The Great Dane has been known by many names, including the Deutsche Dogge, the Grand Danois (an old French designation meaning “big Danish,” the Dogue Allemand (French for “German Mastiff”), the Ulm Dog, the Ulmer Dogge, the Ulmer Mastiff, the Boarhound, the Danish Dog, the English Dogge, the Tiger Dog, the Tiger Mastiff, the Grand Danois, the Brosse Dogge, the Hetzreude, the Saufanger, the Fanghund, the Kammerhunde (“Chamber Dog”), the Liebhunde (“Life Dog”), the Gentle Giant and simply the Dane, The Scooby Doo (may be a known animation protagonist dog of the TV franchise Scoobert Scooby Dooby Doo ).
It is an enormous breed that has been cultivated as a distinct type for hundreds of years. No none knows why the English adopted a French name for this truly German breed, nor is there any known association between the origin or development of Great Danes and the country of Denmark.
Whatever its given name, great size was never enough to make the “Apollo of dogs” a suitable representative of his distinguished breed; he always needed elegance, beauty, courage, nobility, speed and stamina, as well as a gentle, reliable disposition. The Great Dane was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1887, as a member of its Working Group.
The mature male Great Dane should not be less than 30 inches at the shoulder but is preferred to be over 32 inches in height. Adult females should not stand less than 28 inches at the shoulder but are preferred to be over 30 inches in height. There is no upper height limit. Danes vary widely in weight but typically range between 100 and 170 pounds. Their short, glossy coat is very easy to care for. Danes come in a range of colors, including black, blue, brindle, fawn, harlequin and mantle.
They also come in white or mostly white and merle, which are accepted for AKC registration, breeding and participation in performance events but are not eligible for conformation competition. Great Danes may be shown with cropped or natural ears in the American show ring. However, many countries no longer permit showing with cropped ears, and natural ears are slowly gaining favor with many breed fanciers.
Great Dane - Appearance & Grooming
Great Danes are very large, elegant and muscular dogs. They stand upwards of 30 inches at the shoulders and weigh anywhere from 120 to 150 pounds. The Great Dane comes in several colors inclughing fawn, brindle, black, blue, harlequin or mantle. Though they are massive dogs, they should be square in proportion, with the length of the body matching the height. They have rectangular heads. They have high-set ears of medium size, which are often cropped. If not cropped, the ears fold forward, toward the cheek. The long tail tapers to a point and should never be cropped.
Size and Weight
The preferred height for male Great Danes is 32 inches at the shoulder, or higher. Females should stand 30 inches or taller. Show dogs will be disqualified if they are male and stand less than 30 inches, or female and stand less than 28. Males average weight spans from 135 to 150 pounds and females fall anywhere between 120 to 135 pounds.
Coat and Color
The short haired Great Dane cat comes in one of six colors: fawn, brindle, blue, black, harlequin, or mantle. Fawn dogs are gold with black masks, Brindle coats are fawn and black intermixed all over the body in a tiger-stripe pattern. Blue is actually a gray coloring, harlequin is white with irregular black patches over the entire body. Mantle Great Danes are black and white with a solid black blanket over the body.
Great Danes, despite their short coat, are heavy shedders. Flyaways can be kept under control through weekly brushing with a firm bristle brush. Bathe a Great Dane as needed. Some owners prefer to use the services of a professional groomer for baths and nail trimmings, as bathing a Great Dane can be a daunting task, especially if the dog is uncooperative.
Check the ears regularly for signs of irritation, infection, or wax buildup. Clean the ears with a cotton ball and a veterinarian-approved cleanser. Never use a cotton swab on a dog's ear canal. Brush teeth weekly (or more) to prevent tartar buildup and keep bad breath at bay.
Great Dane - History and Health
The exact age of the Great Dane breed is not known, but it is likely that close ancestors of the breed have existed for thousands of years. There are drawings of dogs resembling the Great Dane on Egyptian monuments dating to 3000 B.C. Early written descriptions of similar dogs were found in Chinese literature of 1121 B.C. These ancestral Danes were less refined than those seen today – heavier in build and bred for ferocity and fearlessness rather than appearance. The Great Dane as we know it has been selectively bred as a distinct type for at least 400 years, and perhaps longer. It is widely believed that Great Danes descend from crosses between the English Mastiff and the Irish Wolfhound.
The Great Dane originally was bred in Germany for the purpose of hunting the European wild boar, which at the time was the most savage of all game on the Continent. This took a powerful, intelligent, tenacious dog, and the Dane’s personality and breed characteristics suited him perfectly to the task. German nobility were so impressed with these dogs that they began to take the best specimens as guard dogs, and ultimately companions, for their large estates. It is reported that in 1592, the Duke of Braunschweig brought a pack of 600 Great Danes to a boar hunt – supposedly, all of them males. In the 1800s, the breed in Germany began approaching the dog we know today.
The Great Dane was declared the National Dog of Germany in 1876. Shortly thereafter, German fanciers declared that the breed be called the Deutsche dogge, and that all other names be abolished. Italy still calls the breed Alano, which means “mastiff.” In 1891, the Deutsche Dogge Club of Germany was formed and adopted an official standard describing the breed.
Great Danes came to the United States starting in the mid-1800s. William “Buffalo Bill” Cody apparently was an early admirer of the breed. The American Kennel Club recognized the Great Dane in 1887. The German Mastiff Club of America was founded in 1889, and two years later the parent club was renamed the Great Dane Club of America.
Great Danes are rarely used as boarhounds today, but instead have been selectively bred for docility, conformation and temperament. They easily transitioned to affectionate companions. Balance in disposition and physical characteristics remains essential in correct representatives of the breed. According to the AKC official standard, a Great Dane “must be spirited, courageous, never timid; always friendly and dependable. This physical and mental combination is the characteristic which gives the Great Dane the majesty possessed by no other breed.”
The average life expectancy of the Great Dane is from 7 to 10 years. Breed health concerns may include bloat (gastric dilatation and volvulus), callus dermatitis/pyoderma (over the hock and elbow joints), demodicosis, hip dysplasia, cervical vertebral instability/malformation (“Wobbler’s syndrome”), entropion, ectropion, eversion of the cartilage of the nictitating membrane, congenital idiopathic megaoesophagus, congenital deafness, shoulder osteochondrosis, lymphoma, osteosarcoma and dilated cardiomyopathy.
Great Dane - Temperament & Personality
The Great Dane is an enormous breed that has been cultivated as a distinct type of dog for hundreds of years. Great Danes originated in Germany and perhaps in England (there is no known connection with Denmark), and were bred to hunt the savage European wild boar. This took a powerful, intelligent, tenacious and fearless dog, and the Great Dane’s personality and breed characteristics suited him perfectly to this task. However, size and beauty alone were never enough to make the “Apollo of dogs” a suitable representative of his distinguished breed; he always needed height, weight, courage, nobility, speed and endurance as well.
Danes are rarely used as boarhounds today, but instead have transitioned to beloved and affectionate companions and less commonly, estate guard dogs. As such, balance in temperament and physical traits is essential. According to the AKC Official Standard, a Great Dane “must be spirited, courageous, never timid; always friendly and dependable. This physical and mental combination is the characteristic which gives the Great Dane the majesty possessed by no other breed.”
While developed as a true working breed, correctly-bred Great Danes make outstanding, affectionate, loving and trusted family companions for spacious households that want a large, short-haired dog that offers some manner of protection due to their sheer size. They tend to be protective by nature only if necessary, but Great Danes should never be encouraged to be overly protective and certainly never to be aggressive. Many people are terrified of large dogs irrespective of their kind temperament. To keep these dogs as gentle ambassadors of this giant breed, Dane owners should always be vigilant and keep their dogs under complete control when in public, and securely contained when at home.
Great Danes can be as energetic as they are large, especially during the teenage period. Young Danes are prone to “the zoomies” – a term used to describe their demonstration of wild abandon and sheer glee that involves galloping, leaping, spinning and jumping on or over objects with an endearing expression of pure joy. This is entertaining to watch, unless a person or prized possession is in their path, which it rarely is but certainly could be.
Because of its size, strength and inherently playful nature, even the most well-mannered Great Dane should not be left unsupervised with small children, and all children in the household must be taught the correct way to interact with and respect a dog. Danes are truly house dogs, despite their size, and generally do not require an enormous amount of daily exercise. Indeed, as they are so rapidly-growing, young Great Danes should not be taken jogging or otherwise exercised excessively during the first 1-2 years of life to prevent bone and joint disorders that can be caused by overuse. Danes do not thrive being kept isolated, kenneled or crated for long hours at a time, although they typically do require a securely fenced yard for exercise, elimination and playtime. They usually bond well with all friends and family members and enjoy participating in family activities. Regular walks suit most Great Danes perfectly.
Danes are described as being of average intelligence in the dog world but typically are easy to housebreak and train to standard obedience commands such as sit, stay, down, come and heel. As a breed, they have a strong desire to please. Many Great Danes compete very successfully in obedience, agility, rally and other performance competitions, in addition to being successfully shown in the AKC conformation ring. Early training and socialization of puppies is essential from 3-6 months of age.
Dane puppies grow extremely rapidly and within no time will tower over their canine compatriots in puppy kindergarten classes. In its first year of life, a Great Dane will grow as much as a child grows in fourteen or fifteen years. They must be given consistent structure and gentle but firm training to help them become the beloved, devoted and well-adjusted family-members that they are so well-known to be. Dane puppies should not be allowed free run of the house without supervision until they have proven themselves to be trustworthy, as they can easily destroy a couch, chair or carpeting if the mood suits them. Many owners responsibly crate-train their puppies which, when done properly, can help enormously with potty training and prevention of chewing sprees.
Many Dane puppies see small animals and human toddlers as peers - similar in size and sound as themselves. Puppies naturally play aggressively, chew on each other, growl and nip as part of learning appropriate canine pack structure and behavior. Owners of Danes need to conscientiously and consistently watch and train their puppies so that they respect all household members and understand their role in the home. Children should not bother a puppy when it is in its safe place or den – which most commonly is its crate.
Other Behavioral Traits
Anyone considering adding a Great Dane (or any other giant breed) to their family should be especially careful to research the breed and the breeder whose dogs she is considering. Spur-of-the-moment decisions to acquire a Great Dane puppy are too often made by people unprepared to deal with their massive size, rambunctiousness and potentially destructive behavior, especially during adolescence. Reputable breeders will take the time to discuss the temperament of their breed with potential owners in an attempt to prevent their dogs from ending up in shelters or with rescue organizations.
Knowledgeable breeders and trainers generally agree that aggressive tendencies or excessive shyness/fearfulness in Great Danes usually are a product of poor breeding, poor training, or both. Potential owners should explore their dog's background and commit to an appropriate training and socialization protocol before making a life-long commitment to this giant dog.
Owners of Danes should have a securely fenced yard or enclosure to prevent theft of or escape by their dog. Most Danes are not jumpers by nature; a six-foot fence should be sufficient. Many Great Danes have a fairly high prey-drive and will chase cats, rabbits or other small animals. Danes left alone for hours on end may become barkers, which nearby neighbors tend not to appreciate due to the depth and volume of the Great Dane bark.
A Great Dane can provide years of affectionate and loyal companionship. People without the time or dedication to commit to their Great Dane should consider selecting a different breed.