The Great Dane is one of the best known dog breeds in the world, in addition to being one of the tallest. Despite the breed’s name, it was developed in Germany, not Denmark. Originally bred to hunt boar and wolves, the Great Dane is now much better known as a loving family companion. Due to the breed’s massive size and often comical nature, the Great Dane regularly appears in film, television, and print. There is perhaps no breed with as many names as the Great Dane, which is also known as the Danische Dogge, Danish Mastiff, Grand Danois, Dane, Deutsche Dogge, Dogge, German Mastiff, Doggen, German Dog, Dogue Allemand, Boarhound, Boarhund, German Boar Dog, German Boar Mastiff, Gentle Giant, Marmaduke Dog, Scooby Dog, and the Apollo of Dogs.
The Great Dane was developed many centuries before written records were kept of dog breeding. As a result, virtually nothing is known for sure about its ancestry. Many have attempted to fill in this knowledge gap with speculation and wild guessing, but most of what his said has little to no basis in fact. There are a number of theories with a solid basis in reality, and a few facts are indisputably clear. The Great Dane was definitely developed in Germany at least several hundred, and perhaps several thousand, years ago. The breed is almost certainly a member of the Molosser family, also known as the Mastiffs, Dogues, and Alaunts. Although each breed is different, these breeds are characterized by large size, great power, brachycephalic (pushed-in) faces, a strong protective instinct, and a Western European ancestry.
There is no group of dogs whose history is more greatly disputed than that of the Molossers. Some claim that these dogs were developed by the first Middle Eastern farmers to guard their livestock and that they are between 8,000 and 14,000 years old. Others claim that they were first bred by the royal families of Egypt, Assyria, and Mesopotamia, who allegedly used them as ferocious beasts of war. Believers in these theories usually also believe that these dogs were spread across the Ancient World by the Phoenicians and possibly the Greeks. The most widely held belief is that these dogs are the direct descendants of the Molossus, the greatly feared and admired war dog of the Greek and Roman armies. Many fanciers and historians swear that all other Mastiffs can trace their ancestry back to the Pugnaces Britanniae, the massive war dog of the Pre-Roman Celts of Britain which may have been the English Mastiff. It is also widely believed that the Molossers may be descendants of the Tibetan Mastiff of East Asia or the Alaunt, the war dog of the Caucasian Alan tribe which accompanied its masters as they ransacked the Roman Empire. Each of these theories is supported and disputed by large amounts of credible evidence and until something new comes to light all will probably remain mysteries.
At some point, the Germanic tribes of Northern Europe acquired Mastiffs, but it is not clear how or exactly when. Based on what little evidence exists, it seems highly improbable that the Germans possessed Mastiffs prior to their invasions of the Roman Empire, (they probably only kept Spitzen, Pinscher/Schnauzer-type dogs, and possibly scenthounds). This means that the ancestors of the Great Dane probably entered Germany sometime between 300 and 800 A.D. Many sources claim that the Germans acquired their Mastiffs from Britain. In fact, a major Germanic invasion did take place in Britain which introduced the English language and people to what is now England. However, it is much more likely that these dogs were first introduced from either the Roman Empire or another barbarian tribe. Germanic peoples conquered and looted essentially the entire Western Roman Empire, where Mastiff-type dogs are known to have lived in substantial numbers. A number of Barbarian tribes with whom the Germans had major contact possessed dogs that are thought to have been of the Mastiff-type. The Attila-led Huns used the Afstscharka, a type of Owtcharka, against the Germans in battle as they drove them westward. As has already been mentioned, the Alans also possessed a breed of Owtcharka, the Alaunt. This connection is possibly the most intriguing as the Alans were close allies of several German tribes, especially the Vandals, and accompanied them on numerous campaigns.
However Mastiffs first entered Germany, they were used differently there than elsewhere in Europe. Whereas most countries used Mastiffs primarily for war and property protection, Germans used them mainly for farm work and hunting. At the time it was a common practice to allow cattle and pigs to roam semi-freely on communally owned land. Without regular human contact, these creatures became half-feral and almost impossible to control. In order to catch them, Mastiffs were employed. The large, wide mouths of these dogs gave them the maximum area to bite and hold on with, and their massive size and great strength allowed them to do battle with some of Europe’s strongest animals. These dogs were so commonly used for working with cattle that the Germans began to call them Bullenbeisers, which directly translates to “Bull Biters.” The Germans also used their Bullenbeisers for hunting. This dog was the only breed available to the Germans which was capable of hunting wild boar without seriously risking death. The Bullenbeiser was not only strong enough to battle a boar, but also determined and pain tolerant enough to not stop doing so, and intelligent enough to evade most counterattacks.
Although the Bullenbeiser was capable of handling both agricultural and hunting work, it was ideally suited for neither. Because the two jobs have different demands, different dogs are best suited to each. In order to develop the ideal hunting Mastiff, the German nobility crossed the Bullenbeiser with sighthounds. It is unclear exactly when this occurred, but it was probably sometime between 800 and 1200 A.D. The introduction of sight hound blood made the Great Dane considerably faster and more generally athletic. It also increased the breed’s vision and hunting instincts. For many years there has been a substantial amount of debate as to which sight hounds were used in the development of the Great Dane. Most sources indicate that it was the Irish Wolfhound, itself a massive sighthound. However, there does not seem to be any evidence of this, and it seems unlikely that such a large (as well as rare and valuable) dog would have been sent from Ireland to Germany. This seems even less likely when it is considered that until recently, the Great Dane was significantly smaller on average than is the case today (It was more similar in size to a large Rottweiler than an Irish Wolfhound). The Germans are much more likely to have used the Chart Polski of Poland or the Magyar Agar of Hungary, both of which historically bordered Germany.
The result of the Bullenbeiser/sighthound cross was so skilled at hunting boar that it became known as the Boarhund, or in English the Boarhound. This breed became extremely popular with the German nobility. At the time, Germany was made up of thousands of independent nations, which ranged in size from a single village to the country of Austria. Great Danes were found in almost all of these polities, and were probably among the most common breeds in German-speaking lands. The breed was so highly thought of that it earned the name Deutsche Dogge, which means either German Dog or German Mastiff depending on the translation. It did not take long for the German nobility to realize that a dog which was large, powerful, and courageous enough to hunt boar also made a highly effective personal and property protection animal. Great Danes were kept in palaces and manors across Germany, and were often found in the immediate presence of their master. Even the most determined and skilled assassin would have to think twice before confronting a pack of Great Danes. This was even more true in the past, when the Great Dane was a substantially more aggressive and ferocious animal than it is today.
In the 1700’s, the French naturalist Comte de Buffon was traveling in Denmark. He first encountered the breed there and named it the Grand Danois, or Great Dane, mistakenly thinking the breed was a native of that country. Buffon’s work became popular in England, and ever since the breed has been known in English by that name. At around the same time, the breed began to spread to other countries. By the end of the 1700’s, there were Great Danes found in France, England, Denmark, and several other European nations. During this time, a few breed members may have also been exported to Cape Town, where they are likely to have contributed to the ancestry of the Rhodesian Ridgeback and the Boerboel.
As a result of the American and French Revolutions, a wave of social change spread across Europe, including German-speaking lands. The nobility across German began to lose their traditional rights and powers, and in some places was eliminated entirely. This coincided with major unification efforts, which left even more members of the nobility without lands and wealth. Similar social changes across Europe led to many breeds being entirely abandoned as their former noble patrons could no longer afford to keep them. However, the Great Dane was continued to be maintained, even after most of Germany’s forests were felled. The breed had become so beloved as a guardian and protector that it was considered indispensable. In all likelihood, the Great Dane actually became even more popular. In many places, ownership of these dogs was strictly limited to the nobility, a limitation often enforced with legal penalties. Changing times meant that all social classes were able to own Great Danes. Although most Germans could not afford to keep one of these dogs, certain groups were able to, including wealthy businessmen, prominent statesmen, and butchers, who always had large amounts of extra meat.
Because it was kept as a hunting dog of the nobility, the Great Dane had been kept relatively (but certainly not entirely) pure for many centuries. However, the dog was bred almost entirely for working ability and temperament rather than appearance. The breed was very popular with the wealthiest members of German society, and made an appearance at Germany’s first dog show in 1863. The breed became a regular at German dog shows and was slowly bred to be more refined. One of the earliest breed standards for the dog was created by workers in the meat packing industry who used to dog to pull carts of meat. The size, good temperament, and attractive appearance of the Great Dane meant that it was in high demand in England and especially the United States (which was home to a massive German population), and sizable numbers of these dogs were exported to those countries. The Great Dane quickly became a staple of American dog shows and was one of the first breeds to be granted recognition with the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1887. Four years later, the first breed club was founded in Germany. In 1899, the Great Dane Club of America was founded in Chicago, becoming one of the oldest breed specific clubs in the United States, especially west of the Atlantic Seaboard.
The Great Dane continued to grow in popularity throughout the United States during the 20th Century. In 1923, it was officially recognized by the United Kennel Club. Temperament and gentle nature were increasingly becoming the primary factors for Great Dane breeding, and the dog was almost exclusively a companion animal by mid-century (although a few were still used as personal protection animals and hog hunters). During World War II, the military attempted to train Great Danes to serve, but none were able to pass the required training. Great Danes saw a major surge in popularity with the baby boomer generation, and the breed became a popular suburban companion. By the end of the 1950’s, the Great Dane was almost certainly the best known and most common giant-sized breed in America. In 1965, the Great Dane was selected as the state dog of Pennsylvania, the only state dog that was not developed in the state where it received the honor. This popularity combined with the breed’s great size and often comical demeanor, made it very popular in the media.
Since the end of World War II, the Great Dane has made hundreds of appearances in art, television, film, and novels. Although the Great Dane has made numerous live action appearances, it is two cartoon Great Danes that have achieved the most international fame. In 1954, the comic strip Marmaduke began appearing in American newspapers. The titular character of Marmaduke is a Great Dane that always seems to be getting himself into mischief and was based on cartoonist Brad Anderson’s own experiences with the breed. Marmaduke has since gone on to become one of the longest running and most beloved comic strips in history and has also been developed into television shorts and a full-length feature film. In 1969, Hanna-Barbera introduced America to Scooby-Doo, the animated Great Dane star of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? The often cowardly Scooby-Doo and his best friend Shaggy accompany travel across America solving supposedly supernatural mysteries with their friends. Scooby-Doo has since reappeared in numerous other television programs, made-for-TV movies, and several live action movies. Marmaduke, Scooby-Doo, and the many other Great Dane movie stars have greatly increased the breed’s fame and continue to expose the Great Dane to new generations of children around the world.
The last several decades have seen the Great Dane facing new challenges. The popularity of the breed and its perceived value has meant that many commercial dog breeders (often called puppy mills) have begun breeding Great Danes solely for profit, without any regard to quality, conformation, temperament, or health. Luckily for the breed, the size of the Great Dane means that it is considerably less popular with commercial breeders than smaller dogs, but some damage has still been done. Of much greater concern for the breed is its health. Due to a number of factors involving their great size, poor breeding practices, and a lack of veterinary understanding (until recently) Great Danes as a breed are among the shortest lived of all dogs and many suffer from severe problems for years before they pass. Recent advancements in veterinary medicine, especially with regards to genetic testing, have provided means to increase the health and life expectancy of the Great Dane and it is hoped that responsible breeding will do so in the future. Because the breed is so popular, many owners acquire one of these dogs without properly thinking it through. This leads to situations where someone either cannot or does not want to handle such a large dog. Many such Great Danes end up in animal shelters and rescue groups, which can overwhelm even a breed rescue community as large as that of the Great Dane.
The Great Dane has proven to be highly influential in the development and recreation of other dogs. This breed was one of the few giant dogs to survive in sizable numbers throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries, and was therefore used in attempts to save several others from extinction. Because such crosses are often considered taboo among breeders most have been denied, but Great Dane blood almost certainly flows in the veins of the Irish Wolfhound, and possibly the American Bulldog, English Mastiff, and Saint Bernard as well. Because of the Great Dane’s size, athleticism, past working ability, and modern gentle temperament, it has been repeatedly used to develop new breeds of giant dog. One of the most famous and recent of such breeds is the Dogo Argentino, developed in Argentina in the 20th Century to hunt boar and cougar.
Like most modern breeds, the Great Dane is rarely used for its original purpose. Today the breed is almost exclusively kept as a companion animal, and it is known across the world as a gentle and loving family pet. Some breed members still serve as property protection and hog hunting dogs, but this is a small minority of the overall population. More recently, Great Danes have found employment at a number of other tasks such as search and rescue, therapy, and service for the handicapped. Great Danes are also regular competitors at a wide range of canine events, including competitive obedience, conformation shows, agility trials, and schutzhund. Great Danes have long been among the most popular and well-known of the large breed dogs but have recently been seeing a major increase in popularity. Over the last two decades, giant breeds have been surging in popularity in the United States, with Great Danes leading the way. As of 2011, the Great Dane ranked 19th out of 173 total breeds in terms of AKC registrations, and its numbers continue to grow.
The Great Dane is perhaps the most visually impressive of all dog breeds with its immense size, athletic appearance, often beautiful coat, regal bearing, and gentle eyes. This dog is often so finely chiseled that it has been nicknamed the Apollo of Dogs. The Great Dane is one of the world’s tallest dog breeds. Although its average height is slightly less than the average height of a few other breeds such as the Irish Wolfhound, the last several individual record holders for world’s tallest dog have all been Great Danes. The average male Great Dane stands between 30 and 36 inches tall at the shoulder, but several have exceeded 40 inches. The slightly smaller females typically stand between 28 and 34 inches tall at the shoulder. The weight of the Great Dane is tremendously influenced by the height, build, and condition of the individual dog, but generally ranges from 100 to 200 pounds (it is far from unheard of for this breed to top 300). Despite its great size, the Great Dane is not an exceptionally heavily-built dog. The ideal Great Dane should be the perfect balance between power and athleticism, and this breed has plenty of both. Although now primarily a companion, the Great Dane should maintain the appearance of a working dog, and this breed is often incredibly muscular and fit. The Great Dane is a generally squarely proportioned dog but may be slightly longer than it is tall. The legs of this breed should be long and sturdily built, and are very comparable to small trees. The tail of the Great Dane is of average length for a dog of this size, and should always be held straight down when the dog is at rest.
The head and face of the Great Dane are generally similar to those of other Molossers, but are considerably longer and narrower than most. Other than size, correct head type is considered the most important breed feature, and is critical in the show ring and to most breeders. The head of the Great Dane is generally proportional to body size, but is usually on the larger side. The head is flat on top and rectangular in shape. The muzzle is quite distinct from the head, and connects at a sharp angle. The muzzle should be roughly the same length as the skull, and the tops of the head and muzzle should parallel each other. The muzzle is not only quite long but quite wide, giving a square appearance. Most Great Dane’s have slightly pendulous but still dry lips, although some breed members regularly drool. The nose of the Great Dane is ideally solid black, but may be spotted black on harlequin Great Danes or a dark blue-black on blue Great Danes. The ears of the Great Dane were traditionally cropped into a straight erect, triangular shape to increase the dog’s ability to locate sounds. However, this practice is falling out of favor and is actually illegal in several countries. The natural ears of the Great Dane are medium in length and fold down forwards close to the cheeks. The eyes of the Great Dane are medium in size and almondAmong experts, the use of Almonds, or Almond derived products in pet food appears to have been met with mixed reviews. While some feel that there is no issue and that the .... in shape. The darkest possible eyes are always preferred, but lighter eyes are acceptable for blue and harlequin coated dogs.
The coat of the Great Dane is short, close, thick, and smooth, and should ideally have a glossy appearance. Great Danes come in six officially recognized colors: brindle, fawn, blue, black, harlequin, and Boston/mantle. Brindle Great Danes have black stripes covering their entire bodies. Evenly spaced stripes, a black mask over the muzzle, a black tail tip, dark ears, and the correct amount of brindling are greatly preferred in brindle Great Danes, while white markings are greatly disfavored. Fawn Great Danes should have a fawn coloration over the body and a black mask. Darker ears and tail tips are acceptable for Fawn Great Danes, but white markings are not. Blue Great Danes should be a solid deep blue, with any other markings considered a fault. Black Great Danes should be a solid glossy black, with any other markings considered a fault. Harlequin Great Danes have a solid white base coat, with black markings found all over the body. These markings should be as uniform in size as possible, and be neither so large to form a blanket or so small that they look dappled. A few grayish patches are acceptable but highly disfavored. Boston or mantle Great Danes should have a black back and sides, with white markings on the muzzle, collar, chest, parts or all of the legs, and the tip of the tail. A full collar is preferred but not required. Great Danes are occasionally born with differently colored coats including chocolate, brown, brown and white, and blue merle. Such dogs are ineligible in the show ring and should not be bred from, but otherwise make just as good pets or working dogs as other breed members.
The Great Dane is almost as famous for its gentle and affectionate temperament as its striking appearance. Known as the Gentle Giant, the Great Dane is renowned as a family pet all across the world. This breed forms extraordinarily strong attachments to its family, to whom it shows intense loyalty and devotion. Great Danes want to be in the constant presence of their families, and this breed is known to suffer from severe separation anxiety. This is the classic example of a big dog that thinks it’s a lap dog, which is undesirable for those who do not wish to be crushed by 200 pounds of bone and muscle. When properly socialized, most adult Great Danes are very gentle and affectionate with children. Great Dane puppies are usually not a good choice for a house with very young children as they are very likely to bowl them over in youthful exuberance. Because of the size of this dog, careful supervision around children is always necessary.
Great Danes vary substantially in their reactions to strangers. When properly socialized, most breed members will be very polite and accepting. However, some lines are extremely eager to meet new people and see every stranger as a potential friend while others are very reserved and potentially even suspicious. Human aggression is not a common problem among Great Danes, but when it occurs it is an extremely serious one due to the dog’s size and power. This makes socialization and training extremely important. Most (but certainly not all) Great Danes make alert watchdogs whose bark will make most potential intruders seriously reconsider. The majority of Great Danes make very poor guard dogs as they are more likely to welcome an intruder than show one aggression, although some owners have successfully trained certain lines of Great Dane for protection. Breed members do seem to be aware of when a loved one is in physical danger, and a Great Dane defending its family would be an extremely undesirable foe to have.
This breed is regarded as being neither especially challenging nor especially easy to train. Great Danes are usually of above average intelligence, and most breed members are somewhat willing to please. Breed members have competed successfully at the highest levels of a number of dog sports such as agility and competitive obedience. However, this dog can be extremely stubborn, and some examples are outright obstinate. If a Great Dane decides that it is not going to do something, essentially no amount of reward or correction can convince it otherwise. In general, breed members respond extremely poorly to correction based training methods, instead responding better to those that emphasize rewards and treats. It is probably fair to say that the training ceiling for the average Great Dane is significantly lower than that for a breed such as a German Shepherd or Standard Poodle. Though the Great Dane is not an especially dominant or challenging breed, they are more than willing to take control if the opportunity presents itself. Great Dane owners need to maintain a constant position of dominance, otherwise chaos may ensue.
Although the Great Dane was originally bred as a working dog, most of its energy and drive have been reduced by generations of breeding for companionship. Most Great Danes are low energy dogs that will happily get by on 30 to 45 minutes of exercise a day. Many breed members are devoted couch potatoes that will lie around for hours on end. Lack of exercise is actually a problem for many breed members, who become obese. This does not mean that a Great Dane can get by on too little exercise; otherwise, behavioral problems such as destructiveness, excessive barking, and over excitability are likely to result. Owners have to take the utmost care when providing their Great Danes with exercise as too much exercise at too young of an age can result in lifelong skeletal problems and exercise too quickly after eating can result in a fatal case of bloat. Some healthy Great Danes are capable of performing intense physical activity, as those which are still used for hog hunting demonstrate. Unfortunately, many breed members have such weak skeletons or other problems that a simple walk around the neighborhood is as much as they are capable.
Great Danes tend to be very slowly maturing dogs. This breed is not fully done growing either physically or mentally until the age of at least three. That means at least three years of an extremely rambunctious Great Dane puppy.
Potential Great Dane owners need to be aware that everything that a Great Dane does is greatly magnified by its size. A bark becomes a deep, ear-splitting bellow. A tail wag becomes a lamp shattering whip. A puppy chewing on a table leg snaps it in half. Wherever a Great Dane is, it is always a major barricade. Any minor misbehavior becomes a serious problem. Anyone considering acquiring a Great Dane should seriously consider if this is the right dog for them and if not probably consider a smaller breed.
Great Danes have relatively low coat care requirements. This dog does not need to be taken to professional groomers as a regular brushing will suffice. However, this regular brushing can take quite a bit of time due to the size of the dog. Great Danes are considered average shedders, but because of their size produce many times the amount of hair that smaller dogs will. This breed can and will absolutely cover a home with dog hair. Though this breed does not need too much maintenance, every individual task is very time consuming because of the dogs size. It is absolutely imperative that owners begin regular maintenance procedures as early and as carefully as possible. It is much easier to give a forty pound and interested puppy a bath than a scared 150 pound adult.
The Great Dane is generally regarded as being in poor to very poor health. This breed suffers from very high rates of a number of very serious health conditions, and has one of the shortest life expectancies of any breed. The average life expectancy for a Great Dane is between 5 and 8 years, and it is extremely rare for a breed member to reach 10. These health problems have been greatly exacerbated by irresponsible and commercial breeding practices. Veterinarians and Great Dane breeders are currently working together to develop tests and breeding programs that will hopefully reduce or eliminate these problems, but their efforts are hampered by breeders who do not test their dogs.
Bloat is easily the greatest concern to all Great Dane owners. Bloat is the leading killer of Great Danes, and is responsible for between 1/3 and ½ of all Great Dane deaths. Great Danes are also easily the breed at greatest risk of bloat. Bloat occurs when the stomach and other body organs twist around inside the chest cavity, sometimes multiple times. This causes a multitude of severe problems, many of which are fatal. Bloat is very commonly fatal without emergency surgery. Perhaps the greatest danger of bloat is the speed at which it develops and kills. A perfectly healthy Great Dane can be dead in a matter of hours. Bloat is not entirely understood, but dogs with wide chests that do not firmly embrace the internal organs are at greatest risk. Overeating followed by over exercising can cause bloat so it is recommended that owners prevent their Great Danes from exercising immediately after eating and also that they be fed three or four small meals a day rather than one or two large ones.
Great Danes are extremely expensive to keep, often many times what an average sized dog will. Obviously, they need to eat a great deal more, but the specialty food the need is also typically more expensive. Everything else they need is larger and therefore more expensive as well, such as crates, dog beds, toys, and treats. They also require larger and therefore more costly amounts of medicine such as flea preventatives and anesthetics. Because many breed members are in poor health, they also require frequent veterinary visits and costly procedures. Families considering acquiring a Great Dane need to seriously think about whether they can actually afford one of these dogs.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in this breed (hip dysplasia is very commonly seen) it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
A full list of those conditions which are of greatest concern to Great Dane owners would have to include:
The recommended diet for a Great Dane varies depending on age. For puppies less than 2 years a light lean diet is recommended. As your puppy may have quite a bit of energy you want to provide it with a healthy diet, yet at other times it will be lazy. This is due to the rapid rate of growth that danes undergo. Most large breed foods are too protein rich for danes and it is advised that you avoid these. Between 2 and 5 years a protein level of no more than 24 to 28 percent is recommended. As the modern great dane is not a high performance animal, but that of a regal lap dog, a high protein level may simply cause loose stool in your dane. Be sure that your food has a healthy range of pro-biotics for essential health and to prevent immune-deficiencies. The teeth should be maintained weekly with either raw natural bones, or regular tooth brushing. As with all dogs, ensure you always have clean, fresh and cool water available at all times.