October 23, 2017

Introduction to the Great Dane

Considered a “gentle giant,” the majestic Great Dane is often called “the king of dogs.”

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Great Danes are one of the largest breeds, with males standing a minimum of 30 inches tall at the shoulders and females standing 28 inches tall. Males usually weigh a minimum of 120 pounds and females a minimum of 100 pounds.

Great Danes are surprisingly friendly for such a big, strong breed. They have a loving, gentle temperament that makes them a good family dog as long as care is exercised around small children.

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History of the Great Dane

Molosser-type dogs used for boarhunting appear to date back to ancient Greece, possibly as early as the 14th century BC. Some people claim that dogs resembling the Great Dane date back to ancient Egypt. What can be stated with certainty is that in the mid-16th century in Europe, it was popular for the nobility to import tall, strong dogs from England that were probably crosses between the Mastiff and the Irish Wolfhound. These dogs were usually referred to as “English Dogs.” From the 17th century the dogs were bred in Germany and used to hunt deer, bear, and wild boar. As hunting customs changed, the dogs used for this purpose became somewhat rare and were only kept by people of luxury or as a hobby. Today Great Danes are mostly kept as companions; more rarely as estate guard dogs.

In the 19th century the breed was known as the German boarhound. Fanciers thought the name should be changed because they wanted the dog to suggest luxury and not a working dog. In Germany today the breed is still called Deutsche Dogge (German Mastiff), but elsewhere the name became the Great Dane.

The Great Dane Club of Germany adopted an official breed standard in 1891. The Great Dane Club of America was founded in 1889 (called the German Mastiff Club at that time). The AKC recognized the breed in 1887. The Great Dane is in the AKC’s Working Group.

Great Dane Health Related Issues

As with many giant breeds, Great Danes have a shorter lifespan than the general population of dogs. They often live 6-8 years, though some Great Danes live 10 years or longer. The Great Dane Club of America identifies the following health problems in the breed which breeders are able to test or screen for: cardiomyopathy (a heart condition), canine hip dysplasia (a condition where the head of the thigh bone does not fit smoothly into the hip socket), hypothyroidism (low thyroid), and cataracts (an eye problem).

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Great Danes can also have health problems with bloat (gastric dilatation volvulus) – the number one killer of Great Danes. Great Danes are also the number one breed at risk for succumbing to bloat, which is often a problem for deep-chested breeds. When a dog bloats, his stomach fills with air or gas then twists. This cuts off blood supply to parts of his body as well as his digestion. Bloat is very painful and dogs can die unless they receive very fast veterinary treatment. Emergency surgery is often the only way to save the dog. Some Great Dane owners choose to have the stomach “tacked” as a preventive measure to keep the dog from bloating. Tacking is an elective surgery but it can often be done very easily now. It is recommended to feed a Great Dane (or any deep-chested dog at risk of bloat) several very small meals per day, limit their exercise before and after meal times, keep them from drinking very cold water, and take other steps that may help prevent bloat. The causes of bloat are not entirely understood so this is something that dog owners frequently discuss. There is ongoing research.

Great Danes can also experience several kinds of cancer such as osteosarcoma and lymphoma. Wobblers Syndrome also appears in the breed. Wobblers involves pressure on the spinal cord in the neck area and causes an apparently “drunken” gait. The problem can eventually lead to paralysis. It can be either congenital or trauma/injury-induced. Research in the breed is ongoing.

HOD and Panosteitis both appear in the breed. These are painful conditions associated with fast growth in puppies that cause lameness and lethargy. HOD can be very serious and even deadly. Pano is usually self-limiting and most puppies will grow out of it.

Some of the tests mentioned here, and others, are recommended for any Great Dane being considered for breeding.

As always, keep in mind that not every dog will have any of these problems. Most dogs are perfectly healthy. These are simply the issues that can occur in a breed. If you are interested in getting a Great Dane, be sure to talk to a breeder about these health issues, the health of their dogs, and what kind of health guarantees they offer with their puppies.

Great Dane Temperament

Strong and elegant in appearance, Great Danes are typically friendly and energetic when you meet them. Many people assume when they see such a large, imposing canine that they are frightening, but Great Danes are usually quite willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Great Danes are not attack dogs. Even dogs used for guard work typically sit on an intruder, much like a Mastiff does, and waits for someone to come. They do love to romp and play which can make them a little intimidating to smaller dogs and small children, but they genuinely want to have fun. They are not trying to hurt anyone. Still, if you have small kids or small pets, it’s important to supervise them when they play with a Great Dane. Otherwise they might get hurt accidentally.

At home the Great Dane is rather laid back. Despite their large size, they can make a very pleasant dog living indoors. They tend to be restful and enjoy lounging near you. Younger Great Danes can be clownish so it’s important to make sure they get enough exercise. This is true for Great Danes of all ages. They need regular daily exercise, including an opportunity to run and stretch their very long legs. However, you need to make sure that you don’t over-exercise a young Great Dane. Giant breed puppies like Great Danes tend to grow rapidly which puts them at risk of joint and skeletal injuries. They also continue to grow for quite a while, not reaching physical maturity until they are 18-24 months old. Be sure to feed your Great Dane puppy an appropriate diet for large breed puppies that is designed to maintain slow, steady growth.

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Great Danes do need basic obedience training and good socialization starting when they are small puppies (well, Great Danes are never really very small even when they are puppies). Any dog this large needs to be under their owner’s control and well-behaved. An out-of-control Great Dane is a bad thing, even if he is just having fun.

If you are thinking of getting a Great Dane, keep in mind that these dogs eat a lot. While they use less energy, per pound, than small dogs, it still takes quite a bit of kibble to feed them. Vet bills for big dogs are also higher than for small and medium-sized dogs. Just buying a toy for a Great Dane will cost more than a small toy for a small dog. Owning a big dog costs more.

Great Dane Grooming

Great Danes are easy to groom. They have a short coat that requires minimal grooming. Brush your Great Dane a couple of times per week to remove any loose, dead hair. Bathe as necessary.

In the United States the Great Dane’s ears are usually cropped when they are puppies. In some other countries, such as the UK, ears are no longer cropped. Cropping is usually something that the breeder decides and takes care of before puppies go to their new homes. The practice of cropping ears dates back to the time when Great Danes hunted boar and other wild animals. Cropping the ears protected them from being bitten by the animals or torn during the hunt. In Great Danes with uncropped ears, the ears hang down and are slightly rounded and triangular in shape.

Great Danes may be fawn (light brown) or brindle (black and brown striped), black or harlequin (white with black patches), or blue (a steel blue) in color.

As with all dogs, you will need to check and clean your dog’s ears, keep his nails trimmed, and maintain his teeth in good condition.

Great Dane Fun Facts:

  • The comic strip dog Marmaduke is a Great Dane. The comic strip has been drawn by Brad Anderson since 1954. Marmaduke was recently made into a film.
  • Perhaps the most famous Great Dane of all time is Scooby-Doo. Scooby has been starring in his own cartoon, thanks to Hanna-Barbera, since 1969. The dog in the cartoon is based on a dog drawn by animation designer Iwao Takamoto. The illustrations were based on sketches given to Takamoto by a Hanna-Barbera employee who bred the dog.
  • Astro, The Jetsons‘ dog, was also a Great Dane.
  • In the 1966 Disney movie The Ugly Dachshund, Brutus was a Great Dane raised with Dachshunds who thought he was also a Dachshund. The movie starred Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette.
  • Great Danes have been mascots for a number of colleges and other sports teams.
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Common Great Dane Mixes

Because of their great size and perhaps because of their shorter lifespan, Great Danes are not a very popular breed when it comes to crossbreeding. You don’t often find Great Danes or Great Dane mixes in shelters. However, we did find a Great Dane-Mastiff mix online and a Great Dane-Labrador mix.

Great Dane FAQ’s:

What is a Great Dane’s Life Expectancy?

Great Danes usually live 6-8 years, though some can live to be 10 years. They are sometimes called “The Heartbreak Breed” because of their short lifespan.

Are Great Danes easy to train?

Great Danes are about average when it comes to training. You have to keep their attention which isn’t always easy to do. Repetition does help with Great Danes but they also respond well to positive reinforcement – lots of praise and rewards. They are surprisingly sensitive, so don’t get mad or fuss at them. Keep things calm and fun. Good socialization is important and so is puppy pre-school. We also suggest a good basic obedience course. Here is how one Great Dane describes his training.

Do Great Danes shed a lot of hair?

No, Great Danes don’t shed a lot. They are average in terms of shedding. Regular brushing should remove most of the dead, loose hair.

Do Great Danes make good apartment pets?

Yes, a Great Dane can make a good apartment pet, provided the dog gets plenty of daily exercise. They are relatively calm dogs indoors and they are usually quiet. Great Dane puppies and young dogs can be a handful, however. You would have to be very dedicated to making sure that your dog got enough exercise.

Are Great Danes good with Children?

Great Danes love children and they are good with them. They love to play with kids and they are usually patient and protective. However, if you have small children you need to make sure that you supervise the play. Great Danes can be very rambunctious when they play and, since they are so large, a child could accidentally be injured. Always supervise children when they play with dogs.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta Cooper is a freelance writer and a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine, Dog News. She is the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com award-winner for 2013. Additionally, Carlotta is the author of Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Health and Happy, as well as other books about pets. She is a guest writer for numerous website and blogs and a frequent pet food reviewer.

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