Get to Know the Great Dane, a Little Dog in a Huge Body

He's called the Apollo of dog breeds, but sometimes he acts more like an overgrown kid.


A great friend and a great dog — that’s the Great Dane. He’s called the Apollo of dogs, but this Apollo definitely has some goofy moves, and sometimes he acts more like an overgrown kid.

You often hear about a big dog in a little body; the Dane just may be a little dog in a big body! He loves to sit on laps and seems to think he can fit on cat cushions. The Dane has a big body, but it’s not nearly as big as his heart.

Some bits about Great Danes:

  • Of all the dogs in the AKC Working group, the Great Dane has the most houndlike look. That’s because he’s the result of crossing Mastiff-like war dogs with fast Greyhound-like dogs back in the Middle Ages. These swift, strong dogs became popular with German nobility as hunting dogs and estate guardians.
  • The origin of the name “Great Dane” is unknown. While they are clearly great, they are not Danish. In its native country of Germany, the breed is known as the Deutsche Dogge.
  • Danes come in many colors, but only six are acceptable under the AKC standard. They are black, blue, harlequin, mantle, fawn, and brindle. Harlequin refers to ragged black patches on a white background; mantle refers to black with white legs, muzzle and collar; brindle refers to jagged black stripes on a tan background.

  • Great Danes are divided into three color families for breeding purposes: fawn/brindle, harlequin/mantle, and blue/black. In other words, if you want to be sure to produce Danes of proper color, you should only breed fawns and brindles amongst each other, harlequins and mantles amongst each other, and blues and blacks amongst each other. Otherwise you could produce colors the AKC standard doesn’t allow, such as a brindled or fawn harlequin, a fawn with a blue mask, or a fawn or blue mantle.
  • Breeding harlequin to harlequin or merle to merle can produce “double-merles,” which can have serious vision or hearing problems. Merle dogs have jagged black patches on a gray background.
  • Some people confuse the Great Dane with the Mastiff, or even Boerboel, but the Great Dane is taller and more slender than both. The others also never come in color patterns other than brindle or solid.

  • Great Danes often have their ears cropped. Originally this prevented shredded ears during hunts with wild boar, but it’s just done for tradition these days. In many countries cropping is illegal. Though legal in America, cropping is less popular than it once was. Natural-eared dogs are even winning in the show ring these days.
  • The world’s tallest dog is a Great Dane named Zeus, who stands 44 inches at the shoulder.
  • Cartoon characters Marmaduke, Scooby-Doo, and Astro are all Great Danes.

  • Great Danes have appeared in several films, including Hound of the Baskervilles, Swiss Family Robinson, Rent-A-Kid and the Truth About Cats and Dogs, but the most famous role was in the Disney film as The Ugly Dachshund.
  • Many historical figures and celebrities have owned Great Danes. Among them were the Red Baron; poet Alexander Pope; statesmen Otto van Bismarck and Franklin D. Roosevelt; sports figures Mario Andretti, Wilt Chamberlain and Greg Louganis; and entertainers Chubby Checkers, Olivia Newton-John, William Shatner, Kelsey Grammer, and Sid Caesar.
  • The Great Dane is currently ranked the 17th most popular AKC breed, steadily rising in popularity over the past decade. It was the 28th most popular breed in 2002.

Do you own a Great Dane? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

Top Photo by Susan Shepard

Read more on Great Danes:

About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.

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