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Great Dane Dog Breed Basics: What Every Owner Should Know - PawSafe

Great Dane Dog Breed Basics: What Every Owner Should Know

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

Great Dane dog breed

Great Danes are like the giants of the dog world, but despite their size, they’re total softies. You might have heard them called ‘gentle giants’ or the ‘Apollo of dogs.’ This is because they’re really big, but also really friendly and loving. When you see one, it’s like looking at a living, barking statue – they have this noble and elegant look that’s pretty amazing.

If you’re thinking of getting a Great Dane, you’ll need a bit of space. They can grow really tall, which makes them stand out at the dog park. Even though they’re big, they’re pretty chill and love spending time with their families. They’re known for being patient, which is cool if you’ve got kids around.

Just remember, owning a Great Dane is a big responsibility. Their size means they need the right food to grow healthy and strong. It’s not just about giving them lots of treats, but making sure they have a balanced diet that’s good for their bones too. They can eat a lot, and since they get so big, it’s important that they get plenty of exercise to stay in tiptop shape.

Size and Stature

Great Danes are known for their giant size. Male Great Danes typically stand between 30 to 34 inches (76 to 86 cm) tall at the shoulder, while females are slightly smaller, measuring around 28 to 32 inches (71 to 81 cm). 

As for weight, males generally tip the scales at 140 to 175 pounds (64 to 79 kg), and females at 110 to 140 pounds (50 to 63 kg). This makes them one of the largest dog breeds around, often referred to as the “Apollo of dogs.” Their stature is not just for show; it reflects their history of being bred for hunting and estate guarding in Europe, specifically Germany, around the 18th century.

Breed Recognition

The Great Dane, also known as the German Mastiff or Deutsche Dogge, is well-regarded across the globe. Your American Kennel Club recognizes them as part of the Working Group, a category for breeds built to perform tasks like guarding homes or rescuing travelers. 

They’re also celebrated as the official state dog of Pennsylvania. While their origins date back to Germany and they were once associated with nobility in Denmark, today these dogs are popular family companions known for their affectionate nature and towering presence.

Great Dane History and Origin

Majestic adult harlequin Great Dane dog on blue background

You’ve seen them, the majestic Great Danes, towering over other dogs with their regal presence. But do you know where they come from? Let’s take a quick trip through history.

The Early Days

Believe it or not, Great Danes date back over 2,000 years. Originating from Europe and with a past in Asia, these dogs weren’t always the friendly giants we know today. They started off as fierce hunters in ancient times. Germany claims a significant part of the Great Dane’s history, refining the breed into what you see now.

The 18th century saw Germans take a strong interest in these mighty dogs, then known as Boarhounds, for their remarkable hunting abilities. Art from this period, like Denmark‘s wild boar hunt engravings, captures the breed in its early roles.

Naming the Breed

Fast forward to the 19th century, and you’ll discover the breed earning its spot as a national symbol of Germany. Earlier called the Danish Hound, the Germans embraced the name Deutsche Dogge, which you might find more fitting for this German Mastiff.

It wasn’t until these dogs strutted their stuff in German show rings that they caught global attention. One standout pooch, Opal von Harlekin, set the bar high for Great Danes everywhere.

A New Chapter

As the breed’s reputation grew, so did its footprint. By the late 1800s, Great Danes began to appear across different countries, including America. They made such an impression that the first American breed club popped up, helping to elevate their status even further.

From Ferocious to Friendly

Initially, their key tasks were hunting and fighting. But over time, their roles expanded to other duties, like carting and standing guard. Thanks to careful breeding, the Great Dane mellowed out, becoming a lovable companion.

Your modern-day Great Dane still boasts the impressive build of its ancestors, showcasing their boldness and endurance. But don’t let their size intimidate you; these dogs have evolved into one of the gentlest breeds you can bring into your home.

So there you have it, the journey from a feared hunter to a cherished friend happened over centuries. Europe played a starring role in the development of these “gentle giants”. The next time you see a Great Dane, you’ll know there’s a rich history behind those kind eyes.

Great Dane Physical Characteristics

Beautiful tall giant fawn Great Dane standing in park

When you first encounter a Great Dane, you are immediately struck by their distinct and dignified appearance. They are a breed of remarkably regal stature boasting a unique blend of elegance and strength.

Coat and Colors

Great Danes have a short coat that is smooth and glossy, reflecting their well-groomed demeanor. Your Great Dane won’t require frequent brushing as they are low shedding, which makes grooming a relatively easy task.

In terms of coat color, you’ll find Great Danes in an array of impressive hues. The recognized colors according to the Great Dane Club of America include fawn, black, brindle, harlequin, and mantle (also called the Boston because it’s the same color pattern as the Boston Terrier). Mantle Great Danes are particularly striking, wearing their black and white coats with sheer elegance.

Distinctive Traits

A Great Dane’s head is a defining feature, illustrating a rectangular, long, and expressive form that speaks to their noble character. The breed standard calls for a well-proportioned head with dark, almond-shaped eyes and ears that can be either natural or cropped.

Comparative Size

Standing next to a Great Dane, you’ll feel the true meaning of the term “gentle giant”. They are exceptionally tall and lean, often described as being the “Apollo of dogs” for their square body and towering height that can overshadow even their mastiff kin like the English Mastiff or the Irish Wolfhound. The breed’s size reflects its majestic and regal presence, which is in a class all its own.

Great Dane Temperament

Little girl hugging family harlequin Great Dane dog

The Great Dane’s temperament is as grand as its stature, embodying both a friendly disposition and a protective nature. This breed is both a gentle giant around your family and a vigilant watchdog when needed.

Behavioral Traits

Great Danes are known for their gentle nature and friendly approach towards their family. Don’t let their imposing size fool you; these dogs are usually quite playful and affectionate, often seeking out companionship and attention from their humans. While they embody strength and courage, they are not inherently aggressive. Their bark may be loud and alert, signaling newcomers, but with proper introduction and time, they warm up to new faces.

Compatibility with Families

If you’re wondering, “Are they good with kids?” Yes, Great Danes tend to develop a gentle affection for children and make excellent family pets. They’ve been dubbed gentle giants for this reason, as they’re patient and careful with the little ones. Keep in mind, their size can unintentionally be a bit overwhelming for very small children – always supervise their playtime.

Training and Socialization

When it comes to training, Great Danes are easy to train because of their desire to please you. They respond best to positive reinforcement and consistent commands. Socialization is key; introduce them to various scenarios early so they learn how to behave around both humans and other animals. 

Regular leash training is also important due to their size – you want to ensure they’re manageable when out and about. As watchdogs, they’re alert and will guard your home by nature. With the right training, they can distinguish between everyday happenings and potential threats, making them reliable without the need for excessive force.

Best Food, Diet and Nutrition For Great Danes

When it comes to feeding your Great Dane, you’ve got a smorgasbord of options. There’s dry, semi-moist, and canned fare, with dry usually being the wallet-friendly pick. They’re low on fat and high on preservatives. Meanwhile, canned goods pack a lot of water, and semi-moist choices? They’re often sugary, so not a top pick despite their doggy appeal.

Here’s the scoop on keeping mealtime top-notch:

  • Always serve dog food at room temperature.
  • Fresh water is a must – keep it flowing and the bowl clean.
  • Skip the human-food handouts and the gourmet dog food add-ins. Commercial chow’s got the balance just right.

Puppy Chow Down

Great Dane puppies thrive on mama’s milk, but around six weeks, you’ll start mixing in a bit of solid food. They’ll need three meals a day up until about eight weeks old, then you can switch to twice daily. Depending on the protein debate, you might adjust their intake. Oh, and remember, tall dogs like yours prefer raised bowls for easier munching – it helps digestion, too!

Grown-Up Grub

Once your buddy blossoms into their full size – think 12 to 18 months – it’s time for adult eats. Pick a quality dog food that fits their lifestyle; the marathon runner needs a different blend than the couch potato.

Senior Snacks

As your four-legged friend clocks in more naps than sprints, their diet has to adapt. Less activity means fewer calories needed.

Feeding Schedule

AgeMeals Per Day
Puppy (6-8 weeks)3 meals
Puppy (8+ weeks)2 meals
Adult (12-18 months)2 meals
SeniorAdjust as needed

Checking your pup’s weight is easy – you should feel but not see their ribs. And from above, they ought to have that hourglass figure. Keeping them in shape means they stay healthy and happy.

When in doubt about the best diet for your Great Dane at any stage, chat with your breeder or vet. They’ve got the experience to guide you right. And remember, when switching foods, take it slow – mix the new with the old over a few days to keep that tummy happy.

Great Dane Cost

Black gray Great Dane puppy for sale

When you’re looking into getting a Great Dane puppy, the price tag might surprise you – in a good way or a not-so-good way, depending on your budget. Puppy Costs can range anywhere from $600 to $3,000. That’s quite the spread, right? The price often reflects the dog’s lineage, breeder’s reputation, and whether the pup comes with registration papers.

But hey, the upfront cost is just the beginning. Think about ongoing expenses like food, and we’re talking about a big dog with an appetite to match! You might spend around $60 to $100 per month just to keep your Great Dane’s belly full.

  • Vet Visits: Regular check-ups and the occasional oopsie (Great Danes can be a little clumsy) mean you should tuck away some cash for medical expenses too.
  • Preventive Measures: Some Great Danes may need a surgery called prophylactic gastropexy to prevent serious tummy troubles, and that could be an extra cost.

Don’t forget about the day-to-day stuff like:

  • Toys: (which they may go through faster than you’d like),
  • Beds: (giant size means giant prices), and
  • Grooming supplies: (because even short hair sheds).

Training classes are also smart, especially since you’ll want your giant buddy to know their manners. Your Great Dane won’t stay a little pup for long, so plan your budget for a dog that can easily outweigh you once they’re all grown up!

Health and Care

Caring for a Great Dane involves understanding their unique exercise needs and being aware of common health issues. You’ll want to keep up with regular grooming and know what to expect with their life expectancy. With the right care tips, you can help your Great Dane thrive.

Exercise Needs

Your Great Dane needs regular exercise to maintain a healthy energy level. They’re quite active as puppies and will require a secure fence to keep them safe during play. Aim for consistent daily walks and a space where they can romp freely.

Common Health Issues

Great Danes are prone to certain health conditions such as bloat, also known as gastric torsion. This breed can also develop hip dysplasia and heart disease, including dilated cardiomyopathy and cardiomyopathy. Regular check-ups with your vet will help catch any early signs of heart disease or cancer.

Grooming and Shedding

Their coat requires minimal grooming; however, routine brushing will help manage shedding. Great Danes don’t shed excessively, but brushing helps distribute oils and remove loose fur. They also tend to drool, so you’ll need to wipe their face occasionally.

Life Expectancy

The life span of a Great Dane is shorter than that of smaller breeds, typically ranging from 7 to 10 years. Providing proper care and addressing health issues early on can help maximize their longevity.

Care Tips

Regular veterinary care is crucial to managing health risks. A balanced diet appropriate for their size and energy level will support their well-being. It’s essential to be proactive about their health, especially if you have a Great Dane puppy, as early intervention can prevent more serious conditions.

Ideal Home For A Great Dane

Merle Great Dane looking up at camera sitting

If you’re considering adopting a Gentle Giant, like a Great Dane, your home environment plays a crucial role in their health and happiness. An ideal home provides plenty of space for your Dane’s large size and gentle soul.

Space to Move

Imagine sharing your space with a friendly giant. Great Danes are enormous, so you’ll need a home with enough room for them to stretch out without bumping into furniture. A securely fenced yard is ideal for them to roam and play, but remember, they do well indoors and don’t require excessive exercise.

Time and Attention

These sweet-tempered dogs thrive on companionship. They need your time and attention, not just for play and exercise but also for training and socialization. If your lifestyle allows for a furry best friend to join in most of your activities, a Great Dane would love to be by your side.

Financial Commitment

Expenses go beyond adoption fees. From nutritious food that sustains their large frame to potential vet bills – ensure you can financially support a Great Dane’s needs.

When it comes to finding a Great Dane, consider reaching out to a rescue organization for adoption. They can pair you with a Dane in need of a forever home. If you prefer starting the journey with a puppy, locate an ethical breeder who can provide you with health-clearance documents and allow you to meet the puppy’s parents.

Here’s a quick checklist for your reference:

Spacious HomeEssential for mobility
Secure YardSafe area to play and relax
Time for CareTraining, affection, and bonding
Adequate ResourcesFood, healthcare, and maintenance
Support SystemRescue, clubs, or reputable breeders

Remember, a Great Dane can be both a noble companion and a loving family member, bringing joy and a sense of protection to your home. Be ready for the commitment, and you’ll add not just a pet, but a new family member to your household.

Breed History and Roles

When you think about a Great Dane, you may picture a massive, elegant dog, often referred to as the “Apollo of Dogs” for its stature and strength. These gentle giants have a rich history that takes us back centuries and across continents.

Historical Significance

The origin of the Great Dane goes back to Germany in the 18th century, although their ancestors, similar to mastiffs, were known for their strength and used by nobles to hunt wild boar. These large, coarse-haired dogs were skilled in hunting due to their powerful build and bravery.

Cultural Impact

Over time, the Great Dane became a symbol of German nobility, serving not just as a hunter but also as a revered kammerhunde, or chamber dog, that guarded the estates. In pop culture, they’ve been immortalized through characters like Marmaduke and Scooby-Doo, showcasing their friendly and companionable nature.

Hunting and Working

Originally bred to chase and hunt boars, the Great Dane’s role evolved as boar hunting became less common. Their strength and vigilant natures equipped them to be reliable working dogs, particularly as estate guardians or watchdogs.

Evolution of Roles

As times changed, so did the roles of Great Danes. They transitioned from fearless boar hunters to affectionate family members, often known as gentle giants. They still retain a sense of purpose as companions, showing how their roles have been shaped by both their venerable history and changing human lifestyles.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Great Danes are impressive dogs, with their size and gentle nature attracting many potential owners. You might have a few questions about what it’s like to have one as your four-legged companion.

How long do Great Danes usually live?

Unfortunately, Great Danes have a shorter lifespan than some smaller breeds, typically living between 7 to 10 years. Proper care and attention to their health can play a part in how long they live.

What’s the typical size of a Great Dane?

Great Danes are known for their imposing stature. An adult Great Dane can stand 28 to 34 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh anywhere from 110 to 175 pounds.

At what age is a Great Dane fully grown?

These gentle giants reach their full height around 18 months old, but they’ll continue to fill out and gain muscle until they’re about 2 to 3 years old.

How much exercise does a Great Dane need?

Although they’re big, Great Danes don’t need excessive exercise. A good rule of thumb is about 30 to 60 minutes of daily activity to keep them healthy and prevent boredom.

Can Great Danes adapt well to apartment living?

You might be surprised, but yes, Great Danes can adapt to apartment living. They’re relatively low-energy indoors and are known for being couch potatoes, as long as they get their daily walks.

What kind of temperament can I expect from a Great Dane?

Great Danes are often called ‘gentle giants’ for a good reason. They’re typically friendly, patient, and dependable dogs, and are known for being great with kids and other pets when properly socialized.

Final Thoughts

When you bring a Great Dane into your life, you’re gaining a gentle giant with a loving heart. They tend to be affectionate, strong, and playful which makes them fantastic companions. Remember, these dogs are a big commitment – literally! They need plenty of space just to stretch out.

Here’s a quick checklist to keep in mind:

  • Space: A big yard or a home with ample room.
  • Exercise: Daily walks are a must.
  • Health Checks: Stay on top of their check-ups. This breed can have heart issues, specifically dilated cardiomyopathy.
  • Diet: A nutritious diet tailored to large breeds is crucial.

Train them patiently. Due to their size, control and manners are key. You don’t want a dog this big to get too rowdy!

Lastly, cherish your time with your Great Dane. They may be huge, but their lifespans aren’t. Each moment you share is special. If you treat them right, you’ll gain an irreplaceable member of your family.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.