Great Danes - Portrait of a breed

Great Danes from Gehrensee

- History - Deutsche Dogge/Great Dane - Character - Varieties of colour - Ownership - Buying a Great Dane - Animal Protection - Description -

translated by Mary Petter



„You see them but don’t hear them." With these words an elderly breeder introduced me to his Great Danes. Thereby he characterised an essential feature of his animals: they are calm, well-balanced and do not tend to bark. In type they are similar to a thoroughbred horse; the gait is elegant, lightly bouncing; they are suspicious of strangers and a devoted friend of the family. With these lines I am attempting to describe a breed to which the very best characteristics are usually attributed.

Great Danes from Gehrensee

Great Danes already existed in Prince Otto of Bismarck’s day; he owned some himself and there are many anecdotes about them. A closer look at Bismarck and his Great Danes reveals that they were more than a status symbol for him. Looking further back in history we find that there have always been dogs of this kind. It would be pointless, however, to try to trace the exact lineage of all these dogs to our Great Danes. From the Assyrians, the Romans, Alexander the Great (who brought the Tibetan Great Dane to Greece), to the Persians - all these peoples bred and used dogs of this kind as warrior dogs. The name `Molosser’ was already in usage at that time.

In the Middle Ages this type of dog was mainly used in big-game hunting. In the region which is now Germany big heavy dogs were kept as early as the 7th century; they were called bulldogs, hunting dogs, bear-catchers, wild boar dogs among other names. In England in the 16th century several breeds already existed which could be regarded as direct ancestors of our Great Danes. They include ( according to H. J. Swarovsky) the mastiff and the Irish Wolfhound. They formed the basis of the English breed of Great Danes in the 19th century. They were dogs which mainly belonged to the nobility, used as hunting dogs or personal watchdogs.

The end of the monarchy and the rise of the bourgeoisie had a direct effect on the breeding of big dogs of this type. The importance of big-game hunting lessened. From then on it was big watchdogs and companion dogs that were in demand.


Deutsche Dogge / Great Dane

For more than 100 years the term `Great Dane’ has been used for Deutsche Dogge , especially at international dog shows. For this reason it is often assumed that Deutsche Doggen and Great Danes are two different breeds. In practice on the European continent dogs are mainly bred according to the standards of the Federation Cynologique Internationale (also called FCI). This breeding standard is based on the German standard. There are small regional differences; for example, in some countries cropped ears are permitted, but basically the same breeding characteristics are valid. The American Great Dane Club has some very strict guidelines. In the Harlequin colour category, for example, only animals with small, roughly palm-sized patches may be bred. A white throat and white chest are prerequisites for admission to the breed.

At the first German dog show in 1863 dogs were exhibited under the names ‘Dänische Dogge’ (Great Dane ) and ‘Ulmer Dogge’. In the past Great Danes were blue and also isabell-coloured. They mostly came from North Germany or Berlin. The ‘Ulmer Dogge’ type was usually a little heavier. At that time there were already dogs with patches among them which were also called harlequins.

Great Danes from Gehrensee Bianca "vom Gehrensee"

According to W. Nouc the name ‘Great Dane’ goes back to the French natural scientist Buffon (1707-1788). He coined the term because at that time especially strong dogs were being bred in Denmark. The new term ‘Deutsche Dogge’ was established at a judges’ assembly in Berlin in1880. Eight years later the ‘Deutsche Doggen Club’ was founded (today called ‘DDC 1888’). The DDC is an independent thoroughbred dog association which is affiliated to the Verband Deutscher Hundezüchter (VDH=Association of German Dogbreeders ). The entries in the studbook can be traced back with only short gaps through both World Wars to the year of its foundation year, 110 years ago. Certainly the reasons for the fact that two names still exist for one breed are to be found in Germany’s not always positive history.

The main breeding base for Deutsche Doggen or Great Danes is situated in Germany. There are, however, several excellent breeding lines in Belgium, France, Holland, Italy and Great Britan which are mainly based on German blood but were further developed with great expertise.



„Once a Great Dane, always a Great Dane". This phrase was coined by owners who might take on a dog of another breed additionally but never instead of their Great Danes. One of the reasons for this is their excellent character, which makes them ideal family dogs. Great Danes from Gehrensee

Great Danes always want to please their owners. They fit in with the family ‘pack’ perfectly harmoniously and develop an intensive attachment to the leader of the pack. They are therefore not suited to being kept permanently in kennels. They are always open towards children and make good companions for them .

Great Danes are extremely sensitive compared to other breeds. They can read the body-language of their owners so exactly that it seems as if their inner attachment to humans is stronger than anything else. By the same token Great Danes suffer when separated from their owners, even if only for a short time. This ability to form deep attachments is also apparent in their behaviour; they feel like their owners ‘right hand’ and are prepared to defend them when in danger.

According to the FCI standard the Great Dane belongs to the category of companion, watch- and guard dogs. Breeders aim for self-assured, intrepid and obedient dogs which are quick to learn , with a high stimulus threshold and without aggressive behaviour. The excellent features of Great Danes are indisputable; it should not be forgotten, however, that in spite of everything dogs are dogs : within the pack they strive to set up a fixed hierarchy with a leader at the top.

photo: Bojar "vom Gehrensee" back

Varieties of colour

Great Danes are bred in five colour categories : black, harlequin ( black and white), fawn, brindled and blue. In order to improve the type of each of the colours and to avoid inbreeding, the colours have been mixed from time to time as a rehabilitative breeding measure. If this mixing of colours is not controlled the result can be ‘multi-coloured tigers’, which in extreme cases may be a mixture of all the above-mentioned colours.

Specialities within the harlequin colour category are the grey-tiger and the mantel-tiger. The grey-tiger‘s basic colour is grey with black patches. Mantel-tigers are black and white, with the black part like a coat over the back part of the body, head and neck. They usually have white feet, a white throat and a partly white head. Multi-coloured tigers and grey-tigers belong to the so-called incorrect colours which are not admitted to the breed and VDH exhibitions.



Clearly, the breeder aims for Great Danes with the above-mentioned character traits, but these traits have to be developed during the rearing of the dogs. Even Great Danes cannot be better than their owners are or allow them to be. For example, if they get used to public transport when they are still puppies, this saves a lot of effort that would be required for such socialisation at a later stage.

At the age of 6 months Great Danes are already to heavy to be lifted by one person; it is a good idea, therefore, let them get accustomed to as much as possible before that age. For a similar reason, in my opinion, dogs of the larger breeds should not be kept in flats higher than the first floor if there is no lift. The problem is that young Great Danes are not supposed to climb stairs and injured animals cannot do so.

Great Danes from Gehrensee

Berlin - Grunewaldsee

It is really only advisable to keep Great Danes in the city if you live near a special exercise area for dogs, such as the one in Gruenewaldsee in Berlin. At this point it is worth mentioning that differences can be observed between Great Danes that brought up in the city and those from the country. Great Danes that are kept on a piece of land, and are not so used to being among people, are often more alert. Those which live in the city are on the other hand mostly better socialised.

......Great Danes from Gehrensee For Great Danes that are to become city dogs the rearing by the breeder is of significance. If the mother was able to give birth in the house and if the litter box is within the close family circle during the first three weeks then the puppies learn to relate properly to humans. For hygienic reasons and because dogs should be brought up in the fresh air and with a moderate exposure to sunlight, the puppies should then move to a spacious kennel. They have already become used to humans, however. The longer the puppies and later young dogs live in kennels, the greater the effort that must later be invested in their socialisation. Good conditions for keeping Great Danes would be for example a house with a piece of land which is situated near to a dog exercise area.

Great Danes from Gehrensee

By nature Great Danes get on well with other breeds of dog or other pets. If you have the opportunity to let your dog take part in a mixed puppy play-group, your puppy will benefit from getting to know the character of other breeds at an early age. It would be important for every Great Dane to do an escort dog training. In addition to that, owners with sporting interests can take part in courses organised by the Great Dane Clubs ( DDC ) which train dogs for the VDH tracking certificate and the DDC achievement tests. The South Berlin branch of the Great Dane Club, for example, regularly visited the Europa-Center ( a shopping centre in Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm ) and several nearby flea-markets with their Great Danes; this gave the Great Danes the opportunity to prove their strength of character in public.

Luckily for the owners, Great Danes do not require very intensive care. Their coat is very easy to care for; it is soft and shiny. More time is needed for their daily exercise. A large garden is not enough. To stay in good condition and exemplary health they require a daily run of at least 5 km, as far as possible without a lead.

Despite the many merits of Great Danes, it should be mentioned that they are rather expensive to own. You normally need 150 - 200 DM (approx. 50 - 70 pounds sterling ) per month to cover the costs.


Buying a Great Dane

If you want Great Dane that will live to a ripe old age it is essential to be very careful about where you buy your dog. It goes without saying that a decision to buy must follow a close examination of the animal’s natural predisposition. By visiting several kennels and DDC dog-shows a layperson can get a good overview of what is important to look out for. Responsible breeders will take the time to share their experiences and show visitors their animals with pride, even if the visitors are not wanting to buy.

Disreputable breeders (‘multipliers’) sell their puppies for around 400 DM ( 150 pounds sterling ), which may seem very tempting, but the costs that will follow are incalculable. Breeders who breed strictly according to the guidelines of the Great Dane Club, and often have to travel very far in order to let particular animals mate, cannot sell their puppies for less than 1500 DM ( 500 pounds sterling ). However, the resulting animal will be very different from those reproduced on the basis of ‘multiplication’. According to Christoph Stollowsky ( „Hundeleben in Berlin" ) VDH breeders charge on average 800 - 2000 DM for their puppies. The price range for Great Danes , especially for show dogs with very good patches, often exceeds 2000 DM.

Great Danes from GehrenseeGreat Danes "from Gehrensee" 1997

For the buyer it is important to have information about the health record of the parents of the dog, especially regarding hip dysplasia (HD). This is a hereditary disease, which is results from the wrong feeding and over-straining the hip-joints. The badly-formed hip-joints wear out at an early age, which first leads to pain and later an inability to walk on account of dislocated hips. At the Great Dane Club all the breeding dogs are x-rayed and given a HD certificate: the hips classified as HD free ( 0 ), HD borderline ( 1 ) and a slight HD ( 2 ).


Animal Protection

The Great Dane Club has done a lot towards fulfilling the Animal Protection Law and preventing the breeding of handicapped dogs. Since 1997 ears have no longer been cropped, and harlequins must be mated with black Great Danes. This means that no more white dogs with double factor merle genes can be bred, which were often badly handicapped .( Merle gene=patch gene )

Great Danes from Gehrensee

In addition, all Great Danes that are admitted to the breed undergo a blood-test to determine their gene-type. With this blood-test the Merle gene can be exactly determined, a paternity test can be carried out and the degree of inbreeding can be precisely analysed. Thus, the Great Dane Club has created a good framework, which breeders can fill with life.

So that our Great Dane puppies can develop into dogs which live up to their name as the „Apollo among dogs „ a certain amount of experience in the upbringing of large dogs is necessary. It is useful in such and indeed other cases to get in touch with one’s breeder, or to make use of the further training courses on offer at the Great Dane Club.



Great Danes -Description

Origin : Mastiff/hunting dogs ( English Great Dane ), Great Dane , Ulmer Dogge, German : bulldogs, bear-catchers, wild boar dogs

Classification : FCI Group 2 - Pinscher and Schnauzer / Molosser and Schweizer Sennenhunde; Section 2.1 Molosser without a working dog’s certificate

Distribution : world-wide, high population

Character : calm, well-balanced, friendly towards the owner and especially towards children, devoted, sensitive, alert.

Employment : companion, watch- and guard dogs. Training as tracking and guard dogs possible.

Care : unproblematic

Feeding : during upbringing needs very well-balanced feed specially for puppies of large breeds. The adult dog is unproblematic.

Training : consistent, learns well and easily

Exercise : a large piece of land is not enough for the required daily exercise. They need plenty of exercise, as far as possible without a lead.

Size : males from 80cm, bitches from 72cm shoulder height. No upper limit.

Weight : 50 - 90 kg

Life expectancy : max. 9 - 13 years

Price : Ø 1200,- Euro

© by G. Dießel Education Studies MA.