Great Dane breed: the elegant giant who conquered the world

László Enikő, 2023. May 30 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Considered to be one of the world's largest dogs, the Great Dane is a really affectionate, patient family pet who loves to relax on the sofa. However, the former fearless hound is not a dog to be trifled with.


There is almost no one who doesn’t know the giant Great Dane, also known as the Apollo of dogs. He attracts attention not only with his large stature, but also with his outstanding elegance and noble stance. Nevertheless, it is a German breed. Although his appearance is very imposing and he is a proud, noble character, the Great Dane is in fact a giant lapdog who loves to lounge on the sofa and has a very big heart for his size. A great family dog, who can also be a protective companion for children.

Freddy the Great Dane, who died two years ago, was considered the tallest dog in the world:


The Great Dane presumed ancestors existed around 2500-3000 BC. Egyptian, Chinese and Roman depictions are the main references. These featured huge, dog-like dogs that accompanied people on their hunts. They have been used to hunt wild boars, bears and deer, and throughout the ages these now gentle giants have been held in high esteem. His ancestors fought in wars in ancient Rome, but the Germans also sent many Great Danes to the front in the Second World War. However, his feisty character and hunting instincts have faded over time.

The breed is from the 16th century. century, when the strong Mastiffs began to be crossed with muscular, probably Scottish and Irish greyhounds. Presumably the now extinct so-called German bulldogs, i.e. the Bullenbeisser the may have been among the ancestors. Great Danes were still diverse at this time, generally classified as hunting or bull-hunting, strong, mastiff-like dogs. Over time, however, the types have become increasingly distinct.

Great Danes with gold plated collar

The ancestors of today’s Great Danes lived in princely courts, where they were divided into several groups. The most beautiful and most skilful dogs slept next to their owners. And on a bearskin rug with a gold-plated velvet collar. These dogs were known as Kammerhunde, or kamrakhunds. The dogs with silver collars acted as bodyguards, spending the night outside the door. They were called Leibhunde (body dogs).

The other four-legged animals were given iron collars. Their job was to guard the courtyard. But despite the division, they were all excellent hunters, capable of taking down a mature wild boar or bear at any time. The Great Dane inherited its speed and grace from the Greyhound and its strength and stamina from the Mastiff. The precious dogs were protected by a thickly lined armour-like vest to minimise the chance of injury from the beast. Also they also had their ears croppe for the same purpose. If someone kills such a treasured dog, the laws were very severely punished.

Why is it also called a Great Dane?

According to some sources in the 1700s, a French naturalist travelled to Denmark, where he met a dog that resembled a Great Dane, but had more of a greyhound character. He named it Great Danois, or Great Dane. However, descriptions suggest that this dog was more likely to be an ancestor of the very rare Broholmer, also known as the Danish Mastiff, than the Great Dane. But the theory is that the name has stuck to the breed. There was also a dispute between Denmark and Germany about the origin of the German dog, but the FCI decided in favour of the latter.

From hunting and guard dog to status symbol

Later on, cropping became more of an aesthetic issue among Great Danes. Many countries now have laws that prohibit the cutting of ears for non-medical purposes. As hunting habits changed, the Great Dane became a status symbol and then a family pet. The standard for the breed was set at an exhibition in Berlin in 1880. The Great Dane Since 1888 the German Dog Club (Deutscher Doggen Club), the first dog club in the country.

According to old beliefs, the Great Dane can protect people from ghosts and evil spirits.

A 19. In the 19th century, before the official standard was published, this giant was called by many different names. They are still known as Great Danes in English-speaking areas, Grand Danois in northern Europe, Alanos in Italy, but also as Boar Catchers, Hound Dogs, Great Danes, Ulm Dogs and Bismarck Dogs. The German Chancellor Otto von Bicmarck was famous for his love of German dogs, among other things, and almost kept such dogs almost all his life. Today, the variety is widespread throughout the world, and is particularly popular in North America. The famous cartoon character, Scooby-Doo, was also modelled on the Great Dane.

Otto von Bismarck’s Great Danes, also known as imperial dogs.

Breed standard

The Great Dane is distinguished and proud in appearance, with a large and strong build. Almost sculptural, proportionate, harmonious appearance. The head is in harmony with the overall shape, long and outstretched. The neck is long, thinning slightly towards the head. Nose black, except for the spotted dogs. The eyes are medium sized, dark, almond shaped, but can be lighter in some colour variants. His gaze is lively, intelligent. The ears are high-pinned, drooping and medium in size. The tail is high, tapering and drooping towards the end. Its movement is harmonious, flexible and embracing. The coat is short, shiny and straight. Colours include black, blue, yellow, stripes and harlequin. The official standard is that they are bred in three separate colour varieties: yellow and striped, spotted and black, and steel blue. The minimum height at the withers is 80 cm for males and 72 cm for bitches. Body weight 50-80 kg depending on sex and height. Given its large size, its life expectancy is on average only 7.5 years.


The Great Dane is characterised by its willingness to sit or lean on its owner’s lap. For such a big dog, this can be quite surprising, so if you don’t want your dog to do this, get him weaned from it when he’s still a puppy. He is a loving, affectionate companion who loyally protects his family and home. Despite this, he is not aggressive, in fact he is a calm dog who is very difficult to upset. He doesn’t bark unnecessarily, but he is playful and fun. Sometimes he likes to fool around, which is quite an amusing sight for a dog with such huge, long limbs. But even then, it can retain its elegance and authority. He’s also very patient with children, but don’t let the youngsters tease your pet too much. The Great Dane likes to lounge on the sofa, often taking up the whole space. He gets on well with other pets very quickly and is calm and friendly towards his own kind.

Ideal environment

This huge dog naturally needs a lot of space. It likes to spread out and stretch big, so it is not suitable for small apartments. He loves to play big and run around in the garden. Be patient, peaceful and trustworthy with children, but never leave them alone. After all, the Great Dane can unintentionally cause injury due to its huge size. With training, the Great Dane can become an excellent watchdog, although its mere appearance is enough to keep the bad guys at bay. It is recommended to avoid climbing stairs.


The Great Dane does not require much grooming, just an occasional brushing, and the eyes and ears kept clean. Today, ears can only be cropped for health reasons in our country. As it is prone to bloat, it is best to feed it small portions several times a day. It is also recommended to place the bowl higher up, on a small platform, so that it is not uncomfortable for the dog to bend over and stand with its legs spread.

Common health problems

Bloating often occurs in Great Danes. Therefore, it is very important that after your dog eats, it does not do any intense exercise for at least thirty minutes. The breed is also at risk of dysplasia, which occurs mainly in large dogs, but can also develop bone cancer and genetic heart disease. Buying from a responsible breeder is therefore, as with all breeds, extremely important for the Great Danes.

(Sources used: János Szinák – István Veress: Dogs of the World II, Klára Király, Dr.: Poems, Legends and Wisdoms for Dog Lovers, David Alderton: Dogs, Dr. Pál Sárkány: International Dog Encyclopaedia, Paul McGreevy: Dogs, International Dog Magazine Volume XIII Issue 1)

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