Great Dane

Great Danes are enormous, gentle dogs that love spending time with their family, whether guarding them, or lazing at their elbows. Is this gentle gargantuan dog breed right for you?
By Kate Silver
August 24, 2020
Great Dane
Breed Group
Dog Size
Other Traits
Temperament
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Great Dane

height
  • 28–32 inches
weight
  • 110–175 pounds
life span
  • 7–10 years
breed size
  • extra large (101 lbs. or more)
good with
  • children
  • seniors
  • dogs
  • cats
  • families
temperament
  • gentle
  • friendly
  • outgoing
  • playful
  • protective
intelligence
  • medium
shedding amount
  • seasonal
exercise needs
  • medium
energy level
  • calm
barking level
  • when necessary
drool amount
  • high
breed group
  • working
coat length/texture
  • short
colors
  • fawn
  • black
  • blue
  • gray
  • white
patterns
  • bicolor
  • brindle
  • harlequin
  • merle
other traits
  • easy to train
  • easy to groom
  • good watch dog
  • prone to health issues
  • highly territorial
  • good for first-time pet owners
  • strong loyalty tendencies

These gentle giants, which can grow to be the size of a small horse, are loving, loyal, and wonderful additions to families. They’re also alert guard dogs, intimidating in both sound and stature. Because of the Great Dane’s extra-large size, food and vet bills can add up, and that often catches owners by surprise, says Jami-Lyn Derse, DVM, founder of Veterinary Housecall Care in the Chicago area. “I don’t think people realize how big they’re going to get and how expensive they are,” says Derse. She says that the Great Dane is best suited to an owner prepared to give the dog a fair amount of training and be attentive to potential health problems associated with the breed.  

Appearance

The extra-large size is, hands down, this breed’s defining feature. Great Danes’ height spans 28–32 inches at the shoulder, and their weight falls between 110–175 pounds. The “Apollo of dogs” is also recognizable by its long, narrow, rectangular head, deep-set eyes, and thoughtful expression. “They’re very regal,” Derse says. “They’re strong and they’re powerful, and they have a great temperament overall.” 

Standard Great Dane colors include black, black and white, blue, brindle, fawn, and white. The harlequin Great Dane has a white coat with black patches; the merle Great Dane has a gray coat with dark patches; and the mantle Great Dane has black blanketing its body with intermittent white areas. American Great Danes, when compared with European Great Danes, tend to have a smaller head and sleeker stature, but are otherwise similar

Temperament

The Great Dane temperament is simply delightful. These dogs, which are of average intelligence, sociable, gentle, friendly, and loving, enjoy spending time with families of all sizes, as well as other dogs and cats, especially when raised with them. “Are Great Danes good with kids?” The answer, according to Derse, is a resounding yes, although supervision is always a good idea for small children, simply to avoid them being stepped on.

“Three of my technicians have them, and they all have little kids, and they’re just so good. The kids pull on their ears. Pull on their tails. Obviously, you shouldn’t be doing that, but they’re kids, and the dogs are just really good,” Derse says. “I always think of the Scooby-Doo personality. They’re like that.”

Still, there’s a reason they’re guard dogs: If a stranger isn’t intimidated by the dog’s sheer size, the dog will, if put to the test, show just how courageous—and protective—it can be.

Living Needs

As social dogs, Great Danes prefer to spend time around humans and other animals rather than in solitude. A large yard is a definite perk for exercise, allowing them to stretch their lumbering legs as desired. But it’s not mandatory, as long as they get the exercise they need. “They’re big, so they’re going to need to get out and run a little bit, but they’re not these dogs that have boundless energy,” Derse says. “I see them on a couch a lot of the time.”

In fact, it’s possible for a Great Dane to get too much of a workout. The dogs grow so rapidly that, according to the American Kennel Club, owners should wait until the dogs are 2 years old to take them hiking or jogging, persevering the pups’ growing joints.

Care

Caring for Great Danes is expensive because of their sheer size. They eat more food and, if taking medication, require more of that medication than a smaller dog. If they need surgery, they also need more anesthesia, which can raise the cost. “When you’re getting one of these dogs, the cost is really something to consider,” Derse says. “They’re definitely more expensive.”

Great Danes will shed their short, smooth coat occasionally throughout the year (which, given its size can be quite a bit of hair), with a seasonal increase in shedding as weather warms. To help control shedding, owners should consider brushing the dog weekly throughout the year and daily when seasonal shedding sets in. Baths are needed occasionally, and nails should be trimmed regularly.

For optimal exercise, two to three walks a day should suffice, according to the American Kennel Club. Training and socializing the dogs while they’re young is a necessity as owners prepare for the day when the dog may outweigh them. Great Danes enjoy being around people and other animals, and with their eager-to-please nature, they tend to respond well to consistent training and positive reinforcement.

Fastidious home dwellers take note: Yes, Great Danes drool. A lot. 

Health

Large breeds like the Great Dane are prone to a number of health issues. “I always emphasize when I see a Great Dane puppy how fast they’ll grow, and the diseases they get even when they are younger to middle-age,” Derse says.

The Great Dane lifespan is short, 7–10 years. “These larger breeds don’t tend to live as long as some of the smaller breeds, and Great Danes are one of those in particular where I think people are like, ‘Oh I want to have this dog, it’s going to live 12 or 14 years! And that’s just not the Great Dane lifespan at all,” Derse says.  

The biggest risk they face, Derse says, is gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), or bloat, a life-threatening condition that occurs when the dog’s stomach fills with air and twists or flips, pressuring other organs. “You can imagine the Great Dane has a huge barrel chest, and their stomach is in there and the stomach has so much room to move around with this deep chest and deep abdomen. As they’re running or playing, that stomach can just flip on itself,” Derse says. Bloat can be prevented by a surgery called gastropexy, in which the side of their stomach is attached to the abdomen wall so it can’t flip. Derse tells all people who are raising Great Danes to have the procedure done early on. “Because once the stomach flips, and there’s a good possibility it’s going to, that’s a life-threatening emergency,” she says.  

In addition, this breed is more likely to suffer from heart disease and eye conditions,  autoimmune thyroiditis, hypothyroidism, and hip dysplasia. Great Dane owners should seek advice from their veterinarian about measures they can take to reduce risks and improve their dog’s health.

History

The “Dane” part of the name is something of a mystery, considering this dog has German, not Danish, origins. In its own motherland, it’s referred to as the “Deutsche” (German) dog. At times during its roughly 400 years of existence, the dogs were excellent boar hunters and helped guard estates and carriages. In more modern times, they’re more likely to protect their owners and serve as a loyal companion.

The AKC recognized the Great Dane as a breed in 1887, and it’s still one of the 20 most popular breeds in the United States

Fun Facts

  • In 2011, a Great Dane in Otsego, Michigan, named Zeus earned the Guinness World Record for “Tallest Dog Ever (Male),” measuring in at 3.66 feet tall and weighing 155 pounds (when standing on his rear legs, he measured a hulking 7 feet, 4 inches). Zeus reportedly ate 30 pounds of dog food every two weeks. He passed away in 2014, when he was 5 years old.
  • Cartoonists love Great Danes. Scooby-Doo, Astro from The Jetsons, and Marmaduke are all famous fictional representatives of the breed.  
  • Politicians, athletes, and celebrities are also big fans. Just a few of the famous owners have included Jim Carrey, Bruce Lee, Fabio Lanzoni, Greg Lougainis, Mario Andretti, Chubby Checker, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
  • There are a number of Great Dane hybrid breeds available, such as the Labradane (a cross between a Labrador retriever and a Great Dane), a Boxane (boxer meets Dane), a Great Poodane (Dane meets poodle).