Great Danes: The Big, Friendly Giants

 Monday Jan 20,2020
By  Lancaster Puppies

Appreciated for its powerful build, bold character, and athletic endurance, the Great Dane has changed names many times since first appearing in the history books. Their cohabitation and usefulness to humans have remained constant over time. Once a reliable hunting and working dog, today the Great Dane is appreciated for its gentle loving nature and loyalty to family.

Great Dane History

Lancaster Puppies Great Dane Breed Spotlight Infographic: devoted & loyal, great watch dog, gentle & loving, playful & active, family dog

Throughout history, they’ve also been called German Mastiff, German Boarhound, English Dogge, Ulmer Dogge, and Deutsche Dogge. Also nicknamed "The Apollo of Dogs" for its athletic and elegant stature.

Dogs resembling the Great Dane have appeared in archeological relics dating back thousands of years. Illustrations and monuments in Egypt depicting dogs similar in appearance to the Great Dane appeared as early as 3,000 BC. In the 13th and 14th centuries, frescoes depicting the Great Dane were constructed in Tiryns, Greece. Other historic artifacts show the Great Dane present 2,000 years ago and belonging to an Asian tribe called Assyrians.

Modern accounts indicate the breed now known as the Great Dane descended from a Mastiff-like breed in England during the 1500s. At this point in their ancestry, Danes were shorter, heavier, stockier, and more muscular.

First known as aggressive fighters used to hunt wild boar and large game, these dogs were capable of hunting and capturing wild animals. Great Danes were disciplined enough to 'hold' an animal until hunters arrived. Due to their hunting skills, the breed was referred to as a “Boarhound”. Other work tasks Great Danes were useful for included carting, tracking, and watchdog duties.

Owners in Austria and Germany first showed interest in breeding and cultivating the skills of the Boarhound also called “Englischer Hund”, “Englische Docke”, or “Englische Tocke” which were a cross-breed between the English Mastiff and Irish Wolfhound. The Great Dane has always been considered a luxury dog known to share the sleeping quarters with their royal owners. 

By 1863, Great Danes made their first appearance in the show ring. Germans wanted to market the breed as a luxury pet instead of a working dog. So, names such as “German Dogge” and “German Mastiff” were used. Then, due to political tensions between Germany and the surrounding countries, the name Great Dane was introduced by non-German breeders. 

Germany declared the Great Dane the national dog in 1876, where the breed was referred to as Deutsche Dogge. In the 1894 English Stud Book, the breed's name was officially changed to Great Dane.

Within the next 20 years, the breed migrated to other countries. The American Kennel Club officially recognized the Great Dane in 1887. Since Great Danes had a reputation for extreme aggression, breeders began focusing on improving the breed's disposition. By 1889, an American club was formed which would later become the Great Dane Club of America. The first Great Dane recorded in the United States was named Prince and owned by Francis Butler of New York. 

Great Dane Features

Majestic and muscular, Great Danes are one of the tallest and largest dog breeds, yet still graceful in appearance and movement - and they have massive paws.  The average litter size is 6-10 puppies and at birth, they are so large (1-2 lbs), that a C-section is sometimes performed. 

A Great Dane’s ratio between physical height and length is square. Their heads are rectangular and long and their broad noses are black, blue-black (Blue Dane), or spotted (harlequin). The cheeks are not prominent. Great Danes have broad chests with deep muscles. Their tails are long and tapered with short thick glossy coats. 

Colors & Patterns

The Great Dane is a beautiful dog with many interesting color patterns accepted by purebred organizations. These descriptions are for show dog consideration.

  • Brindle — A yellow-gold base color with black chevron-patterned stripes.
  • Fawn — A deep yellow-gold with a black mask, eyebrows, and sometimes the tips of the ears and tail. 
  • Blue — A steel blue.
  • Black — A solid glossy black coat. 
  • Harlequin — A white base coat with irregular black "torn" patches distributed across the entire body with a white neck. Small gray or white patches are sometimes seen scattered among the black patches. 
  • Mantle — A black and white coat with a solid black "blanket" over the body. The skull is black with a white muzzle. 

Developmental Stages

Great Danes weigh between 1-2 pounds at birth and grow quickly. By 4 weeks, a puppy will weigh between 5-8 lbs. Due to its large size, a Great Dane’s lifespan is one of the shortest at an average of 7.5–10 years. 

Great Dane Puppy
Age To the Withers Weight
2 months 13-18" 18-26 lbs
4 months 21-26" 45-65 lbs
6 months 26-33" 70-105 lbs
8 months 27-35" 80-120 lbs
1 year 29-36" 90-140 lbs


Adult Great Dane
  To the Withers Weight
Male 30" or more 120-200 lbs
Female 28" or more 100-130 lbs

Ear Cropping

Due to ear injuries from boar hunting, Great Dane owners commonly removed the ear flaps (pinnae or auricles) of puppies 7-12 weeks old by surgically trimming the ear leathers and training the ears to stand upright. Ear cropping no longer serves a practical purpose beyond aesthetics. In 1895, ear cropping was banned in the United Kingdom, however, the procedure is still performed by some breeders in the US today.  


Friendly, trustworthy, and loyal, Great Danes are dependable working dogs. They are spirited, courageous, dependable, never timid, nor aggressive. Described as "gentle giants," Great Danes are calm and loving with a mild temperament which makes them excellent family dogs. 

Their strong attachment to a family or owner makes meeting strangers challenging at times. Great Danes require time to warm up to people they don't know. Their bark is powerful and intimidating, and they will defend themselves and their family if needed.

Daily Care of the Great Dane

Did you know in France, the Great Dane is called "Grand Danois," which means "Big Danish."Despite its hunting background, Great Danes only need moderate exercise. They require about the same amount of daily exercise as a medium-sized house dog. A long daily walk or a brief run in a field or park will suffice as Danes need to stretch their legs every day. 

They do need space to maneuver around the home, so small apartments won't be the best for this dog. The Dane’s powerful tail is known to strongly whack objects. It can move with such force as to cause Splitting Tail or Kennel Tail, a wound occurring by breaking open or lacerating the dog's tail. 


Great Danes require a high-quality diet. Their food needs moisture as dry-only results in poor stool quality. Due to certain health conditions, encouraging slow eating is important to a Great Dane’s health.


Great Danes are high shedders, yet their short coat is easy to maintain with brushing. Easily cold, Great Danes benefit from a coat or sweater in the winter season. Keep in mind, they also have a tendency to drool. 


Great Dane puppies grow quickly. They aren't small for long. By the time a puppy has left the litter, it will be larger than some full-grown small breeds. Even though the pup appears larger, it's still young and vulnerable. It will exhibit typical puppy behavior despite its size!

Exercise should be moderate while a Great Dane puppy is developing its bones and muscles. They are suitable family dogs, however, Danes need early socialization so they do not react negatively to new environments and strangers. Despite their gentle nature, Danes do not hesitate to guard and protect their family. 

Health Concerns

Unfortunately, larger dogs generally don’t live as long as smaller dogs. A Dane’s lifespan is compounded by common health issues; which can include congenital heart disease and cancer (lymphoma and bone). 

Genetic testing is common among Great Dane Breeders who try to keep the gene pool as healthy as they can. Ask the breeder what type of tests were performed on the parents and puppy to be prepared for future medical needs. Below is a list of common conditions seen in the Great Dane.

  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is prevalent in 35.6% of Great Danes. DCM is a common heart muscle defect that eventually causes heart failure. The heart muscle loses its ability to pump blood over time. Signs of DCM include coughing, weakness, depression, disinterest in food and exercise, and increased heart rate. Screening for this disease will advise the vet on ways to treat the dog. 
  • Wobbler Syndrome. Appearing between 3-5 months of age, this is caused by compression on the spinal cord, leading to neck pain and neurological signs. With this condition, the dog cannot support their rear end and has an uneven gait. Surgery is possible for this condition, depending on the location of the compression.
  • Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) or Gastric Torsion is a preventable but very uncomfortable occurrence in large and deep-chested breeds. It is caused by the release of stomach gas from undigested food leading to a twisted stomach, cutting off the blood supply, and preventing food from passing through. Emergency surgery is required.

With care and supervision, Great Danes can live healthy, full lives. They’re lovable and loyal companions that will cherish their time with you. Take a look at our Great Danes, and see if these giant pups are right for you!

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