Great Dane Owner’s Guide

Great Dane Dog Breed Guide

Famous from hit shows such as Scooby Doo and Marmaduke, Great Danes are known for their large stature and gentle temperament. Aptly nicknamed the ‘gentle giant’, this breed is great with kids and is surprisingly a low-maintenance breed to own. Find out all about this amazing breed in our owner’s guide!

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History of the Great Dane

While many attribute the origin of the ‘gentle giant’ to Germany, Egyptian artefacts from 3000BC, Babylonian temples built in 2000BC, and Chinese literature from 121BC, indicate the Great Dane actually arose from Tibet. It is believed the breed was then taken to other countries by Assyrians, an ethnic group indigenous to the Middle East, who traded Great Danes to Greeks and Romans. Once traded, these dogs were bred with other breeds such as great ancestors of the English Mastiff, Irish Wolfhound, or Irish Greyhound. This resulted in a leaner, faster, and more chiselled version of the breed. Interestingly, this could be why Great Danes are also referred to as the ‘Apollo of dogs’, who is the Greek god of the sun.

Eventually, the breed made its way to Germany where it was raised to protect country estates and hunt wild boar. Their ears were even cropped in the early 1600’s, to prevent them being torn by from boar husks during their hunt. At this time, they were aptly named ‘Boar Hounds’. Interestingly, the shape of their snout and facial composition (i.e. square jaw and loose lips) means they are also known to drool more than other breeds.

In the late 1600s, the Great Dane was then welcomed and favoured by German nobles as the most handsome of their canines, where they lived a life of luxury. They were named ‘Kammerhunde’ (also known as ‘Chamber Dogs’) and were often pampered, on occasion, even wearing gilded velvet collars! Over time, Germany continued to refine the Great Dane and aimed to breed a gentle and more friendly version of the dog to become a companion, rather than a predator. This resulted in the ‘gentle giant’ we know and love today.

The name ‘Great Dane’ was actually coined by a Frenchman in the 1700s when travelling to Denmark where he came across the breed and named it ‘Grand Danois’. This become ‘Great Danish Dog’ and then ‘Great Dane’ as it is known today. However, Denmark did not ever contribute to the development of this breed. Later in the 18th century, the breed became a family guard dog for wealthy, upper-class citizens to protect estates and carriages. Great Dane’s were also favoured for sport due to their ability to hunt wild boar.

The Great Dane Personality

While the sheer size and commanding presence of Great Dane’s can be off-putting to some, their sweet, patient, and affectionate personality makes them a great companion and family pet. They are known to be a lover of pats, often nudging their large heads into your hands or lap to be nuzzled. Some Great Danes, unaware of their sheer size, will even hop up onto your lap for extra cuddles on the couch.

The breed is very people-oriented and are always looking to please their owners, which makes them easy to train. Great Danes also want to be a part of the family unit and enjoy being around the action in the home. They will welcome visitors to the home happily, unless they suspect an intruder, in which they will take on a guard dog role to defend their family.

Great Danes are known for their courageousness, boldness and confidence stemming from their history as hunting dogs. However, due to their size, it is important to socialise, and obedience train your Great Dane pup early to avoid a territorial or dominant dog. This is important as in adulthood their size and stature can even overpower a human adult.

Great Dane Size

If there is one factor Great Dane’s are known for, it is the large size of the breed. Males typically range between 76cm to 89cm (30-35 inches) and weigh anywhere from 54kg to 90kg (120-200 pounds). Conversely, females are slightly smaller in stature, ranging in height between 71cm to 81cm (28-32 inches) and weighing between 45kg to 59kg (100-130 pounds).   At six months Great Danes are largest than most breeds, as tall as 66cm to 83cm (26-33 inches) and weighing around 29kg to 45kg (65-100 pounds). They continue to grow until around 18-24 months of age.

Great Dane Common Health Conditions

Like all other breeds Great Danes are predisposed to certain health conditions, resulting from their height and size.

  • Life Expectancy: Due to Great Dane’s increased risk of disease (including bloat, dilated cardiomyopathy, joint disease and cancer), the breed lives a shorter life span, typically ranging between 6 to 10 years.
  • Hip Dysplasia: This occurs when the thighbone doesn’t fit correctly into the hip joint, which can result in arthritis in later years. Symptoms include pain in the hip, unstable hip joints, or limping when walking.
  • Gastric Torsion (Bloat): This occurs when they rapidly eat a large meal, drinks considerable volumes of water and exercise vigorously in quick succession after consumption. This results in the stomach becoming inflated with gas or air and twisted (torsion). Symptoms include vomiting, discomfort, arched back, swollen abdomen, and restlessness. This can quickly life threatening so it’s important to seek veterinary attention immediately if these signs are noticed
  • Bone Cancer (Osteosarcoma): This is a bone tumourWith a poor prognosis. Unfortunately Great Danes are one of the breeds that are genetically predisposed to developing it.
  • Heart Disease: Great Danes are at an increased risk of developing dilated cardiomyopathy where the heart is unable to pump blood effectively. An association with grain-free diets is also currently being investigated for this condition
  • Wobbler Syndrome: This is a cervical spine disease seen more commonly in Great Danes and Dobermans, where the spinal cords and nerve roots compress resulting in neck pain or nervous system deficits. Symptoms include weakness, stiffness or lameness in thoracic limbs, neck pain, paralysis.
  • Eye problems, as for many pure breed dogs, there are a range of possible eye conditions that Great Danes are more prone to including cataracts and glaucoma
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Living with a Great Dane

Great Danes despite their size are a good house dog and remain quiet when indoors provided they are given regular stimulation in the form of affection and play with their owner as well as exercise. They require at least 30-60mins of exercise each day which needs to be considered before purchasing a Great Dane. Puppies and adolescents tend to be even more active, though it’s important to avoid over-exertion (eg running) while they are growing as this can lead to joint disorders such as osteochondrosis. As Great Danes have lots of energy, they love exercise such as: walking, playing games, hiking, swimming, and agility – to keep them mentally and physically engaged.

If you take pride in your garden however, a Great Dane may not be for you as they enjoy destroying beautiful landscaping. The yard should also be fenced at least 6 feet high to prevent them escaping.

Due to Great Danes loveable and sociable nature, they should also not be left alone for prolonged periods of time, as they can experience separation anxiety or isolation distress. This can result in destructive habits such as ruining furniture or décor and barking. How long they can be left alone is dependent on individual temperament and training. It’s best to start practicing with short periods of isolation from a young age (before 16 weeks), being sure to positively reinforce desired behaviour with treats and praise. Cage training can be especially helpful.

In terms of general health care, it is important to brush your Great Danes daily when possible to minimise plaque build up, check their ears for redness or odour possibly indicating infection and trim their nails at least monthly to prevent injury.

Great Dane breed

Feeding & Diet

Great Danes should be fed twice a day with a diet that is complete and balanced and made by a reputable manufacture. Even better to choose a diet made for large breeds or Great Danes as this will ensure optimal protein and fat levels . This is vital to maintaining good health and reducing the risk of health issues or diseases later in life. How much food given to your pup is dependant on the type of food you choose, dry food being more calorie dense. The packaging gives a guideline as to how much to feed and this will vary depending on lifestage, desexing status, activity level and individual metabolism. It’s best to avoid preparing homecooked meals, especially during growth, as this can lead to nutrient disorders and secondary problems such as nutritional hyperparathyroidism which results in weak bones. Specific diet advice is available from veterinary nutritionists and there are also diet supplements available.

It is always recommended that you make an appointment with a vet to discuss an appropriate well-balanced diet for your pet. You can also use the Petbarn Food Finder to help find the best nutrition choice for your pet.

Looks, Colours & Markings

Great Danes are elegant, muscular, and powerful dogs. With a large head narrow and flat on its top, prominent eyebrows and ears that either drop forward or are cropped back. The body is lean, long and its front legs are straight.

Great Danes come in six colours: black, brindle, fawn, mantle, blue and harlequin (white with black patches). The breed sheds light to average, however more so during springtime. Their single coat is also short-haired, smooth, and sleek. This single coat also means they sometimes get too cold as an outside dog and should be let indoors during cold weather.

In terms of grooming, Great Danes should be bathed and washed every 3-4 weeks to minimise shedding and maintain healthy skin and coat. Brushing their coat weekly can also assist in minimising shedding, as well as removing dead hairs, dust, and debris and be a great bonding time.

Children & Other Pets

Being a sociable and friendly breed, Great Danes are gentle and affectionate with children and can live easily alongside other family pets. Though it must be noted, particularly as a puppy Great Danes may not understand how big they are, they may knock things over accidently. This can mean they accidently knock young children over, which some find amusing, but it is something to consider. But Great Danes love being part of the family unit and will always watch over them with care, this extends to children also.

If raised alongside other pets and animals, the Great Dane tends to get along with anyone. However, they may display some signs or aggression toward humans and strangers they do not know. They also tend to warm better to other dogs rather than animals such as cats and birds that tend to flee, due to their genetic hunting instincts.

If you’re looking for how to best introduce your Great Dane to your family or other pets, read this informative article from Greencross Vets here.

Great Dane FAQs

When do Great Dane puppies calm down?

As with any puppy, Great Danes are known to be playful and excitable in their youth. However, when a Great Dane is 1 year and older, they should begin to calm down up until the age of 2. By this point they will have past their adolescence and should become more relaxed over time.

What to expect with a Great Dane puppy?

The nature of the breed means a Great Dane puppy is likely going to be larger than other puppies. They are low maintenance in terms of grooming; however, they need to be exercised regularly for at least 30 minutes to expend their energy before bed. Be sure to prepare for their arrival with pre-purchased food, collar, leads, crate/pen, food and water bowls, puppy shampoo and conditioner, brushes, and toys.

What to look for when buying a Great Dane puppy?

Adoption is preferred though may not be as common to find a puppy compared to a breeder. If you choose to go through a breeder, ensure they are registered, have a good reputation and allow you to view their premises. Any secrecy should be a red flag and this breeder should not be supported. Even if you think you are rescuing these pets, purchasing a pet from them can mean supporting them to continue their dodgy practices. Once you have found a breeder or animal shelter you will be getting your pup from it is important to consider their nature and temperament and if this aligns with you. Spend time with the puppies to get to know each Great Dane to see who you bond with and enjoy the personality of the most. Allow the pup to choose you if possible. Be sure to check their general health, as the body and movements should be balanced with no apparent abnormalities. Getting a vet to examine them will give the most peace of mind.

How long do Great Dane live?

Great Danes on average live between 6 to 10 years. They tend not to live as long as smaller breeds, partly due to their increased risk for disease

How tall is a Great Dane?

On average Great Danes reach a height between 71cm to 89 cm. Males are typically taller than females.

How to train a Great Dane?

Great Danes are known for their ability to easily pick up training from an early age. Ensure you begin training your pup early to avoid a dominant or aggressive dog. Begin with basic obedience training and more into more advanced training later. You should teach your Great Dane how to ‘sit’, ‘lie down’, ‘come’ and ‘heel’ as some basic commands before working on more difficult training or tricks. Positive reinforcement with pats and praise is the most effective training method. Seeking assistance from a behavioural trainer is recommended

Why do Great Danes lean on you?

Great Danes are known to lean on people to get more attention and affection from the person, or to show they feel safe with that person. It is a very common trait in this breed.

Speak to your local Greencross Vets for advice on finding the right dog breed for you and your family.

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