The Great Dane is an instantly recognizable dog, though you would be forgiven for confusing them with horses, given their immense size!
But what about the history of these gentle giants? And how to care for them? Read on to learn all about the noble king of dogs!
Meet the World’s Tallest Dog: The Great Dane!
Yes, you read that right: the Great Dane is indeed one the tallest dog breeds in the world, along with the Irish Wolfhound. The world record for the tallest dog is held by Zeus, a dog from Michigan who stood an astonishing 3 ft 8 in (1,118 cm) from foot to shoulder. Standing on his hind legs, Zeus was 7 ft 5 in (226 cm) tall!
The average height of a Great Dane is slightly smaller, but still a respectable 30 to 31 in (76 to 79cm) for males and 28 to 30 in (71 to 76 cm) for females at the shoulder. The average weight for these tall boys is 110 to 180 lb (50 to 82 kg) for males and females.
Where do these Dogs Come from?
Don’t let the name fool you: the Great Dane is actually of German heritage. This fact is reflected in the breed’s other name, the German Mastiff (or Deutsche Dogge in German). These dogs were bred as hunting dogs and were used especially for larger prey such as deer, bears, and boar.
These dogs may go back even further, however, as large mastiff-type dogs that look very similar to Great Danes can be seen in Ancient Greek frescoes that date back as far as the 14th century BCE.
This breed of ancient hunting dogs was known as the Molossus or Molossian Hound. These dogs are believed to be the ancestors of many modern mastiff-type breeds (also known as Molossers), including the Great Dane, certain types of Bull Terrier, the Neapolitan Mastiff and the Newfoundland.
In the 16th century England, Molossian Hounds were bred with Irish Wolfhounds and English Mastiffs to create large, strong hunting dogs.
By the 17th century, the German nobility was breeding similar dogs, which became so popular there that by the 18th century these dogs were known as German Boarhounds in the English-speaking world. The popularity of these dogs dipped during the late 18th century as hunting large game became less popular.
In the 19th century German breeders attempted to reintroduce these dogs to the English market as guard dogs with the name German Mastiff, but due to international tensions, the name was changed to the more neutral Great Dane, which eventually stuck.
Great Danes first came to the US in the mid-19th century, and have been a popular breed ever since. Apparently, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody was a great admirer of the breed.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the breed in 1887. The German Mastiff Club of America began in 1889, and by 1891 it was renamed the Great Dane Club of America.
Great Danes still hold a special place in American pop culture, and these dogs have appeared in many movies.
Appearance and Personality of This Big Ole’ Doggo!
The Great Dane’s most striking feature is its enormous size, along with a dignified, regal stance and powerful, muscular body. They move in a smooth and balanced way, despite their large size, and run with a powerful gait.
It’s easy to see why these dogs were so popular with nobility. Males of this breed are larger and stockier than females, though a female Great Dane is still a very large dog.
Great Danes have triangular ears that sit high on the head and flop down. When these dogs were primarily used for hunting, it was customary to crop the ears into points in order to avoid injury while running through the undergrowth.
This practice gives the dogs pointy ears that stand up on top of the dog’s head. In the United States, some people still crop the ears of their Great Danes, and this is permitted but not required by the AKC breed standard. Ear cropping is illegal in much of Europe. Great Danes do not typically have their tails docked.
The coat is always short and comes in a variety of colors (see below for more). These dogs have large, dark, intelligent eyes, and many owners say that their Great Danes have perfected puppy-dog eyes.
An Aloof Nature: Great Dane Temperament
Don’t let their massive size fool you: Great Danes are gentle giants. They love nothing more than cuddling with their families and are known for trying to climb up onto people’s laps.
Despite their vicious ancestors, modern Great Danes have had the gentleness and softer personality traits bred into them, making them more suited to cuddling than hunting or fighting. That said, these loyal dogs can still pack a punch if their owner is threatened.
Some can have a tendency to be shy or aloof with strangers and can spook around new objects or situations. This trait can be tempered with careful reassurance and training.
From Mantle to Blue! The Great Dane Colors You’ll Love!
Great Danes come in many different colors and combinations of colors. Many of these coat colors have specific names that might not be obvious to people who haven’t owned this dog breed before. Let’s take a closer look at some of their colors and markings.
Blue Great Dane
A blue Great Dane is a truly striking dog! Their coats are a pure and uniform blue-gray, with steely sheen.
Fawn Great Dane
Fawn Great Danes have a solid coat of golden yellow, with black around the eyes, ears, and mouth.
Brindle Great Dane
Brindle (also known as fawn brindle) is a striped or chevron pattern of fawn and black. Brindle Great Danes will also have black coloring on the face.
Black Great Dane
A black Great Dane should have a solid black coat, without white markings.
Merle Great Dane
Merle Great Danes have a unique patchy, splotchy pattern that is white with patches of black, gray, blue, fawn or chocolate.
Although merle Great Danes cannot compete as show dogs, they still make beautiful pets. Merle genes are dominant and are the same ones that produce harlequin coloring.
What is a Harlequin Great Dane?
You might be forgiven for confusing a harlequin Great Dane with a cow, as these dogs are white with large black patches! Read on to learn more about this distinctive coloring.
Harlequin coloring comes from the same gene that causes merle. According to the AKC Great Dane breed standard, the base color for a harlequin Great Dane must be pure white, with patches of pure black well spaced over the entire body.
Some Harlequin Great Danes may have light-colored, odd-colored or walleyes. They may also have small pink spots on their noses.
5 Facts You Didn’t Know About the Great Dane Dog Breed!
- According to the AKC, the Great Dane is America’s 15th most popular dog breed.
- GDs are an iconic breed and can be seen throughout history in various works of art. Many members of the nobility chose to pose for portraits with noble Great Dane companions.
- This breed is the official state dog of Pennsylvania. A portrait of the state’s founder, William Penn, along with his faithful Great Dane, still hang’s in the governor’s office.
- They were once believed to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. This is the reason why Scooby Doo is depicted as a Great Dane!
- What ole big goofs they are: a quick Google image search will bring up plenty of pictures of these dogs chasing their tails, contorted on couches, and hiding in spaces much too small for them.
Smart but Stubborn: The Training Guide!
Due to the breed’s immense size, it is very important to train and socialize your Great Dane from a young age.
This breed is not as naturally obedient as some (such as the Border Collie or Flat-Coated Retriever), but they are smart and will learn eventually. Firmness and consistency are key when training Great Danes.
Short but Sweet: Great Dane Lifespan
Like most giant dog breeds, Great Danes tend to have a reduced lifespan, which is usually just six to eight years, though some have been known to live up to 10 years. The oldest Great Dane on record lived to be 16 years old.
The Possible Health Issues!
Unfortunately, GDs have a number of associated health issues, all of which contribute to the breed’s reduced lifespan. These dogs are at particular risk of:
- hip dysplasia
- congenital heart disease, and
- joint problems.
Double merle Great Danes (those with two merle parents) are at a high risk of blindness and deafness.
Puptastic Great Dane Mixes!
Given the breed’s associated health problems and reduced lifespan, many people opt for Great Dane crosses in an effort to offset these negative traits.
Great Dane Pitbull Mix
Also known as a Great Danebull, the Great Dane Pitbull mix combines the gentleness and size of the former with the stoutness and protectiveness of the American Pitbull. Some people may be nervous about combining what might be considered two intimidating breeds, and these crosses will certainly be large and strong.
However, these dogs are generally sweet-natured and affectionate if they are properly trained and socialized—just make sure you have enough space for them to run around!
Great Dane Mastiff Mix
Great Dane Mastiff mixes are either called Daniffs or Mastadanes, both of which sound pretty good. Being a combination of two large breeds, these dogs will grow to a huge size and will need a lot of space and exercise.
If properly trained and socialized, they are often described as loyal, loving and affectionate. Basically, expect a gigantic lapdog.
Are you Ready for a Big, Loving Pal? Great Dane Puppies for Sale!
Great Dane puppies do not come cheap, especially from registered breeders. Expect to pay anywhere from $1,800 to $2,500, and even more for a champion bloodline.
Are you looking for Great Dane puppies for sale? Read on to find out where to get your very own gentle giant!
Most breeders will let puppies go home with their new families from 8 weeks, though some breeders wait until 12 weeks.
These puppies grow incredibly quickly, going from around 10 or 20 lb at 8 weeks to as much as 140 lb at one year! As such, owners need to be careful not to over-exercise dem pups too much, or they can suffer from joint problems.
Great Dane Breeders
The AKC has a list of registered Great Dane breeders (available here) that are all reputable and cruelty-free. The Great Dane Club of America (GDCA) also keeps a directory of Great Dane breeders, as well as those who offer a stud service.
There Are Many Danes Looking for A Home! Great Dane Rescue
Are you a dog lover looking for your next pet? As with any breed, there are plenty of wonderful adult Great Danes in shelters looking for a forever home. The GDCA also helps to rescue Great Danes: find the contact information here.
For those in the Mid-Atlantic region, we recommend the Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League, a non-profit organization.
6 Tips for First Time Great Dane Owners!
- Obedience training is a must if you don’t want your Great Dane to drag you all over the place. Make sure you introduce them to a wide range of people and situations from a young age to avoid flightiness.
- Great Danes don’t typically show a strong prey drive, and can generally live with dogs and other pets.
- Great Danes can be wonderful family pets but may require supervision around children, as they can be boisterous and might not know their own size and strength. This is especially true with younger dogs.
- Great Danes don’t need a huge amount of exercise, and when not out and about they love to snooze on the sofa. The breed is not known for excessive barking, and can be suited to apartment living, provided there is enough space for you to live there too!
- Great Danes need high-quality dog food and lots of it. Consider this expense before you decide to get a Great Dane.
- As with other large dogs, Great Danes are especially prone to bloat. Invest in a slow-feeder, and avoid exercise for at least an hour before and after feeding.
These huge dogs love human affection and are happiest when around their favorite people. Do you have space in your life for a Great Dane?