7 tips for meaningful dog activities at home
Irish Wolfhound

Great Dane

The Great Dane alone impresses with its imposing appearance, because it is one of the world’s largest dog breeds. When brought up well, she is friendly, gentle and peaceful, but the temperament slumbers in her. It received its greatest honor in 1965 when the Great Dane was named the state dog of the US state of Pennsylvania.

The origin of the Great Dane

The Assyrians, who lived around 4,000 years before our time in what is now Iraq, had very large attack dogs with short-haired fur. A secured line of ancient ancestors based on similar breeds cannot be traced back to the Great Dane and modern DNA comparisons also disprove the relationship with the Tibetan Mastiff. Another theory leads to the Celts, who took the Great Danes forerunners to Great Britain and Ireland.

From the ancient Roman Empire there are reports of exhibition fights in the circus, where the “broad-mouthed dogs of Great Britain” defeated the dogs of Molossis (native to the Greek-Albanian Balkans), which were previously considered the strongest breed.

Body dogs for the nobility

At the beginning of the 16th century, lords of the nobility laid the foundation for breeding Great Danes with the import of British dogs, crosses of the Irish Wolfhound and Mastiff. As an independent breed, however, these dogs could not yet be called the English Tocken or English Tocken. Rather, the English word for dog was Germanized and became a synonym for all animals of Anglo-Saxon origin. There were also nicknames for other mastiffs that were used to differentiate the different lines, for example the Danish mastiff or the Ulmer mastiff. The kennels and the keepers were given the same name, i.e. Danish dog boys and Danish kennels.

Selection and commitment

In the beginning, adult Great Danes were bought at high cost, but soon afterwards they started raising their own at the royal courts. Each dog was assigned to a class, but they were all valuable and were treated accordingly with care. The strongest and most beautiful animals were trained to become so-called chamber dogs, an animal bodyguard, so to speak, whose upbringing was particularly geared towards socialization and obedience. These mastiffs were given a golden collar as an external mark. Their task was to guard the prince’s sleep and to catch any assassins or intruders. The second class lived in body dogs with silver necks and the other mastiffs lived outside the living area at the Fürstenhof. The main task of the dogs, however, was their use in the hunt, where deer, wild boar or bears were killed. Other dogs took on the task of digging up and chasing the protective thicket into the open air before the mastiffs were used to target the defensive game in order to tire it out, pack it and hold it in place until the hunter could kill the animal with a stabbing weapon. When deployed, the Great Danes wore specially made armor made of thickly padded fabric reinforced with whalebone, which protected against bites and paws from the game.

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A uniform name

With the invention of the firearm, the hunt was replaced and the mastiffs were no longer needed due to the greater range of the rifle bullets. The imposing breed slowly became a lover dog from the middle of the 19th century, whose distribution was almost exclusively in Württemberg as the Ulmer Mastiff. The name German Boershund, as the dogs were called in their English-speaking homeland, did not fit into the marketing of the dog breeders, as it conveys a flat and derogatory image of the noble animals. Appropriate names were sought in breeders’ circles, for example German Dogge or German Mastiff or Grand Danois / Great Dane. Ulmer mastiffs and Danish mastiffs were exhibited at the dog shows in Hamburg in 1863 and 1869, although the Danish breed was of German origin. This actually inappropriate name persisted for years until a judge suggested the uniform name Great Dane in 1876. This is what Germany’s first breeding club, founded in Berlin at the beginning of 1888, was called the Deutscher Doggen Club. Nevertheless, both names continued in parallel, because the Danish mastiff became smaller and slimmer than the Ulmer Schlag by crossing a greyhound.

Body type and coat

The expressive head is always carried raised. It is narrow, elongated and has a distinctive stop with clearly visible eyebrow arches. The ears, set high, are of medium size, naturally pendulous and with the front edges close to the face. The round eyes should be dark, with blue and black and white spotted fur, light eyes or two different eye colors are allowed. The muzzle is rectangular in shape, set high and with long lips. The physique shows a square silhouette with an elegantly curved, long neck. The good muscles fit in with the spacious chest with arched costal arches and the relatively short back. The contour runs horizontally and ends in a broad loin area with the tail that extends to the hock joint. The legs are sturdy and strong with round paws. The fur is dense, short-haired and has a beautiful sheen. Great Danes come in five colors. Brindle in golden yellow ground color with black vertical drawing. Yellow: one color in golden yellow nuances with a black mask. The tiger mastiff is spotted black and white, with irregular, lacquer black spots spread over the whole body on a white base color. Few white markings are tolerated in the case of black lacquer. Blue: steel blue basic color, white markings on paws and chest are permitted. Since the 1990s, mating of two black and white spotted parent animals has been forbidden, as a hereditary merle gene produces damaged puppies that are blind and deaf and have a very low chance of life.

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The character of the Great Dane

The Great Dane is one of the largest dog breeds of all and whoever meets it will keep a respectful distance from it. However, this breed develops its gentle and sensitive nature with early socialization, so that this breed is also well suited for families with children. The dog needs a lot of freedom of movement, so keeping it in an apartment is only recommended to a limited extent. Climbing stairs is difficult for her and if she is under-challenged or due to the limited space, aggression can develop from the otherwise friendly character. Great Danes bark little, but their protective instinct is pronounced despite a high stimulus threshold. An early and consistent upbringing is necessary, since in the event of an outburst of temper an adult 90-kilo Great Dane can no longer be held even for a seasoned man. Training as a protection dog is out of the question for this breed.


Puppies and adult animals should be given special food for giant breeds, which, thanks to a balanced recipe, causes slower growth and thus prevents obesity and later health problems on the bones. Due to the high body weight, a well-padded bed is also important. There should be enough free space all around, as great danes have a habit of flapping their tails vigorously. If this sensitive part of the body hits objects, serious injuries can result, which in the worst case may require amputation. In Great Danes, breed-specific diseases such as hip dysplasia (HD), stomach torsion, heart disease and bone cancer can occur. Heavy salivation and conjunctivitis often have breeding origins as a result of excessively large and heavy lips.

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The Great Dane at a glance

Origin: Germany FCI breed standard no. 235, Group 2, Section 2: Swiss Mountain Dogs, Pinschers, Schnauzers, MolossoidsSize: largeHeight at the withers: male 80 – 90 cm, bitch: 72 – 84 cmWeight: 50 – 90 kgFur color: brindle, black and white spotted, blue, yellow, blackEye colors: Dark brown, light, different colors Use: family dog, guard dog, tracking dog. Protection dog training not desired Character: alert, calm, fond of children, clinging Health risks: stomach torsion, hip dysplasia (HD), heart muscle disease Life expectancy: approx. 8 – 13 years

Image: © Depositphotos.com / Drago_Nika