but also due to their reputation as an unfriendly and possibly aggressive breed when unsocialized.
Terrified by these warnings, we constantly took her out into the world: we brought her to parks, cafes and training classes, enrolled her in pack walks, and took her to the dog park as soon as she had her immunizations in place. While her friendly face puts most people at ease, we are constantly aware of the fact that she isn’t a small dog, so we do our best to make sure she knows proper greeting etiquette (though admittedly she needs to improve her excited hello’s with people she knows).
#6 They’re intelligent working dogs.
As noted earlier, giant Schnauzers thrive when given a job to do. When bored, they aren’t afraid of digging holes, kicking furniture, raising a racket, or destroying a pair of slippers. They make very good and natural watchdogs so you won’t have to train them much for this (though they’ll find the spots with the best views of the entryways, so be prepared for some wet, beard-smudged windowsills).
Giant Schnauzers take well consistent training but don’t be surprised if they just decide not to listen sometimes. Just like us, they do well when they have work they enjoy. Dogs can differ in what work they find most motivating, but many Giant Schnauzers enjoy sports such as agility, herding, obedience, tracking, or nose work.
At times throughout their history, they’ve served as carting dogs, a role that takes advantage of their big, muscular bodies. And yes, dog carting is still a thing! I’m told they love it. Opti and I will try it when she’s two years old.
However, be ready for that stubbornness to mean a lot of reinforcement and continuous training for several years. When it comes to some of the big commands like sharp recall in the face of a dangerous situation, be ready to deal with some frustration and have a watchful eye on your pup. Opti isn’t the most treat motivated dog, so finding ways to entice her is still a work-in-progress!
#7 They need lots of exercise.
Giant Schnauzer puppyhood can last until four years old or so (zoomies forever!) so be prepared to either give them lots of activity, deal with some wear and tear on your yard (RIP vegetable garden), and/or make sure you have a good dog walker (pack walks are best since they add more social time and activity!).
On a standard day, we have to carve out time for at least two somewhat substantial walks, sometimes fewer if we had a lot of activity in the days leading up to the day in question.
But if these warnings are making you panic, take a deep breath. Before we got Opti, the many stern cautionary tales from countless websites made us second guess our decision to get her many times. Giant Schnauzers were painted as a bit of a nightmare for new dog parents like us.
But in the end, just remember that you’re not going to be perfect, and unless you’re a professional trainer, you might not have all the answers at all times. Being as consistent as possible and giving your pup interesting activities to keep their mind engaged goes a long way. And in return, you’ll have a funny bearded pup as your slightly demanding but always loving companion!