Information about the Great Dane

The Great Dane (18th Cent. French: Grand Danois), also known as German Mastiff (German: Deutsche Dogge) or Danish Hound (German: Dänischer Hund), is a breed of domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) known for its giant size. The Great Dane is one of the world’s tallest dog breeds; the current world record holder, measuring 109 cm (43 in) from paw to shoulder; 220 cm (7.2 ft) from head to tail, is George.

As described by the American Kennel Club, “The Great Dane combines, in its regal appearance, dignity, strength and elegance with great size and a powerful, well-formed, smoothly muscled body. It is one of the giant working breeds, but is unique in that its general conformation must be so well balanced that it never appears clumsy, and shall move with a long reach and powerful drive.” The Great Dane is a short haired breed with a strong galloping figure. In the ratio between length and height, the Great Dane should be square. The male dog should not be less than 30 in (76 cm) at the shoulders, a female 28 in (71 cm). Danes under minimum height are disqualified.

From year to year, the tallest living dog is typically a Great Dane. Previous record holders include Gibson and Titan, however the current record holder is a blue Great Dane named Giant George who stands 43 in (110 cm) at the shoulder. He is also the tallest dog on record (according Guinness World Records), beating the previous holder who was a brindle Great Dane named Shamgret Danzas, who stood 42.5 in (108 cm) at the shoulder.

The minimum weight for a Great Dane over eighteen months is 120 lb (54 kg) for males, 100 lb (45 kg) for females. Unusually, the American Kennel Club dropped the minimum weight requirement from its standard. The male should appear more massive throughout than the female, with a larger frame and heavier bone.

Great Danes have naturally floppy, triangular ears. In the past, when Great Danes were commonly used to hunt boars, cropping of the ears was performed to make injuries to the dogs’ ears less likely during hunts. Now that Danes are primarily companion animals, cropping is sometimes still done for traditional and cosmetic reasons. In the 1930s when Great Danes had their ears cropped, after the surgery two devices called Easter Bonnets were fitted to their ears to make them stand up. Today, the practice is common in the United States and much less common in Europe. In some European countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, parts of Australia, and in New Zealand, the practice is banned, or controlled to only be performed by veterinary surgeons.

There are six show-acceptable coat colors for Great Danes:

  • Fawn: The color is yellow gold with a black mask. Black should appear on the eye rims and eyebrows, and may appear on the ears.
  • Brindle: The color is fawn and black in a chevron stripe pattern. Often also they are referred to as having a tiger-stripe pattern.
  • Blue: The color is a pure steel blue. White markings at the chest and toes are not desirable and considered faults.
  • Black: The color is a glossy black. White markings at the chest and toes are not desirable and considered faults.
  • Harlequin: The base color is pure white with black torn patches irregularly and well distributed over the entire body; a pure white neck is preferred. The black patches should never be large enough to give the appearance of a blanket, nor so small as to give a stippled or dappled effect. Eligible, but less desirable, are a few small grey patches (this grey is consistent with a Merle marking) or a white base with single black hairs showing through, which tend to give a salt and pepper or dirty effect. (Have the same link to deafness and blindness as Merle and white danes.)
  • Mantle (in some countries referred to as Bostons due to the similar coloration and pattern as a Boston Terrier): The color is black and white with a solid black blanket extending over the body; black skull with white muzzle; white blaze is optional; whole white collar preferred; a white chest; white on part or whole of forelegs and hind legs; white tipped black tail. A small white marking in the black blanket is acceptable, as is a break in the white collar.

Other colors occur occasionally but are not acceptable for conformation showing, and they are not pursued by breeders who intend to breed show dogs. These colors include white, fawnequin, merle, merlequin, fawn mantle, and others. Some breeders may attempt to charge more for puppies of these “rare” colors. However, the breeding of white and merle Danes is particularly controversial, as these colors may be associated with genes that produce deafness. Although they cannot be shown, white or merle Danes can usually still be registered as pedigree dogs.

The Great Dane’s large and imposing appearance belies its friendly nature; the breed is often referred to as a gentle giant. Great Danes are generally well-disposed toward other dogs, other non-canine pets, and humans. They generally do not exhibit a high prey drive. The Great Dane is a very gentle and loving animal with proper care and training.

Like most dogs, Great Danes require daily walks to remain healthy. However it is important not to over exercise this breed, particularly when young. Great Dane puppies grow very large, very fast, which puts them at risk of joint and bone problems. Because of a puppy’s natural energy, Dane owners often take steps to minimize activity while the dog is still growing.

Given their large size, Great Danes continue to grow (mostly gaining weight) longer than most dogs. Even at one year of age a Great Dane will continue to grow for several more months.

Great Danes are prone to bloat. Bloat is a serious condition in which the stomach distends and/or rotates effectively cutting of the blood supply to various part of the body including the stomach, spleen and other organs.. If not treated almost immediately, usually by surgery, the condition can be fatal. Left untreated, death usually occurs within a matter of hours. There is conflicting information about how the condition is caused. It is often suggested that in order to prevent bloat Great Danes should be fed multiple small meals throughout the day as opposed to one large one and that they be prevented from engaging in vigorous exercise following meals.

Great Danes, like most giant dogs, have a fairly slow metabolism. This results in less energy and less food consumption per pound of dog than in small breeds. Great Danes have some health problems that are common to large breeds, including gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) (a painful distending and twisting of the stomach). This is a critical condition that can affect Great Danes and other deep-chested breeds, and which may cause death if not quickly addressed. Drinking large amounts of fluid in a short period of time can provoke GDV in Great Danes, as well as other larger breeds of dogs. It is a commonly recommended practice for Great Danes to have their stomachs tacked (Gastropexy) to the right abdominal wall if the dog or its relatives have a history of GDV, though some veterinary surgeons will not do the operation if the actual sickness has not occurred. New studies have shown that elevated food bowls do not help abate bloating, like first believed. When the bowl is elevated, the dog can eat faster, and therefore swallow more air, so new studies suggest that leaving the food on the ground will help the dog eat slower. Another opportunity could be to spread the food on the ground or on the grass. Refraining from exercise or activity immediately before and after meals may also reduce risk, although this has not been validated with research. Signs that GDV may have occurred include, but are not limited to, visible distension (enlargement of the abdomen) and repeated retching that resembles repetitive non-productive attempts to vomit. GDV is a condition that is distinct from another condition referred to as bloat, though bloat may precede the development of GDV. GDV is a surgical emergency; immediate veterinary evaluation should be sought if a dog demonstrates signs of this condition.

The average life span of Great Danes is 6 to 8 years.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and many congenital heart diseases are also commonly found in the Great Dane, leading to its nickname: the Heartbreak breed, in conjunction with its shorter lifespan. Great Danes also suffer from several genetic disorders that are specific to the breed. For example, if a Great Dane lacks color (is white) near its eyes or ears, then that organ may not develop and usually the dog will be either blind, deaf, or both.

Dogs resembling the Great Dane have been seen on Egyptian monuments dating back to 3,000 BC. According to Barbara Stein, “The breed originated in Germany, probably from a cross between the English mastiff and the Irish Wolfhound.” However, other sources maintain that the breed originated in Denmark and still others report the question as controversial and unsettled. In 1749 Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon used the name “le Grand Danois,” (translated by William Smellie as “Great Dane”). Up until that time the hound was referred to in England as “Danish dog.” According to Jacob Nicolay Wilse the Danes called the dog “large hound,” a terminology continued well in to the 20th century. As late as in the 1780 Germany the hound is referred to as “Grosser Dänischer Jagdhund” (English: Large Danish Hunting Hound). At the first dog exhibition, held in Hamburg 14-20 July 1863, eight dogs were called “Dänische Dogge” and seven “Ulmer Doggen.”