Great Dane
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Chewy EditorialBehavior / Breed Lists

Great Dane Dog Breed: Facts, Temperament and Care Info

Huge in stature as well as heart, the Great Dane is appropriately referred to as a gentle giant. Bred for hunting and keeping guard over German nobility, Great Danes have found new roles as beloved companions, family guardians and service dogs.

Great Dane Facts

Available in a variety of color combinations, the Great Dane is a large dog (the average Great Dane height can reach 32 inches!) with an even bigger personality.

  • Breed Group: Working
  • Height: Males, 30-32 inches; females, 28-30 inches
  • Weight: Males, 140-175 pounds; females, 110-140 pounds
  • Life Span: 7-10 years
  • Coat: Short and glossy
  • Color: White, black, blue, brindle, merle, fawn, and black and white (including mantle and harlequin variations)

Great Dane Characteristics

Great Dane

Illustration: Chewy

Great Dane History: From Guard Dogs to Gentle Giants

Based on images depicting Great Dane-type dogs discovered at Egyptian and ancient Mesopotamian sites, the breed’s lineage may reach as far back as 3,000 B.C. What is known for certain is that the Great Dane dog came into being at least 400 years ago in Germany. A descendant of the powerful, giant-sized Mastiff dog, the Great Dane is known for their strong safe-guarding instincts. Unlike today’s docile Great Danes, these dogs were ferocious. The Germans used the Great Dane—who they named Deutsche Dogge—to hunt wild boar and to guard German nobles and their property.

French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, spotted the breed while traveling in Denmark during the 1700s. He called it le Grande Danois, which translates to Great Dane—a name used ever since. By the late 1700s, Great Danes were emerging in several European countries, including France, Denmark and England. During the mid 1800s, Americans began importing the dogs from Europe. The American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the Great Dane in 1887, and breed enthusiasts formed The Great Dane Club of America in 1889.

The Great Dane has become a sought-after breed and is ranked by AKC as the 16th most popular of 193 registered breeds. The aggression has been bred out of these dogs, yet they’ve maintained their strong guarding instincts, a trait that makes them family-friendly watchdogs. While they’re no longer used for hunting, Great Danes enjoy a new role as service dogs, helping people live a better quality of life. The Great Dane has received fame as the cartoon sleuth, Scooby-Doo; as Marmaduke, the comic strip dog; and in the film version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

Given the breed’s popularity, potential pet parents often wonder about the average Great Dane price. If you work with a breeder (there are just under 300 Great Dane breeders listed on AKC’s website), the price is typically $800-$2,000, although it can go higher or lower.

Not everyone is prepared to care for a Great Dane (their high food bill is a consideration in itself), so many end up in animal shelters. If you’re open to adopting an older dog, there are many reputable Great Dane rescues with dogs in need of good homes.

What Does a Great Dane Look Like?

The Great Dane is nicknamed the Gentle Giant, as well as the Apollo of Dogs (Apollo was considered the most prominent of the mythical Roman and Greek gods), with good reason. This powerful, well-formed, muscular dog has a deep, muscular chest, a well-developed forechest (which can be viewed from the profile at the base of the legs) and a long, muscular neck.

The average Great Dane height typically falls between 30-32 inches for males, and 28-30 inches for females. They can grow taller, however, as was the case with Zeus, a 44-inch-tall male who was awarded the title of tallest dog in 2011 by Guinness World Records. When standing on their hind legs, Great Danes easily can tower over their humans. Meanwhile, the average Great Dane weight can reach 140-175 pounds for males and 110-140 pounds for females.

One way to recognize a Great Dane dog, aside from their formidable size, is by their head, which is long, rectangular and clearly defined. The male’s head is more pronounced than the female’s head. The deep-set, dark-colored eyes are covered by almond-shaped eyelids and framed by well-developed brows. The medium-sized ears are somewhat thick and folded close to the cheeks.

Despite their mammoth size, the Great Dane is not a clumsy dog. In fact, they have an elegant, smooth and powerful gait. This breed has long, strong, muscular legs with hind legs that rest at an angle. Broad at the base and tapering down, the thin, smooth tail falls straight when the dog is at rest and curves slightly when alert.

The coat is short and thick with a glossy appearance. Great Dane colors vary and include the following: The black Great Dane has a glossy black coat, the grey Great Dane and the blue Great Dane have a steel-grey coat, the merle Great Dane has a pale-to-dark grey base with dark splotches, the brindle Great Dane is golden-colored with black cross stripes, and the black and white Great Dane can have a white base color with black patches (harlequin) or be black and white with a black “blanket” over the body (mantle).

Great Dane

Illustration: Chewy

Great Dane Temperament

Despite the breed’s imposing appearance, the Great Dane temperament is friendly. Great Danes typically have dependable and spirited personalities, and are sociable, mild-mannered and easy-going dogs. They want to be with their people and often don’t do well when left alone for long periods of time. Despite their great size, Great Danes love to play—and sit on laps—and if you’re wondering if Great Danes are good with kids, know that they can make wonderful pets for families with children able to handle the size of these companions.

While Great Danes love the children in their own family, they may be suspicious of the neighborhood kids and other strangers. Guarding and protectiveness varies between lines of dogs, with some being quite skittish and others very friendly to everyone they meet. Fearful and nervous dogs may be prone to aggression, including acceptance of other dogs. But well-bred Great Danes, and those socialized early, are patient, lumbering lovebugs devoted to their people.

Keeping Great Dane Dogs Healthy: 4 Issues to Watch Out For

The average Great Dane life span falls between 7 and 10 years, and the breed can experience some predisposed genetic conditions. By recognizing these Great Dane health issues early, you can seek treatment sooner and potentially avoid expensive veterinary bills or unnecessary suffering. Minimize your risk of genetic diseases by purchasing a Great Dane puppy from a responsible breeder who has papers to show that the dogs they breed are disease free.

Bloat

The most common life-threatening condition in Great Danes is bloat, otherwise known as gastric torsion. In this painful disease, the stomach twists, cutting off the blood supply. This is an emergency condition that can kill a dog very quickly and requires immediate treatment. Signs of bloat include an enlarged stomach, vomiting or retching, pale gums and weakness. Treatment usually requires surgery and hospitalization. Bloat can be prevented by stomach tacking surgery (gastropexy) early in life, which can be done at the same time as a spay or neuter.

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of bloat in dogs here.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Problems

The ACL, a knee ligament, is known to tear in Great Danes, causing severe hindlimb lameness and eventually osteoarthritis. The exact cause of ACL tears is unknown, but conformation, genetics, ligament laxity and obesity have been implicated in the disease. When a dog tears their ACL, the knee joint becomes unstable, predisposing the joint to early onset osteoarthritis, pain and loss of mobility. Surgical treatment is available and recommended early to avoid development of osteoarthritis.

Hip Dysplasia

Joint dysplasia is a disease that affects the hip joint and predisposes affected dogs to early onset arthritis and joint problems. Treatment is surgical, and early detection is key to successful treatment. Avoid hip dysplasia by purchasing puppies from breeders who can provide certification from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or PennHIP that their breeding dogs are free of joint dysplasias. Also, keep your puppy trim and avoid excessive exercise until they’re done growing, usually between 18-24 months.

Learn more about hip dysplasia in dogs here.

Heart Disease

Two heart diseases, dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and tricuspid valve dysplasia, are reported in Great Danes. Signs include coughing, weakness or fainting and pale gums. Treatment is available. Avoid heart disease by purchasing puppies from breeders who certify their dogs to be free of these two heart diseases. If you opt for adoption, be sure to get as much medical history as possible from your chosen shelter or rescue organization.

Caring for Your Great Dane

Optimum Great Dane care generally consists of moderate exercise, high-quality nutrition and lots of time with their humans.

Grooming

Do Great Danes shed? Although short-coated, these dogs shed small amounts of hair year-round. Generally, Great Dane haircoats are easy to care for and benefit from weekly brushing with a soft bristle brush, like JW Pet Gripsoft Bristle Brush.

Nutrition

Complete and balanced nutrition is a key part to the health and longevity of any Great Dane. To ensure Great Dane puppies grow healthy joints and bones, avoid overfeeding them. Puppyhood obesity can predispose dogs to health problems, including bone and joint diseases. In addition, giant breeds have different nutritional requirements for calcium and phosphorus than small- or medium-breed dogs, so the best dog food for Great Danes is often one that is formulated for large-breed dogs and puppies. Royal Canin offers a food specifically formulated to the special needs of Great Danes. It comes in an adult formulation, Royal Canin Great Dane Adult Dry Dog Food, as well as a giant puppy formulation called Royal Canin Giant Junior Dry Dog Food. Otherwise, large-breed dog or puppy food is recommended.

If you choose to cook at home or feed raw, avoid nutritional imbalances by consulting with a veterinary nutritionist to help you formulate a complete and balanced diet for your Great Dane.

Exercise

Healthy adult Great Danes need at least 45 minutes of moderate exercise daily, while young dogs and puppies need 90 minutes of low impact, moderate exercise daily, such as brisk walking, running or playing fetch. Chewing is an important mental exercise that can be supported by giving your Great Dane safe things to chew. KONG Classic Dog Toys in the XXL size are excellent chew toys that can be stuffed with treats.

Training Your Great Dane

Great Danes are smart dogs, but rather slow to learn. Thanks to the breed’s willingness to please, with patience, you easily can train your Great Dane in basic obedience. Begin Great Dane training as soon as possible during puppyhood to prevent them from getting away with bossy or bad behavior.

Great Danes are very sensitive and respond poorly to coercive training techniques. Instead, make training a game and reward with lots of cheerful praise and fun rewards, such as high-value treats, like American Journey Training Bits Soft & Chewy Beef Recipe, and toys. Punishment confuses dogs, especially sensitive types, and can lead to distrust that may damage the bond you share.

When training, keep sessions short, about 5-10 minutes at a time, and always end on a successful note. Try to work on training every day so you can build on the success of the previous session—and so that your Great Dane remembers the fun and looks forward to your time together. Partner your training with fun games and walks. Something like a puzzle toy or overly large ball, like the KONG Jumbler Ball Dog Toy, keeps these big pups entertained without stressing their joints.

If you’re looking for a sweet-natured dog who doubles as a home sentry, the Great Dane might be an excellent fit. This pup is large in size and stature, as well as friendliness and elegance. As giant breed dogs, they do require special care and attention to maximize their health and longevity, but Great Danes are majestic, gentle giants who make wonderful companions.

Read more:

By: Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM, CVJ; Amy Shojai, CABC; Paula Fitzsimmons

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