Great Dane

Great Dane dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Great Dane is a dog of large size that is known for its huge body and great height. The other names are German Mastiff and Gentle Giant. This article will cover some of the most important characteristics related to this beautiful and loyal dog breed. He is also referred to as the Apollo of dogs due to his large size but soft heart and lovable personality. If you are an owner of this gentle giant or you would like to become one, then checking out this article and the information that it contains would be a great idea.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHigh
Exercise NeedsAbove Average

Dog Breed Group Working Dogs
HeightGenerally 32 – 34 inches (81 – 86 cm)
WeightGenerally 100 to 200 pounds (59 – 90 kg)
Life Span8 to 10 years (average)

The most famous Great Danes are probably Scooby-Doo, and Einstein the main character in a Disney’s film Oliver & Company. This breed has also been the state dog of Pennsylvania since 1965. The most common information related to this breed is that their size is huge but their hearts are even bigger. The nickname Gentle Giant was not given for no apparent reason, because they really like to be spoiled by their owners and most of them like sitting on their owners’ laps, even when they are mature.

They are also great with children and smaller animals. They are friendly with other dog breeds, especially if socialized on time. According to the American Kennel Club, this dog breed ranks as the 24th most popular in the US, which means that more and more people are rediscovering their sweet and gentle personalities combined with great and  noble looks. This sweet and people-oriented furry friend will give you all of his heart and love eagerly.

The Great Dane’s name is actually a translation of the name the French gave – Grand Danois, which means ‘Big Danish’. There is no known reason for connecting Denmark with either the origin or the development of the Great Dane; it was ‘made’ in Germany, and it was a German fanciers who led the world in breeding some of the finest specimens. The Great Dane is a very old breed, cultivated as a distinct type for probably 400 years, if not longer.

The breed has a different name according to the region you’re in: for example in France it’s called the Dogue Allemand (translation: ‘German Mastiff’), in English – Mastiff, in Latin languages – Dogue or Dogo, in the Germanic languages – Dogge. They all meant the same – a giant dog with a heavy head used for fighting or hunting purposes.

You will be surprised to know that first mention of a dog resembling this breed was made in a written document, in China in the year 1121 BC. Just to understand how big and powerful an individual of the Great Dane breed can be, you should know that they were created to hunt boars, but that characteristic has been bred out until now.

Main Highlights
  • The Great Dane is a very sweet and loyal dog who would do anything to please his owner. That means that he is very people-oriented and he also responds well to positive reinforcement training.
  • This breed needs a lot of space, which is obvious. They can make nice indoor dogs; however, it is not practical since they need spacious rooms to move in. Their tails can sweep anything on your tables and they can also reach anything they want (for example, your lunch on a kitchen table).
  • Even though they say that size does not matter – you will see that you need to pay more when it comes to large dogs – veterinary costs, food, clothing and toys cost more than compared to smaller dog breeds.
  • Large dog breeds such as this need a while to get their bones and joints to stop growing and become stable. If you allow your Great Dane puppy to jump, run too much and exercise, he can seriously hurt his limbs which can grow in a wrong way. Therefore, do not allow your pup doing this until he is 18 months old, at least.
  • The Great Dane is not known as a jumper, so you won’t have problems keeping him in a fenced yard. But as mentioned above, due to his huge size, he is not suited for an apartment or a house.
  • You should never get a puppy from a suspicious or irresponsible breeder, because the puppy will most likely be sick all the time. The puppy should be free of any genetic disorders and he should have a nice personality.
  • The Great Dane should be provided a special diet, having in mind that he can eat a lot. Otherwise, he may develop some orthopedic issues.
  • They have a short life span due to their large size and other issues related to it, so you should prepare yourself that your friend may be with you for only 8 years, more or less.
Breed History

Dogs that look like the Great Danes appear on ancient artifacts from Egypt (3000 BC) and in some temples from Babylon (2000 BC). Some even say that dogs that resemble the today’s breed have been spotted in Tibet, because there are some mentions in Chinese written documents dating back from 1121 BC.

The Great Danes may have had been spread through the world by the Assyrian people and after that Romans and Greeks combined them with other breeds which resulted in the ancestors of the today Mastiffs. It was called a Molossian hound and the large boarhound up to the Hellenistic era. Huge dogs were also mentioned in Scandinavia, Denmark and Old Norse poems.

In the 16th century, the mixture of the English Mastiff and the Irish Wolfhound were imported to Europe, and they were called Englische Docke or Englische Tocke. After that, this dog breed was bred in the courts of German nobility and they were used for hunting bears, boars and deer. Their task was to hunt the animal down and hold it until the huntsmen come to kill it. They were usually used after other hunting dogs. Since the Germans were responsible for refining and breeding the Great Dane, they decided to give him the new name, however, other names such as Alano are still stuck in other countries.


The Great Dane is one of the tallest dog breeds in the world and the record was set by a Great Dane named Zeus who was 44 inches (112 cm) tall. Generally, a male should be about 32-34” in height and weights from 120 and up to 200 pounds. When it comes to females, they are smaller, 28-32 “ tall and they weigh around 120 pounds. When it comes to the general appearance, the eyes are of medium size, deep set and dark.

The eyelids are almond-shaped and tight, with well developed brows while the ears are high set, of medium size and moderate thickness. The practice of cropping the ears has been banned in some countries. Nose is black (except in the blue Dane). The head is rectangular and long, while the muzzle is deep with a strong square jaw. The neck is high set, well arched, long and muscular while the paws are big and strong. The whole body is lean, muscular, tall and elegant.

Personality and Character

As we already mentioned a number of times, the Great Dane is also called a Gentle Giant due to his meek personality and gentle nature. His appearance may be imposing and scary, but his heart is not. He is often seeking his owner’s affection and attention and he is great with children. He is easy to train, eager to please, sweet, affectionate and good-natured. It is interesting that most (even mature) Great Danes love sitting on their owners’ laps.

They need an early socialization, with both animals and people, because they will love it. They need to experience different people, dogs, smaller animals, parks (various environments) etc. Some even enroll them in a puppy kindergarten so they can get used to different dogs. Therefore is it okay to assume that the Great Dane belongs to the dogs who are sweet by nature, but often judged by their looks.

Health and Potential Problems

Large dog breeds usually have a short life span which means that you will have a great friend for a short period of time with you. Additionally, the Great Dane is prone to various genetic diseases.

  • Development issues: young puppies (or at least until they are 8 months old) should not exercise a lot because their fast growing bones can get damaged or grow in a wrong way.
  • Hip dysplasia is a condition inherited and it manifests when a dog’s thighbone does not fit into the hip joint and the dog can become lame on the both rear legs; sometimes that can lead into arthritis and the best way to discover it is via X-ray screening.
  • Gastric torsion: a disease also known as bloat, is a serious and life-threatening disease. It is more common among old dogs; however, if you do not care about your pet’s health – you feed him large meals every day, so he eats rapidly, drinks a lot of water after eating, or exercises immediately after meals, he has a chance of getting this disease. The dog can easily die if he is not taken to the vet and some of the signs include the inability to vomit and the normal return of the blood to the heart is decreased and the pooch goes into shock.
  • Osteosarcoma or bone cancer a disease more popular among middle aged or old dogs, but big breeds like the Great Danes can even young to develop this condition. It is treated aggressively, but there is a chance of recovery.
  • Heart diseases are also popular among Great Danes, such as mitral valve defects, sub aortic stenosis, right aortic arch, patent ductus arteriosus, tricuspid valve dysplasia, and dilated cardiomyopathy.
Care Features

The Great Dane may be a huge dog, but he does not need as much grooming or exercise as one would think. However, they do need a lot of space, so do not even think of keeping him in a tiny cramped apartment. Additionally, he is not adapted to very cold or hot climates, so you should take care not to leave him during the freezing nights or scorching days outside. You can also put a sweater or jacket on him to keep him warm while walking in a harsh weather.

He is not a noisy dog who would bark and grown without any reason and he can be very quiet indoors. He is also not suited to be kept as a guard dog even though his appearance is enough to keep intruders from walking in. You should still spend enough time grooming his coat, clipping his nails and making sure that he does not hurt himself or his tail by bumping into something.

Feeding Schedule

The Great Dane puppies need special diet because of their fast growing bodies; they should not be fed with just any food. A puppy should be fed three meals per day until he is five months old, after that he can have only two. If you have decided on the food of high quality, then you feed your Great Dane according to his age and gender. This dog breed is also prone to the condition called bloat, which can be life-threatening. That means that you should take care of the content of his meals and how many times per day you are feeding your pet. He should never be given one huge meal or exercised too much after feeding.

Coat, Color and Grooming

There are six acceptable shades of the Great Dane coats. They are: fawn (yellow gold with a mask that has black tones), brindle (a pattern of stripes), blue, black, harlequin (white with black patches irregularly distributed over the body), and mantle (black and white).

The Great Dane sheds a lot even though he has a very short coat, however, you can keep him fit with only regular brushing. Special attention should be paid to his ears, especially if there is a bad odor coming from inside, teeth (to remove bacteria and tartar) and clipping his huge nails so he does not break them or hurt himself and others.

Someone may call bathing a Great Dane a real nightmare, especially if the dog dislikes it, however, that should be done sometimes too. All of this should be a regular checkup for any dog breed and regardless of his size. When you groom your dog you should examine him in order to see if there are any sores, rashes or signs of infection. If you do this on a weekly basis, you can avoid serious problems later.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

The Great Dane is not called a Gentle Giant for no apparent reason. He is very gentle and affectionate towards children, especially if raised with them from an early age. However, just like with any dog breed, you should make sure to teach your children how to touch and approach dogs.

That should be an important lesson, because a child who is taught to respect and love animals, but be on guard in the same time can grow up to appreciate animals and life in general later on. That means that you should supervise them, so you can prevent if a dog steps on the child and bites too much, or if a child tries to take away dog’s food or touches him while he is sleeping.

The Great Dane goes well with other dogs and pets, even though that is rather individual. It depends how well socialized they are and what their personalities are like.

The Great Dane is an old breed as their ancestors have been mentioned and lived thousands of years before. However the Germans were the ones who refined the breed we see today. Additionally, the Great Dane may look scary, ferocious and intimidating, but he seeks his owner’s affection all the time and loves being part of a family. If you want to get this amazing gentle giant, you should seriously consider the implications if you do not have a spacious house or apartment with a big yard, because this dog deserves to have all of his needs met.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.