Great Dane: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Great Dane
Morales/age fotostock/Getty Images

Originating in Germany and one of the largest dog breeds in the world, Great Danes are a type of working dog known for their tall stature with large heads and muzzles, long limbs, narrow bodies, and short fur. These dogs are loved for their joyful spirits and companionable personalities.

Towering over medium breeds, Great Danes fall under the giant dog category. They have a regal, intelligent, and loyal temperament, bonding closely with their owners and making wonderful family dogs. A well-trained Great Dane will thrive in most households. Your home does not need to be extra large to accommodate the dog's commanding size, but you do need some extra space (especially due to that long tail). Unfortunately, like other giant breeds, the lifespan of these dogs tends to be shorter than other canines. However, lovers of these calm, sweet dogs will tell you any amount of time with a Great Dane is worthwhile.

Breed Overview

Group: Working

Height: 30 to 34 inches (males); 28 to 32 inches (females)

Weight: 120 to 200 pounds (males); 99 to 130 pounds (females)

Coat: Short, smooth coat

Coat Color: Black, black and white, blue, brindle, fawn, harlequin, merle, silver, solid white, or mantle

Life Span: 6 to 8 years

Temperament: Calm, gentle, friendly, loving, even-tempered, attentive, proud

Hypoallergenic: No

Origin: Germany


12 Giant Dog Breeds and What Makes Them Special

Characteristics of the Great Dane

The Great Dane's temperament is true to its "gentle giant" nickname. These dogs are calm and laid-back both at home and in public when trained well, and their loving nature makes them affectionate members of the family. They are patient and get along easily with children, but as such a large breed, they can knock small children over accidentally simply by bumping into them. They are also not suitable to be handled on a leash by young kids. Great Danes are a good choice for multi-pet households, as they usually have friendly personalities with other animals (especially when raised together).

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness High
Energy Level Medium
Trainability Medium
Intelligence Medium
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding High

History of the Great Dane

Great Danes originated in Germany, although some believe the breed has ancient origins. They most likely emerged from the English Mastiff and Irish wolfhound. Despite having "Dane" in its name, the breed was actually developed in Germany as a boar hunter. The powerful boar required a similarly powerful dog for holding the prey until the hunter arrived.

Over time, the breed was no longer considered a hunting dog and became more known as a watchdog and companion. German breeders aimed to make them much less aggressive, which led to the gentle disposition common in most Great Danes today.

Great Danes appeared in the United States in the late 1800s and gradually became more popular over time. The breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1887.

Great Danes top the Guinness World Records list for the world's tallest dog. A recent record holder is Zeus at 44 inches tall at the shoulder. In popular culture, the cartoon Scooby-Doo and comic-strip character Marmaduke are both Great Danes. The breed has also been cast as the titular character in the film versions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Mr W. G. Siggers with his Great Dane, Ch Elch Elder of Ouborough, Best in Show at the Crufts international championship, UK, 7th February 1953
Mr W. G. Siggers with his Great Dane, Ch Elch Elder of Ouborough, Best in Show at the Crufts international championship, UK, 7th February 1953. E. Round / Getty Images 
Great Danes enetered into the Kennel Club Championship Dog Show at Crystal Palace meet a young visitor, October 1935.
Great Danes enetered into the Kennel Club Championship Dog Show at Crystal Palace meet a young visitor, October 1935. David Savill / Getty Images 
Great dane on guard duty
Colonel R.E. Crompton, Commanding Officer of the 75th Heavy AA Regiment, stationed at Milton Barracks, Gravesend, has a great dane by the name of "Tigger". Hulton-Deutsch Collection / Getty Images

Great Dane Care

Caring for your Great Dane is similar to other short-haired breeds of smaller sizes, but their large stature requires a few extra steps to keep them safe when it comes to exercise. It's also important to train this breed from a young age in basic obedience to raise a well-rounded dog that behaves well at maturity.


Great Danes are playful and energetic when young. To keep their growing bones and joints healthy, don't allow them to jump, and don't take them along for activities like running until they are at least 18 months old. As they age, most of these dogs have moderate energy levels. Routine exercise, such as daily walks, can help keep your dog fit and healthy. Since they aren't prone to fence jumping, most Great Danes can safely play in a fenced yard.


Great Danes have short, thick coats that typically need no more than basic grooming with weekly brushing. They shed especially heavily during the spring and fall. Great Danes need to bathe routinely, usually once or twice a month.

Danes with natural (floppy) ears should have routine ear checks and cleanings. While some people prefer to surgically crop the ears, this practice is becoming less common and is actually banned in some countries.

You should trim your dog's nails every couple of weeks to keep them healthy and prevent splitting or tearing. In order to maintain good oral hygiene, brush your dog's teeth at least a few times per week. This will help keep gum disease at bay.


Proper obedience training and socialization with others are absolutely essential for the Great Dane. The giant size of this breed makes it very difficult to manage if not properly trained. These dogs do not realize their large size, so careful attention should be placed upon the prevention of jumping, leaning, and leash pulling.

Great Danes are easy to housetrain and prefer to be indoors with the family rather than alone in the yard. Crate training with a crate specified for giant breeds is recommended.

Great dane puppy
ChristopherBernard​ / Getty Images 
Young boy and great dane
Jaroslav Kocian​ / Getty Images 

Common Health Problems

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the AKC. Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to inherit genetic conditions. However, some hereditary health problems can still occur in Great Danes. The following are common conditions to be aware of:

  • Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV or Bloat): Bloat is a condition in which the stomach fills with gas and twists, which can be fatal. When adopting a Great Dane, speak with your veterinarian about preventive surgery to tack the stomach down.
  • Hip Dysplasia: Especially common in large and giant breeds, hip dysplasia is caused by a malformation in your dog's hip joints as they age.
  • Elbow Hygroma: This non-cancerous, fluid-filled growth can appear on your dog's elbow. Elbow hygromas are typically caused by your dog laying on hard surfaces over time.
  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM): DCM is a condition that affects the chambers of your dog's heart, which can lead to congestive heart failure if untreated.
  • Wobbler Syndrome (Cervical Spondylomyelopathy or Cervical Vertebral Instability): Caused by a compression on the spine in your dog's neck, Wobbler Syndrome affects your dog's neurological abilities.
Great Danes as Pets

Illustration: The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy

Diet and Nutrition

It's important to start Great Dane puppies on large-breed puppy food to ensure they don't grow too fast (which can lead to dysplasia and other health problems down the road). Your veterinarian will likely recommend feeding your dog several smaller meals per day, rather than one to two large portions, to help prevent Bloat. Some Great Dane owners also choose to use slow-feeder bowls for this purpose.

Adult Great Danes require a lot of food—up to 10 cups per day. However, take care not to overfeed this breed. Consult with your veterinarian to determine an appropriate diet and portion schedule based on your dog's age, weight, and activity level to avoid canine obesity.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Great Dane

If you think you'd like to adopt a Great Dane, inquire with local shelters to see if there are any breed-specific rescues in your area. Unfortunately, there are many dogs who need a new home, as their original owners found they were not a good match. When planning to adopt from puppyhood, find a responsible breeder to help ensure your dog comes from a bloodline bred for health and temperament. Puppies typically cost between $1,000 and $2,000, but prices can be upwards of $6,000 depending on availability and pedigree.

Check out resources like the national breed club, rescue organizations, and the AKC to get started:

Great Dane Overview

  • Great with kids

  • Gets along with other pets

  • Extremely loving and gentle

  • Shorter lifespan

  • More costly to feed

  • Requires strength to control on leash

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you think the Great Dane is the right dog breed for you, be sure to do plenty of research before adopting one. Talk to other Great Dane owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more. To discover similar breeds, check out:

There are plenty of dog breeds out there that can join your family. With a little research, you can find your next best friend!

  • Is a Great Dane a Good Family Dog?

    When trained in basic obedience as puppies, Great Danes make excellent family dogs. This breed is known for its calm, gentle personality and friendly nature.

  • Are Great Danes Aggressive?

    Great Danes are not typically aggressive. These dogs are usually bred to have traits like kind temperament in their pedigree, and they do well with both children and other pets when properly socialized.

  • Do Great Danes Bark a Lot?

    In general, Great Danes don't tend to bark much. They may alert their owners to strangers outside the house or unusual circumstances, but with basic training to discourage barking as puppies, this breed is not known to develop loud habits.

  • Are Great Danes Trainable?

    Great Danes can sometimes be stubborn with specific training exercises, but overall, this breed is considered easy to train. Enrolling puppies in obedience classes is a great way to prepare Great Danes for a lifetime of good behavior.