Great Danes

Breed Introduction

Appropriately characterized as “gentle giants,” Great Danes are not nearly as intimidating as their nature might initially suggest. Underneath that big exterior lies a heart of gold, and a very personable dog, indeed.

Great Danes are approximately 28 to 32 inches (71 to 81 centimeters) in height, and may  weigh anywhere from 100 to 150 pounds (45 to 68 kilograms).

History of Breed

Some sources contend that dogs similar to Great Danes in appearance were known to have existed in Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Dogs resembling Great Danes have been found in drawings inscribed in Egyptian tombs that date back to 2200 BC. These dogs had shorter legs than today’s Great Danes, and their body type resembled that of the Mastiff.

Some credit traders with introducing the dogs to various other parts of the world, while others theorize that Alans, an Iranian nomadic group were responsible for the spread of the breed. One way or another, the dogs made their way to Germany, and  it was there that they were developed into the breed we recognize today. Thus, the Great Dane is considered to have originated in Germany.

These large dogs were used as bull baiters and in the hunting of  wild boar, stags, wolves, and other large dogs. Great Danes are thought to be a cross between the Mastiff and either the Irish Wolfhound or the Greyhound, the latter of which would account for the slender build and agility of the breed.

By the 1800s, Great Danes had become very popular in large game hunting. The Great Dane was proclaimed the national breed of Germany in 1876. The first Great Dane club was started in the United Kingdom in 1885, and another was subsequently formed in America in 1889.

Color and Coat

The Great Dane has a short, smooth, dense coat. The coat may be fawn, blue, black, harlequin, brindle, or a mantle pattern (black with a white collar and chest, a white muzzle, white on all or part of the legs, and white tipping on the tail).

Personality and Temperament

Noble, majestic, and dignified in appearance, the Great Dane is extremely sweet-natured, friendly, playful, and affectionate. Great Danes typically develop very close bonds to not only their family members, but to other people it has the opportunity to associate with frequently as well.

The dogs may often show this affection by “leaning” against  those they love. The Great Dane would make a perfect lap dog, if only it could fit in a person’s lap!

In spite of their gentle nature and typically quiet nature (they generally don’t bark much), Great Danes are courageous and protective. They can be counted on to alert their families to any potential intruders. This characteristic, along with their imposing size, makes them good watchdogs.

Great Danes need firm, consistent, and gentle handling as puppies to learn the manners that serve them well as adults. Because these dogs grow very large very quickly, training should be started at a young age. An experienced dog handler can also train Great Danes for protection work.

Needs 40 to 60 minutes of exercise per day. One might expect that such a large dog would require an amount of exercise proportionate to its size, but this is not the case. In fact, exercise periods must be limited while the puppy is growing into its adult size,  as too much exercise during this growth period can cause serious bone, joint, and muscle problems.

Forty to 60 minutes of exercise daily is usually plenty. While Great Danes enjoy playing outdoors with the family, they’re equally content to curl up in front of a fireplace or on a soft pillow and snooze.

Great Danes are excellent with both children and other dogs and household pets.

Although they are capable of adjusting to both city and country living, their size makes them more compatible to suburban or rural settings

Show Characteristics

Great Danes are muscular, with square proportions and a straight topline. They have large, rectangular heads that are long, strong, and flat between the ears. Their muzzles are blunt, their jaws are strong, and they have perfect scissor bites. The bridge of the nose is wide.

Their eyes are dark and almond-shaped. Their drop ears can be left natural or cropped to stand erect. Cropping of the ears is common in the United States, but is much less so in European countries. The Great Dane’s tail is long and tapered, and should be set high and carried level with the topline. It is unacceptable for the tail to curl or be carried over the back.

Only those coat colors listed in the section, “Coat and Colors,” above, are acceptable for show purposes. Mouse gray, white, and colors with such names as fawnequin, merle, merlequin, fawn mantle, and others are not allowed in the show ring.

Typical Health Concerns

Bloat is a critical condition that can affect Great Danes, and it requires immediate attention. Raising the dogs’ food dishes is believed by some to help prevent this condition by regulating the amount of air that is inhaled while eating.

Refraining from exercise or activity immediately before and after meals may also help reduce this risk. Great Danes, like most giant dogs, have a relatively slow metabolism, which leads them to consume less food per pound of dog than small breeds. This also accounts for their somewhat diminished energy.

Hip dysplasia is also common to this breed, though this may be kept at bay with a healthy diet and proper exercise. Setters in general tend to have problems with progressive retinal atrophy, a genetic disorder, which can lead to blindness. Congenital heart disease, bone cancer, and wobbler syndrome may also affect these dogs, as can yeast infections, which may lead to minor, recurring staph infections.


Great Danes are very low maintenance in terms of grooming. A weekly once-over with a rubber-grooming mitt is usually all that’s required. Great Danes are considered light to moderate shedders.

Country of Origin

The Great Dane originated in Germany.

Average Life Span

The average life expectancy for the Great Dane is 7 to 10 years.

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