Irish Dane

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
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The Irish Dane is a hybrid dog, which is a mix between the Great Dane and the Irish Wolfhound. Both parents are of giant proportions and the same is true of their puppies. However, these physically imposing dogs are true gentle giants with a reputation for being loyal and placid.

The sheer size of the Irish Dane means they require plenty of living space. Also, prospective owners need to factor in the considerable cost of feeding such a large dog a good quality food, along with the cost implications should they require medications. That said, their moderate exercise requirements and placid nature do make them a good match for families.

About & History

The Irish Dane is a relative newcomer on the scene, so their story is really that of their parent breeds.

The Irish Wolfhound

The origins of the Irish Wolfhound are so ancient that they are woven through with myth and legend. The breed is said to date back to 1st century Ireland, where these tall, strong dogs were used for protecting and guarding. These shaggy dogs were fierce by the standards of their modern descendants. Indeed, the Romans were said to have transported them in lion cages, such was their savageness.

In their native Ireland, the Wolfhound was trained to hunt fearsome prey, such as wild boar, wolves, and deer. As the centuries passed, they found a role as war-dogs, trained to drag knights from their horses and then disable them by biting their spines.

The sheer size and presence of the Irish Wolfhound meant they became favourites of royalty, who used them for mascots and to provide a regal shadow. However, by the 19th century, they had become something of a rarity. Later breeding schemes to revive the numbers of dogs erred towards the gentler side of their nature to produce the loyal, gentle giant we know today.

The Great Dane

The Great Dane was originally known as the Boar Hound, reflecting their job as hunters. Their roots go way back and are connected to the ancient Roman Mastiffs from which many of the large hunting dog breeds derived. Indeed, ‘Great Dane’ is something of an 18th century misnomer that came about when a visiting French naturalist saw a Boar Hound that had been exported to Denmark.

The Germans are credited with further refining the Great Dane breed into something we recognise today. In the 19th century, breeders worked on toning down the dog’s aggressive attitude and bring about the loyal, laidback giant of today.


Think big! The Irish Dane is a giant breed that is tall, with heavy bones and yet an athletic nip in at the waist. They are heavy set, but in a slim way, with a deep narrow ribcage reminiscent of a Greyhound or similar.

This breed has a large heavy head with a broad skull, long rectangular snout, and drop ears. At the other end, their rump is equipped with a long straight tail, carried at a jaunty angle. Those long strong legs end with paws that are larger than a child’s hand.

Coat length varies from the short smooth coat of the Great Dane, to the shaggy, coarse hair of the Irish Wolfhound. Again, this cross breeding leads to a variety of coat colours, including solid coats in black, cream, sable, or brindle; or multi-colour combos involving silver, red, white, black, fawn, or cream.

Character & Temperament

The ancient ancestors of the Irish Dane may have been fierce, but happily this trait has been bred out of them. Indeed, words that sum up the Irish Dane include loyal, loving, gentle, and placid. However, as with all dogs, this is dependent on the puppy being sympathetically socialised as a puppy, so they grow into confident, well-adjusted adults. When raised right, they are tolerant dogs that will usually get on well with other animals, making them a good option in (spacious) multi-pet households.

One remnant of their early ancestry is an instinct to guard. This makes protective of those they love, making them an impressive family guardian for children. However, it is essential to teach children to be respectful of dogs and how to behave around them, and as an extra security measure, never leave youngsters unattended with any dog.


The Irish Dane is intelligent but laid back. Thus, training success depends on motivating the dog to want to obey, by using reward-based methods. This is especially important with such a large dog, since the average person lacks the strength to force them to do anything they don’t want.

The latter raises a good point about the importance of training. Because of the Irish Dane’s sheer size, obedience training is essential so that they obey their master without question… even if it’s not something they especially want to do.


The health problems of the Irish Dane are largely due to their anatomy, along with inherited factors for heart disease and poor joints. The main conditions include:

Gastric Dilation & Volvulus

The narrow deep chest of the Irish Dane makes it easier for their stomach to swing on its axis during exercise. This is most likely to happen when the stomach has food in it, as the weight of the food increases the pendulum-like swing. If the stomach should flip over completely, this has the disastrous consequence of sealing off the entrance and exit to the stomach. Then gas produced as a result of digestion is unable to escape, causing the stomach to swell and distend.

Gastric dilation and volvulus – also known simply as 'bloat' – is a life-threatening condition, which requires immediate emergency correction. Indeed, the problem is so serious that owners of breeds, such as the Great Dane or Irish Wolfhound, often elective for preventative surgery, which sutures the stomach to the body wall, providing an anchor so that it can’t flip over.


The word ‘cardiomyopathy’ means disease of the heart muscle. Irish Danes are prone to a particular type of heart disease, which causes the heart muscle to become exhausted and loose its elastic recoil. Think of this like a balloon that has been inflated and deflated so many times that it is no longer stretchy and is instead saggy and baggy.

Medication can help support heart function, but sadly, there is no cure for this condition. Whilst drugs can prolong survival times, ultimately, heart failure is likely to hasten the dog’s demise.


Many giant dog breeds seem afflicted with more than their fair share of bone cancer or osteosarcoma. This most commonly affects the long bones of the limb, and is very painful. When caught early, amputation of the affected leg may prevent this potentially aggressive cancer from spreading.

There may also be a link between early neutering and the development of bone cancer in giant breeds. These risk factors are best talked through with your vet, when considering the best age to de-sex an Irish Dane puppy.

Hip Dysplasia

Poor development of the hips can lead to misshapen joints and result in inflammation, pain, and lameness. It is crucial that Irish Dane puppies are not over-exercised whilst their bones are still growing, in order to reduce the risk of traumatic damage. In addition, look for puppies born to parent dog that were screened for hip dysplasia and have low scores.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Irish Danes need plenty of space but not necessarily huge amounts of exercise. It must be tiring moving that sheer bulk around, and this is reflected in their moderate exercise requirements.

A couple of decent length walks each day is all that’s required, along with some off-lead time to frolic and play. Think of the Irish Dane as the slow but steady sort, rather than a sprinter and you just about have it.


The grooming requirements of an Irish Dane depend on the type of coat inherited from their parents. Those dogs with the short smooth coat of the Great Dane need weekly brushing in order to capture shed hair before it hits the furniture. Those with the shaggy Irish Wolfhound coat also need weekly brushing, but to remove tangles and twigs that have become trapped in the coat.

Regular tooth brushing is a must, preferably on a daily basis. This removes plaque before it can harden to tartar, and reduces the risk of gum recession and dental disease.

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