There is widespread debate on the exact origin of the Great Dane. There are reports of a Dane like dog in several parts of the world including Egypt, Greece and China from as far back as 2200 BC. Asian invaders were thought to have brought the breed to Europe, where the Great Dane we are familiar with today was developed, probably in Germany. These giant dogs are thought to be a mix between and English Mastiff and an Irish Wolfhound or Greyhound, but this can’t be confirmed. Certainly their square head is very similar to that of the Mastiff.
The Great Dane was bred for hunting prowess, as their main role was in hunting wild boar. When they were no longer needed for this purpose, they became a popular companion and guard dog. They were admitted to the AKC registry in 1887.
Adult Great Danes are very, very large. The current Guinness World Record holder for the tallest dog in the world is a Dane called George, who is 43 inches, or 109cm, tall. However, most Danes “only” grow to 34 inches (86cm). They are no lightweights either, with an adult male Great Dane weighing in at 200lbs, or 90kg. That is often more than their owners weigh, which can make them a challenge to walk. These dogs don’t reach physical maturity until they are 3 years old.
The Dane coat is smooth and short, and comes in several colors including fawn, brindle, blue, black and the attractive harlequin – a white coat with and patches of black over the entire body.
Great Danes have floppy ears, which are often cropped in the United States so they stand erect. Historically, this was to prevent the ears being damaged during the hunt. Since these dogs no longer have to hunt, and lead a more leisurely lifestyle, this is no longer necessary. Consequently, many countries have made ear cropping illegal.
In spite of their size, the Great Dane is a gentle breed that loves being with people, and gets along very well with children. To make sure they learn how to behave politely, and avoid them knocking people over, they need obedience training from a young age. They are just too big as adults to let them grow up with no manners.
The Dane has been used as a guard dog, and they will protect their family when necessary. However, would-be intruders won’t want to test them due to their imposing size and demeanor.
Dogs with such extreme proportions often have health issues and the Great Dane is no exception. They are prone to orthopedic problems such as hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. Make sure you ask your pup’s breeder if their breeding stock are tested for these diseases, and what their hip and elbow scores are. This is no guarantee that your Dane won’t develop these conditions, but it’s a very good start.
Some dogs can develop cardiomyopathy, which is a problem with the heart muscle. The result is usually heart failure. They can also suffer from abnormalities of the eyelid such as entropion (where the eyelid rolls inwards allowing eyelashes to rub on the eye) and ectropion (where the eyelid is more open, leaving the eye exposed to dust and other irritants).
Because of their size, a Great Dane needs somewhere soft to rest, or they will develop pressure sores on their elbows and hocks. These can become infected, and are often difficult to clear up completely.
As with all deep chested dogs, Danes are at risk of bloat, and shouldn’t exercise soon after eating. Ideally, they should be fed several small meals a day to avoid overfilling their stomach. Many people have preventative surgery performed on their Dane, where the stomach is stitched to the body wall. Although it can still swell, it won’t twist and it is less likely to be fatal.
Even though their coat is short, Great Danes can shed a lot of hair. They should be brushed twice weekly to prevent dog hair accumulating on your clothes and furniture. A rubber grooming mitt is ideal for this purpose. These dogs don’t need bathing very often. If your Dane gets dirty, then certainly wash them with a mild soap free shampoo. However, excessive washing will remove the natural oils from their coat, and may make them itchy.
Because of their size and rapid growth rate, these dogs need careful feeding and controlled exercise while they are growing up. Too much food will make them grow faster, and this has been linked to an increased incidence of orthopedic disease. Similarly, they should not be allowed to jump up or play rough when they are young. In fact, it’s a good idea to let your Great Dane lead a sedentary life for their first 12 months. As adults, they enjoy regular exercise but aren’t good candidates for the agility ring!
The Great Dane is a fine companion, and a good watchdog. They are ideal for less active families as they don’t need as much exercise as other breeds. They do, however, want to be involved in your life, and won’t be happy if left to their own devices in the back yard.
All dogs need to learn good manners around children, but this is particularly applicable to the Dane. They are so big that they can accidentally hurt children if they jump up on them or knock them over.
Before you buy a Great Dane, check your budget because nothing is cheap when you have a giant breed. Also, make the effort to visit a fully grown adult Great Dane, and get a good idea of what you are in for – it’s easy to underestimate the sheer size of these dogs. Keep in mind that your Dane will want to live inside with you, so make sure you have the space.
Unfortunately, the Dane doesn’t have a very long lifespan, and you’ll only enjoy the company of your gentle giant for as little as 6 ½ to 7 years.