The Great Dane is one of the largest dog breeds on Earth, with the World Record holder for tallest dog being a Great Dane named Zeus, who stood 44 inches tall at the shoulder. Great Dane-like dogs likely originated in Greece for hunting boar and other large game. Closer relatives to the Great Dane, as we know it today, were widely used in the 16th century in Europe for hunting bear, deer, and boar among the nobility. They were crossbreeds of English Mastiffs and Irish Wolfhounds, and had surprisingly high status within the household. As firearms became more popular the need for hunting dogs diminished, and in the 19th century the Great Dane was increasingly marketed as a luxury companion, not as a working animal. The American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed in 1887, and it currently stands as the 15th most popular dog breed (2016) in the United States.
The Great Dane is described as friendly, dependable, and patient. Although the sheer size of the Great Dane often leads people to assume these dogs are a handful, they are actually laid back couch potatoes that are more suited to apartment dwelling than farm life. While daily walks are a necessity, little more exercise is required. These gentle giants are rarely aggressive and do not have a strong prey drive which makes them ideal companions for families with children or other small animals. Great Danes can be difficult to train due to their stubborn and lazy nature, but their sedate and easy going personality means formal obedience training for controlling bad behavior is rarely required.
As a giant breed, Great Danes can grow to seemingly monstrous sizes. There is no height and weight range for male or female dogs of this breed, only height/weight minimums. For males, they should stand a minimum of 30 inches tall and weigh at least 120 lbs, while females should be more than 28 inches tall at their shoulder and weigh at least 100 lbs. Acceptable Great Dane colors include black, black and white, blue, brindle, fawn, harlequin, mantle, merle, and white. The Great Dane coat is short and lies close to the body with little maintenance required.
As with most giant breeds, lifespan for the Great Dane is short, with dogs living an average of 6 – 8 years. In general, the larger the dog the shorter its life expectancy, as the aging process occurs much faster in these breeds. The most common health problem is congenital heart disease and dilated cardiomyopathy. In fact, heart issues are so predominant that Great Danes have been nicknamed the “heartbreak” breed. Great Danes may also have “wobbler disease,” which affects the vertebral column and occurs due to the dog’s rapid growth rate. Other issues include a high-incidence of hip dysplasia and arthritis, due to the excessive amount of stress that is placed on joints. Gastric dilation volvulus (bloat) is also a major concern for Great Dane owners. A study released by Purdue University estimates 30% of Great Danes will experience bloat during their lifetime, which can be deadly if not caught in time. Overall, Great Danes are wonderful family companions, but they will require vigilant health care throughout their lives.