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Easygoing gentle giants is the best way to describe Great Danes. These large, statuesque dogs are often very loving and affectionate towards humans and get along well with other animals. They were originally bred as hunting dogs in Europe to track down wild boars. However, a typical Great Dane today would much rather spend their time playing, exploring, and cuddling.
Standing at approximately 32 inches tall at the shoulder, Great Danes tower over most other dogs and even people when they stand on their hind legs. If you own one, you have to be mindful of the fact that many dogs will likely be intimidated by your canine pal, which may result in confrontational situations. Thankfully, Great Danes are generally considered easy to train, although this will be different for each individual dog.
Want to learn more about this impressive breed? Continue reading below to find out if a Great Dane is right for you.
- History & Origin of Great Danes
- Physical Attributes of Great Danes
- Behavioral Characteristics of Great Danes
- Great Dane Health Risks
- Caring For a Great Dane
- Final Notes
History & Origin of Great Danes
The Great Dane was bred from Mastiff-type dogs, like the giant boarhound, in 18th century Germany and England. Their main purpose was to assist people in hunting wild boars, because a strong, agile dog was needed to handle this wild game. Ear cropping started becoming common as several of these dogs suffered ear injuries from the wild boars’ sharp tusks. Nowadays, cropping Great Danes’ ears is illegal in Europe, but is still done occasionally in the United States.¹
The Deutsche Dogge — meaning German dog and the German name for Great Danes — were declared the national breed of Germany in 1876. Otto von Bismarck even kept them as guard dogs. In 1881, the breed standard was developed in the German breed club scene. Eight years later, the Great Dane Club of America (GDCA) was founded, making it one of the earliest breed clubs in the United States to this day.²
During the Great Dane’s early years, breeders from England crossed the stockier German Great Dane with Greyhounds, resulting in a dog with a sleeker, more refined silhouette and a muscular, athletic build. Selective breeding continued in the U.S. Over time, the hound-like traits disappeared. As the industrial revolution took hold in both Europe and the United States, people realized that there was no longer a need for an aggressive breed of hunting dogs. Slowly, the Great Dane’s hunting aggression was tamed, making them the docile, lovable dogs we know today.
Physical Attributes of Great Danes
The majestic Great Dane comes in a variety of different colors and patterns, but is best known for a patchwork, black and white coat pattern called “harlequin.” Their coat is short, but still requires regular brushing. Typically, this breed has a long, rectangular head with clean, parallel lines in line with the rest of the body. They walk with surprising elegance, considering their massive size.³
With a body weight of 100-120 pounds and a height of 28-32 inches, it’s easy to understand why Great Danes are categorized as giant dogs. However, their large size results in a relatively short lifespan for dogs; only about 7-10 years on average. Their natural ears are triangular and somewhat floppy. Ear-cropping is no longer allowed in many countries in Europe, but you might still see it in the U.S., though it is quite controversial among many pet parents and veterinarians. A typical Great Dane has a deep chest, long limbs, and a long tail. Unfortunately, these physical traits, combined with their size makes them prone to certain health problems, which we’ll discuss later on.⁴
Behavioral Characteristics of Great Danes
You might get startled and take a step back when you first meet a Great Dane, but underneath that imposing stature is often a huge, friendly lapdog. They are generally very affectionate towards everyone and
love curling up on the couch to watch TV together. You’re sure to fall in love fast.⁵
Every dog is different, but generally, Great Danes get along well with other dogs and animals. They don’t tend to exhibit aggressive behavior, nor do they have a high prey drive, despite their hunting history. Proper socialization is important for these dogs, because otherwise they might react aggressively in unfamiliar situations.⁶
When it comes to training, you can expect a relatively smooth process with your Great Dane. They are often eager to please their owners and are fairly intelligent, so with a consistent training schedule they can become lovely, obedient companions. As is common with many dogs, the earlier you begin training your Dane, the easier it will be. Also, a younger dog will also be physically smaller, and therefore easier to control during training sessions.⁷
Keep in mind that personality and temperament varies depending on each individual dog. They are generally highly motivated by physical affection and food, which can be great tools to get them back on track. Generally speaking, these gentle giants make great companions both inside and outside the home.⁷
Great Dane Health Risks
Great Danes have a fast metabolism, which is common for giant dogs. This means that they burn a lot of energy and need to eat a lot, too. This can cause bloat or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), which is potentially fatal, so they should be given their food in smaller meals throughout the day. Giving them enough time to rest after mealtimes (40-60 minutes is ideal) can also help to avoid bloat. This is especially important before exercise.⁵
Another health concern for this dog breed is hip dysplasia. Other large breeds, like German Shepherds are also at risk of developing this condition.
Great Danes are also prone to developing hypothyroidism — an autoimmune disease that affects their thyroid gland. There is no cure, but it can be managed with oral medications. Speak to your vet to get the right dosage and prescription.⁵
Sometimes, these dogs can develop dilated cardiomyopathy, which is a genetic heart condition, and wobbler disease, which affects the bones. Wobbler disease is often considered to be a contributing factor to their short lifespans. Great Danes have a rapid growth rate, which means that their bones and vertebrae may push against the spinal cord, causing weakness in the legs. Fortunately, this can be treated with surgery or may even heal naturally over time.⁸
Caring For a Great Dane
Caring for a Great Dane is a big undertaking, but will give you a loyal, happy canine pal. The good news is that they don’t need to visit the grooming salon too often, given that they have a short coat and only shed once or twice a year. However, their giant size simply means that they have a lot of hair, so you should still brush your Dane a few times per week. They also need a bath every 2-3 months, depending on their specific size and activity level. All dogs, including Great Danes, need their toenails trimmed to keep them from getting too long and causing pain when walking.⁵
This rambunctious breed enjoys zooming around the house or yard. Due to their hunting dog ancestry, Great Danes have a lot of stamina. They can make excellent running buddies and need a lot of room to play, so they’re a great fit for people who lead a more active lifestyle.
Spending time outside also comes with risk, so they should be given regular flea and tick medication. Since they’re prone to hip dysplasia, you may also decide it’s worth giving your gentle giant a glucosamine chondroitin supplement, which can promote healthy joints. A healthy Dane will need to visit the vet at least once per year for a regular checkup.⁵
Are Great Danes expensive?
The cost of a Great Dane can vary, depending on if you get a show quality dog or a pet quality dog. The general price of a purebred Great Dane puppy from a breeder can range from $800-$3,000. A dog’s specific lineage can affect the price.
Do Great Danes shed a lot?
Yes. Due to their large size, Great Danes are considered moderate to heavy shedders, despite only having a single coat. The more body surface area, the more hair.
These massive dogs are lap dogs at heart and many people consider them the gentlest of the giant dog breeds. Physically, they tower over you, but their docile nature often makes them great family dogs. With proper training and devoted care, this dog breed can easily become your best cuddle buddy, as well as an energetic fellow adventurer.Trying to figure out if you want to add a Great Dane to your life? Dutch has got you covered. With Dutch, you can easily talk to a licensed vet about any concerns regarding dog ownership. They will happily answer any questions and get you feeling confident with a Great Dane.
“Cropping.” Great Dane Club of Canada, 19 Feb. 2017, https://greatdaneclubofcanada.ca/cropping/.
AKC Staff. “Great Dane History: The Apollo of the Dogs.” American Kennel Club, 22 Sept. 2022, www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeds/great-dane-history-the-apollo-of-the-dogs/.
AKC Staff. “Great Dane Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, 6 Nov. 2017, www.akc.org/dog-breeds/great-dane/.
“Great Dane Dog Breed Information.” Purina, www.purina.co.uk/find-a-pet/dog-breeds/great-dane. Accessed 29 June 2023.
Nelson, Katy. “Great Dane Breed Guide: Photos, Traits, & Care.” BARK Post, 11 May 2022, https://post.bark.co/breeds/great-dane-guide/.
Biniok, Janice. Great Dane: A Practical Guide for the Great Dane. T.F.H. Publications, 2010.
Carroll, Cat. “Are Great Danes Easy To Train?” Not A Bully, 9 Jan. 2022, https://notabully.org/are-great-danes-easy-to-train/.
“The Merle Gene and Multiple Ocular Abnormalities.” Eye Care for Animals, 2012, web.archive.org/web/20131212182621/www.eyecareforanimals.com/animal-eye-conditions/canine/296-merle-gene.html.