The Great Dane is an impressive dog breed that was originally developed for wild boar hunting, but through the years breeders have worked on eliminating its aggressiveness and breeding friendly and gentle dogs instead.
Today, this breed is referred to as the “Gentle Giant”, and this moniker is the best short description for these dogs. Another nickname for the breed is the “Apollo of Dogs”, which is another perfect way to describe the amazing stature and character of these pups.
But is the Great Dane, truly a Dane? And is it really the tallest of all dog breeds?
Read on to find the answers to these questions, as well as everything else you need to know about this giant dog, which is the 16th most popular breed in the USA.
Temperament: patient, loyal, friendly
Height at the shoulder: 30-32 inches for males, and 28-30 inches for females
Weight: 140-175 lbs. for males and 110-140 lbs. for females
Life expectancy: 7-10 years
Breed Group: Working Group
About the breed
The Great Dane may look huge and threatening, but actually, it is among the gentlest and good-natured dog breeds in the world.
It is truly a great dog but is definitely not a Dane.
This giant dog breed was developed in Germany and used as a wild hog hunter, but as hunting lost its popularity, the fanciers of the breed started working on creating dogs with nicer and gentler temperaments, and gradually removed any aggressiveness from these dogs.
The other names for this breed are German Mastiff and Deutsche Dogge.
Today, Great Danes are loveable family companion dogs and pets and are among the top 20 most popular dog breeds in America, and around the world.
The Great Dane can reach a towering height at the shoulder of up to 32 inches, and a weight of up to 175 lbs., but they are not the tallest dogs in the world. Ahead of them are the Irish Wolfhounds which can grow up to a height of up to 3 feet and a weight of 180 lbs.
Still, when a Great Dane stands upright on its hind legs, it is quite a bit taller than the average person.
So, while they are easy-going and really patient and good with people and children, the fact that these pups can grow from puppies weighing a few pounds up to huge dogs weighing 100 lbs. for just a few months, requires a serious commitment from the owners.
These regal and elegant dogs are perfectly balanced and proportioned and have powerful and impressive gaits. Their coats are thick, shiny and short, and thanks to their easy long strides and exceptional stature, many fanciers refer to them as the Apollo of Dogs. They come in different colors, but the black and white “harlequin” pattern is probably the best known and most liked one.
Even though they are very sweet-natured, Great Danes still remain excellent guard dogs. Simply standing before an intruder will make him or her run away.
Although their ferociousness and hunting drive was bred out of them through the years, if you, your family or home are in danger, a dog of this giant breed will not think twice about defending you by intimidating the person threatening you with its massive size and loud bark.
Otherwise, Great Danes usually get along with other dogs, other pets and with friendly humans. They love to play and are amazingly patient and gentle with children.
The breed was developed from several large Mastiff-type dogs, but it is a much more refined one, in comparison to other dogs descended from these ancient dogs.
The Great Dane is very elegant and sleek, with a muscular and athletic body, and a truly massive and impressive head that is set on a long neck.
The ears of these dogs can be cropped in countries where the practice is still allowed, but in other countries, they are left natural.
It is the huge size of these dogs which makes most people nervous. Even if you take the time to explain just how gentle and friendly your Great Dane is, you will find that people might have a hard time believing this.
Given the size of these pups, they can easily knock over just about anything from the table or furniture with their tails. This makes them unsuitable for small apartments and tight spaces.
Thankfully, although they love playing they are not boisterous, which could be destructive, and dangerous given the size and strength of these dogs.
But even though the breed is naturally gentle and easy-going it is necessary to socialize your pup and work on its good manners from early puppyhood. This is essential because due to its giant size and its strength, the dog can become uncontrollable when it grows up.
Thankfully, the Great Dane loves people and is eager to please them, so an experienced and patient owner should not have any problems with the early obedience training and socialization of this dog.
These dogs are also quite easy to housetrain with positive reinforcement methods.
Some dogs from this breed are also eager for affection and will nudge you until you pet them, and may even act like lap dogs, so you better be prepared to share your sofa as well as your lap with a huge dog if you decide to add a Great Dane to your family
The dogs from this German breed do not require a huge backyard and do not eat as much as you may imagine. But then again, because they are so large, they do need a lot of room to move around freely, so tiny apartments are not the best options for them. The good news is that these dogs are not great jumpers, so a fence that is about 6 feet tall will safely keep them contained.
Keep in mind that a dog of this breed when standing on its hind feet will most likely become taller than you when it grows up, so anything you can reach in your home – it will be able to reach. This includes countertops, dinner tables, and others.
Another minus is that due to the size of this dog breed, its veterinary care, its accessories, and its parasite preventives will cost more than for smaller dogs. Also, if you plan on traveling and going on outings with a dog, you will need a vehicle that can fit it too.
Unfortunately, these loving and gentle souls are prone to certain health problems, and due to their huge size have relatively short lifespans of 7 to 10 years.
As mentioned previously, through the years of the development of this breed, the hunting instincts and the aggressiveness which was once required for wild boar hunting has almost been outbred from the Great Dane and breeders have been focusing on producing dogs with good-natured temperaments instead.
These dogs may look scary, but they are actually one of the most laid-back and gentle dog breeds in the world.
Great Danes enjoy being with their humans, they love playing and they like all people including children and guests.
Still, they are among the top best guard dog breeds and are ready to protect their families and homes from any kind of danger. Thankfully, intruders or burglars will probably back off and run away just by the sight of these mighty dogs, and if the Great Dane decides to bark, then they will definitely scram.
Many of these giant dogs truly believe that they are small lap dogs, and will try to get on top of your lap whenever they get a chance.
These friendly dogs are affectionate and dependable, and at the same time are courageous and high-spirited.
They are gentle and love playing with children, and with other dogs, smaller animals, and your guests.
Then again, given the huge size and strength of these pups, early socialization and obedience training is absolutely crucial.
Just imagine having to walk an un-socialized or misbehaved dog of this size on a leash!
So, owners should start meeting their puppy with other puppies, friendly dogs, with people, and taking it to see and hear different sights and sounds from a very early age.
Also, teaching the dog to listen to your directions, and obey your commands is absolutely mandatory, if you want to be able to control it when it grows up and reaches its full size and weight.
Keep in mind that the temperament of each and every dog can differ. It largely depends on its genes, as well as on its training, socializing, and upbringing.
Make sure you get a properly bred puppy from a responsible Great Dane breeder if you want a dog with a good temperament. Make sure you meet the pup’s mother, and if possible its siblings, and father, to get an idea of what to expect from its personality as it grows up.
Even though these dogs are huge, and can reach a weight of 175 lbs. and more, they surprisingly do not need giant quantities of food to stay healthy, and active.
The diet of these dogs like with other giant breeds is very important for their growth and health. Because Great Dane puppies can grow from weighing just a few pounds to a massive weight of 100 lbs. in a matter of months, it is essential that this rapid growth is controlled.
Overfeeding the puppy with high-calorie food can further boost this growth which can cause deformations of the bones and joints.
The dog from this breed will continue growing even after they are 1 year old.
A Great Dane puppy should eat food that is specifically formulated for giant breed puppies. Feeding it with regular puppy food can be unhealthy, due to the high caloric values of such dog foods.
Giving supplements, especially calcium to Great Dane puppies is not advisable unless a vet prescribes them.
The daily amount of food you should feed your pup from this breed is as follows:
3-6 month males: 4-8 cups
3-6 month females: 3-6 cups
8-12 month males: 6-10 cups
8-12 month females: 5-8 cups
Adolescent males: 9-15 cups
Adolescent females: 8 cups
Adult males: 8-10 cups
Adult females: 6-8 cups
It is essential that you divide the daily food into 3 meals a day while the dog is still a puppy, and then into 2 meals when the dog reaches maturity. This is very important for reducing the risk of bloat, which unfortunately is the number one cause of death among Great Danes. The risk of bloat increases if you feed the dog a large-sized meal only once a day, as well as if you feed it right before or after exercise and play.
You should feed your dog with specialized food for giant breeds, but it needs to be appropriate for its life stage.
In case you want to make dog food at home, make sure that you prepare healthy and well-balanced food for your Great Dane. Stay away from cooked bones, high-fat foods, and sugary snacks.
Make sure you check which human foods are dangerous and can be toxic for dogs, and avoid them.
Also, limit the treats you give to your dog during obedience training or just as treats to less than 20% of the recommended daily caloric value.
As a whole, these are general guidelines for the nutrition for Great Danes, but you should adjust the amount of food you give to your dog based on its activity level, its metabolism, and health, as well as on its age.
Plus, if you prefer to feed your pup with highly digestive food, it will need smaller quantities too.
Avoid feeding the dog with table scraps and human snacks altogether.
Even though the Great Dane is a moderate shedder, the sheer size of this dog is enough to cover your home with its smooth and short hairs.
In order to keep the shedding under control, and to keep the coat of your dog looking great and clean, you will need to brush it once a week with a rubber grooming glove or tool or a medium bristle brush.
The shedding seasons are in the fall and in the spring when daily brushing can help remove the loose hairs and keep them off of your furniture.
Great Danes come in six typical colors and patterns, including:
- Fawn – golden body and a black mask
- Brindle – black and fawn in a tiger stripe-like pattern
- Mantle – black and white with a black blanket on the body
- Harlequin – white colored with black patches on the body
With regular brushing with an appropriate brush or grooming tool, you can keep the soft and short coat of your Great Dane in pristine condition and minimize the need of baths, which given the size of these pups can be an arduous task.
To keep the teeth and gums of your dog healthy and well, you should brush them at least 2-3 times a week. This will help remove the plaque and bacteria, and will also ensure your Gentle Giant has a nice and fresh breath.
The nails of your dog will need regular trimming if it doesn’t wear them down naturally. Trim the nails twice a month, in order to prevent painful tears and foot problems.
Make sure you ask your groomer or vet for advice on how to trim the nails without cutting through the blood vessels in them.
Check and clean the outer ears of your four-legged friends once a week with a cotton ball dampened in dog ear cleaning solution. Do not attempt to insert anything in the ear canals though. If you notice that the ears are red, or emit an unpleasant smell, talk to your vet, because these can be signs of painful ear infection.
While you are brushing and grooming your pup, inspect its skin, nose, eyes, and mouth for any unusual signs of an underlying health problem or injury. Look for skin rashes, sores, redness, hair-loss, lumps, discharge from the eyes or nose, and others.
The sooner you spot any signs of a problem, the easier its treatment will be.
In order to make the process of grooming your Great Dane a tolerable experience for both you and the dog, as well as for your groomer, make sure you get the pup accustomed to it from an early age. Reward your puppy for sitting still while you are trimming its nails, cleaning its ears, brushing its teeth, brushing its coat, and bathing it.
This will definitely make life much easier for you when the dog becomes heavier and taller than you!
Although they are pretty calm dogs, Great Danes do need sufficient daily walks and exercise, which is appropriate for their age.
Two or three brisk walks a day should be enough for the average dog of this breed. In general, adult dogs will do well with about 30-60 minutes of walking and exercising per day, while puppies and adolescents need about 90 minutes of activity every day.
You can take your pup hiking or jog with you, but make sure it is at least two years old and is fully grown before you do that. The reason is that while the dog is growing, overexerting it can cause serious damage to its joints and bones, and because Great Danes continue growing even after the age of one, and can go on growing up to the age of two.
Due to the high risk of life-threatening Gastric Torsion (Bloat) in Great Danes, you should never feed your dog right before or right after exercising.
Even though the breed has changed a lot since the times when it was used for hunting, the Great Dane still has an excellent nose and will follow any scent it comes upon. This is why it is advisable to keep dogs from this breed on a leash.
You can allow it to roam freely in a properly fenced yard. Thankfully, although it is a tall dog, the Great Dane is not a jumper so a fence of 6 feet should be sufficient to keep it safely in.
Some of the more active dogs from this breed will thoroughly enjoy participating in different canine sports and events such as obedience, agility, tracking, weight pulling, and flyball.
These giant German dogs have short coats and can get cold in the winter, which is why you shouldn’t leave them outdoors when it is freezing outside. You can even put on a fleece coat or sweater on your dog when you go out on a walk in the middle of the winter.
Great Danes are house dogs and are not overly active, but they will not feel well in very small houses and apartments. They need room to move around freely.
The German Mastiff is a dog that is eager to please and responds well to fair but firm and consistent obedience training methods.
Obedience training and teaching the dog to retort to your commands and follow your directions is especially important for giant dog breeds.
It is absolutely essential that you are able to control your pup when it grows to a huge size and becomes a powerful and mighty dog.
So, start teaching your puppy the basic commands like: come, sit, down, quiet, and others from day one. Reward it and praise it when it obeys them.
Housetraining should also start early on if you want to avoid cleaning up the huge messes which these puppies leave behind them. As mentioned previously, they grow so rapidly, that pretty soon you will have a puppy weighing 70-100 pounds and eating pretty large meals several times a day.
Make sure you take the puppy outside to potty right after a nap or when it comes out of its crate, and after playtime. Also, give it its last meal and bowl of water about two hours before bedtime, and take it outside to do its business before you all go to sleep. Do not scold or punish the puppy if it has an accident at home, especially if you haven’t taken it outdoors in time.
With praise and treats, your Great Dane puppy will soon become housebroken.
Also, teach the puppy to walk on a leash calmly and obey commands like “heel.” This is essential for your safety and the safety of others when the dog grows up.
Socializing the dog as early as possible is also important for Great Danes. Even though the properly-bred dogs from this breed are friendly, sociable and non-aggressive, they still need to know how to behave properly around other dogs, people and in different settings and situations.
Take your dog to meet your friends, the vet, the groomer, and other people. Also, meet it with friendly dogs, and take it to see different sights and experience different sounds.
Puppy kindergarten and later on obedience classes are a perfect way to help the dog learn how to behave itself and to communicate with other dogs and people.
This will help it grow up to be a well-rounded and well-behaved dog.
Because Great Dane puppies grow up much faster than human children, providing them with consistent training and structure is essential to make them well-adjusted members of your family.
These dogs are house dogs, and should not be left kenneled or chained outside. They do not well in cold weather and are happy when spending time with their humans. Isolating a dog of this breed for long can make it unhappy, destructive and even aggressive.
Crate training is useful to get your pup used to traveling or getting hospitalized and boarded later on in life. But, you should teach your dog that its crate is a safe and cozy place it can rest or take a nap in, rather than a prison.
Do not crate the pup as a form of punishment, and do not keep it locked inside for long hours.
Make sure it has had its daily walk or exercise before letting it into the crate, and ask your children not to tease or disturb it when it is confined in it.
The Gentle Giants love children and will enjoy playing with them, but you must always oversee any interactions between your dog and your kids because due to the massive size, weight, and strength of this breed, accidental injuries are quite likely.
Also, teach your children to treat the dog properly, never attempt to approach it and take away its food when it is eating, or touching it when it is sleeping.
Because a young puppy can often mistake the sounds and size of a toddler for another puppy, it may attempt to play with the childlike it would with its siblings. This can include growling, chewing and wrestling.
Make sure that you correct this type of behavior in order to teach your young dog that the child is not a puppy to avoid incidents.
These dogs can learn pretty quickly with repetition, consistency and positive reinforcement and love from your side.
Once you assume the role of the leader of the pack at home, you will gain the pup’s respect, and it will happily follow your directions and feel more confident and secure at home.
The dogs from this giant breed can get along with other pets, but some can be indifferent or even aggressive to livestock. Socializing the dog to get along with the other animals in your home is essential if you want to live peacefully and happily all together under the same roof.
Great Danes are a giant dog breed which due to the fact that they are purebred and so large-sized can be prone to particular hereditary and some acquired health problems and conditions.
Although your dog may never get any of these diseases and problems, it is useful to know what the most common health conditions affecting the Great Dane breed are.
Because these dogs grow up much more rapidly than most other dogs, they need to be placed on a balanced diet from puppyhood, and their exercise should be limited.
When they are young, they should be fed with specialized food for giant breed puppies, and no supplements such as calcium should be given so that their growth can be controlled.
Also, too much exercise and walking can cause joint problems too.
Hip dysplasia is an inherited condition, which is why all responsible breeders X-ray and test their dogs for it before breeding them.
Hip dysplasia causes the thigh bone to not be able to fit snugly into the hip joint. It can affect one or both rear legs, and while in some cases it causes no visible problems for the dog, in others it can cause pain and lameness.
As the dog gets old, or if the puppy gains weight too rapidly, the condition can worsen.
The treatment for Hip dysplasia can include certain supplements for joint health and other medication. In some more severe cases, it can require hip replacement surgery.
You should ask your breeder for documents certifying that both parents of your dog have been tested negative for this condition.
Gastric Dilation – Volvulus (Bloat)
Unfortunately, Bloat is the number one killer of Great Danes. Of all dog breeds, it is the Gentle Giants that are the greatest risk of developing this life-threatening condition.
It causes the stomach of the pup to distend and then twist around itself. This stops the circulation of the blood to the stomach and other parts of the body and shuts down the digestive tract.
It is an extremely painful and dangerous condition that needs immediate emergency care, which is usually surgery.
The symptoms of Gastric Torsion is a distended abdomen, unsuccessful attempts for vomiting and belching, retching, excess salivation, low blood pressure, lethargy, a rapid heart rate, weakness, and collapse.
Left untreated, the dog can soon go into shock and die painfully.
There is no 100% way to prevent Bloat, but instances of this life-threatening condition can be minimized if you abstain from letting your dog eat and drink right before or after vigorous exercise, as well as by dividing the daily food into two or more smaller portions. The dog should not be allowed to drink large volumes of water right after eating too.
Some Great Dane owners and breeders opt for a prophylactic gastropexy also known as “preventative tack” which has been found to reduce the severity of Gastric Dilation Volvulus.
It is crucial that if you notice any of these worrying signs, to rush to an emergency vet clinic immediately.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a hereditary disorder that causes the degeneration of the heart muscle of the dog. The muscle degenerates and becomes thinner which causes the walls to stretch and the heart to grow to an abnormal size.
It is the most common cause for canine heart failure among large and giant dog breeds such as Great Danes, German Shepherds, Boxers, Saint Bernard’s and Irish Wolfhounds, and others.
Although the condition can be diagnosed early as heart murmurs, if left undiagnosed it can sometimes show its clinical signs suddenly. The most common symptoms include: coughing or gagging, rapid breathing when sleeping or resting, difficulty breathing, weakness, distended abdomen, depression, collapse, fainting, and sudden death.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a degenerative disease with no cure. Even though there are medications and treatments which can help manage it, if diagnosed early, the prognosis for dogs with cardiomyopathy are not good.
Responsible breeders should have their breeding stock checked for this condition and for other hereditary heart problems.
Hypothyroidism is another heritable disease that can affect Great Danes. It causes the thyroid gland to be unable to produce sufficient amounts of hormones which are essential for the proper metabolic balance of the dog.
This underproduction of hormones can lead to various side effects and conditions including: hair loss, alopecia, skin irritation, epilepsy, obesity, and others.
Thankfully, Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed via a blood test, and although it cannot be cured, it can be managed with daily hormone replacement therapy.
Dogs with Hypothyroidism that receive the proper treatment can live happy and long lives with this condition.
Still, breeders should test their breeding stock for Hypothyroidism before using the dogs for breeding.
A cataract causes opacity of the lens of the eye and gives it a cloudy-like appearance. It is degenerative, and if left untreated can cause blindness. It can affect either one or both eyes and worsens as the dog ages.
Cataracts can be treated with eye drops and other medication but may need to be removed surgically in order to restore the vision of the dog.
It is another hereditary condition for which breeders should test their dogs.
Also known as Cervical Spondylomyelopathy, this disease affects the neck and spine of large and giant dog breeds.
It causes a compression of the spinal cord and the nerve roots and thus leads to pain and a characteristic wobbly gait and neck stiffness.
In some cases, the condition may be caused by excess calcium, proteins, and calories fed to the dog, especially in puppyhood, as well as by the uncontrolled rapid growth of these dogs.
In some cases, keeping the dog confined and resting may help alleviate the condition, but in others, surgery and rehabilitation are required.
HOD and Panosteitis
Pano and HOD are painful conditions that affect the bones of the puppy as it is growing. They can cause lameness and sickness.
HOD is more serious and can even be deadly, while Pano usually resolves itself with minimal treatment.
HOD stands for Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy and displays itself with swollen joints. When diagnosed in a timely manner, the condition can be treated with medication, a specialized veterinary diet, and in some cases by removing the liquid from the joints.
Osteosarcoma is an aggressive bone cancer that can affect Great Danes and other large and giant dog breeds.
The first symptoms are lameness and swelling of the affected bone. The treatment usually requires the amputation of the affected limb.
Thankfully, dogs can adapt pretty quickly to getting around on three legs.
In many cases, further treatment such as chemotherapy may be required. Unfortunately, due to its aggressive nature, this cancer often spreads to other parts of the body before it is diagnosed, and the prognosis in these cases is not good.
Another common cancer that affects this dog breed is Lymphoma. It can affect the lymph nodes, the bone marrow, the spleen or any organ where white cells can be found.
The first symptoms include swollen lymph node, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and others, depending on which type of lymphoma the dog has.
The treatment for this type of canine cancer is through chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery. The prognosis depends on the stage and the aggressiveness of the cancer.
Due to certain complications during or after surgery that can affect giant dog breeds like the Great Dane, it is essential to find a veterinary surgeon experienced with such breeds. Your dog may require some pre-surgical blood tests for the clotting of the blood before planned or emergency surgeries, including spaying, neutering, C-sections or others.
There is no definite answer to the question of how the Great Dane got its name. In Germany, it is called Deutsche Dogge (German Dog) and in some other countries, it is referred to as a German Mastiff.
Some suggestions are that the “Dane” in the name came from French naturalist Buffon who first stumbled upon a dog from this breed while traveling through Denmark in the 1700s, and referred to it as “le Grande Danois” in his book issued in 1755.
What is clear though is that the breed is German, and it was first developed and used to hunt wild boars.
There are drawings depicting giant dogs which look like Great Danes on Ancient Egyptian artifacts and in Babylonian Temples from 3000 B.C. and 2000 B.C.
There are also historical records of similar dogs that lived in Tibet, as described in the literature from 1121 B.C.
Beliefs are that these giant Molossus war dogs were taken to the different parts of the world by the Assyrians, who traded them to the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Then, they were crossed with other breeds of Mastiff-type dogs.
There is a possibility that the English Mastiff, the Greyhound, and the Irish Greyhound could also play a part in the heritage of today’s Great Danes.
In Germany, these giant dogs were called Boar Hounds. They had cropped ears to protect them from the tusks of the ferocious boars. In the 16th century, the breed’s name was changed to English Dogges.
In the late 1600s, German noblemen began breeding these regal and handsome dogs and called them Chamber Dogs (Kammerhunde). They were pampered and spoiled and wore special velvet glided collars, according to the paintings and records from those years.
The name Great Dane (le Grand Danois) was first used in the book written by French naturalist Buffon from 1755. What the naturalist saw was a slimmer version than the original German Boar Hound.
The name stuck to the breed, even though it has nothing Danish in its heritage.
In 1880, at a meeting held by judges and breeders in Berlin, Germany, it was decided that the breed should be distinguished from the English Mastiff and be called Deutsche Dogge (German Dog). At that meeting, the Deutscher Doggen Klub was founded, many other European countries proceeded to accept the new name of the breed, except for the English-speaking ones and the Italians. The Italians still refer to these dogs as Alano, which means Mastiff. In English-speaking countries, the breed is known as Great Dane.
After the breed club was established, the wealthy noblemen from Germany continued refining the breed. They focused on outbreeding the aggressiveness and ferociousness of the original Boar Hounds and worked on producing dogs which much calmer and gentle temperaments.
As we can see today – they succeeded.
IN 1876, the breed was declared the National Dog of Germany.
The Great Dane Club of America was established in 1889 and became the fourth dog breed club to join the American Kennel Club.
Some of the tallest dogs in history were the Great Danes. These include the record holder Zeus, who reached a height at the shoulder of 44 inches, and who died in 2014. Today, the tallest living dog is again a Great Dane called Freddy who is 40.7 inches high at the shoulder.
Some other famous Great Danes include animated pups Scooby-Doo and Marmaduke, as well as Juliana a Great Dane who was awarded two Blue Cross Medals in 1941, and the only dog from this breed that joined the Navy in the 1930s named Just Nuisance.
The Great Dane is the official state dog of Pennsylvania and is also a mascot of several universities.
Today, it is the 16th most common dog breed in the USA and is a preferred companion by a growing number of fanciers around the world, not only because of its majestic and elegant appearance, but also because of its loyalty, its gentle and even-tempered character, and its friendliness towards people.