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The Breed Report: Great Danes

Our Experts

Our Experts

Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League
Debra Rahl has been a Great Dane enthusiast for 25 years and a volunteer for Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League, Inc., for 10 years. She is the president of the organization and the coordinator for the Maryland and Washington, D.C., area. She lives with two Danes and volunteers with Baltimore Animal Control as a rescue coordinator.

Kate Pullen is the senior director of strategy and programs for the ASPCA; she is working in New Orleans, helping to rebuild the Louisiana SPCA.

Size Counts

The most common reason for Dane surrender is that the dog got too big, Rahl says. As with so many other dogs that end up in shelters, their owners just didn’t do enough research before getting their dog. Also, some people may not enjoy a Great Dane’s goofy behavior—they’re surprised that this 150-pound animal thinks of himself as a lap dog.

Shelter Life: Housing, Walking, and Snuggling

Vital Stats

Origin: Despite their names, Great Danes are not from Denmark. German in origin, Great Danes were developed primarily as boar-hunting dogs in the 15th and 16th centuries. These early dogs had a larger, rougher build than the Danes of today; they also had a more aggressive temperament and were sometimes used as guard or war dogs.

The first American dog show to feature a Great Dane took place in Philadelphia in 1877. Four years later, at a New York City show, a number of Great Danes began fighting with each other and eventually other dogs; after that incident, Great Danes were not seen in any major American dog shows for seven years.

Famous Great Danes include comic strip star Marmaduke and the animated super sleuth Scooby-Doo. While neither of these dogs presents a full picture of a Great Dane, Marmaduke’s awkward size and everyday antics are much closer to the real thing than Scooby’s cowardly crime-solving skills. Reepers Raggy! Ree-hee- hee-hee!

A.K.A.: German Mastiff, Deutsche Dogge
Average Height: 28”-32” at the shoulders
Average Weight: 100-150 pounds
Average Life Span: 7-10 years

Appearance: The American Kennel Club’s breed standard describes the Dane’s “regal appearance,” “dignity,” and “elegance.” The club also states that the Great Dane is “the Apollo of dogs.” Those descriptions are fine for the show ring, but Roman mythology won’t help you in the shelter. Mostly, you’ll want to keep in mind that the Great Dane is a huge dog—you won’t see many dogs of this size coming through your facility. Great Danes are muscular, with a lean build and smooth appearance. The ears on their long, rectangular heads are often cropped into tall points. They have short coats that come in a wide variety of colors: brindle, fawn (golden tan), blue, black, or black and white.

Genetic Problems: Bloat (gastric torsion), hip dysplasia, hyperthyroidism

It’s a challenge to keep any animal comfortable in the shelter setting, but Great Danes are especially difficult because they’re so big. If a Dane’s wagging tail repeatedly bangs against a kennel wall, the tail can bleed. Pullen advises housing Great Danes in extra-large kennels.

Typical kennel flooring can give these gangly dogs problems, so Rahl strongly recommends non-slip flooring. Pullen suggests flexible plastic interlocking tiles, available at most pet stores. These elevated squares are great for traction and easy to clean. Danes can also benefit from a comfortable bed or several blankets to lie on. Their thin build can cause them to develop calluses from too much time on a hard floor.

Keep an eye out for stressed-out, unhappy Danes by watching for trembling or cowering in the back of a kennel. If a Great Dane in your shelter seems unhappy or afraid, Rahl recommends patience and quiet, gentle handling. Pullen has found that Great Danes can get depressed quickly in a shelter; she tries to move them to new adopters or foster homes as quickly as possible.

Bloat/Gastric Torsion (and How to Avoid It)

Bloat occurs when the stomach fills with gas. This can then cause the stomach to twist, a condition known as gastric torsion. When bloat and gastric torsion coincide, the technical name is gastric dilatation and volvulus. (We’ll refer to both conditions as “bloat” here.)

Bloat is most common among large, deep-chested dogs, including Great Danes, and is also more common in older dogs and purebreds. When bloat sets in, the dog’s life is immediately in danger. The stomach wall expands, blood vessels constrict, and the circulatory system collapses, followed by shock, heart failure, and death.

Within two to three hours of onset, it should be apparent that the dog is in pain. Often the stomach will noticeably protrude, and the dog may salivate, pant rapidly, appear restless, lethargic or depressed, or may seem to vomit without producing any actual vomit. This is an emergency; if bloat is suspected, the dog should see a veterinarian immediately.

Bloat is still somewhat of a mystery, but you may able to avoid it by feeding bloat-prone dogs two or three small meals each day instead of one big one, and waiting at least two hours after meals before walking or playing with dogs.

Experts used to recommend elevated food and water bowls for extra-large dogs—on the premise that dogs swallowed less air while eating or drinking, ultimately reducing bloat. But a recent study suggests that raised bowls may actually increase the risk of bloat. For the latest recommendations, consult a veterinarian.


Potential adopters and adoption counselors should consider these factors when trying to get a Great Dane into the right home:

Cost: Giant dogs are prone to serious health problems that can be expensive to treat. A vet visit for a healthy Dane can be much more costly than a visit for a smaller dog, and medications and surgeries can cost thousands of dollars, says Rahl.

Children: A Dane who did well with children in his old home shouldn’t have problems with them in a new home; however, adoption counselors should think carefully about placing Danes without child experience into a home with small children. Families should always come in to meet the dog in a controlled environment, and counselors should watch the dog for any worrisome reactions to the kids.

Puppy Diet: In the rare case that you’re adopting out a Great Dane puppy, make sure the adopter knows about proper nutrition. Like several other giant breeds, Danes need to grow slowly. If puppies eat too much protein, their muscles will grow too fast for their bones to support. This is why Great Danes should eat normal, lower-protein adult dog food, even as puppies.


Many potential adopters walk into a shelter with preconceived notions and anecdotal information that has little or no basis in reality. These misconceptions can get in the way of making a good match, so make sure your Great Dane adopters know how to separate fact from fiction.

Myth: “Great Danes are great with children.”
Reality: Each Dane is an individual. Some will do very well with kids and others won’t.

Myth: “Great Danes eat tons of food.”
Reality: Great Danes are big dogs and eat more than most smaller dogs; however, they are low-energy dogs and eat very little compared to other dogs of the same size.

Myth: “Great Danes are gentle giants.”
Reality: While this is often true, gentle Danes are the products of responsible, caring owners who take the time to socialize their dogs and teach them proper manners, says Rahl.


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