Let's talk Great Danes

Great Danes may not be Danish, but they certainly are great. Tipping the scales in the largest cases at not far from 80kg, these whopping canines are sometimes known as the Apollo of Dogs after the ancient sun god. Great Danes may be Olympian in size, but, space-permitting, and if they are well-trained, they can make lovely family dogs: they will take up just as much room in your heart as in your home.

Official name: Great Dane

Origins: Germany

Black and white portrait of a Great Dane looking to the side
Inline Image 2
Illustration of a Great Dane
Male
1 m 76 cm - 1 m 81 cm Height
63 kg - 77 kg Weight
Female
1 m 71 cm - 1 m 76 cm Height
50 kg - 63 kg Weight

Baby age Birth to 2 months
Puppy age 2 to 8 months
Adult age 8 months to 2 years
Mature age 2 to 5 years
Senior age From 10 years

Great Dane stood looking towards the camera

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Get to know the Great Dane

All you need to know about the breed

Great Danes are quite simply huge: a sweet, friendly and affectionate character wrapped in outsize packaging.

They have maintained the stature and strength needed for their original mission, hunting wild boar, but over the centuries the aggressiveness has been bred out of them, giving way to gentleness. Great Danes are handsome hounds, with a majestic demeanour, alert expression and dense glossy coat in one of three evocative colour combinations: fawn and brindle, black and harlequin or blue.

Once trained – and this should be relatively straightforward – Great Danes get on well with children and can make lovely family pets, with the caveat that they do require a level of commitment that’s a notch above a smaller dog. If you’re pushed for space or a collector of valuable china ornaments – one swipe of that solid Great Dane tail at tabletop height can have devastating consequences – you might want to reconsider.

Great Danes require a decent amount of exercise, although despite their size they are not the most energetic breed around. Once fully grown they enjoy a variety of exercise – walks, runs and the chance to potter around in an enclosed space (luckily they can’t jump so you won’t need to supersize your fence). One thing to bear in mind is that because of their enormous size, Great Danes’ average lifespan is short.

On a day-to-day basis, the only real downside to having a Great Dane as a pet is the slobber. Great Danes drool a considerable amount. But these affable, larger-than-life characters more than make up for that in the pleasure they bring their human companions.

An adult and puppy Great Dane sat next to each other on grass

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2 facts about Great Danes

1. Scooby Dooby Doo, Where Are You?

The lovable but cowardly cartoon canine Scooby Doo is thought to be loosely based on a Great Dane! The breed has had another brush with stardom in the form of Marmaduke, the super-size star of a comic strip, beginning life in the 1950s, as well as a 2010 film.

2. Great (Not) Dane 

The Great Dane is, with impeccable logic, not actually Danish at all: the breed’s origins lie in Germany, where in 1878, a committee of judges and breeders met in Berlin to classify several similar dogs known by different names under just one: Deutsche Dogge. That literally translates into English as German Dog. So the breed became known in English as the Great Dane. Makes sense.

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History of the breed

For a breed with such a long history, it’s not surprising that the Great Dane’s origins are not always clear. Images from Egyptian tombs suggest they may have existed for thousands of years. Mastiff- and greyhound-like breeds as well as the extinct German hunting dog the Bullenbeisser are thought to feature in Great Danes’ ancestry.

What is certain is that the precursors to modern Great Danes were prized as wild boar hunters as well as guard dogs in Medieval Germany. When the breed first came to the United Kingdom the dogs were known as German boarhounds.

In the 19th century several similar varieties were classified together under the new name Deutsche Dogge. How that became Great Dane in English is not clear but to complicate matters further it may have been via the translation of a French name given to the breed: Le Grand Danois.

Black and white portrait of a Great Dane looking to the side

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From head to tail

Physical characteristics of Great Danes

Great Dane puppy resting its head on its paws

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Things to look out for

From specific breed traits to a general health overview, here are some interesting facts about your Great Dane

Beware of bloat

Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), more commonly known as bloat, affects many large breeds but is the number-one problem associated with Great Danes. Owners need to know the signs to look out for – bloated abdomen, restlessness, retching, salivation and whining or abnormal stillness – and what to do: seek immediate help from a veterinarian. Some owners opt for preventive surgery which can protect their dogs, partially at least. The procedure, called gastropexy, involves stitching the walls of the stomach in place and should prevent the life-threatening torsion (volvulus) of the stomach, although not the dilatation (bloating). It’s a good start.

Hip problems

As a tall breed, the Great Dane can be prone to osteoarticular diseases – or diseases of the bones and joints. In particular, the Great Dane breed can suffer from antebrachial growth deformities. These deformities of the dogs’ forelegs can lead to limited movement and pain. To avoid conditions such as these, feeding Great Danes the correct food from puppyhood is important, as is avoiding calcium supplements.

Healthy diet, healthier dog

Puppy
Adult
  • When choosing food for a Great Dane, there are many factors to consider: their age, lifestyle, activity level, physical condition, and health including potential sickness or sensitivities. Food provides energy to cover a dog’s vital functions, and a complete nutritional formula should contain an adjusted balance of nutrients to avoid any deficiency or excess in their diet, both of which could have adverse effects on the dog. As giant-sized breed dogs have a higher risk of a condition called gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV), where the stomach becomes overstretched and rotated because of excess gas, usually caused by overfeeding during a meal, it’s recommended to split the daily allowance into three meals for puppies and try to keep this routine into their adult years. Clean and fresh water should be available at all times to support good urinary regularity. In hot weather and especially when out exercising, bring water along for your dog’s frequent water breaks. Energy intake may also have to be adapted to the climatic conditions. A dog that lives outdoors in winter will have increased energy requirements. The following recommendations are for healthy animals. If your dog has health problems, please consult your veterinarian who will prescribe an exclusively veterinary diet.
  • A Great Dane puppy’s requirements, in terms of energy, protein, minerals and vitamins, are greater than those of an adult dog. They need energy and nutrients to maintain their body, but also to grow and build it. During their growth, Great Dane puppies’ immune system develops gradually. A complex of antioxidants – including vitamin E – can help support their natural defences during this time of big changes, discoveries, and new encounters. Their digestive functions are different from an adult Great Dane’s, too: their digestive system is not mature yet so it is important to provide highly digestible proteins that will be effectively used for the building of bones, tissues, and organs. Prebiotics, such as fructo-oligosaccharides, can support digestive health by helping balance the intestinal flora, resulting in good stool.
  • Giant-sized puppies, whose growth period is long and intense, are especially susceptible to skeletal and joint problems, including limb defects, bone deformities, and joint lesions.
  • The first part of growth (up to 8 months) is mainly concerned with bone development, although the muscles also start to grow. This means that a puppy that eats too much (takes in too much energy) will put on too much weight and grow too quickly. A food with an adjusted calorie content to support a high growth rate while at the same time avoiding excess weight gain will help minimise these risks. A balance of energy and minerals (calcium and phosphorus) during this first phase of growth will contribute to bone mineralisation in order to support bone consolidation and the development of healthy joints. Although the calcium content in the food needs to be increased, giant-sized breed puppies are more sensitive to excessive calcium intake. It’s important to understand then that adding any ingredients to a complete food formulated for the growth phase is at best unnecessary and at worst dangerous for the animal, unless prescribed by a veterinarian.
  • As many giant-sized breed dogs, Great Danes are prone to digestive sensitivity, and their body weight can create stress on their joints throughout their lifetime. Great Danes’ nutritional needs then should include high quality protein and a balanced supply of dietary fibre to help promote optimal digestibility, as well as glucosamine, chondroitine, and antioxidants to help support the health of their bones and joints. A formula enriched with omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA-DHA, will help maintain healthy skin. An adapted taurine content is also important to support healthy heart function.
  • It is important to avoid feeding Great Danes human foods or fatty snacks. Instead, reward them with kibble taken from their daily meal allowance, and strictly follow the feeding guidelines written on the package.
  • Clean and fresh water should be available at all times. In hot weather and especially when out exercising, bring water along for your dog’s frequent water breaks.
Great Dane bounding across a path

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Caring for your Great Dane

Grooming, training and exercise tips

Making sure your Great Dane remains in good health and enjoys life requires a certain amount of effort in grooming, exercise and training. The Great Dane’s short, smooth coat isn’t too high maintenance, except during its shedding season once or twice a year, when the usual weekly brushing will need to be stepped up to a daily tackling of the fluff. Great Danes need regular exercise – multiple daily walks are ideal. Once their joints are fully grown, at around two years, they can also enjoy jogs or hikes. Off-the-lead exercise sessions need to be in a secure, enclosed space: Great Danes like following their noses. With this much dog on your hands, you’ll need to make sure your Great Dane is well trained and socialised early. Firm, consistent training methods will bring rewards in the form of an affectionate, sociable and eager-to-please mega-dog.

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All about Great Danes

Yes, they do. Properly trained Great Danes can be great fun: sociable, eager to please and good with children – under supervision of course. Their sheer size means they are not for the faint-hearted: you’ll need plenty of space at home for a start and because they’re so huge, albeit gentle, they may not be the most practical choice for families with very small children.

Great Danes are not known to be aggressive, although their large size may understandably make some people nervous: all the more reason to make sure they are well trained. Great Danes are not particularly known for their barking either – but with great vocal chords to match great everything else, when they do decide to express an opinion you’ll certainly know about it.

Sources

1 - Veterinary Centers of America https://vcahospitals.com/

2 - Royal Canin Dog Encyclopaedia. Ed 2010 and 2020

3 - Banfield Pet Hospital https://www.banfield.com/

4 - Royal Canin BHN Product Book

5 - American Kennel Club https://www.akc.org/