The Great Dane is a large breed of working dog originally used for hunting in packs for wild boar. Contrary to the name, the Great Dane does not have any Danish roots. It originated in Germany where it was developed during the 17th Century as a hunting dog and war dog. It is one of the tallest breeds of dogs, second only to the Irish Wolfhound on average. However, a Great Dane named Zeus who died in September 2014 at the age of five years old holds the record for the tallest dog that ever lived, measuring at 111.8cm from foot to shoulder. The Great Dane of today is taller, more elegant, and more well-mannered than its ancestors but still has a degree of nobility in his blood which has led him to be nicknamed the “Apollo of dogs.” It is often described as a kind, friendly, outgoing, and couch potato of a dog. Physically, it has a large molossoid-type head with hanging lips, triangular, medium-size ears that fold forward but not pendulous, long straight front legs and a short dense and sleek-looking coat. The minimum height of an adult Great Dane (typically over 18 months) is 76 – 79cm for males and 71 – 76cm for females. An adult Great Dane can weigh between 50 – 82kg.
The progenitors of the modern Great Dane can be traced back to ancient Greece during the 14th – 13th centuries BC from large boarhounds used for hunting by the ancient Greeks. These dogs eventually found their way to other countries all over Europe including the UK, Ireland, Austria, and Germany and mixed with the local boarhounds and wolfhounds to increase their stature. These larger dogs are depicted in many archaeological artefacts and poetries including the collection of Old Norse anonymous poems known in English as Poetic Edda. During the middle of the 16th century, long-legged dogs from England descended from mixes of English Mastiffs and Irish Wolfhounds with varying sizes and different physiological properties were imported to other European countries. Because they had no formal breed, they were simply called Englischer Hund in Germany which simply means “English dog.” These dogs were then independently bred in Germany and were used in hunting bear, boar and deer. Then in the 19th century, the breed was introduced as the “German boarhound” in English-speaking nations while German breeders tried to use the name “German Dogge”. However, due to the increasing tensions between Germany and other European nations prior to the onset of the First World War, the breed became referred to as the “Great Dane”, after “Le Grand Danois” found in Buffon’s “Histoire Naturelle, generale et particuliere, avec la description du Cabinet du Roi.”
The “gentle giant” of the dog world, the Great Dane is a friendly and affectionate breed that totally belies its large and imposing exterior. It is a breed that thrives on human love and affection and is well-known for seeking physical affection with its owner. It is not an aggressive dog nor does it have a high prey drive. These characteristics have all been bred out of the Great Dane since it became a family dog. It is highly recommended as a family dog due to its preference for sitting on and leaning against owners which earned it a nickname as “the world’s biggest ‘lapdog’.”
With proper and early training plus socialisation, the Great Dane will grow up into an excellent family companion. It is generally not an aggressive dog or one with a high prey drive, but proper socialisation is the key for an adult Great Dane to become less fearful and less aggressive towards other animals and humans.
The Great Dane comes in six coat colour varieties: brindle, fawn, blue, solid black, mantle, and harlequin. The coat is dense and sleek-looking and requires very little grooming. It is a light shedder but a little heavier during Spring. Quick daily brushing using a rubber curry brush works wonders and will greatly reduce hair fall. Danes tend to drool and slobber so cleaning the face often is a necessity. The eyes should also be inspected and cleaned for mucus which can build from time to time. The ears should be cleaned at least once a week to help prevent bacterial infection.
The Great Dane like other large breed has a short lifespan, typically between 6 to 8 years but there are Danes that have been known to live up to 10 years or more. Like other giant breeds, the Great Dane has a slow metabolism and is prone to a common health problem known as gastric dilatation volvulus or gastric torsion (bloating). To avoid bloating, do not expose the breed to strenuous physical activities like exercise at least 40 minutes to one hour after meals. Bloating is one of the common cause of death for this breed when left untreated. Like other large breeds, the Great Dane is also prone to hip dysplasia and other congenital heart diseases.
The biggest couch potato one could ever have, the Great Dane will enjoy most of the day sleeping on the couch or on the bed. However, like other dogs, it does require daily walks to remain healthy and strong. It is important to note, though, that over-exercising the breed particularly when young or after it has eaten can be fatal. A Great Dane puppy grows at a very fast rate which put it at risk from developing joint and bone problems later in life if introduced to strenuous physical activities at a young age. An adult Great Dane’s stomach is not attached to the ribcage like other breeds so a dog that engages in heavy physical activity after a full meal can make the stomach flip and block the intestinal track which can result to bloating and can have fatal consequences if not treated immediately.
The Great Dane is generally people-friendly and is generally good with familiar people including children especially if raised with them. It is also generally good towards other dogs and other animals in the house because it does not have a high prey drive nor it is aggressive.