Great Dane

A Gentle Giant with a Rich History

Great Danes are easily recognizable: they’re very tall and very big. Affectionately known as “gentle giants,” these dogs may be giant-sized but have an extremely gentle personality.

The breed has achieved some high profile status over the years. Scooby-Doo and comic strip favorite Marmaduke are both Great Danes. Gibson, currently the world’s tallest dog at 42 inches, is a harlequin Great Dane. The Great Dane is also Pennsylvania’s state dog.

Most importantly, Great Danes made a giant impression on pet owners and have found a place for themselves in homes throughout the nation.

Great Dane There is much speculation about the origin of the Great Dane. Historians cite drawings on ancient Egyptian monuments and descriptions in Chinese literature dating back to 1121 B.C. to be those of Great Danes. Others believe the breed was developed in Germany, roughly 400 years ago, perhaps as a result of crossbreeding a mastiff and an Irish wolfhound. By the late 1700s, the breed was known as a Large Danish Hunting Hound (despite the name, the dog was from Germany, not Denmark) and appeared at the first dog exhibition in 1863. By the early 1900s, the Great Dane had made a name for itself in the United States.

Also known as the “Apollo of all dogs,” the Great Dane will surprise you with its gentle demeanor and sweet, affectionate personality.

A blue Great Dane

Great with other animals, including cats, Great Danes also get along well with children, often taking the protective role toward human and animal friends alike. While the breed makes for a very watchful guard dog, it is not necessarily aggressive in nature. As with any other dog, some Great Danes try to establish dominance but this isn’t typical of the breed.

While it is always recommended that dogs have adequate space in which to live and play, it may be surprising to know that Great Danes adapt well to small spaces, despite their large size. They can live rather well in an apartment setting, but one must be diligent to take their Great Dane for regular exercise outside the home on a daily basis to ensure optimal health.

Like most dogs, the Great Dane loves to play — with balls, a Frisbee and squeaky toys. The dog breed is also known as a “leaner,” often leaning up against your leg as a sign of affection and security. It may be wise to note that as your Great Dane grows bigger, it will also become heavier, so children must be aware of the dog’s tendency to lean and be cautioned about this habit.

Great with other animals, including cats, Great Danes also get along well with children, often taking the protective role toward human and animal friends alike.

There are a surprising variety of coat colors in the Great Dane breed. Six show-recognized coat colors, to be exact. These include:

A brindled Great Dane
  • Fawn, which is typically a golden yellow with black facial markings;
  • Brindle, in which fawn and black colors run down the dog’s coat in a chevron pattern (also called a “tiger stripe” pattern);
  • Blue is recognizable as a deep steel color;
  • Black is glossy and solid, but some dogs will display white markings on the chest, although this is not “show acceptable”;
  • Harlequin will remind you of a Dalmatian’s spotted coat, although the black “spots” on the Great Dane are patchy and ragged looking and appear irregularly throughout the dog’s coat;
  • Mantle is black and white with solid black spanning the majority of the body, a white muzzle adorning the dog’s face, a white collar and chest, white-colored legs and a white-tipped tail.

If you are planning on adopting or rescuing a Great Dane, you might discover many with a combination of the above-mentioned colors. Most breeders prefer to stick to the show-acceptable color lineup, which therefore creates a population of “undesirable” Great Danes simply due to a color variation.

No matter what color your Great Dane may be, there’s no doubt that your dog will grow to be a very large dog. Male Great Danes typically weigh between 120 to 200 pounds, while female Great Danes are slightly smaller, weighing 100 to 130 pounds.

While Great Danes were also easily recognizable with signature cropped ears, it has become more popular in recent years to let their ears flop naturally.

Due to their large size, Great Danes may suffer notably from common orthopedic diseases such as cervical vertebral instability or Wobbler’s disease. Other health conditions include:

A harlequin Great Dane
  • Hip dysplasia, a malformation of the hip joints that causes arthritis. The conditions is especially crippling in large breeds of dogs;
  • Stomach bloat or torsion (also known as gastric dilatation and volvulus or GDV) is very serious and often deadly condition where the stomach becomes painfully distended, either due to food, water or gas. The distended stomach then has a tendency to rotate twisting off its own blood supply and the only exit routes for the gas inside;
  • Hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD) or panosteitis are painful conditions of the bones that occur in young, large, rapid-growing breeds of dogs;
  • Tumors; skin tumors are most common but are not necessarily malignant;
  • Cardiomyopathy and other heart diseases are common in the breed;
  • Blindness and deafness; and
  • Tail injuries due to the large size and strength of the tail, also commonly referred to as "happy tail."

Because Great Danes are so large, it is recommended that exercise such as running be limited during their first year of life while their bones continue to develop.

The average life span of a Great Dane ranges between 6 to 10 years, although some are known to live up to 12 to 14 years. If you own or are considering adopting a Great Dane, speak with your veterinarian about providing the right care to meet your dog’s needs.

Interested in learning more about stomach bloat and what precautions may help prevent it? You may also like to read more about Dalmatians and their propensity — like some Great Danes — for light pigmentation.