Great Dane

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Great Dane
Dogge Odin.jpg
A harlequin Great Dane
Other names Deutsche Dogge
German Mastiff
Common nicknames Gentle Giant
Origin Germany
Weight Male minimum 120 lb (54 kg)
Female minimum 100 lb (45 kg)
Height Male minimum 30 in (76 cm)
Female minimum 28 in (71 cm)
Life span 8 years
Classification / standards
FCI Group 2, Section 2 #235 standard
AKC Working standard
CKC standard
KC (UK) Working standard
NZKC Nonsporting standard
UKC Guardian Dogs standard
Notes State dog of Pennsylvania
Domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

The Great Dane is a large German breed of domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) known for its enormous body and great height. The German name of the breed is Deutsche Dogge, or German Mastiff.

The Great Dane is one of the world's tallest dog breeds. The world record holder for tallest dog was a Great Dane called Zeus (died September 2014; aged 5), who measured 112 cm (44 in) from paw to shoulder. Great Danes are known for seeking physical affection from their owners.


Extremely large boarhounds resembling the Great Dane appear in ancient Greece; in frescoes from Tiryns dating back to 14th–13th centuries BC.[1][2] The large boarhound or Molossian hound continues to appear throughout ancient Greece in subsequent centuries right up to the Hellenistic era.[3][4][5][6] The Molossian hound, the Suliot dog and specific imports from Greece were used in the 18th century to increase the stature of the boarhounds in Austria and Germany and the wolfhounds in Ireland.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13]

Bigger dogs are depicted on numerous runestones in Scandinavia, on coinage in Denmark from the 5th century AD and in the collection of Old Norse poems, known in English as Poetic Edda. The University of Copenhagen Zoological Museum holds at least seven skeletons of very large hunting dogs, dating from the 5th century BC going forward through to the year 1000 AD.

Hunting dog

A chamber dog with a gilded collar, Brandenburg (Germany), 1705

In the middle of the 16th century, the nobility in many countries of Europe imported strong, long-legged dogs from England, which were descended from crossbreeds between the English Mastiff and the Irish Wolfhound. They were dog hybrids in different sizes and phenotypes with no formal breed.[14] These dogs were called Englische Docke or Englische Tocke - later written and spelled: Dogge - or Englischer Hund in Germany. The name simply meant "English dog". After time, the English word "dog" came to be the term for a molossoid dog in Germany[15] and in France.[16] Since the beginning of the 17th century, these dogs were bred in the courts of German nobility, independently of England.[17][18]

The dogs were used for hunting bear, boar and deer at princely courts, with the favorites staying at night in the bedchambers of their lords. These Kammerhunde (chamber dogs) were outfitted with gilded collars, and helped protect the sleeping princes against assassins.[19][20]

During the hunt for boar or bears, the Englische Dogge was used after the other hunting dogs to seize the bear or boar and hold the animal in place until the huntsman killed it. When the hunting customs changed, particularly because of the use of firearms, many of the involved dog types disappeared. The Englische Dogge became rare, and was kept only as a dog of hobby or luxury.

Name change

"Boar hounds" imported into Great Britain from the German Electorate of Hesse, 1807

In the 19th century, the dog was known as a "German boarhound" in English speaking countries.[21] Some German breeders tried to introduce the names "German dogge" and "German Mastiff" on the English market, because they believed the breed should be marketed as a dog of luxury and not as a working dog.[17] However, due to the increasing tensions between Germany and other countries, the dog later became referred to as a "Great Dane", after the grand danois[22] in Buffon's Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière in 1755.


Fawn Great Dane (female)

The Great Dane is a large German breed[23][24][25][26][27][28][29] of domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) known for its giant size.[30] 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.[23] The Great Dane is a short haired breed with a strong galloping figure.[31]

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.[23]

From year to year, the tallest living dog is typically a Great Dane. Previous record holders include Gibson, Titan, and George; however, the current record holder is a black Great Dane named Zeus who stood 112 cm (44 in) at the shoulder before his death in September 2014.[32] He was also the tallest dog on record (according Guinness World Records),[32] beating the previous holder, the aforementioned George who stood 110 cm (43 in) 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.[31][33] Unusually, the American Kennel Club dropped the minimum weight requirement from its standard.[34] The male should appear more massive throughout than the female, with a larger frame and heavier bone.[23]

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.[35] Today, the practice is common in the United States but 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.

Coat colors

Brindle Great Dane (male)

There are three colour varieties with five to six (depending on the standard) show-acceptable coat colors for Great Danes:[23][36]

  • Fawn and Brindle
    • 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 stripe pattern.
  • Harlequin and Black
    • 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.
      Grey merle (Grautiger) dogs are acceptable in conformation shows under the FCI as the grey merle dogs can produce correctly marked black/white harlequin dogs, depending on the combinations. The aim for deleting the color grey merle as a disqualifying fault is to provide a wider gene pool.[37] Their status is that they are "neither desirable nor to be disqualified".[38] Consequently this color must never obtain the highest grading at dog shows.[37]
    • 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.
  • Blue: The color is a pure steel blue. White markings at the chest and toes are not desirable and considered faults.
Blue puppy

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, brindlequin, merle, merlequin, blue merle, fawn mantle, and others.[citation needed] Some breeders may attempt to charge more for puppies of these "rare" colors.[citation needed]


The Great Dane's large and imposing appearance belies its friendly nature. They are known for seeking physical affection with their owners, and the breed is often referred to as a "gentle giant".[23][39]

Great Danes are generally well disposed toward other dogs, other non-canine pets, and familiar humans. They generally do not exhibit extreme aggressiveness or a high prey drive.[40] The Great Dane is a very gentle and loving animal and with the proper care and training is great around children, especially when being raised with them. However, if not properly socialized then a Great Dane may become fearful or aggressive towards new stimuli, such as strangers and new environments.[41]

Great Danes are a breed recommended for families provided that they get trained early and onwards, regarded by animal experts due to their preference for sitting on and leaning against owners as "the world's biggest 'lapdog.'"[39]


Like most dogs, Great Danes require daily walks to maintain their health. 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.[42][43]

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.[43]


Black Great Dane with cropped ears
A harlequin Great Dane

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. They have some health problems that are common to large breeds, including bloat (gastric dilatation volvulus(GDV)). Their average life span is 6 to 8 years; however, some Great Danes have been known to reach 10 years of age or more.[44][45] Like many larger breeds, Great Danes are at particular risk for hip dysplasia.

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 may carry the merle gene, which is part of the genetic makeup that creates the harlequin coloring.[46] The merle gene is an incomplete dominant, meaning only one copy of the gene is needed to show the merle coloring; two merle genes produce excessive white markings and many health issues such as deafness, blindness, or other debilitating ocular issues. Great Danes can also develop wobbler disease, a condition affecting the vertebral column. Since these dogs do grow at a rapid rate, the bones in their vertebae can push up against the spinal cord and cause a little bit of weakness in the legs. This can be treated with surgery or it may straighten itself out.

In popular culture

Merle Great Dane

Animation designer Iwao Takamoto based the Hanna-Barbera character Scooby-Doo on a Great Dane. He derived his illustrations from sketches given to him by a Hanna-Barbera employee who bred this dog. Scooby closely resembles a Great Dane, although his tail is longer than the breed's, bearing closer resemblance to a cat's tail.[47][48] The Great Dane was named the state dog of Pennsylvania in 1965,[49] and the University of Iowa had Great Danes, Rex I and Rex II, as mascots before the Hawkeye was chosen.[50]

See also


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  3. Albert Sonntag. "thaumazein".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "The Hind of Ceryneia Diana's Pet Deer". Flickr - Photo Sharing!.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Pergamon
  7. 1840, Dogs, Canidae or Genus Canis of Authors, including The Genera Hyaena and Proteles, Vol. II., Mammalia Vol.X, by Lieut-Col. Chas Hamilton Smith, with Portrait and Memoir of Don Felix D'azara|'s%20Library%20PARROTS%20jardine%20BEWICK&pg=PR5#v=onepage&q=Suliot&f=false
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  11. Great Danes Giant Hounds by D. Hancock
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  13. Morris, Desmond. Dogs – The Ultimate Dictionary of Over 1,000 Dog Breeds. Ebury Press, 2001. ISBN 0-09-187091-7. Page 618.
  14. Ludwig Beckmann in: Geschichte und Beschreibung der Rassen des Hundes, Volume 1, 1895, p. 6 (German)
  15. the German standard term for "dog" is "Hund"; the term "Dogge" is only in use for dogs of the mastiff-type
  16. the French standard term for "dog" is "chien"; the term "dogue" is only in use for dogs of the mastiff-type
  17. 17.0 17.1 Ludwig Beckmann in: Geschichte und Beschreibung der Rassen des Hundes, Volume 1, 1895, p. 7 (German)
  18. German: Johann Täntzer in: "Jagdbuch oder der Dianen hohe und niedrige Jagdgeheimnisse", Abschnitt: "Von den Englischen Hunden.", Kopenhagen, 1682, (written in German): "Jetziger Zeit werden solche Hunde jung an Herrenhöfen erzogen, und gar nicht aus England geholet.“ English translation: Johann Täntzer in: "Hunting book or Dianas high and low hunting secrets", Copenhagen, 1682, Heading: "On the English dogs" In this time were such dogs young nurtured at nobleman's courts, and not anymore fetched from England." cited in Ludwig Beckmann in: Geschichte und Beschreibung der Rassen des Hundes, Bd 1, 1895, p. 7
  19. Johann Täntzer in: "Jagdbuch oder der Dianen hohe und niedrige Jagdgeheimnisse", Abschnitt: 'Von den Englischen Hunden.", Kopenhagen, 1682, diverse Neuauflagen: - cited in Ludwig Beckmann in: Geschichte und Beschreibung der Rassen des Hundes, Volume 1, 1895, p. 9 English translation: Johann Täntzer in: "Hunting book or Dianas high and low hunting secrets", Copenhagen, 1682, Heading: "On the English dogs" cited in Ludwig Beckmann in: Geschichte und Beschreibung der Rassen des Hundes, Volume 1, 1895, p. 9
  20. in another source: Johann Friedrich von Flemming in: Der vollkommene teutsche Jäger., Abschnitt: "Von denen Englischen Docken.", Leipzig, 1719, Volume 1, p. 169 are the collars of the "Cammer-Hunde" (chamber dogs) upholstered with velvet and spangled with letters of silver and the collars of the "Leib-Hunde" (favourite dogs) are upholstered with plush and spangled with brass letters
  21. S. William Haas in: Great Dane: A Comprehensive Guide to Owning and Caring for Your Dog (Series:Comprehensive Owner's Guide), Kennel Club Books, 2003, p. 13
  22. depiction of Buffon's grand danois (Bibliothèque nationale de France)
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 23.4 23.5 "Great Dane Breed Standard". American Kennel Club. 1999.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Standards and Nomenclature, Group 2, Section 2, Molossoid breeds: 5. Germany: Deutsche Dogge (235) (Great Dane)
  25. Diane McCarty: Great Danes, TFH Publications, 1997, p. 6, ISBN 978-0793823130
  26. Jore Stahlkuppe: Great Danes (Complete Pet Owner's Manual), Publisher: Barron's Educational Series, 2012, p. 7, ISBN 978-0764147463
  27. Jill Swedlow: New Owners Guide Great Danes (New Owner's Guide To...), Publisher: TFH Publications, 1997, p. 8, ISBN 978-0793827640
  28. Charlotte Wilcox: The Great Dane, Capstone, 1997, p. 5, ISBN 1560655437
  29. J. Allen Varasdi: Myth Information: More Than 590 Popular Misconceptions, Fallacies, and Misbeliefs Explained!, Google eBook, 2011
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  35. "Easter Bonnets for Dogs Make Ears Stand Erect" Popular Mechanics, December 1934
  36. FCI Breed Standard N° 235 Great Dane (Deutsche Dogge) (PDF)
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  38. F.C.I. Standard N° 235, P. 7
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  47. "Iwao Takamoto, 81, the Animation Artist Who Created Scooby-Doo, Dies", by Susan Stewart, 10 January 2007, The New York Times
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External links