Few things in life can match the spellbinding power of recognizing the spirit of another living being. Human beings have long admired the personalities of heroes in storybooks and myths that can rise to any occasion; both protecting us and having the capacity to understand the complexities of family and love. In Greek mythology there’s no shortage of inspirational heroes we still tell tales of today - but few in recent times have earned the right to be associated with these stories. That is, until a breed of fearless, elegant, and powerful dogs began emerging from Germany and northern Europe in the 19th century.
Known as the Apollo of Dogs, the Great Dane is one of the most recognizable dog breeds on earth, thanks to its massive size, regal nobility, and surprising elegance. These easygoing, powerful dogs have long been immortalized in the artworks, written records, and pictorials of our ancestors for their majesty, dynamism, and apparently - even their ability to protect us from restless spirits. Great Danes may have lost their penchant as intimidating war dogs and picked up a reputation as excellent family companions who do quite well in apartment settings - but the power of their spirit remains a big part of their identity.
Ranked as the 14th most popular dog breed by the American Kennel Club, the Great Dane was originally bred as a hunting companion, and even has roots as a war dog in ancient Rome - but these days, these true ‘gentle giants’ are known to be immensely friendly brutes, and some of the largest lap dogs in the world. Naturally strong and good natured, these affectionate dogs are known for being great family pets and loyal confidantes.
Breed Characteristics - Rated Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Overall Health: Level of Shedding:
Energy level: Drool Potential:
Intensity: Ease of Grooming:
Exercise Requirements: Potential for Weight Gain:
Adapts Well to Apartment Lifestyle: Affectionate with Family:
Good for Novice Owners: Kid Friendly:
Sensitivity: Dog Friendly:
Tolerates Being Alone: Stranger Friendly:
Tolerates the Cold:
Tolerates the Heat:
Ease of Training:
Breed Group: Working Group
Country of Origin: Germany
Height: Male - 32-36 inches, Female - 30-34 inches at the shoulder
Weight: Male - 135-180 pounds, Female - 110-150 pounds
Lifespan: On average, about 7-10 years.
Great Danes at a Glance
- As we know them today, the breed was originally developed by the Germans to hunt ferocious wild boar, deer and bear. Modern Danes are said to be the result of breeding the predecessors of the Irish Wolfhound and Mastiff, but the earliest depictions of Dane-like dogs can be found in pictorials from ancient Egypt, Tibet, Rome and Assyria.
- Easy to housetrain, despite their great size. Great Danes can adapt to an apartment setting, though they require a good walk every day.
- Sweet and patient dogs, Danes are real people-pleasers and great family pets, even getting along well with most other animals.
- A rather independent breed, it’s important to begin training Great Danes early. Because of their massive stature, they will make sure that their masters are able to achieve Alpha status. Lack of meaningful training can result in an aggressive or stubborn dog.
- Like most other massive breeds, Great Danes don’t have long lifespans. They average around 7-10 years of age, and can develop a plethora of health issues as a result of their size.
- Needing less exercise that you’d expect, the Great Dane is a powerful dog that needs to be able to stretch out and run. However, their predisposition to Bloat means they should not run or exercise for about 45 minutes after eating.
The history of the Great Dane is shrouded in a certain prestige and mystery. These long-legged powerful dogs have pictorial histories in many ancient civilizations, such as Rome, Assyria, Greece, and even Tibet - where they’ve been depicted as being used to hunt wild boar. During the Hellenistic era of Greece, Dane-like dogs were illustrated in pottery and ceramic works noting the hunt of the Calydonian Boar.
Some zoologists even believe that some of the earliest breeding stock could have come from the highlands of Tibet, where large wild dogs were crossed with the Tibetan Mastiff and the dogs of the Assyrians. These dogs would have been traded to the Romans and Greeks, and then onto the English and Irish through the Roman invasion of the British Isles in 43-84 AD. The Celts then are said to have bred these English mastiff-like dogs with native Wolfhounds to increase stature.
Into the 16th century, European nobility in Germany, Austria and Hungary began to import these crossbreeds, now called the Englischer Hund, and bred them independently of England to hunt boar, deer and bear. The name ‘Great Dane’ was coined by French naturalist Comte de Buffon - who believed in the Wolfhound/Mastiff cross theory. While travelling in Denmark in the 1700’s, Buffon witnessed a slimmer variety of the German and Austrian Boarhounds, remarking that the Danish environment had caused Greyhounds to become “a Grand Danois.” From thereafter, the dogs became known as Great Danish Dogs, despite the fact that Denmark had nothing to do with the development of the breed; despite many ancient runestones and coins from 5th century Scandinavia also depicting very large hunting dogs resembling modern Danes.
During the 19th century, the dog became known as the German Boarhound and German Mastiff, when it began to inherit the prestige of a luxury breed, rather than a hunting dog - but mounting tensions between Germany and the rest of Europe led the breed to be referred to again as the Great Dane, referenced from Buffon’s 1755 publication, Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière.
A Great Dane’s appearance must include a combination of dignity, regality, strength, and elegance. Danes should appear to be powerful, and have smoothed, muscled bodies.
The head of the Great Dane, both male and female, should appear finely-chiselled, rectangular, angular, and feature a long snout that runs parallel to the top of the dogs head. The male's head should appear masculine and pronounced, while the female’s head should appear slightly more delicate, while large floppy jowls and prominent cheek muscles are undesirable traits.
Great Dane’s should have medium sized eyes that are deep set and dark in colour. The ears should be high set and medium in size. Aesthetically, ears should always fold close to the dog’s cheeks. Noses should always be black, except in blue Danes where a blue-ish black nose is permissible. A split nose is an automatic disqualification.
The breed’s neckline and topline should always be solid and high set, as well as long and continue the muscular build the breed is synonymous with. The chest should be broad and deep, and shouldn’t have a pronounced sternum, while the underline of the dog’s body should be tight, and well tucked up. Hindquarters should always appear strong, and well angulated. The hock-joints should look straight and rear paws should be rounded and compact. Wolf-like claws are another serious fault of the breed - claws should be dark and short.
According to the American Kennel Club, the male Great Dane should always hold the impression of great masculinity, as compared to a distinct femininity in females. Lack of this standard is a serious fault.
Proportion is also an important aspect of the Great Dane’s size. The breeds general conformation must be well-balanced so that the dog never appears clumsy or misshapen. In the ratio between length and height, the Great Dane should appear square, equal in terms of weight distribution - not appearing top heavy, or too long. In females, a slightly longer, more elegant body is a permissible trait.
Not surprising, Great Danes often hold the record for World’s Tallest Dog. Males should never measure less than 30 inches at the shoulder once full grown after 2-3 years old. The preferred height of a male Dane is 32 inches or higher. Females should measure no less than 28 inches at the shoulder, while 30 inches or more is the preferred height. Weight should fall between 110 - 180 pounds, although many Danes can weigh upwards of 200 pounds.
Coats & Colours
- Glossy black. Faults include integrated shades of yellow, brown and blue. White markings on the chest, speckled chests, and markings on the paws are also faults.
Black and white
- Pure steely blue, with no interruptions or white markings on the chest and paws.
- Featuring a base colour of yellowish gold, brindled with black stripes in a distinct chevron pattern. Black mask is preferred and black accents should appear on the eye rims, eyebrows, ears and the tip of the tail.
- Deep yellow gold with a black mask. Like brindle, black should appear on eye rims, brows, and may appear on the ears and tip of the tail. ‘Dirty’ fawns with black-fronted colour are undesirable.
- Base is pure white with torn black patches distributed irregularly all over the dog's body. A pure white neck is preferred and merle patches are considered normal. Patches should not be large enough so they resemble blankets. Black hairs viewable through the white base coat are less desirable.
- Black and white with a solid black blanket colour on the whole body. Black head with a white muzzle, while a white blaze is considered an optional trait. Whole white collars are preferred as well, along with a white chest, and white on the upper portions of front and back legs. Tail should be black with a white tip.
- Solid black base coat with light blue grey patched, giving a mottled and/or speckled effect.
Great Danes also feature three acceptable coat markings:
- Black markings
- Black Mask
- White Markings
Other colours and markings are permissible, but are undesirable, such as chocolate, chocolate and white, mantle merle, silver, and small markings of fawn, merle, piebald, or brindle.
Like most of the massive breeds, Great Danes require ample opportunity to be well-socialized as puppies, and hugely benefit from obedience training. Because of their working group classification and history as an independent hunting breed, they can be quite stubborn, and like to position themselves in the Alpha position within the pack. Training is required to ensure that you become the Alpha - not the dog. This includes establishing voice control over the dog to confidently affirm you’re a trusted leader.
Great Danes respond very well to positive-reward based training regimens like clicker training, and most Great Dane trainers, breeders and owners recommend that Danes be crate-trained as it’s a great way to potty train your Dane for life in the house. As home companions, Danes need a space to call their very own, and providing a den in the form of a crate will help to fulfill this need. Dens should be filled with clean, washable bedding to provide comfort for the dog, and children need to be taught that the animal should never be bothered when inside his den. The crate door should always be left open so the dog can enter and exit free of will.
Clicker training is based in operant conditioning, otherwise known as Pavlovian conditioning, made popular by Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist known for his work in classical conditioning. ‘Pavlov’s Dogs’ is a well known conditioned reflex experiment that forms Pavlov’s legacy with dog training. Conditioning is largely a way of teaching animals about the consequences of certain behaviours, and the clicker method should always be used as a form of positive reinforcement. Clicker training works well for advanced training measures, wherein the clicker is used when the dog demonstrates desired behaviour. The dog in turn will associate the action with the click.
Personality & Lifestyle
Originally bred to exhibit a strong prey-drive to fight and subdue ferocious European boar, as well as traits of patience, courage and strength, modern Great Danes that have been well-bred are personable, friendly and - as puppies - can be quite funny, boisterous and like other pups, leave a path of destruction in their wake as they get used to rapidly growing bodies and increase their weight. Great Danes are not the best puppy choice for someone new to dog ownership - they’re a beautiful breed that is well known for their strong personalities. They thrive and do best in an environment that is used to having big, bold characters around.
These days, Danes could be called couch-potatoes rather than fierce hunting companions, but their laid-back demeanor is only half of their big personalities - they love to keep active and fare well with active families that enjoy being social. Danes have a medium energy level, and do best when they have access to ample amounts of free play and exercise. They aren’t so much a breed that likes to run, or jog for extended periods of time. Given a wide open field and the chance to explore and play as they please is best.
Great Danes are quite good about being inside as well, and don’t fare well in cold weather with their lean stature and short coat. If you live in a cold climate, a doggy coat or sweater is a great investment. When they’re outside, a Great Dane will require a 6-foot fence or so, to prevent break-outs. While they’re not jumpers, they stand at about 6 feet tall on their hind legs. Danes are also big fans if digging - so maybe invest in some type of barrier if you’re big into gardening, or raising your beds.
When looking at Great Dane puppies, a good tip is to ensure your puppy prospects are all friendly and well socialized. Steer clear of puppies that appear shy or fearful of you, your kids, or the breeder. Older puppies should always be given ample amounts of time to interact with humans and other dogs. Meaningful socialization enforces the importance of docility and approachability, and serious owners should avoid puppies that have been left in a pack scenario for too long – they could lack individual training and socialization, and could assist in developing a stubborn, bossy animal.
Like all massive breeds, Great Danes come with their fair share of health problems. Not all Danes will get any or all the below diseases, but it’s incredibly important to know what you’re up against when considering this majestic breed. As a general rule, Dane’s usually live about 7-10 years. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, with many dogs living upwards of 11 and 12 years.
Bloat is a major concern for Great Dane owners as one of the most prevalent medical conditions the breed is subject to. Like some other breeds, Danes stomachs are not attached to their ribcages, so when they undergo intense exercise with a full stomach, like running, jogging, swimming, or horsing around - they run the chance of having their stomachs flip, knotting up the intestinal tract.
If it isn’t treated immediately, bloat can be extremely dangerous, representing the #1 cause of premature death in the breed. Overeating can play a role in Danes that are particularly susceptible to bloat. It’s important to ensure that excessive consumption of water and food is avoided, and closely monitored should it happen. To combat bloat, the animal needs to finish eating and then rest for 45 minutes to an hour prior to engaging in physical activity or exercise.
A hip dysplasia screening process conducted by a group of radiologists known as the Orthopedic Foundation of Animals. These are reviews to confirm the condition and its potential progression, and to rate the dog’s hips as either normal (no dysplasia detected), good/fair, or excellent. Dysplasia testing can also be completed on elbows as well.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy, otherwise known as an Enlarged Heart, is difficult to screen for, but is a disease commonly found in some Great Danes. It causes progressive loss of heart muscle function and irregular beating, causing the heart to become thin-walled and dilated. Because of irregular heart pumping, complications can include inadequate blood circulation and a buildup of fluid in the lungs. There is no genetic test for cardiomyopathy, but the disease can be detected through electrocardiographic monitoring. A murmur can be a sign of early detection. Cardiovascular should be checked routinely every 3-5 years.
Annual vet eye exams are recommended for Danes, and ensures the dogs eyes are free of disease and congenital problems. Some of the more common eye disorders and diseases in Great Danes are juvenile cataracts, which can appear before two years of age and can lead to eventual blindness. Eyelid abnormalities like ectropion and entropion (inward and outward turning of the eyelids which causes discomfort and a reduction in ocular function), cherry eye - a visible cherry-sized red lump that sits on the inside of the eyelid, and glaucoma should also be screened for in dogs as young as 6-24 months. Eyes should be routinely checked every 3-5 years.
Typically inherited, hypothyroidism affects the dog’s immune system as a result of the thyroid gland not producing enough hormones to keep up to the metabolism of such a large dog breed. Detectable by a simple blood test, it’s a manageable disease through thyroid replacement therapy that usually remains a constant throughout your dog’s lifespan.
A canine disease caused by pressure to the dog’s neck and spinal cord, this is sometimes caused by a combination of genetics, nutrition, and injury from physical activity. Symptoms can occur within the first 18 months of life, but often show up much later in life. There is no test for Wobblers, but it’s occurrence in Danes warrants checking in with your vet at regular check-ups. Symptoms often manifest as coordination problems in the rear legs.
Feeding & Nutrition
Big dogs mean big appetites. Be ready for feed your hungry Dane. Cold and fresh water should be available to Great Danes at all times.
Key to feeding is understanding a Danes growth rate. Great Danes should never be pushed to be too active. Known as a very fast-growing breed, it’s a good idea to abstain from loads of physical activity until the dog is about 18 months old so they are able to grow at a slow and steady pace, rather than all at once. Slow growth helps to prevent potential health complications like bowed legs, and swollen metacarpals in their paws. It also helps them to develop their trademark strong, graceful stride - when they grow too quickly, they can sometimes appear clumsy when they move.
Also avoid high protein and high calorie kibbles. Owners should invest in a high quality dog food with protein levels no greater than 24% and fat levels somewhere around 12-14% for optimal nutrition. A diet rich in calcium and phosphorous can also create issues for Great Danes. As a fast-growing breed, most animal nutritionists agree calcium content for Great Danes should never exceed 1.5% (or 3 grams/1,000 kcal). If a Great Dane puppy must eat more food in their diet to acquire the proper amount of calories, they could be at risk of a calcium overdose, resulting is further perpetuated growth.
While more laborious than a traditional kibble diet, a good alternative is a raw diet, consisting of meats and veggies like chicken and organ meats such as liver and kidneys, broccoli, peas, and carrots. Raw eggs and fish oils are also a good addition to a Dane’s diet. This type of a food provides live enzymes, antioxidants, amino acids as well as many essential vitamins and minerals.
The use of an elevated feeding dish system will help to reduce the potential for digestive issues and is a great idea for Great Danes, as it helps to prevent Wobblers Syndrome. Insisting upon a quiet time before and after feeding can reduce the breeds likelihood to bloat after eating. Light and lean should be the ideal visual aesthetic of your Great Dane pup until about 2 years of age.
Great Danes are a short-haired breed, so grooming is a very minimal process. They are an average shedder, so most Dane owners simply hose them off after a day spent outside. Their strong and fast-growing claws should be trimmed fairly regularly - about once per month - to avoid overgrowth, splitting and cracking. Danes should also have their ears cleaned regularly to avoid a buildup of wax and other debris which can result in painful infections.
Great Danes also should have their teeth inspected and brushed on a regular basis to avoid tartar and plaque build up. And beware the drool factor; Great Danes feature massive jowls that are positioned just so, allowing a large amount of drool to fall from their mouths. This is also the case when Danes drink - expect a bit of a wave.
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