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Sam Clark, Animal Photography
The Great Dane’s size attracts attention and offers instant protection -- no one will guess what a sweetheart he is on the inside. The Great Dane is a real family companion. He wants to share the couch and help you watch TV.
Great Danes have appeared in a variety of films, but far and away the best is the 1965 Disney film “The Ugly Dachshund,” about a Dane puppy who is raised with Doxies -- and thinks he’s one of them. A must-see for Great Dane lovers.
As puppies, Great Danes can knock over small tables and large children. As adults they can clear a coffee table with a swipe of a tail. Although he may sometimes seem like a bull in a china shop, the biggest thing about the Great Dane isn’t his formidable size (up to 175 pounds), but his heart. He may have been bred to hunt ferocious boars and guard estates, but these days, this tall and elegant dog is better suited to life as a lover, not a fighter. If you’re looking for a gentle giant, this may well be the dog for you.
His size may seem to require its own zip code, but the Dane’s calm nature makes him more suitable to apartment living than many a more anxious or active breed. While puppyhood may be a challenge in an apartment, a well-socialized and well-trained Dane will be perfectly content to have one good 10 or 20-minute walk a day for his exercise.
Because Great Danes have protective natures when their families are involved, it’s essential to teach young dogs not to jump up on people and that nipping or any act of aggression is not allowed. What tends to be laughed off in a tiny dog is no laughing matter in a full-grown dog of this size. Let the Dane’s size itself serve as a deterrent and never encourage aggressive behavior.
While most Great Danes aren't nuisance barkers, if allowed to develop barking as a habit, they’ll have what's probably the loudest, deepest, most far-carrying bark of any canine. (There’s a reason that a Great Dane led the Twilight Bark to get the news of missing puppies into the countryside in the classic movie “101 Dalmatians.”)
Many Great Danes have cropped ears, but that look seems to be on the wane, even in the show ring, where “natural ears” are now allowed. While there are still people who defend this cosmetic procedure, ear cropping has no benefit to the dog whatsoever, and it is a painful fashion that most of the civilized world has outlawed. As for grooming, Dane owners get off relatively easy. The short coat is easy to care for, although the Dane does shed and it can seem like a lot of hair since he’s a lot of dog.
What you'll save on grooming bills you'll more than spend on food, since these giant dogs need a lot of fuel, particularly when they're growing. Although overfeeding is not healthy for any dog, it’s especially important in a Great Dane puppy since rapid growth can contribute to skeletal problems including arthritis. Put aside extra time for clean-up, by the way, since much of what goes in must come out, in rather alarming quantities.
The Great Dane originated not in Denmark, as you might think, but in Germany, where he is known as the Deutsche Dogge. Breeds in his background are thought to include the Irish Wolfhound, from whom he gets his height, the Mastiff, who contributed heft, and the Greyhound, responsible for his sleek physique.
He was designed to hunt boar and at the time was as ferocious as his tusked adversary. Later, he was often found as an estate guardian.
In 1876 the Great Dane was named the national dog of Germany, but he came to be appreciated in other countries as well, including the United States. Today, the Great Dane ranks 17th among the breeds registered by the American Kennel Club, up from 28th in 2000. With his gentle nature and giant stature, it’s no wonder that many people love this interesting dog.
The Great Dane is often described as a gentle giant, but he is naturally protective when the situation calls for it. He is affectionate and loves people, and those qualities should never be perverted by encouraging aggressive behavior.
Great Danes love children, but they must learn how to be gentle around them. And one swipe of that wagging tail will knock a toddler over, so it’s important to supervise their interactions. These big dogs can also learn to get along with other pets, especially when they are raised with them.
A fenced yard is necessary to keep the Great Dane from going out for a stroll on his own. He’s not typically a jumper, so a six-foot fence should be enough to keep him contained. Be aware that while adult Great Danes are pretty laid back, puppies are highly active and enjoy digging and other “landscaping.”
You might think the Great Dane is best suited to life outdoors because of his enormous size, but just the opposite is true. He should be an indoor dog who is part of the family. When that is the case, the Great Dane is loving, learns well, and housetrains easily. Left to his own devices, the amount of destruction he can do to your home and yard is beyond imagination. Don’t let him enlighten you.
Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, countersurfing and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained, or unsupervised. And any dog can be a trial to live with during adolescence. In the case of the Great Dane, the “teen” years can start at six months and continue until the dog is about two years old.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
The perfect Great Dane doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines. The Great Dane is prone to a host of health problems. Here’s a brief rundown of what you should know.
Among the conditions that can affect the Great Dane is bloat, a condition in which the stomach expands with air. This can become the more serious condition, gastric torsion, if the stomach twists on itself, cutting off the blood supply. This is as grave an emergency as you'll ever face with your dog, and immediate surgery is the only thing that can save his life. The Internet is full of home remedies and suggestions for how to avoid that expensive trip to the emergency hospital. Ignore them and head for the veterinarian if you want to save your dog.
Before surgery, ask about having your dog's stomach tacked, a procedure that will prevent it from twisting again in the future. Nearly all dogs that bloat once will do so again, and that surgery can save your dog's life. In fact, many Great Dane owners have it done routinely on all their dogs as a preventive measure.
Also known as gastric dilation-volvulus, gastric torsion is the number one killer of Danes, and they bloat more often than any other breed. According to a Journal of the AVMA study reported in 2000, 5.3 percent of Great Danes exhibited GDV every year of the study. This condition may be at least partly genetic, but there is no screening test for bloat at this time. Your puppy's breeder should be able to give you an idea of how many close relatives of his parents have bloated in the past; the fewer such animals in your puppy's ancestry, the better.
Great Danes also suffer from a high incidence of cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle resulting in an enlarged heart. This is very common in many giant dogs, and when it occurs late in life, it is often manageable with medication. Have your dog's heart checked at least once a year, and have any murmurs or unusual symptoms investigated by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist. This condition may be genetic as well, but the testing currently available can only clear the dog for the time being; a dog could test clear one day and develop heart disease the next.
Great Danes can also suffer from hip dysplasia, a crippling malformation of the hip socket that may require costly surgery to repair and that can result in painful arthritis later in life. Another genetic problem with an imperfect screening test, the best prevention for hip dysplasia at this time is to only buy a puppy whose parents both tested with normal hips who have very few close relatives with the disease. Keeping your dog lean, particularly when he's young, can also help.
Another painful bone condition is hypertrophic osteodystrophy, occurring during the rapid growth phase of puppyhood. Ask your veterinarian about puppy foods for large breed dogs. These diets are formulated to help the puppies grow slowly, which can help prevent developmental orthopedic problems.
Cancer is another leading cause of death in Great Danes, particularly bone cancer. They are also prone to a number of other skeletal, vision and neurological problems, both major and minor. Great Dane vet bills, like the dogs themselves, tend to be very, very large.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
Before individual Great Danes can be included in the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) database, the Great Dane Club of America requires them to have a hip evaluation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) or PennHIP; a clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation; an OFA thyroid evaluation from an approved laboratory; and a cardiac evaluation from OFA or the ACVIM Registry of Cardiac Health (ARCH).
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Great Dane at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Great Dane has a short, thick, smooth coat. It sheds moderately -- in other words, more than you might think -- but requires little grooming. Brush the Dane weekly with a rubber hound mitt or soft bristle brush to keep the hair and skin healthy. In spring and fall, he will have a heavy shed, known as “blowing out” the coat and will need to be brushed more frequently during that time to get rid of all the loose hair.
Bathe the Dane as you desire or only when he gets dirty. With the gentle dog shampoos available now, you can bathe a Dane weekly if you want without harming his coat.
The rest is basic care. Trim the toenails every few weeks. Long nails can get caught on things and tear off. That’s really painful, and it will bleed a lot. Brush the teeth frequently for good dental health. To prevent ear infections, keep the ears dry and clean, using a cleaning solution recommended by your veterinarian.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems.
Embark on your search for a Great Dane puppy at the Web site of the Great Dane Club of America, which maintains a list of its member breeders. Your puppy's breeder should be a member in good standing and have agreed to abide by its Code of Ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores.
Look for a breeder who is active in some form of canine activity such as dog shows or obedience. She should also have written documentation that your puppy's parents were cleared of genetic problems, including hip certification from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip); heart health certification by a board-certified cardiologist and OFA; thyroid clearance from OFA; and eye clearance within the previous year from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF).
Besides screening breeding dogs for genetic diseases, good breeders sell only with a written contract and guarantee a home for any dog they breed if the owner becomes unable to keep him. Choose a breeder who is not only willing but insists on being a resource in helping you train and care for your new dog.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Great Dane puppy varies depending on his place of origin, whether he is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Great Dane might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Great Dane may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. Many of the health problems in Great Danes aren’t apparent in puppyhood but become apparent when the dog is older.
With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Great Dane in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Great Danes available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Great Dane. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Great Danes love all Great Danes. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Great Dane Club of America’s Rescue Network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Great Dane rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Great Dane home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Great Dane, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Great Dane to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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