Breed: Great Dane
Temperament: protective, loyal
Lifespan: 8 -12 years
Recommended for: ‘big dog’ people, active families with older children
The origins of the Great Dane are uncertain. However, mastiff-type dogs have existed for centuries and were used throughout the ages as boarhunters, fighters and dogs of war.
The modern Great Dane was developed in Europe during the 1800s, probably from mastiff and greyhound stock. The Germans adopted it as their national dog around 1880, and in 1888 a club devoted to the breed (the “Deutscher Doggenclub”) was founded in Berlin. In 1884 the English Kennel Club recognised the Great Dane as a breed in their Stud Book. The conformation and temperament of the Great Dane was further refined by the Americans, who imported large numbers of good German dogs in the 1900s and used them in their breeding programs.
Known as ‘The Apollo of Dogs’, Great Danes combine elegance and proportion with great size and strength. Adult males stand about 33-36″ at the shoulder and weigh 63 to 80 kg, while females are around 31-33″ and weigh 50 to 63 kg. They have short, sleek coats. Five coat colours are accepted in the Australian show ring: fawn (tan with black mask), brindle (tan with black stripes and mask), harlequin (white with torn black patches), blue (steel grey) and black. Mantle colouring (black head and body, white chest, socks and muzzle) is also accepted in some countries. Other colours are regarded as ‘mismarks’ and are sold as pets. Ears are still cropped in America and Germany, but this practice is illegal in Australia.
When buying a puppy it is important to ask the breeder if you can view and interact with the parents, to ensure they have sound temperaments.
Most Great Danes are very human-orientated, they love both adults and children and make good family pets. However, even the puppies can be much bigger and stronger than small children. No matter how good the dog’s temperament, accidents can happen. Parents should always supervise play sessions and teach both puppy and child how to interact appropriately.
Great Danes are naturally protective of their families and territory, and they will bark when strangers approach the front door. Danes should not be encouraged to be overprotective – their sheer size is enough to deter any intruder.
Training and socialisation is crucial if a Great Dane puppy is to grow into a good canine citizen. Start with puppy kindergarten as soon as your puppy has the necessary vaccinations (kindergarten sessions are often run through the local vet), and follow up with obedience training.
Young puppies can be rambunctious and destructive, so be consistent and firm. Never let them jump up on people – it may be cute at 9 weeks, but at 9 months they could easily knock over and injure a child or an elderly person.
Danes are susceptible to bloat, certain types of cancer and various bone problems caused by incorrect feeding and rearing. Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is also found in some lines.
Bloat is a life threatening condition in which the stomach distends, then rotates. The causes of bloat are not known, but stress seems to play a part. It is thought that preventing vigorous exercise around mealtimes and feeding several small meals rather than one large may help prevent bloat.
Recent research into DCM suggests that it is possibly inherited in an x-linked, recessive way, meaning that usually unaffected carrier dams pass on the defective x chromosome to 50% of their offspring (JAVMA, Meurs, et al, Mar2001). The next stage of the research is the search for a marker gene, so that the condition could be identified through a simple blood test.
Feeding and maintenance
Because of their size, Great Danes can be expensive to maintain. They need the same vaccinations, worm, heartworm, flea and tick preventatives as other breeds, but in larger doses!
Most breeders recommend a good quality, meat-based dry food formulated for large breeds. Such a food contains everything needed to sustain a fast-growing puppy or an adult, without the need for additional vitamins or supplements. An unbalanced diet can result in problems with bone development. Raw, meaty bones should be given to keep teeth clean and healthy – brisket bones or lamb flaps are ideal. Great Dane puppies should not be overfed, as too much body weight can also lead to problems with bone development.
Great Dane bitches usually have no trouble whelping and they are good mothers. They usually have around 6-8 puppies, but litter sizes can vary from 1-12 pups.
Harlequin breeders face a number of challenges and problems. All breedings involving harlequins and merles produce a large number of mismarked puppies, including deaf and defective white puppies. Breeders must find homes for all the mismarked pups, and be prepared to euthanase defective pups.
Exercise and grooming
Breeders recommend a 45-50 minute walk every day for adult Danes. As well as keeping your Dane in top condition, exercise helps prevent boredom and frustration which can lead to destructive behaviour.
Puppies must not be over exercised – free puppy playing and gentle walks are enough. Young pups do not have enough muscle development to support their huge bone mass, so too much exercise can lead to shin soreness or other problems.
Danes have a short coat and don’t shed excessive amounts of hair, so they require minimal grooming.
To find up-to-date contacts for breeders, contact the following organisations.
The Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC)
Phone: 1300 728 022 (NSW only) or (02) 9834 3022
Fax: (02) 9834 3872
Phone: (03) 9788 2500
Fax: (03) 9788 2599
Phone: (02) 6241 4404 – Fax: (02) 6241 1129.
Phone: (08) 9455 1188
Fax: (08) 9455 1190
Phone: (08) 8349 4797
Canine Control Council of Queensland
Phone: (07) 3252 2661
Fax: (07) 3252 3864
Tasmanian Canine Association
Phone: (03) 6272 9443
Fax: (03) 6273 0844
Phone: (08) 8984 3570
Fax: (08) 8984 3409
The Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC)