Great Dane Origins

Origins of the Great Dane Breed

LARGE DOGS RESEMBLING the Great Dane have been known since the start of recorded history. Carvings on Egyptian tombs dating to 3000 B.C. depict such dogs, and there is a Grecian coin dated 500 B.C. showing a dog’s head much like that of the Dane. Strong and swift, the large dogs were used by Celtic and Germanic tribes as war dogs and to hunt big game. It is claimed that the breed was already established in Britain before the time of the Roman Conquest and that the Romans took these dogs home with them to Rome where they were used as fighting dogs.

While both Linnaeus and Buffon, 18th century naturalists who made detailed chronicles of species, give a Danish origin for the breed, it is Germany that claims to be the breed’s country of origin. Certainly this was the country of the Dane’s development. There it is called the Deutsche Dogge (German Mastiff) and was proclaimed the national dog of Germany in 1876. There is no known reason for it to be named for the country of Denmark. The breed originated from dogs of the mastiff type and was developed to hunt wild boar, guard castles, pull carts, and participate in battle. Since the Middle Ages the German nobility have used the “Dogge” to hunt wild boar and protect their country estates. It is recorded that in 1592 the Duke of Braunschweig arrived at a boar hunt with a pack of 600 male Great Danes!

The Great Dane began arriving in the United States in the mid- 19th century. One of the earliest owners of a Dane was the venturesome scout, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. The breed was first exhibited in 1877 under the breed name “Siberian or Ulm Dog.” It is reported that the first dogs to be shown were ferocious, having been imported directly from German estates where they had been used as attack dogs. To the credit of American breeders, within a twenty-year period the breed had been transformed into an even-tempered dog still possessed of its protective instinct. Dog writers agree that today the best Great Danes in the world are being bred on this continent.

A sight to see::
The big dog crosses the field in an effortless gallop, muscles stretching and contracting, devouring the ground with his long, powerful strides. His sleek black coat glows with vitality; his elegant manner is manifest in every stride.

Closer he comes, and the ground shakes under his great size and speed. Ever closer he comes, slows to a trot, then stops. He doesn’t wait to be petted but instead nudges a hand with his giant head.

This is the Great Dane, a sleek, athletic dog tightly bonded to humans, capable of great courage, and known among fanciers as “the Apollo of dogs.”

The Deutsche Dogge has lived up to its promise as a fierce, courageous canine–a “super dog”–designed to hunt the savage and unpredictable European wild boar, a beast well- armed with formidable tusks that could rip a dog to shreds.

The Dane is obviously more refined than the English Mastiff and the massive, salivating Neapolitan Mastiff or Dogue de Bordeaux of recent cinematic fame, but it most likely came from the same original stock. The mastiff-type dog originated in Asia and has been molded into and influenced several different breeds. There is evidence that the Dane’s more elegant appearance may have come from an infusion of Irish Wolfhound blood and some fanciers claim the English Mastiff as the progenitor of this breed, but the dog may indeed be a descendant of both.

Although Dane-like dogs have been portrayed in oriental writings and on Egyptian monuments dated prior to the birth of Christ, the breed is considered to be about 400 years old. The Great Dane Club of America was formed in 1889 and became the fourth breed club to join the American Kennel Club.

Breed appearance:
The Great Dane is among the tallest of dogs. Males must be at least 30 inches and preferably at least 32 inches at the shoulders in order to compete in the show ring. Females can be about two inches shorter and must be more refined in type than the males.

The profile of the Dane is unlike any other breed. This is a tall dog with a moderately deep chest and a square appearance. The head is rectangular and is set on an aristocratic neck; the ears can be natural or cropped, and the tail is broad at the base, tapers to a point, and reaches the hock joint when carried at ease. The whole dog is well-balanced and well- proportioned, a picture of grace and dignity.

The Danes ears may be cropped (cut and shaped) or not. The breed’s ears naturally fold over and droop along the cheek. Wild boars found these to be handy targets to grab; cropping developed to eliminate the ear flap and thus spare the dog the pain of having it ripped off in a fight. The early ear crops left little to seize; today the crop is cosmetic and sculpts the ear into an upright, pointed appendage that adds to the style of the dog.

Cropping, if done, is usually done when the pup is less than eight weeks old as long as he is in good health. If the pup has worms or has been ill, cropping should wait. The cutting should be done only by a veterinarian. The cropped ears are then taped to condition the cartilage to support an upright ear instead of a droopy one.

England has outlawed ear cropping of all breeds, and several European countries have followed suit. Australian owners do not crop Dane’s ears either, and more and more American breeders are questioning the propriety of doing so. as it causes unneccessary pain and suffering for the pup simply for cosmetic reasons (How many wild boars have you seen running around lately?). Unfortunately, however, today virtually all Danes competing in the show ring have cropped ears and it may take some time before the the old school breeders stop balking at the inevitable change, think about the dogs instead of profit and come to their senses.

Temperament, behavior, and training:
Although he can be somewhat active and needs a period of exercise each day to stay fit, the Great Dane is a great house dog. Puppies can be clumsy, but adults are surefooted and seldom knock things over just by walking around. They like children but may be too much of a challenge for toddlers who are unsteady on their feet.

Although the breed is generally gentle with people, some Danes can be dominant unless taught with a firm hand and some can be aggressive to other dogs and small critters. Obedience training is a must; an energetic 130-pound dog that towers over a preschool child and can easily rest his head on the dinner table must have some manners. Training must be gentle; leash-jerking and harsh discipline may make him distrustful and edgy.

Above all, the Great Dane is a people-dog. He needs space to accommodate his long legs and large body, but he likes nothing better than to spend time with his person.

A short-coated breed, the Dane needs little coat care. He may get cold in winter, so should not be left outdoors for extended periods

If it’s very cold, owners often purchase a sweater for long walks in the park. (Some Danes have a whole wardrobe.)

Like most giant breeds, the Dane has a shorter life span than smaller dogs; he lives about 8-10 years if he is healthy. The breed is susceptible to hip dysplasia, bloat, bone cancer, heart disease, and tumors. Care of the puppy begins with careful selection of parents to produce the litter. Breeding stock should be x-rayed for hip dysplasia and screened for heart problems. Dogs with bloat or cancer in their lines should probably not be bred.

The Dane can seriously impact the family budget. This dog needs a larger dish, more food, a higher dose of medicine, a larger collar, etc., and larger is always more expensive. It costs more to spay or neuter a big dog, too.

Those who can cope with or prefer a large, aristocratic dog will do well with a Deutsche Dogge. This is a people-oriented dog, loving and kind, playful and even spirited – a true companion dog.

The Great Dane is a picture of style and grace quite unlike any other breed today and has a distinct personality which has endeared these ‘Gentle Giants’ to anyone who has ever been privileged to have one as a companion.