Great Dane

Ana Oliveira
Dr Ana Oliveira (DVM, University of Lisbon)
Photo of adult Great Dane

The giant Great Dane, also known as Deutsche Dogge, or German Dog, is one of the tallest dog breeds there is. They are also one of the gentlest, best-natured, and most graceful dog breeds, despite their huge size. Good family dogs, very kind and at ease with children, these elegant and athletic dogs make good pets. Due to their above-average large size, they need lots of space and an early socialisation, as it may be hard to handle a misbehaved adult dog the size of a Great Dane.

Great Danes were initially bred as working dogs, with the purpose of hunting wild boars, but the breed was refined over the centuries with breeders selecting for size, sleekness, and gentleness – all traits that are considered to define the Great Danes of today. They are noble, well-tempered, and courageous dogs. However, as most giant breeds, they have short lifespans, not exceeding 8 years.

About & History

Like many other dog breeds, the history and evolution of the Great Dane as a breed is linked to the purpose for which it began being bred in the first place – hunting wild boars. The oldest records regarding this type of dog were found in Egyptian artefacts that date to 3000 BC. Similar depictions from a later period (2000 BC) were found in temples in the Mesopotamian region, and there is also evidence of this type of dogs found in Tibet, with Chinese writings dated to 1121 BC attesting for their existence. It is believed that the Assyrians traded these dogs with the Greeks and Romans, spreading them all over the world.

Archaeologists found evidence of Great Dane type dogs in frescoes in Tiryns – an archaeological site in Greece. These frescoes represented wild boar hunts and date back to the 14th -13th centuries. The Greeks and Romans then bred these dogs with other breeds and they eventually reached Great Britain, where further breeding took place and the strongest and most long-legged dogs were selected. Among the Great Dane’s ancestors, there is the English Mastiff, the Irish Wolfhound and the Irish Greyhound.

In the 16th century, the Great Dane was quite popular in Germany, where they were called English Dogges. By then, Germans began selecting the largest dogs with the most -noble-like appearance, as they started to use them for protection purposes, keeping them at night in their bed chambers and thus calling them “Chamber dogs”. These Chamber dogs were frequently adorned with gilded collars, a fact that contributed even further to the Great Dane’s noble appearance.

The name “Great Dane” only appeared in the 18th century, when a French breeder went to Denmark and picked a slimmer version of the breed, which looked more like a Greyhound. Although the Danes did not actually have a role on the development of the dog breed, the name stuck. However, the name “German dog” is also still employed.

Throughout the 19th century the Germans kept refining the breed, distinguishing it from the English Mastiff, and focusing on its character, while selecting for gentleness. The result was the affectionate, peaceful dog we know today, leaving behind the aggressiveness that characterised the first hunting dogs and that was useful for their hunting purposes.


Great Dane Large Photo

Great Danes have smooth, thick, and short coats that can be of different colours or patterns. There are six recognised colours, as follows:

  • Mantle (Black & White with a Black Blanket over the Body)
  • Fawn (Yellow Gold with a Black Mask)
  • Brindle (Yellow Gold Bridled with Black Cross Stripes)
  • Blue (Steel Blue)
  • Black
  • Harlequin (White with Black Torn Patches)

There are also merle Great Danes, which are usually mismarks in litters of harlequins, and are not rare, contrary to what some breeders may suggest. Great Danes measure 71 to 79 cm (28–31 inches) in height, with females being the smallest, and weight between 50 to 82 kg (110–180 lb), both males and females. Their ears are pointed and they have a prominent rectangular head. Their tails set high and are thicker at the base.

Character & Temperament

Great Danes are true family pets and they are considered sweet, affectionate, and gentle. They are extremely peaceful and calm, behaving in a very relaxed way around children. They are not highly energetic, but still they are playful, always looking to please their owners and getting the attention they crave. A fairly funny picture that is not unfrequently reported among owners of Great Danes is one in which the dog will carefully but willingly reach for the owner’s lap, trying to be as close to him as possible, completely unaware of its massive size. These cuddly dogs are also nice to strangers, unless they feel there is potential danger to the owner, in which case they act as protective as the Chamber dogs the Germans used back in the 16th century.

Because they are so big, they need space and are not well-suited for living in a small apartment. They are house pets nonetheless, requiring large areas to roam around, or a yard to stretch their legs, apart from the daily walks they need. They easily reach tables and kitchen tops, so owners should be aware of their potential for putting things out of place or even unintentionally sweeping objects with their tails. When playing with children and other pets, they are kind and calm, but because they are so large and heavy, adult owners should supervise them during playtime.

Great Danes have a noble-like temperament, always graceful and elegant, that makes them desirable pets. They are quiet and not very active pets that can spend long hours at home. They also respond well to training, which should take place early during their puppyhood to avoid having to handle undesirable behaviours when they reach an unmanageable adult size. These behaviours include jumping to people or disobeying your call.


Photo of Great Dane puppy

Great Danes should start being trained as early as possible. They respond well to training based on positive reinforcement and it is also an effective way to create a bond between dog and owner. A Great Dane that is disobedient and out of control may represent a challenge due to their size, so it is important not to disregard an early training, which should start by a basic obedience training.

Socialisation is also crucial and should start as early as 3 months old. Great Danes should contact with other people and all kinds of pets and animals, so they become familiarised with all sorts of beings. This will later on lead to a nice, gentle dog that will get along well with strangers and other pets.


Great Danes are short-lived, living up to 8 years. Like any other dog breed, it is paramount to choose a good breeder – one that offers a health guarantee on their puppies, as Great Danes are prone to a variety of health issues:

Bloat (Gastric Dilation Volvulus)

It is not uncommon among large and giant dog breeds, especially those which are deep-chested like the Great Dane. What happens is that the dog’s stomach expands with air, dilating and then rotating or twisting around itself, cutting off the blood supply.

The exact causes are unknown, although this condition usually occurs after a copious meal, in which the dog ingests a lot of air too, followed by intense activity after eating. This condition is life-threatening and the only treatment is immediate surgery.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)

DCM is a condition in which the heart chambers become enlarged, overloading the heart, which no longer is able to sufficiently pump out the blood to the lungs and body.

In result, dogs become overly tired and lethargic. Other symptoms include shortening of breath, coughing, and abdominal distension. Although the causes for DCM are not fully understood, there is a genetic susceptibility for this condition.

Hip Dysplasia (HD)

HD occurs when the hip joints do not develop normally and gradually deteriorate over time, becoming dysfunctional. The condition begins when the dog is still growing and worsens as it becomes older with increasing inflammation and, consequently, pain. A dog with HD will be less active, having difficulty rising and hind-limb lameness, which is more evident after exercise.

Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy

Hypertrophic osteodystrophy is a bone disease in young, rapidly growing dogs, characterized by a swelling of the growth plates in the leg bones, which is painful and make animals reluctant to move.


Entropion is an abnormal eyelid that is inverted or folded inward. The eyelash will therefore scratch the cornea, irritating it, and later leading to ulceration. It is extremely unpleasant for the animal and may cause a decrease or even loss of vision. The diagnosis is quite straightforward and the treatment is surgical.


This condition occurs in immature dogs when the cartilage fails to form bone in the shoulder. Cartilage then abnormally thickens, which prevents a correct nourishment of its cells. The junction between the cartilage and the bone becomes defective, with fissures, forming a cartilage flap. The shoulder becomes dysfunctional and it is painful.

Aortic Stenosis

Aortic stenosis is the narrowing of the aortic valve of the heart. This narrowing causes an obstruction to the passage of the blood, putting the heart under a lot of pressure and making the blood flow deficient. This is a congenital defect (puppies are born with this condition) that leads to an enlargement of the heart in order to compensate the decreased blood flow. Depending on the severity of the obstruction this condition may lead to heart failure.


The most common cancer types in Great Danes are bone cancer (osteosarcoma) and lymphoma. There are treatments that extend the lives of dogs with these types of cancer, although a cancer diagnostic usually shortens the life of Great Danes.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Great Danes are not among the most active dog breeds and they do not need large amounts of exercise. In fact, they should not do excessive exercise, as they tend to tire more quickly than smaller breeds due to their size and body weight. It is recommended that Danes take 30-60 minutes walks every day, which provides them with the enough amount of exercise, also offering the mental stimulation they need to keep healthy, while allowing them to socialise.

They should not accompany their owners for a jog until they are at least 18 months old, as until then their bones are still developing and intense exercise such as running may be detrimental to their growth, creating unnecessary strain on a yet to be formed bone structure. /p>


Despite their short coat, Great Danes tend to shed. They should therefore be brushed regularly. A daily brush will reduce the amount of shedding and keep their coat healthy.

Of particular importance is the foot and paw care. It is essential that nails are trimmed and the overall condition of the feet is maintained, as a split toenail or splinter may cause pain and discomfort. In fact, an injured paw in a Great Dane will lead to changes in its posture and to an unbalanced weight distribution that has an impact on its gait, which may develop into orthopaedic problems and even to injuries in the ligaments.

Famous Great Danes

Great Danes are popular. Examples of this famous dog breed appear in several films and cartoons:

  • Fang, Hagrid's dog from JK Rowling's Harry Potter book series is a 'Boarhound' (Great Dane), however, the films use a Neapolitan Mastiff
  • Scooby Doo, the famous dog character from Hanna-Barbera’s animation cartoon designed by Iwao Takamoto (1960s)
  • Marmaduke, the character from the comic strip created by Brad Anderson (1954-2015)
  • The symbol of the state of Pennsylvania since 1965 is a Great Dane
  • Chestnut, the dog from the American film, Chestnut: Hero of the Central Park (2004)
  • The hellhound in the film versions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles
  • Just Nuisance, who served the Royal Navy between 1939 and 1944 in South Africa and was the only dog to be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy
  • Elmer, the Great Dane from the animated cartoon, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, by Walter Lantz (1920s & 1930s)


There are many Great Dane cross-breeds, which result from the breeding of a Great Dane with another large/giant dog breed:

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