The Great Dane
The Great Dane is known for his friendly, affectionate nature. This breed makes a wonderful family pet and is just as likely to get along with children as he is with cats, dogs, and other pets. You’ve probably heard the Great Dane referred to as a “gentle giant” and it is the truth. These dogs may be large, but they are all heart.
Great Dane Dog Breed Information
AKC Breed Group
Black, Brindle, Fawn, Mantle, Blue
Great Danes are one of the tallest dog breeds with the record holder standing 44 inches tall from paw to shoulder.
Though they may look goofy or even clumsy at times, Great Danes were actually developed as a hunting breed, bred to hunt bear, boar, and deer. Originally known as the German Boarhound, this breed took on its current name sometime during the mid to late 1700s.
Fun Facts About the Great Dane
- The Great Dane’s height is only surpassed by the Irish Wolfhound and the only breed likely to outweigh him is a full-grown male Mastiff.
- Despite his massive size, the Great Dane is a good choice for apartment or condo life due to his low exercise requirements and his largely inactive nature.
- The Great Dane comes in a wide range of different colors and patterns including a unique harlequin pattern and a brindle coloration.
Coat and Appearance
Primarily for his size, the Great Dane is one of the most recognizable dog breeds out there. These dogs have a powerful and regal appearance as well as an attitude of quiet strength. As a working breed, they have a well-balanced appearance with a courageous spirit. Great Danes have a square ratio of length and height with males being more massive in frame and heavier in bone than females. The AKC breed standard requires a height no less than 30 inches with 32 inches being preferable – females can be 28 inches tall or more with good proportion.
The Great Dane has a large, rectangular head with a finely chiseled profile and a full, square jaw. The eyes are deep-set and medium in size, dark but with a lively expression. The ears are set high, medium in size and they can be cropped or folded. The nose must be black except in the blue Great Dane where it is a dark blue-black color. The body is strong and well-muscled with a well-defined tuck, the ribs well sprung and the chest deep. The tail is set high and tapers to a point. The gait is strong and long with no awkwardness.
This breed has a short, thick coat that typically has a smooth, glossy appearance. In terms of color and pattern, there are many options but the AKC sets specific standards for show dogs. Some of the most unique colorations are the brindle and harlequin patterns. Brindle dogs have a yellow gold base color with strong black stripes arranged in a chevron pattern with a black mask. The harlequin pattern consists of a pure white base with black torn patches distributed irregularly over the body with a pure white neck preferred. Other colors for this breed may include fan, blue, and black.
History of the Breed
The origins of the Great Dane likely date back to ancient Greece when large boarhounds were featured in frescoes dating back to the 14th and 13th century BC. In the centuries that followed, these boarhounds were crossed with other ancient breeds such as the Suliot dog and the Molossian hound to increae the breed’s stature. Throughout the centuries until the 5th century AD, large dogs were depicted on runestones in Scandinavia and featured in Old Norse poems. Skeletons of large hunting dogs have been found dating from the 5th century AD all the way up to 1,000 AD.
The development of the modern Great Dane can be traced back to the mid-16th century when large dogs descended from Irish Wolfhounds and English Mastiffs were imported from England by European nobility. There was no formal breed type and most dogs were hybrids, exhibiting different sizes and various phenotypes. They were known simply as “English dogs” and, eventually, the term “dog” actually came to be the English term used for a molossoid-type dog in Germany and France.
These dogs were bred by German nobility throughout the 17th century, used for hunting large game such as boar, bear, and deer. They were used primarily as catch dogs, used to hold a boar or bear in place after other hunting dogs had caught it, until the hunter could come finish it off. The breed took on the name German Boarhound during the 19th century but, as tensions with Germany rose, it came to be known as the Great Dane. The breed was refined throughout the late 1800s and, though its arrival in the U.S. is undocumented, the Great Dane Breed Club of America was formed in 1889. The AKC accepted the breed in 1887, making it the fourth breed to be accepted.
Temperament and Personality
The Great Dane is nothing if not gentle. He is by far one of the easiest going breeds out there, perfectly happy to laze the day with you on the couch while you binge-watch your favorite TV show. This breed may not be one of the cuddliest breeds out there, but they can be affectionate with family and they tend to be very relaxed around children. This breed gets along well with other dogs and they generally don’t show much interest in cats and other small pets. They do, however, require early socialization to make sure that they grow from curious puppies into well-adjusted adult dogs.
This breed was developed for hunting large game, but they are by no means an aggressive breed. They have a strong desire to please their owners and are generally considered easy to train. This breed will be happy to greet strangers as long as they don’t present a threat, but he will not hesitate to defend his family if need be. Great Danes typically grow to well over 100 pounds so they retain their puppy-like attitude for much longer than most breeds – they usually don’t reach maturity until two or three years of age. This can sometimes be a challenge but all of the Great Dane’s wonderful qualities more than make up for it.
Great Danes are sometimes described as being big and dumb with a heart of gold. The heart of gold is definitely true, but these dogs are not stupid. They may not be as sharp-witted as a Border Collie but they are fairly intelligent and easy to train. This breed aims to please so as long as you help him figure out what it is you want him to do, he’ll be more than happy to do it. It doesn’t hurt if you’re willing to give him a few treats for his trouble. Positive reinforcement training works best for this breed – there is no need to be harsh or to use punishment as a teaching tool. You should, however, maintain your authority as leader of the house.
One of the biggest challenges in training this breed is accommodating for his size. As puppies, Great Danes have a tendency to knock over small pieces of furniture (and children too, if they aren’t paying attention). As adults, they can knock over a small table with a swipe of their massive tail. Due to their size and the fact that they retain their puppylike attitude for up to 3 years, it is a good idea to enroll your dog in puppy classes at an early age. Not only will this help you learn how to best train your dog, but it will help him learn obedience from a young age.
Given its size and the length of its legs, you might expect the Great Dane to be a fairly active dog. In reality, however, it has very low exercise requirements and can even be kept in an apartment or condo. These dogs, when properly trained and socialized, can get by just fine on a single daily walk of just 10 to 20 minutes. Though they don’t require a lot of exercise, some exercise is recommended to prevent obesity and to keep the dog in good shape.
Because the Great Dane’s coat is short and smooth, it is very easy to groom. These dogs shed moderately, though it may seem like they shed an above average amount simply because their size means that they have much more hair than a smaller dog. Brushing your Great Dane daily is a good way to keep shedding under control and to keep his coat in good condition. You should also clip your dog’s nails twice a month, brush his teeth daily, and clean his ears once a week.
Nutrition and Feeding
As a giant breed, the primary concern with feeding a Great Dane is keeping him from growing too quickly in the transition between puppy and adulthood. Because this breed grows to well over 100 pounds, it may take him two or three years to achieve his full size. During that time, you want to encourage slow and steady growth – growing too quickly could cause your dog to develop musculoskeletal issues as an adult. The best way to manage your Great Dane’s growth is to feed him a high-quality dog food formulated for large-breed puppies and then switch to a large-breed adult formula when he reaches about 80% of his expected adult size.
Although the Great Dane is a massive breed, you must remember that he is also a largely inactive breed. The average dog requires about 30 calories per pound of bodyweight – small breeds need more due to their fast metabolisms and large breeds need less. The Great Dane may need as few as 20 calories per pound of bodyweight, though that may vary according to his age and activity level. The best thing you can do is choose a protein-rich, high-quality large-breed formula and follow the feeding recommendations according to his weight and age. Keep track of your dog’s bodyweight and condition to make sure he is growing steadily but that he isn’t gaining too much weight. Your vet will be able to help you determine what is a healthy bodyweight for your dog.
Common Health Problems
The Great Dane is a wonderful breed but, unfortunately, he has a very short lifespan averaging just 7 to 10 years. In fact, these dogs are sometimes called the heartbreak breed which is apt for two reasons – the breed’s short lifespan and its high risk for a heart condition called cardiomyopathy. Some of the other health problems common in the breed include bloat, hip dysplasia, hypertrophic dystrophy, bone cancer, congenital deafness, entropion/ectropion, and Wobbler’s syndrome. Here is an overview of each of these conditions:
- Dilated Cardiomyopathy – A congenital heart condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and fails to function properly, dilated cardiomyopathy causes symptoms like lethargy, lack of appetite, rapid breathing, coughing, and distended abdomen. The cause is unknown and treatment usually involves drugs to improve heart function and to dilate the blood vessels.
- Bloat – Also known as gastric torsion, bloat is a dangerous condition in which the stomach fills with air and twists on its axis, cutting off blood flow to the rest of the body. This happens if the dog eats too much at once, drinks a lot of water too quickly, or exercises vigorously after eating. It is a life-threatening condition that requires emergency veterinary care.
- Hip Dysplasia – An inherited musculoskeletal condition affecting the hip joint, hip dysplasia occurs when the head of the femur bone slips out of its place in the hip socket. In most cases, dogs don’t show outward signs of discomfort except when the bone is out of place, though some show pain or lameness in one or both legs. This condition can increase the risk for arthritis as the dog ages.
- Hypertrophic Dystrophy –
- Bone Cancer – Also known as osteosarcoma, bone cancer is the most common type of cancer seen in Great Danes and it can be very aggressive. Lameness is usually the first sign of bone cancer and it can be confirmed by x-ray. Treatment often involves amputating the limb and chemotherapy but, even with treatment, the expected lifespan is only 9 to 24 months.
- Congenital Deafness – Often an inherited condition, deafness is one that many dogs adapt to well. You may need to be more careful with your dog because he may not be able to hear an approaching car or your voice if you call him, but it can be done.
- Entropion/Ectropion – Two common eye conditions, entropion and ectropion affect the eyelids. Entropion is a condition in which the eyelid curls inward and ectropion is one in which the eyelid rolls outward. Both conditions can cause irritation, discharge, and watery eyes. They can generally be managed with medicated drops or corrected with surgery.
- Wobbler’s Syndrome – Also known as cervical spondylomyelopathy, Wobbler’s syndrome is common in large and giant breeds and it is caused by a compression of the spinal cord and/or the nerve roots. It often causes a wobbly gait as well as weakness, short stride, and difficulty rising. Treatment may involve surgery to correct the spinal compression.
Because this breed is prone to so many health problems, a majority of which can be inherited, responsible breeding practices are of the utmost importance. Be sure to get your Great Dane puppy from an AKC-registered breeder who does DNA testing on all breeding stock. Once you get your puppy home, it is up to you to keep up with routine veterinary exams and a healthy, nutritious diet.
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