The Great Dane is a German breed of domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) known for its giant size. The name of the breed in Germany is Deutsche Dogge (German Mastiff). They are known for their enormous bodies and great height. The Great Dane is one of the world's tallest dog breeds; the current world record holder, measuring 112 cm (44 in) from paw to shoulder, is "Zeus"(died Sep. 2014; Age 5). Their large size belies their friendly nature, as Great Danes are known for seeking physical affection with their owners.
History Dogs resembling the Great Dane have been seen on Egyptian monuments dating back to 3,000 BC. Extremely large boarhounds resembling the Great Dane appear in ancient Greece; in frescoes from Tiryns dating back to 14th–13th centuries BC. The large boarhound or Molossian hound continues to appear throughout ancient Greece in subsequent centuries right up to the Hellenistic era. The Molossian hound, the Suliot dog and specific imports from Greece were used in the 18th century to increase the stature of the boarhounds in Austria and Germany and the wolfhounds in Ireland. Bigger dogs are depicted on numerous runestones in Scandinavia, on coinage in Denmark from the 5th Century AD and in the collection of Old Norse poems, known in English as Poetic Edda. The University of Copenhagen Zoological Museum holds at least seven skeletons of very large hunting dogs, dating from the 5th Century BC going forward through to the year 1000 AD.
In the middle of the 16th Century, the nobility in many countries of Europe imported strong, long-legged dogs from England, which were descended from crossbreeds between the English Mastiff and the Irish Wolfhound. They were dog hybrids in different sizes and phenotypes with no formal breed. These dogs were called Englische Docke or Englische Tocke - later written and spelled: Dogge - or Englischer Hund in Germany. The name simply meant "English dog". After time, the English word "dog" came to be the term for a molossoid dog in Germany and in France. Since the beginning of the 17th Century, these dogs were bred in the courts of German nobility, independently of England. The dogs were used for hunting bear, boar and deer at princely courts, with the favorites staying at night in the bedchambers of their lords. These Kammerhunde (chamber dogs) were outfitted with gilded collars, and helped protect the sleeping princes against assassins. During the hunt for boar or bears, the Englische Dogge was used after the other hunting dogs to seize the bear or boar and hold the animal in place until the huntsman killed it. When the hunting customs changed, particularly because of the use of firearms, many of the involved dog types disappeared. The Englische Dogge became rare, and was kept only as a dog of hobby or luxury.
In the 19th century, the dog was known as a "German boarhound" in English speaking countries. Some German breeders tried to introduce the names "German Dogge" and "German Mastiff" on the English market, because they believed the breed should be marketed as a dog of luxury and not as a working dog. However, due to the increasing tensions between Germany and other countries, the dog later became referred to as a "Great Dane", after the grand danois in Buffon's Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière in 1755.
As described by the American Kennel Club:
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. The Great Dane is a short haired breed with a strong galloping figure.
In the ratio between length and height, the Great Dane should be square. The male dog should not be less than 30 in (76 cm) at the shoulders, a female 28 in (71 cm). Danes under minimum height are disqualified. From year to year, the tallest living dog is typically a Great Dane. Previous record holders include Gibson, Titan, and George; however, the current record holder is a black Great Dane named Zeus who stands 112 cm (44 in) at the shoulder. He is also the tallest dog on record (according Guinness World Records), beating the previous holder, the aforementioned George who stood 110 cm (43 in) at the shoulder. The minimum weight for a Great Dane over eighteen months is 120 lb (54 kg) for males, 100 lb (45 kg) for females. Unusually, the American Kennel Club dropped the minimum weight requirement from its standard. The male should appear more massive throughout than the female, with a larger frame and heavier bone. Great Danes have naturally floppy, triangular ears. In the past, when Great Danes were commonly used to hunt boars, cropping of the ears was performed to make injuries to the dogs' ears less likely during hunts. Now that Danes are primarily companion animals, cropping is sometimes still done for traditional and cosmetic reasons. In the 1930s when Great Danes had their ears cropped, after the surgery two devices called Easter Bonnets were fitted to their ears to make them stand up. Today, the practice is common in the United States but much less common in Europe. In some European countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, parts of Australia, and in New Zealand, the practice is banned, or controlled to only be performed by veterinary surgeons.
There are six show-acceptable coat colors for Great Danes: Fawn: The color is yellow gold with a black mask. Black should appear on the eye rims and eyebrows, and may appear on the ears. Brindle: The color is fawn and black in a chevron stripe pattern. Often also they are referred to as having a tiger-stripe pattern. Blue: The color is a pure steel blue. White markings at the chest and toes are not desirable and considered faults. Black: The color is a glossy black. White markings at the chest and toes are not desirable and considered faults. Harlequin: The base color is pure white with black torn patches irregularly and well distributed over the entire body; a pure white neck is preferred. The black patches should never be large enough to give the appearance of a blanket, nor so small as to give a stippled or dappled effect. Eligible, but less desirable, are a few small grey patches (this grey is consistent with a Merle marking) or a white base with single black hairs showing through, which tend to give a salt and pepper or dirty effect.Grey merle (Grautiger) dogs are acceptable in conformation shows under the F.C.I. as the grey merle dogs can produce correctly marked black/white harlequin dogs, depending on the combinations. The aim for deleting the color grey merle as a disqualifying fault is to provide a wider gene pool. Their status is that they are "neither desirable nor to be disqualified". Consequently this color must never obtain the highest grading at dog shows. Mantle (in some countries referred to as Bostons due to the similar coloration and pattern as a Boston Terrier): The color is black and white with a solid black blanket extending over the body; black skull with white muzzle; white blaze is optional; whole white collar preferred; a white chest; white on part or whole of forelegs and hind legs; white tipped black tail. A small white marking in the black blanket is acceptable, as is a break in the white collar Other colors occur occasionally but are not acceptable for conformation showing, and they are not pursued by breeders who intend to breed show dogs. These colors include white, fawnequin, brindlequin, merle, merlequin, blue merle, fawn mantle, and others. Some breeders may attempt to charge more for puppies of these "rare" colors. The breeding of harlequin, merle and especially white (homozygous merle) Great Danes is controversial, as these colors are associated with the merle gene. In some European countries, for example in Germany, is the mating of two merle specimen forbidden by animal protection law, because this will produce a litter of puppies with a quarter of "double merles", which are often deaf or blind.
Temperament The Great Dane's large and imposing appearance belies its friendly nature. The breed is often referred to as a "gentle giant". Great Danes are generally well disposed toward other dogs, other non-canine pets, and familiar humans. They generally do not exhibit extreme aggressiveness or a high prey drive. The Great Dane is a very gentle and loving animal and with the proper care and training is great around children, especially when being raised with them. However, if not properly socialized a Great Dane may become fearful or aggressive towards new stimuli, such as strangers and new environments. Great Danes are a breed recommended for families provided that they get trained early and onwards, regarded by animal experts due to their preference for sitting on and leaning against owners as 'the world's biggest 'lapdog.'
Exercise Like most dogs, Great Danes require daily walks to maintain their health. However, it is important not to over exercise this breed, particularly when young. Great Dane puppies grow very large, very fast, which puts them at risk of joint and bone problems. Because of a puppy's natural energy, Dane owners often take steps to minimize activity while the dog is still growing. Given their large size, Great Danes continue to grow (mostly gaining weight) longer than most dogs. Even at one year of age a Great Dane will continue to grow for several more months.
Great Danes, like most giant dogs, have a fairly slow metabolism. This results in less energy and less food consumption per pound of dog than in small breeds. Great Danes have some health problems that are common to large breeds, including bloat (gastric dilatation volvulus(GDV)). The average life span of Great Danes is 6 to 8 years. Like many larger breeds, Great Danes are at particular risk for hip dysplasia. Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and many congenital heart diseases are also commonly found in the Great Dane, leading to its nickname: the Heartbreak breed, in conjunction with its shorter lifespan. Great Danes also may carry the merle gene, which is part of the genetic makeup that creates the harlequin coloring. The merle gene is an incomplete dominant, meaning only one copy of the gene is needed to show the merle coloring; two merle genes produce excessive white markings and many health issues such as deafness, blindness, or other debilitating ocular issues. Great Danes can also develop something called "wobblers disease" that can affect their vertebral column. Since these dogs do grow at a rapid rate, the bones in their vertebrae can push up against the spinal cord and cause a little bit of weakness in the legs. This can be treated with surgery or it may straighten itself out.
In popular culture
Fang, Hagrid's dog from the Harry Potter series, is a boarhound, another name for Great Danes. Though in the movie, the role was played by a Neapolitan Mastiff. Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel was nicknamed the "Great Dane". The Great Dane was named the state dog of Pennsylvania in 1965. Scooby-Doo, the famous Hanna-Barbera character, was based on a Great Dane by animation designer Iwao Takamoto. Takamoto based his illustrations on sketches given to him by a Hanna-Barbera employee who bred this dog. Scooby closely resembles a Great Dane, although his tail is longer than the breed's, bearing closer resemblance to a cat's tail. The athletic teams of the University at Albany have been known as the Great Danes since 1965. Damien The Great Dane has been the mascot since that time. In 2003, the school added Lil' D, a smaller Great Dane, to help Damien entertain the crowds. The University of Iowa had Great Danes, Rex I and Rex II, as mascots before the Hawkeye was chosen. Astro, the dog in The Jetsons. Brutus in The Ugly Dachshund, a Great Dane raised by a Dachshund mother. Marmaduke is a newspaper comic strip drawn by Brad Anderson from 1954 to the present day. The strip revolves around the Winslow family and their Great Dane, Marmaduke. Singer, the main but tragic hero of The Guardian, a novel by Nicholas Sparks. Elmer, a Great Dane in Oswald the Lucky Rabbit by Walter Lantz In each film version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, a Great Dane was cast as the cursed hellhound that kills the Baskerville family. Ace the Bat-Hound, from the Batman TV series, was depicted as a Great Dane mix. In the animated series Batman Beyond, Bruce Wayne owns a black Great Dane mix he picked up on the street, also named Ace. Ben, Hōgen, and Genba from Japanese anime and manga, Ginga Nagareboshi Gin and Ginga Densetsu Weed. Just Nuisance who was the only dog to be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy. Done mainly as a morale booster for World War II enlisted troops, Nuisance proved to be a lasting legacy of the small Cape Town suburb of Simons Town. Chestnut: Hero of Central Park revolves around the inventive ways the Great Dane is kept hidden from his new owners. Pinkerton is the title character in a series of picture books by Steven Kellogg.