Breed Group:
Working Dogs

Middle Age: 3 years

Senior Age: 3 years

Geriatric Age: 6 years

Life Span: 7 to 10 years

Great Dane Breed Information & Background

  • The origin of the Great Dane is unknown, but it no doubt descended from ancient Molossian war dogs of the Mastiff type. These heavy dogs were probably crossed with lighter boned hounds, possibly Greyhounds, in the Middle Ages.
  • The result was a swift, powerful and courageous dog that could overtake and bring down tough prey, mainly wild boar.
  • They soon became popular with German nobility as hunting dogs and estate guardians. Their imposing size coupled with graceful lines were the ultimate canine status symbol, and they spread to English manors.
  • The breed was once called the German Boarhound. The origin of the name “Great Dane” is unknown, as the breed is not Danish. It is known as the Deutsche Dogge in Germany.
  • They came to America in the late 1800s, were AKC recognized in 1887, and were among the 10 most popular AKC breeds in the 1890s.
  • Great Dane color pattern terms are different than those for other breeds. Harlequin refers to the pattern of ragged black or gray patches on white. Mantle refers to the pattern of white feet, tail tip, chest and often collar with black body.
  • Great Danes are divided into three color families for breeding purposes: fawn/brindle; harlequin/mantle; and blue/black. Breeding between groups risks producing Danes of color combinations not allowed by the AKC standard. For many years mantles were disqualified from the show ring, even though they were necessary to have in a harlequin line of Danes. Now mantles are an acceptable pattern.
  • Family: The AKC places the Great Dane in the Working group. It is a member of the Mastiff family, though some authorities also contend there is a hound family connection.

Body:

  • The Great Dane is fairly square proportioned. It combines great size and power with elegance to enable it to run down and overpower fast formidable quarry like boars.
  • The coat is short and glossy.
  • The ears are customarily cropped in America, but natural hanging ears are become more popular. Either style is acceptable for the show ring. In many other countries cropping is illegal.
  • The muzzle is long and deep, forming an elongated box.

Great Dane Temperament & Personality

  • The Great Dane is mild-mannered. While protective, he does not make a display of it but instead quietly steps in when needed. With his size, he need not advertise!
  • They are loyal and gentle, and generally friendly toward strangers.
  • They are just OK with strange dogs, and some can be aggressive.
  • Their sheer size makes them not ideal pets for children.
  • They are calm and quiet indoors.

Maintenance:

  • Coat care entails weekly brushing.
  • Don’t get a Great Dane and expect him to squeeze into your sports car or efficiency apartment. He needs room to spread out. He can be an apartment dog but keep in mind he may take up a good portion of the space!
  • Some tend to drool.

Activities:

  • This is a fairly low energy dog, content to lounge about a great deal of time. But they do need to get out for a long walk around the neighborhood or a couple of games in the yard daily.
  • They do not tolerate extreme cold or heat well. They are apt to overheat if pushed too hard in warm weather.
  • This is not a dog for marathon jogging.
  • Although some compete in agility, their size makes it difficult to squeeze through the tunnels or traverse the balance beam. They can do well in the jumping-only competitions, but even then jumping should be kept to a minimum because of their weight.
  • They are seldom seen in obedience competitions because although bright, their size makes them slow to sit!
  • They may enjoy drafting.

Great Dane Training Tips:

  • They learn quickly, but can be both sensitive and stubborn. Training is a must, as it is no fun being dragged down the street by a dog that overpowers you. It can also be dangerous if he drags you into the street or after another animal.
  • Early socialization and training is a must.
  • They respond best to reward-based training but may also require corrections if they are unruly. Consider using a head halter for greater control. You should be trained in the proper usage if you go this route.

Great Dane Health Issues and Longevity:

Like most giant breeds, they have a shorter than average lifespan. Typical Great Dane lifespan is about 7 to 10 years.

  • The Great Dane’s biggest concern is bloat (gastric dilatation volvulus), a life-threatening emergency in which the stomach twists and traps gas within it, cutting off blood supply to the stomach tissue and other organs. It is reported in 11 to 15% of Great Danes, with about 8% dying from it. Surgery can save most dogs if caught early enough, but this is an extreme emergency that cannot wait for regular veterinary hours. Prophylactic gastropexy, in which the stomach is surgically tacked to the abdominal wall, can prevent most cases of twisting although simple bloating can still occur. The condition has a strong hereditary component. Researchers are working on tests to identify at-risk individuals, and have made some progress.
  • Great Danes are also at increased risk for torsion (twisting) of the spleen, which requires emergency surgery.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy is a concern in all large dogs, including Great Danes. In this condition the heart muscle becomes weakened and can no longer pump effectively. It is reported in about 5% of Great Danes, and often leads to death.
  • Great Danes, like many large breeds, are at increased risk of osteosarcoma, a malignant bone cancer reported in about 3% f Great Danes. It is generally fatal.
  • Hip dysplasia is a concern, with 13% reported abnormal. Elbow dysplasia is far less a concern, with 4% abnormal.
  • Danes are at increased risk of osteochondritis dessecans (OCD) , which causes lameness mostly in the knee, followed by the elbow then shoulder, in growing dogs.
  • Panosteitis, another cause of lameness in growing dogs, occurs in about 5% of young Danes.
  • Hypertrophic osteodystrophy, an immune-mediated condition causing swollen joints in puppies following vaccinations, is seen in Danes.
  • About 10% of Danes suffer from allergies.
  • They are at a slightly increased risk of demodicosis, a type of mange caused by demodex mites and thought to have an immune deficiency component.
  • About 2% of Danes are reported with Wobbler’s syndrome (cervical vertebral instability), a condition in which the spinal cord becomes compressed, leading to unstable gait.
  • Eye problems are not widespread but include ectropion (rolling out of the lid) in about 5%, distichiasis (lashes oriented toward the eye) in about 5%, an overly large eye opening in about 5%, and entropion (rolling on of the lid) in about 3%,
  • Merle coat color is caused by a single dominant gene. If a dog has two copies of the gene it can have serious health problems including blindness, deafness and heart abnormalities. Never breed two merle Danes together. The harlequin coat pattern is a combination of a merle gene along with a dominant harlequin gene. Dogs with two copies of the harlequin gene die in utero. A harlequin should never be bred to another harlequin or to a merle in order to avoid producing double-merles with their health defects.

The Great Dane Club of America suggests the following tests for breeding stock:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Eye exam
  • Thyroid evaluation
  • Heart exam

Related Links:

National Great Dane Breed Club

Great Dane Health Problems

Great Dane Rescue