The Great Dane

A regal, gentle guardian in a giant suit

The big dog crosses the field in an effortless gallop, muscles stretching and contracting, devouring the ground with his long, powerful strides. His sleek black coat glows with vitality; his elegant manner is manifest in every stride.

Closer he comes, and the ground shakes under his great size and speed. Ever closer he comes, slows to a trot, then stops. He doesn't wait to be petted but instead nudges a hand with his giant head.

This is the Great Dane, a sleek, athletic dog tightly bonded to humans, capable of great courage, and known among fanciers as "the Apollo of dogs."

The Great Dane is properly called the Deutsche Dogge or German Mastiff, a name eschewed by fanciers in English-speaking countries. However, there is no evidence that the dog developed anywhere but Germany, and there is no known reason for it to be named for the country of Denmark. The breed originated from dogs of the mastiff type and was developed to hunt wild boar, guard castles, pull carts, and participate in battle.

Since the Germans never do anything by halves, the Deutsche Dogge lived up to its promise as a fierce, courageous canine - a "super dog" - designed to hunt the savage and unpredictable European wild boar, a beast well- armed with formidable tusks that could rip a dog to shreds.

The Dane is obviously more refined than the English Mastiff and the massive, salivating Neapolitan Mastiff or Dogue de Bordeaux of recent cinematic fame, but it most likely came from the same original stock. The mastiff-type dog originated in Asia and has been molded into and influenced several different breeds. There is evidence that the Dane's more elegant appearance may have come from an infusion of Irish Wolfhound blood and some fanciers claim the English Mastiff as the progenitor of this breed, but the dog may indeed be a descendant of both. But whatever its origin, the Great Dane is a picture of style and grace quite unlike any other breed today.

Although Dane-like dogs have been portrayed in Oriental writings and on Egyptian monuments dated prior to the birth of Christ, the breed is considered to be about 400 years old. The Great Dane Club of America was formed in 1889 and became the fourth breed club to join the American Kennel Club.

In 2004, 9,507 individual Great Danes were registered with the American Kennel Club, an increase of about 500 dogs from the previous year. Litter registrations were up too; 3,312 litters recorded in 2004 was an increase of 312 over 2003. These stats place the breed at 27 of 154 breeds in individual registrations and 29 in litter registrations.

Breed appearance

The Great Dane is among the tallest of dogs. Males must be at least 30 inches and preferably at least 32 inches at the shoulders in order to compete in the show ring. Females can be about two inches shorter and must be more refined in type than the males.

The profile of the Dane is unlike any other breed. This is a tall dog with a moderately deep chest and a square appearance. The head is rectangular and is set on an aristocratic neck; the ears can be natural or cropped, and the tail is broad at the base, tapers to a point, and reaches the hock joint when carried at ease. The whole dog is well-balanced and well-proportioned, a picture of grace and dignity.

Although the Dane is a single breed, it is often divided into color varieties in the show ring. The colors are fawn (tan) with a black mask; black; blue; black-and-gold arranged in a brindle pattern (golden yellow background with black striping); mantle (black with white trim, including a white collar, chest, and leg markings); and white with black patches (harlequin). No other colors are acceptable.

Ethical Dane breeders follow a strict code to assure the purity of their color lines. Fawn dogs are bred only to brindle and fawn dogs; harlequins are bred only to harlequins and to blacks from either black parents or harlequin parents; blues are bred to blues or to blacks from blue or black parents only; and blacks from black parents are bred to blue, black, or harlequins only. Pedigrees should indicate colors and should be color pure for four generations.

Although white and merle dogs are possible, they are not permissible in the show ring. Harlequins should have true black ragged patches, not Dalmatian-spots; blue, gray, or brindled spots are unacceptable. White markings are undesirable on solid dogs; a bit of white on the chest or toes is faulted but is acceptable.


The Danes ears may be cropped (cut and shaped) or not. The breed's ears naturally fold over and droop along the cheek. Wild boars found these to be handy targets to grab; cropping developed to eliminate the ear flap and thus spare the dog the pain of having it ripped off in a fight. The early ear crops left little to seize; today the crop is cosmetic and sculpts the ear into an upright, pointed appendage that adds to the style of the dog.

Cropping is usually done when the pup is less than eight weeks old as long as he is in good health. If the pup has worms or has been ill, cropping should wait. The cutting should be done only by a veterinarian. The cropped ears are then taped to condition the cartilage to support an upright ear instead of a droopy one.

England has outlawed ear cropping of all breeds, and several European countries have followed suit. Australian owners do not crop Dane's ears, either, and more and more American breeders are questioning the propriety of doing so. However, although some uncropped Danes can be found in the show ring, the vast majority of competing dogs have cropped ears.

Temperament, behavior, and training

Although he can be somewhat active and needs a period of exercise each day to stay fit, the Great Dane is a great house dog. Puppies can be clumsy, but adults are surefooted and seldom knock things over just by walking around. They like children but may be too much of a challenge for toddlers who are unsteady on their feet.

Although the breed is generally gentle with people, some Danes can be dominant unless taught with a firm hand and some can be aggressive to other dogs and small critters. Obedience training is a must; an energetic 130-pound dog that towers over a preschool child and can easily rest his head on the dinner table must have some manners. Training must be gentle; leash-jerking and harsh discipline may make him distrustful and edgy.

Above all, the Great Dane is a people-dog. He needs space to accommodate his long legs and large body, but he likes nothing better than to spend time with his person.


A short-coated breed, the Dane needs little coat care. He may get cold in winter, so should not be left outdoors for extended periods.

If it's very cold, owners often purchase a sweater for long walks in the park. Some Danes have a whole wardrobe.

Like most giant breeds, the Dane has a shorter life span than smaller dogs; he lives about 10 years if he is healthy. The breed is susceptible to hip dysplasia, bloat, bone cancer, heart disease, and tumors. Care of the puppy begins with careful selection of parents to produce the litter. Breeding stock should be x-rayed for hip dysplasia and screened for heart problems. Dogs with bloat or cancer in their lines probably should not be bred.

The Dane can seriously impact the family budget. This dog needs a larger dish, more food, a higher dose of medicine, a larger collar, etc., and larger is always more expensive. It costs more to spay or neuter a big dog, too.

Those who can cope with or prefer a large, aristocratic dog will do well with a Deutsche Dogge. This is a people-oriented dog, loving and kind, playful and even spirited - a true companion dog.

Health, rescue, and education

The Great Dane Club of America Charitable Trust supports breed welfare and rescue efforts, educational programs, Scholarship Programs for junior handlers, initiatives to create great awareness of breed-specific health problems and medical research efforts to improve the quality of life of the Great Dane. For more information, see

The club encourages breeders and other owners to participate in the Canine Health Information Center, a program that recognizes dogs that have been tested for a set of genetic abnormalities that affect their breeds. The CHIC clearance screenings for Great Danes are hip radiographs for hip dysplasia, CERF eye exams, and tests for congenital cardiac disease and autoimmune thyroid disease. For more information about CHIC, see

Books about the Great Dane include:

A New Owner's Guide to Great Danes by Jill Swedlow
Guide to Owning a Great Dane by Garth Lorg
Great Dane: Model of Nobility by Jill Swedlow

All are available through the Dog Owner's Guide Amazon Bookstore.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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