By Dr. Becker
Large, lovable, alert and dependable, Great Danes are the perfect dog in an increasing number of American households. In fact, this largest of all dog breeds has moved from the 24th to the 14th spot in popularity in just the last 10 years, according to the American Kennel Club.1
One might surmise they came from Denmark, but Great Danes actually originated further south, in Germany. Known as Deutsche Dogges in the 16th century, experts believe they got their physical characteristics from distant forbears: their height from the Irish wolfhound, brawn from the mastiff and sleek profile from the greyhound.2
In their earliest days, Great Danes were "designer" dogs, developed to be boar hunters. Later, their imposing height and heft made them the perfect guard for their masters' castles. Great Danes are the tallest dog breed with an interesting history. Dog Care notes:
"If being tall is the only requirement, then Great Danes win paws down for record-breaking height. Giant George was proclaimed on Feb. 15, 2010 by the Guinness Book of World Records to be both the tallest living dog and the world's tallest dog ever.
He was measured at 43 inches at the shoulder. George died Oct. 17, 2013, but the current record holder keeps Great Danes on top for height … Zeus, who stands 44 inches tall, beat George by an inch in 2013, to become the tallest dog and the new tallest dog ever."3
Great Danes come in several colors: blue, black, brindle, fawn, harlequin (white with black patches) and mantle (which looks like a solid black "blanket" over a white body). One of the most distinctive "looks" when it comes to the Great Dane is perky, cropped — aka surgically altered — ears.
Once a requirement for purebred dogs, today, ear cropping is known as a practice that is both cruel and unnecessary, and is even banned in some countries. If faced with making a decision in this regard, do the right thing: Don't.
Giant Stature; Gentle Nature
It's not just their size that makes this breed a great guardian of the homestead; their temperament is suited for it, too, as Great Danes are known to be naturally protective. While they're not typically aggressive, these dogs will defend their family if the situation warrants it. Otherwise they're known as laid-back couch potatoes.
Great Danes do best when they have a fenced yard to roam around in; a 6-foot fence ought to be high enough, as they're not known to be jumpers. They are known for wandering, though, so a fence also helps keep them corralled while they're outdoors. As youngsters, another thing they are known for is digging, so when your Great Dane pup goes out, make sure he's not in the same area where you just planted your prized rose bushes!
As large as they are, you'd think Great Danes would prefer the great outdoors, but they actually do better inside as a part of a loving family. Loving and affectionate, Great Danes often don't know their own strength, especially when they're young and around small children. An enthusiastic Great Dane puppy could knock a toddler down with one swipe of their tail, so training them to be gentle early on is wise, as is keeping an eye on small children when they're in this dog's vicinity.
Great Dane Training: Early Is Critical
VetStreet explains some things every potential Great Dane owner should know before they bring their little bundle home:
"The Great Dane is loving, learns well, and housetrains easily. (But) left to his own devices, the amount of destruction he can do to your home and yard is beyond imagination. Don't let him enlighten you."4
"Teen" years for a Great Dane take place when they're around 6 months of age, but socialization must start long before then. From 8 weeks until around the age of 2 years, training is most crucial. One thing they should learn early is never to jump on people. Although they're sometimes rambunctious when they're younger, luckily this breed learns quickly. That said, it's important to start his training the day you bring him home, including positive crate training.
As young as 8 weeks old, these pups eagerly absorb lessons in deportment, so getting your pup into a class by the time he's 10 or 12 weeks old gives him less time at the beginning to develop bad habits. No matter what breed a dog is, they can start down the path of undesirable behavior if they're not given positive, consistent direction. Whether it's snatching food off the counter, tearing up carpeting or barking incessantly, if you, as his master, aren't diligent, you may have a problem on your hands.
When training, calmness and consistency are key. Socialization is particularly important for Great Dane puppies, not only to learn how to interact with humans, including children, but also with strangers, other dogs and other pets, including those you encounter with visitors or a walk in the park. Before signing up for a socialization or training class for your dog, puppy vaccinations may be required for such things as kennel cough, rabies, distemper and/or parvovirus by some trainers, but not all.
While some veterinarians say their exposure to other dogs should be limited until these are completed, it's a mistake to wait until six months to begin classes for a Dane pup, so looking for a positive training class is critical from the get go, and staying in class until 2 years of age is recommended.
Bringing Home a Great Dane, Even When She's Small
It goes without saying, perhaps, that when you're the "parent" to a cute and cuddly Great Dane puppy, the experience is more intense when she becomes a full-grown dog. What this means when it comes to grooming is that, although your dog's coat is smooth, fairly short and easy to care for, they do shed, so, as VetStreet quips, "it can seem like a lot of hair since he's a lot of dog."
Using a soft-bristle brush once a week will help keep your dog's skin and fur healthy. Beyond that, only occasional baths are needed when she gets dirty, but a weekly lather with a natural and mild dog shampoo is also fine.
Basic maintenance on a dog this size may include toenail trimming every few weeks, especially since waiting until they're overgrown may make them easier to get caught on things and tear off. If you've ever experienced that yourself, you can imagine that it's just as painful for your dog.
Initially, trimming a small amount off of a puppy nail a day is a great way to get puppies acclimated to the process of nail trims by consistently performing the task much more frequently. It may also go without saying, but these dogs can put away massive quantities of food, which will be expensive, so that's something to keep in mind before you bring that cute little Great Dane puppy home with you.
I have seen many people fall in love with giant breed puppies, only to realize they cannot afford to feed them healthfully for the life of the animal, so recognizing the economic commitment of giant breed dogs before getting a puppy is important. It's important large and giant breed puppies have slow, consistent growth. European Fédération Européenne de L'Industrie Des Aliments Pour Animaux Familiers, or FEDIAF growth standards are more rigorous for growing giant breed pups than AAFCO.
I recommend feeding a balanced, fresh food diet that has been formulated to EU standards for early (up to 14 weeks) and late (after 14 weeks) large breed puppies. These diets are formulated with optimized calcium levels that help reduce dietary-induced musculoskeletal issues during development.
Health Concerns: What to Watch For
Dogs often have genetic problems unique to their breed, and the Great Dane is no exception. One of the most common is bloat, when a dog's stomach expands with air. When it's on the serious side, it can involve a condition known as gastric torsion, when the stomach twists and cuts off the blood supply.
Unfortunately, this condition not only kills more Great Danes than any other condition, it also happens to this breed more than any other. Further, if it happens once, it often happens again, and there's no test for it. According to VetStreet, only surgery can save the dog's life:
"Before surgery, ask about having your dog's stomach tacked, a procedure that will prevent it from twisting again in the future. Nearly all dogs that bloat once will do so again, and that surgery can save your dog's life. In fact, many Great Dane owners have it done routinely on all their dogs as a preventive measure."5
Another thing to watch for is cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disease that causes an enlarged heart. It's also something that can be tested for on an annual basis. Choosing unadulterated, fresh, meat-based diets is an excellent way to ensure you are providing adequate amino acids to your Dane's heart throughout her lifetime.
Hypertrophic osteodystrophy is a disorder that sometimes occurs as a Great Dane puppy experiences rapid growth. The goal in feeding a large or giant breed puppy is to keep him lean, with controlled growth. A healthy, large or giant breed puppy will thrive on a portion-controlled, balanced, species-appropriate diet. You can feed a spot-on balanced homemade diet or an excellent-quality commercially available food designed for giant breed pups.
Cancer, particularly bone cancer, is another cause of death among this breed. Another problem is hip dysplasia, when the hip sockets are malformed, which may require surgery and lead to arthritis later on. Making sure your dog has slow, consistent growth and doesn't become overweight is one way to help prevent this condition.
As you can see, many of the breeds' issues are linked to diet, or inappropriate diets. As long as you love your dog and treat him like a family member, a Great Dane can provide the proverbial "best friend" status. As Rover.com notes:
"Down deep in a Great Dane personality, they just want to be your lapdog — provided your lap can sustain close to 200 pounds! Thanks to their friendly nature, they want to curl up with you, so you can't have a body bubble with this breed. They want to stand with weighty paws on your shoes, leaning into your body, showing that demonstrative attachment. If you're easily bowled over or have very tender feet, tread carefully when considering a Great Dane."6
And that's a pretty good assessment. Contact a Great Dane rescue to see the pups available in your area.