Welcome to your complete guide to the Great Dane, one of the largest dog breeds in the world!
Uncovering their true pet suitability, care requirements and health.
You don’t have to know much about dogs to know a Great Dane when you see one.
These regal animals stand almost three feet tall at the shoulder and come in several eye-catching coat patterns.
Their tall stature may be intimidating to some, but Great Danes truly are “gentle giants” who are quite docile by nature.
Want to know more?
Read on to learn about the Great Dane’s origins, his physical characteristics and typical behavior.
As well as those frustrating possible health problems, and where you might find one for your very own.
Origin of the Great Dane dog
Though its name seemingly indicates that the Great Dane hails from Denmark, the breed was actually developed in Germany at least 400 years ago.
Back then, Great Danes were bred as hunting hounds.
A particularly large and powerful dog was needed to take down the equally powerful English wild boar, and the Great Dane became a worthy adversary.
Once the breed made its way to the United States, the American Kennel Club (AKC) formally recognized the Great Dane as a member of the working group in 1887.
Nowadays, Great Danes are primarily kept as pets or used as therapy dogs – after all, the breed is 14th most popular in the United States, according to the AKC’s records!
They are great loungers and love to find a good sofa or cushion to rest their large heads on, but their gentle and empathetic ways also make them excellent service dogs.
Though they aren’t hunting wild game anymore, Great Danes are still a very revered and awe-inspiring breed.
You can’t help but feel a sense of power and respect when you behold one of these majestic dogs!
Great Dane personality and temperament
In terms of temperament, modern Great Danes are quite different from their boar-hunting ancestors.
They no longer need to be fearless, aggressive hunters, but they are still brave and regal creatures who are attentive to their handlers.
Because of their bravery, they are pretty unflappable dogs; not a lot phases them nor are they quick to bark.
However, don’t let a Great Dane’s quiet nature fool you into thinking he won’t stop an intruder – these dogs are loyal to their owners, but shouldn’t make an aggressive move without having a good reason.
You can put their quiet and patient manner to good use.
Great Danes make excellent pets for families with children (but watch that they don’t accidentally push small children over).
There’s nothing quite so sweet as a child loving on a large and gentle dog!
Similar to Labradors, Great Danes make friends easily.
Because of this quality, they can also make wonderful therapy dogs for visiting nursing homes and hospitals (assuming you have a large enough vehicle to transport them in).
Speaking of large size, let’s talk about just how big a Great Dane can get!
Great Dane weight and height
It’s common knowledge that Great Danes are large dogs, since they are one of the giant breeds and all.
In fact, the largest Great Dane actually holds the Guiness World record for Tallest Dog Ever – “Zeus” was a Great Dane who reached a whopping 44 inches tall at the shoulder!
Rest assured that the majority of Great Danes are typically about 10 inches shorter than the mighty Zeus was, even at the tallest end of the standard height.
Male Great Danes typically reach 30-34 inches tall at the shoulder, while females stay around 28-32 inches tall at the shoulder.
Regardless of a Great Dane’s gender, you can expect one to mature to at least 100 pounds, and that’s at minimum.
The largest Great Danes may reach double that weight, but the average Great Dane is about 130-140 pounds…you know, roughly the size of the average American woman!
In short, a Great Dane is most definitely not going to be a lap dog, no matter how much he might like to be!
Great Dane food
So, what should you feed a dog that’s as big a human?
The good news is that Great Danes don’t usually require a special diet, but we do recommend that you feed the appropriate amount of a high-quality food that’s specifically formulated for large-breed puppies or dogs.
Large breeds typically have different nutrient requirements than smaller breeds in order to promote and maintain healthy bone structure.
Giant-breed puppies, specifically, need to be fed the proper diet to ensure that their bones can keep up with the rest of their growth. You can see a giant breed (like the Great Dane) growth chart here.
Furthermore, the kibble or soft food that’s specifically formulated for large breeds may contain ingredients that help to prevent health conditions that are common in large dogs, such as joint and bone diseases.
As we’ll discuss later in this article, large dogs with deep chests are also prone to bloat, which can be prevented by feeding your dog twice per day and not allowing them to exercise immediately afterward.
Lastly, be careful not to overfeed Great Danes, as they can become overweight rather quickly and over feeding increases the risk of hip dysplasia.
Great Dane coat and colors
Aside from their sheer size and majesty, Great Danes are also known for their short, easily maintained coat that comes in several eye-catching colors.
The following are standard for the breed:
• Black Great Dane
• The Black and white Great Dane
• Blue Great Dane
• The Blue merle Great Dane
• Brindle Great Dane
• Fawn Great Dane
• Harlequin Great Dane
• Mantle Great Dane
• Merle Great Dane
• White Great Dane
• Blue and white Great Dane
• The Blue brindle Great Dane
• Chocolate Great Dane
• The Chocolate and white Great Dane
• Chocolate brindle Great Dane
• Mantle merle Great Dane
• Merlequin Great Dane
• Silver Great Dane
We must note that the harlequin coat pattern is associated with birth defects, as it is related to the notorious merle gene.
Great Dane grooming and shedding
The Great Dane has a naturally short and thin coat, so they aren’t super high shedders and only need occasional grooming to remove dead hair.
However, since they do not have much in the way of natural protection, they may not do well in colder climates unless they wear a coat or vest.
Great Dane health
Like many purebred dogs, Great Danes are genetically predisposed to certain health conditions, in addition to common canine ailments like hip dysplasia, eye diseases, allergies, and skin irritations.
Some conditions and illnesses that Great Danes are highly prone to are the following:
This condition is when some or all parts of the hip joints are malformed and can cause the dog to lose the ability to move their hind limbs comfortably.
Puppies may be born with it, but adult dogs commonly develop the condition with age. You can find out more about this debilitating condition in our article on hip dysplasia in dogs.
Some giant breed puppies may develop “growing pains,” or spontaneous inflammation in the long bones of the legs.
It usually starts sometime between five months and 14 months of age and without an obvious cause.
The pain may come and go in one or multiple legs until it self-resolves sometime before the dog reaches two years old.
This disease is believed to be genetic in many large dog breeds including Great Danes.
It results in an enlarged heart and eventually heart failure.
There are additional heart conditions that may be common in Great Dates.
This is a condition of the thyroid that results in decreased metabolism and weight gain, with some experiencing issues with hair loss and/or dry skin.
According to the Merck Veterinary manual, hypothyroidism is most common in mid- and large-sized dog breeds between the ages of 4 and 10 years old. Once it is diagnosed, you must give the dog replacement hormone pills for life.
Dogs with deep and narrow chests are more likely to develop this potentially fatal condition, which involves the stomach twisting and eventually suffocating itself by filling with gas and cutting off the blood flowing to it. Surgery can prevent this condition from occurring.
This condition causes compression of the spinal cord and spinal nerve roots in the neck, which creates nerve issues (causing the dog to not be able to feel his feet and wobble when he walks) and severe neck pain. The exact cause of this disease is unknown.
Unfortunately, many large and giant dog breeds are susceptible to bone cancer (osteosarcoma).
According to a study that was conducted in 1979, the risk of a dog developing bone cancer increases by 60 to 185 times in breeds that are larger than 80 pounds.
To this day, the prevalence of bone cancer in large and giant breeds is still more than that of smaller dog breeds.
Genetic testing of breeding stock can help to identify some of the genes that predispose Great Danes to some of the above conditions. Just remember that not all health conditions can be identified by genetic testing, so it’s important to take the health risks seriously.
Great Dane exercise requirements
Due to their enhanced risk of developing skeletal and hip problems, it’s essential that Great Danes get plenty of exercise starting from a young age.
Exercise helps to keep dogs limber, prevents them from gaining too much weight, and helps to prevent muscles from atrophying, all of which may help to prevent hip dysplasia from developing or worsening.
Even if a Great Dane doesn’t show signs of hip dysplasia, it’s still a good idea to give them a bit of exercise each day, be it a quick jog or an extended walk. While they may prefer to relax, they shouldn’t be allowed to lead completely sedentary lives, as this will promote quick weight gain.
Great Dane life expectancy
As a giant breed, the Great Dane unfortunately has a short life expectancy of just 6 years.
That’s right, six.
There isn’t much we can say about this sad figure, but it’s something you will need to take into account when deciding to bring home a Great Dane puppy.
Buying Great Dane puppies
If you’re looking to purchase a Great Dane from a breeder, then you’re in luck! Although there are quite a few Great Dane breeders worldwide, be sure to buy your puppy from a breeder who uses genetic testing to help ensure the health of your future puppy and the line as a whole.
So, how much are Great Danes?
If you’re planning on buying a Great Dane puppy from a breeder, then you can expect to pay anywhere from about $1,500 to $2,500 for an AKC-registered puppy, with limited-AKC registered pups falling around the $2,000 range. If you’re looking for a pet-quality Great Dane, then the price tag is much cheaper – around $700 to $1,300, give or take a few hundred dollars.
The price varies based on the parent stock, how much they are worth to the breeder, and possibly on their color or color combination (some colors are more sought after than others).
Great Date adoption
If you cannot afford a Great Dane puppy, are looking for an adult Great Dane, or simply wish to go the adoption route, then you may be able to find your next partner at a local animal shelter or at a Great Dane-specific rescue.
Rescues generally assist with rehoming retired show or breeding stock, but they also may get the occasional puppy that was pulled from a bad situation.
Is a Great Dane The Breed For Me?
Great Danes are amazing dogs that make wonderful pets or service partners, but their size can create some challenges when it comes to feeding and housing them.
It may seem obvious, but you’ll also want to consider their sheer size and strength – they are often tall enough to eat off of countertops and may accidentally knock a child over with their weight alone.
If you’re looking for a lower-energy dog, then a Great Dane may be a nice choice. However, you’ll still need to get them out for a walk or jog each day. They may be a bit too strong for some people to walk on a leash, but this is where obedience training can help.
You won’t have to do too much coat maintenance, as they have a short and thin coat. However, carefully consider it before you get a harlequin-colored Great Dane, as this coat pattern is known to be associated with birth defects.
Giant breeds unfortunately come with some special health concerns, including bloat, cardiac issues, hip dysplasia, bone cancer, and other musculoskeletal issues.
Their very short lifespan is something you will need to seriously consider as well, sadly.
One thing that you shouldn’t have to worry about, though, is a Great Dane becoming aggressive or ill-tempered.
Unlike their early ancestors, Great Danes of today are very mild-mannered dogs that aren’t easily roused.
They will protect their home and owners, but will not typically present a risk to humans or dogs, especially to those with whom they’ve been properly introduced. Regardless, we recommend socializing every puppy from a young age onward.
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- Martin et al. 2008. Canine dilated cardiomyopathy: a retrospective study of signalment, presentation and clinical findings in 369 cases. Journal of Small Animal Practice.