Grand Facts About the Great Dane Dog Breed (From Origins to Appearance)

Updated December 8, 2021
Great Dane dog outdoor portrait

Great Danes are instantly recognizable, and these classic, statuesque canines have the heart of gentle giants. Their enormous size and ominous bark belie their gentle nature. Come find out more about these wonderful, economy-sized canine companions.

History and Origin

Drawings of Great Dane-like dogs have been discovered on Egyptian antiquities dating back to 3000 B.C., as well as in Babylonian temples dating from around 2000 B.C. The ancestors of the modern breed originated in Germany.

This breed's name might lead you to believe these dogs are a Danish breed, but they are not. Danes trace their origins back to Asia, although the breed as it stands today includes the influence of other breeds, such as Mastiffs and Irish Greyhounds. Great Danes were originally known as Boar Hounds because they were raised to chase boars. To keep boar tusks from injuring their ears, they had them cropped.

In the late 1600s, many German lords began keeping the largest and most attractive of their dogs in their homes, dubbed Kammerhunde (Chamber Dogs). These dogs were pampered and wore velvet-lined, gilded collars.

When a French naturalist traveled to Denmark in the 1700s, he saw a variant of the Boar Hound, who was leaner and more like a Greyhound in look. With the larger representatives of the breed known as Danish Mastiffs, the naturalist named this dog Grand Danois, which finally became Great Danish Dog. Despite the fact that Denmark did not develop the breed, the name stuck, eventually landing the name Great Dane.

In 1889, the Great Dane Club of America was founded. This was the fourth breed club recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Breed Characteristics

This is a noble-looking breed who should make a very dignified first impression. However, once you get to know them, Danes can also be great clowns.

Great Dane characteristics

General Appearance

Size is always the most striking feature of the breed. Males generally stand about 34 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh in around 140 to 175 pounds (though exceptionally large Danes can weigh up to 200 pounds), while females are slightly smaller. Regardless of sex, the larger the animal, the more they are prized.

Coat colors include:

  • Fawn with Black Mask
  • Black
  • Black Mantle
  • Blue
  • Brindle
  • Harlequin

The Dane's ears are a subject of some debate. Left in their natural state, the ears are moderately large and hang down. In the United States, the ears are typically cropped and taped to encourage them to stand erect.

Temperament

Danes make amazing companions if you have the room for them. These dogs are generally quite calm unless circumstances require otherwise, and the breed is well-known for being good with children.

These dogs are definitely people lovers and need human companionship rather than kennel life. You can expect a Dane to be very loyal and loving with all members of your household, but a bit more reserved with strangers until they become well acquainted. The Dane's exceptionally deep bark and grand size is usually quite sufficient to qualify individuals as watch dogs.

Training

Due to their great size, Danes should receive obedience training early on before they achieve full growth. This is not a breed you want jumping on you or crawling in your lap. Danes should be taught to remain on the ground and to use great care when interacting with children who otherwise might be overwhelmed by their sheer size. This is a must for every Great Dane, no matter how well-meaning they may be.

Stately merle Great Dane standing in deciduous walnut orchard

Exercise Requirements

Surprisingly, these big dogs do not require a great deal of exercise to keep them physically and mentally fit. A good daily walk should be more than enough to serve their needs. However, because Great Danes grow so quickly, it is important not to exercise your dog too strenuously. During development, their bones and ligaments are somewhat more vulnerable to injury, especially if they over-exert themselves.

Even if a particular pup is free from the various health conditions the breed is susceptible to, most Danes go through some developmental problems during their rapid growth period that can cause temporary lameness, so don't make immediate plans to go jogging with your pet until they have gone through their full growth cycle.

It takes a very dedicated owner to weather these ups and downs with their animals, and unless you have the required free time, this period can be very taxing. Once your dog is an adult, about 30 minutes of non-taxing exercise per day is recommended.

Health

Great Danes may be one of the largest dog breeds, but they are certainly not one of the most long-lived. Danes as a breed face a number of health issues:

  • Bone cancer: This breed is prone to bone cancer, also known as osteosarcoma.
  • Canine hip dysplasia: A painful degenerative disease of the joint tissues.
  • Cardiomyopathy: A form of heart disease.
  • Cervical Vertebral Instability: Commonly referred to as "Wobblers," this condition is characterized by unstable movement that results from increasing pressure on the spinal column.
  • Gastric torsion: Also known as "bloat," a painful twisting of the stomach that closes the organ off at both ends.
  • Hypothyroidism: A low-thyroid condition in which the gland does not produce enough hormone to properly regulate the metabolism.

Lifespan

The extremely large size of these gentle giants can be very taxing on their heart. The average Great Dane life expectancy is approximately 7 years, although some individuals do live longer with optimum care.

Grooming

As you might expect, bathing a Dane is a major event. Luckily, their short coat does not typically require more than infrequent baths. Daily grooming is important to extend your pet's coat condition between baths. The coat is very short and smooth, so a quick daily brushing should remove most dirt and loose hair. Thankfully, Danes are light shedders.

Begin touching your puppy's paws early on, to ensure they are used to having their paws handled. If their nails are in good shape, trim them back once a week or so to keep them in good shape. If their nails haven't been trimmed back in a while, start by clipping a small amount off twice a week, until you are closer to the quick, taking care not to hit it. Because Danes are not one of the more active breeds that naturally wear down their own nails, you need to perform this task at home, or take your dog to reputable groomer to have this done.

Close-Up Portrait Of A Great Dane Puppy

Purchasing or Adopting a Great Dane

If you're looking for a Great Dane puppy, a good place to start is the Great Dane Club of America. They have a breeder directory available as well as helpful tips on how to find responsible breeders with quality dogs. The AKC Marketplace also has a breeder search. Expect to pay around $600 to $1,000, although higher-end show dogs from champion lines can cost as much as $3,000.

Rescue Organizations

If you would prefer a rescue dog, and aren't particular about their age, you can search the directories on PetFinder and Save-a-Rescue. You can also contact these breed-specific Great Dane rescues:

  • Great Dane Rescue, Inc: A volunteer-staffed nonprofit rescue organization for Great Danes offering dogs for adoption in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, parts of Ohio, and Ontario, Canada.
  • Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League: A nonprofit rescue organization for both purebred Great Danes and Dane mixes. Prospective adopters must be located in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia, or West Virginia.
  • Great Dane Friends: A rescue dedicated to Great Danes and mixes, including those with health problems and special needs.
  • Upper Midwest Great Dane Rescue: Foster homes, medical treatment, and behavioral assessments are provided to Great Danes in need of permanent homes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and North and South Dakota by this rescue organization.

Should You Adopt a Great Dane Puppy?

The beauty and disposition of Danes makes them very attractive pets, but they are definitely not a breed to buy on a whim.

Acquiring a Great Dane should be a very thoughtful decision. Take your time to research the breed and look for breeders who are aware of the health problems these dogs face and work to remove affected dogs from their breeding programs. You will most likely make a very large investment in your Dane, so it's well worth doing your homework first to hopefully avoid heartbreak later.

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Grand Facts About the Great Dane Dog Breed (From Origins to Appearance)