The Great Dane has been known by many names, including the Deutsche Dogge, the Grand Danois (an old French designation meaning "big Danish," the Dogue Allemand (French for "German Mastiff"), the Ulm Dog, the Ulmer Dogge, the Ulmer Mastiff, the Boarhound, the Danish Dog, the English Dogge, the Tiger Dog, the Tiger Mastiff, the Grand Danois, the Brosse Dogge, the Hetzreude, the Saufanger, the Fanghund, the Kammerhunde ("Chamber Dog"), the Liebhunde ("Life Dog"), the Gentle Giant and simply the Dane. It is an enormous breed that has been cultivated as a distinct type for hundreds of years. No none knows why the English adopted a French name for this truly German breed, nor is there any known association between the origin or development of Great Danes and the country of Denmark. Whatever its given name, great size was never enough to make the "Apollo of dogs" a suitable representative of his distinguished breed; he always needed elegance, beauty, courage, nobility, speed and stamina, as well as a gentle, reliable disposition. The Great Dane was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1887, as a member of its Working Group.
The mature male Great Dane should not be less than 30 inches at the shoulder but is preferred to be over 32 inches in height. Adult females should not stand less than 28 inches at the shoulder but are preferred to be over 30 inches in height. There is no upper height limit. Danes vary widely in weight but typically range between 100 and 170 pounds. Their short, glossy coat is very easy to care for. Danes come in a range of colors, including black, blue, brindle, fawn, harlequin and mantle. They also come in white or mostly white and merle, which are accepted for AKC registration, breeding and participation in performance events but are not eligible for conformation competition. Great Danes may be shown with cropped or natural ears in the American show ring. However, many countries no longer permit showing with cropped ears, and natural ears are slowly gaining favor with many breed fanciers.
The exact age of the Great Dane breed is not known, but it is likely that close ancestors of the breed have existed for thousands of years. There are drawings of dogs resembling the Great Dane on Egyptian monuments dating to 3000 B.C. Early written descriptions of similar dogs were found in Chinese literature of 1121 B.C. These ancestral Danes were less refined than those seen today – heavier in build and bred for ferocity and fearlessness rather than appearance. The Great Dane as we know it has been selectively bred as a distinct type for at least 400 years, and perhaps longer. It is widely believed that Great Danes descend from crosses between the English Mastiff and the Irish Wolfhound.
The Great Dane originally was bred in Germany for the purpose of hunting the European wild boar, which at the time was the most savage of all game on the Continent. This took a powerful, intelligent, tenacious dog, and the Dane's personality and breed characteristics suited him perfectly to the task. German nobility were so impressed with these dogs that they began to take the best specimens as guard dogs, and ultimately companions, for their large estates. It is reported that in 1592, the Duke of Braunschweig brought a pack of 600 Great Danes to a boar hunt – supposedly, all of them males. In the 1800s, the breed in Germany began approaching the dog we know today. The Great Dane was declared the National Dog of Germany in 1876. Shortly thereafter, German fanciers declared that the breed be called the Deutsche dogge, and that all other names be abolished. Italy still calls the breed Alano, which means "mastiff." In 1891, the Deutsche Dogge Club of Germany was formed and adopted an official standard describing the breed.
Great Danes came to the United States starting in the mid-1800s. William "Buffalo Bill" Cody apparently was an early admirer of the breed. The American Kennel Club recognized the Great Dane in 1887. The German Mastiff Club of America was founded in 1889, and two years later the parent club was renamed the Great Dane Club of America.
Great Danes are rarely used as boarhounds today, but instead have been selectively bred for docility, conformation and temperament. They easily transitioned to affectionate companions. Balance in disposition and physical characteristics remains essential in correct representatives of the breed. According to the AKC official standard, a Great Dane "must be spirited, courageous, never timid; always friendly and dependable. This physical and mental combination is the characteristic which gives the Great Dane the majesty possessed by no other breed."
The average life expectancy of the Great Dane is from 7 to 10 years. Breed health concerns may include bloat (gastric dilatation and volvulus), callus dermatitis/pyoderma (over the hock and elbow joints), demodicosis, hip dysplasia, cervical vertebral instability/malformation ("Wobbler's syndrome"), entropion, ectropion, eversion of the cartilage of the nictitating membrane, congenital idiopathic megaoesophagus, congenital deafness, shoulder osteochondrosis, lymphoma, osteosarcoma and dilated cardiomyopathy.
The Great Dane is an enormous breed that has been cultivated as a distinct type of dog for hundreds of years. Great Danes originated in Germany and perhaps in England (there is no known connection with Denmark), and were bred to hunt the savage European wild boar. This took a powerful, intelligent, tenacious and fearless dog, and the Great Dane's personality and breed characteristics suited him perfectly to this task. However, size and beauty alone were never enough to make the "Apollo of dogs" a suitable representative of his distinguished breed; he always needed height, weight, courage, nobility, speed and endurance as well. Danes are rarely used as boarhounds today, but instead have transitioned to beloved and affectionate companions and less commonly, estate guard dogs. As such, balance in temperament and physical traits is essential. According to the AKC Official Standard, a Great Dane "must be spirited, courageous, never timid; always friendly and dependable. This physical and mental combination is the characteristic which gives the Great Dane the majesty possessed by no other breed."
While developed as a true working breed, correctly-bred Great Danes make outstanding, affectionate, loving and trusted family companions for spacious households that want a large, short-haired dog that offers some manner of protection due to their sheer size. They tend to be protective by nature only if necessary, but Great Danes should never be encouraged to be overly protective and certainly never to be aggressive. Many people are terrified of large dogs irrespective of their kind temperament. To keep these dogs as gentle ambassadors of this giant breed, Dane owners should always be vigilant and keep their dogs under complete control when in public, and securely contained when at home.
Great Danes can be as energetic as they are large, especially during the teenage period. Young Danes are prone to "the zoomies" – a term used to describe their demonstration of wild abandon and sheer glee that involves galloping, leaping, spinning and jumping on or over objects with an endearing expression of pure joy. This is entertaining to watch, unless a person or prized possession is in their path, which it rarely is but certainly could be. Because of its size, strength and inherently playful nature, even the most well-mannered Great Dane should not be left unsupervised with small children, and all children in the household must be taught the correct way to interact with and respect a dog. Danes are truly house dogs, despite their size, and generally do not require an enormous amount of daily exercise. Indeed, as they are so rapidly-growing, young Great Danes should not be taken jogging or otherwise exercised excessively during the first 1-2 years of life to prevent bone and joint disorders that can be caused by overuse. Danes do not thrive being kept isolated, kenneled or crated for long hours at a time, although they typically do require a securely fenced yard for exercise, elimination and playtime. They usually bond well with all friends and family members and enjoy participating in family activities. Regular walks suit most Great Danes perfectly.
Danes are described as being of average intelligence in the dog world but typically are easy to housebreak and train to standard obedience commands such as sit, stay, down, come and heel. As a breed, they have a strong desire to please. Many Great Danes compete very successfully in obedience, agility, rally and other performance competitions, in addition to being successfully shown in the AKC conformation ring. Early training and socialization of puppies is essential from 3-6 months of age. Dane puppies grow extremely rapidly and within no time will tower over their canine compatriots in puppy kindergarten classes. In its first year of life, a Great Dane will grow as much as a child grows in fourteen or fifteen years. They must be given consistent structure and gentle but firm training to help them become the beloved, devoted and well-adjusted family-members that they are so well-known to be. Dane puppies should not be allowed free run of the house without supervision until they have proven themselves to be trustworthy, as they can easily destroy a couch, chair or carpeting if the mood suits them. Many owners responsibly crate-train their puppies which, when done properly, can help enormously with potty training and prevention of chewing sprees. Many Dane puppies see small animals and human toddlers as peers - similar in size and sound as themselves. Puppies naturally play aggressively, chew on each other, growl and nip as part of learning appropriate canine pack structure and behavior. Owners of Danes need to conscientiously and consistently watch and train their puppies so that they respect all household members and understand their role in the home. Children should not bother a puppy when it is in its safe place or den – which most commonly is its crate.
Anyone considering adding a Great Dane (or any other giant breed) to their family should be especially careful to research the breed and the breeder whose dogs she is considering. Spur-of-the-moment decisions to acquire a Great Dane puppy are too often made by people unprepared to deal with their massive size, rambunctiousness and potentially destructive behavior, especially during adolescence. Reputable breeders will take the time to discuss the temperament of their breed with potential owners in an attempt to prevent their dogs from ending up in shelters or with rescue organizations. Knowledgeable breeders and trainers generally agree that aggressive tendencies or excessive shyness/fearfulness in Great Danes usually are a product of poor breeding, poor training, or both. Potential owners should explore their dog's background and commit to an appropriate training and socialization protocol before making a life-long commitment to this giant dog.
Owners of Danes should have a securely fenced yard or enclosure to prevent theft of or escape by their dog. Most Danes are not jumpers by nature; a six-foot fence should be sufficient. Many Great Danes have a fairly high prey-drive and will chase cats, rabbits or other small animals. Danes left alone for hours on end may become barkers, which nearby neighbors tend not to appreciate due to the depth and volume of the Great Dane bark.
A Great Dane can provide years of affectionate and loyal companionship. People without the time or dedication to commit to their Great Dane should consider selecting a different breed.
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. It is always a unit-the Apollo of dogs. A Great Dane must be spirited, courageous, never timid; always friendly and dependable. This physical and mental combination is the characteristic which gives the Great Dane the majesty possessed by no other breed. It is particularly true of this breed that there is an impression of great masculinity in dogs, as compared to an impression of femininity in bitches. Lack of true Dane breed type, as defined in this standard, is a serious fault.
Size, Proportion, Substance
The male should appear more massive throughout than the bitch, with larger frame and heavier bone. In the ratio between length and height, the Great Dane should be square. In bitches, a somewhat longer body is permissible, providing she is well proportioned to her height. Coarseness or lack of substance are equally undesirable. The male shall not be less than 30 inches at the shoulders, but it is preferable that he be 32 inches or more, providing he is well proportioned to his height. The female shall not be less than 28 inches at the shoulders, but it is preferable that she be 30 inches or more, providing she is well proportioned to her height. Danes under minimum height must be disqualified.
The head shall be rectangular, long, distinguished, expressive, finely chiseled, especially below the eyes. Seen from the side, the Dane's forehead must be sharply set off from the bridge of the nose, (a strongly pronounced stop). The plane of the skull and the plane of the muzzle must be straight and parallel to one another. The skull plane under and to the inner point of the eye must slope without any bony protuberance in a smooth line to a full square jaw with a deep muzzle (fluttering lips are undesirable). The masculinity of the male is very pronounced in structural appearance of the head. The bitch's head is more delicately formed. Seen from the top, the skull should have parallel sides and the bridge of the nose should be as broad as possible. The cheek muscles should not be prominent. The length from the tip of the nose to the center of the stop should be equal to the length from the center of the stop to the rear of the slightly developed occiput. The head should be angular from all sides and should have flat planes with dimensions in proportion to the size of the Dane. Whiskers may be trimmed or left natural. Eyes shall be medium size, deep set, and dark, with a lively intelligent expression. The eyelids are almond-shaped and relatively tight, with well developed brows. Haws and mongolian eyes are serious faults. In harlequins, the eyes should be dark; light colored eyes, eyes of different colors and walleyes are permitted but not desirable. Ears shall be high set, medium in size and of moderate thickness, folded forward close to the cheek. The top line of the folded ear should be level with the skull. If cropped, the ear length is in proportion to the size of the head and the ears are carried uniformly erect. Nose shall be black, except in the blue Dane, where it is a dark blue-black. A black spotted nose is permitted on the harlequin; a pink colored nose is not desirable. A split nose is a disqualification. Teeth shall be strong, well developed, clean and with full dentition. The incisors of the lower jaw touch very lightly the bottoms of the inner surface of the upper incisors (scissors bite). An undershot jaw is a very serious fault. Overshot or wry bites are serious faults. Even bites, misaligned or crowded incisors are minor faults.
Neck, Topline, Body
The neck shall be firm, high set, well arched, long and muscular. From the nape, it should gradually broaden and flow smoothly into the withers. The neck underline should be clean. Withers shall slope smoothly into a short level back with a broad loin. The chest shall be broad, deep and well muscled. The forechest should be well developed without a pronounced sternum. The brisket extends to the elbow, with well sprung ribs. The body underline should be tightly muscled with a well-defined tuck-up.
The croup should be broad and very slightly sloping. The tail should be set high and smoothly into the croup, but not quite level with the back, a continuation of the spine. The tail should be broad at the base, tapering uniformly down to the hock joint. At rest, the tail should fall straight. When excited or running, it may curve slightly, but never above the level of the back. A ring or hooked tail is a serious fault. A docked tail is a disqualification.
The forequarters, viewed from the side, shall be strong and muscular. The shoulder blade must be strong and sloping, forming, as near as possible, a right angle in its articulation with the upper arm. A line from the upper tip of the shoulder to the back of the elbow joint should be perpendicular. The ligaments and muscles holding the shoulder blade to the rib cage must be well developed, firm and securely attached to prevent loose shoulders. The shoulder blade and the upper arm should be the same length. The elbow should be one-half the distance from the withers to the ground. The strong pasterns should slope slightly. The feet should be round and compact with well-arched toes, neither toeing in, toeing out, nor rolling to the inside or outside. The nails should be short, strong and as dark as possible, except that they may be lighter in harlequins. Dewclaws may or may not be removed.
The hindquarters shall be strong, broad, muscular and well angulated, with well let down hocks. Seen from the rear, the hock joints appear to be perfectly straight, turned neither toward the inside nor toward the outside. The rear feet should be round and compact, with well-arched toes, neither toeing in nor out. The nails should be short, strong and as dark as possible, except they may be lighter in harlequins. Wolf claws are a serious fault.
The coat shall be short, thick and clean with a smooth glossy appearance.
Color, Markings and Patterns
Brindle--The base color shall be yellow gold and always brindled with strong black cross stripes in a chevron pattern. A black mask is preferred. Black should appear on the eye rims and eyebrows, and may appear on the ears and tail tip. The more intensive the base color and the more distinct and even the brindling, the more preferred will be the color. Too much or too little brindling are equally undesirable. White markings at the chest and toes, black-fronted, dirty colored brindles are not desirable.
Fawn--The color shall be yellow gold with a black mask. Black should appear on the eye rims and eyebrows, and may appear on the ears and tail tip. The deep yellow gold must always be given the preference. White markings at the chest and toes, black-fronted dirty colored fawns are not desirable.
Blue--The color shall be a pure steel blue. White markings at the chest and toes are not desirable.
Black--The color shall be a glossy black. White markings at the chest and toes are not desirable.
Harlequin– Base color shall be pure white with black torn patches irregularly and well distributed over the entire body; a pure white neck is preferred. Merle patches are normal. No patch should be so large that it appears to be a blanket.
Eligible, but less desirable, are black hairs showing through the white base coat which give a salt and pepper or dirty appearance.
Mantle--The color shall be black and white with a solid black blanket extending over the body; black skull with white muzzle; white blaze is optional; whole white collar is preferred; a white chest; white on part or whole of forelegs and hind legs; white tipped black tail. A small white marking in the blanket is acceptable, as is a break in the white collar.
Any variance in color or markings as described above shall be faulted to the extent of the deviation. Any Great Dane which does not fall within the above color classifications must be disqualified.
The gait denotes strength and power with long, easy strides resulting in no tossing, rolling or bouncing of the topline or body. The backline shall appear level and parallel to the ground. The long reach should strike the ground below the nose while the head is carried forward. The powerful rear drive should be balanced to the reach. As speed increases, there is a natural tendency for the legs to converge toward the centerline of balance beneath the body. There should be no twisting in or out at the elbow or hock joints.
The Great Dane must be spirited, courageous, always friendly and dependable, and never timid or aggressive.
Danes under minimum height.
Split nose. Docked Tail.
Any color other than those described under "Color, Markings and Patterns"
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Sources: American Kennel Club