Complete Guide To The Great Dane: Health, Feeding, Exercise and More

The Great Dane’s affable charm, placid demeanor and imposing size create an unmistakable air of authority. But these gentle giants of Marmaduke fame are patient and fun-loving family pets with a daring, whimsical side.

I see a lot of Great Danes in my veterinary practice and I have mixed feelings about them. These are not good dogs for a first-time dog owner, or an owner with physical limitations. While they can be awesome, I’ve seen too many Danes in recent years with a great deal of insecurity and shyness. Make sure you go with a trusted breeder and meet the parent dogs before you purchase a puppy.

How Big Do Great Danes Get?

Male30″-32″ at the shoulder140-175 lbs
Female28″-30″ at the shoulder110-140 lbs

What Do Great Danes Look Like?

They strike a handsome and confident pose with long legs, a lean, balanced musculature and regal posture. The difference between males and females is more obvious than with other breeds with each having uniquely masculine or feminine features.

Colors include:


Black or white markings are common, but black masks are not ideal for show. Dark, deep-set eyes are typical, but different colors are acceptable in Harlequins and Merles. Ears may be long or cropped, but a docked tail is a disqualification.

What Is The Personality Of A Great Dane?

Few dogs have the sober yet spirited personality of a Great Dane. Devoted to their social group, they’re able protectors and with precautions, ideal companions for children and other pets. While good-natured and obedient, they can’t help their size and don’t know their own strength — early training and socialization is a must.

Like I mentioned above, there are just too many Danes coming to my practice in the past few years that have major insecurity issues. When I discuss this issue with the owners, the standard response is that the dog doesn’t get out much and doesn’t like strangers.

Be sure to socialize and train a Dane puppy from a very early age. The larger they get, the more difficult it gets to correct inappropriate behavior.

Me With A Favorite Great Dane Patient

How Much Grooming Do Great Danes Need?

Great Danes have short coats but are prone to seasonal shedding. Weekly brushing with a soft bristle brush or rubber grooming mitt keeps hair loss in check and distributes vital oils for healthy skin.

Unlike long-haired breeds, dirt and debris rarely stick to their coats, so frequent bathing isn’t necessary unless they get messy. An occasional bath with a pH-balanced shampoo will keep them clean, comfortable and odor-free.

Great Danes balance significant weight on their feet, so overgrown nails can cause foot and joint pain. Exercise wears them down, but check them weekly and trim off any excess. A coarse emery board works wonders for dogs who don’t like clippers.

With this dog, you’re going to need to do these things with the dog on their side, so training them from a young age to be comfortable and relaxed laying on their sides is crucial.

Should Great Danes Get Their Ears Cropped?

I’m not at all a big fan of the procedure and I’ve never learned how to do it on purpose. Right now I don’t know of anyone within 20 minutes of my own veterinary practice that actually does it. I would imagine that any breeder who has been doing this a while has their own veterinarians that still agree to doing the procedure.

However, the vast majority of veterinarians have refused to do these types of cosmetic surgeries. It’s only a matter of time before cropping ears isn’t even an option and the Great Dane look will permanently change.

What Are The Exercise Needs Of A Great Dane?

Intelligent and thoughtful, their every move has purpose, but don’t let that fool you — they’re energetic and need lots of exercise. Walks and games are favorite activities, and they excel in agility events. Comfortable in both city and country settings, they’ll thrive with an active family but will follow their nose where it leads them, so keep a leash handy.

You’re likely going to need a sturdy collar/leash combination. When these dogs want to go somewhere you are likely going with them unless you using a collar that gets your dog’s attention when they pull against it. Don’t be afraid of using a prong training collar. The prongs use a squeezing motion that will get your Dane’s attention and may be the only way you can actually take your Dane outside.

What Is The Best Food For A Great Dane?

For Dane puppies, you will need to make sure you don’t feed them too much too fast. It’s easy because they are usually chow hounds, but you want to control their growth. Growing too fast can cause some early bone and joint problems that are easily avoided.

If any breed is going to have issues with growing too fast, it will be the Great Dane. For that reason, some vets and breeders will recommend just switching over to adult food before 6 months of age. Feeding a large-breed adult food can restrict how fast Danes grow without stunting their overall future growth.

In my practice, if I have a Great Dane puppy still on large-breed puppy food and having issues with growing pains, I go ahead and switch them over to adult food at that time.

Best Puppy Food For Great Danes:

Best Adult Food For Great Danes:

Please don’t listen to the folks at the pet store trying to convince you to buy a grain-free diet for your dog. There’s zero science behind that and vets are actually seeing diseases now related to feeding grain-free foods.

It’s very important they remain at their optimal weight throughout their life. Have your vet go over with you exactly where to feel to know when your dog is too big.

How Long Do Great Danes Live?

7-10 years based on information from the AKC

What Health Conditions Do Great Danes Have?

Great Danes are a large, active breed and their health concerns reflect this. Based on my own experience as well as information from the Canine Health Information Center, the most common issues seen in this breed include:

  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • Arthritis of hips, elbows, knees
  • Bloat
  • Osteosarcoma (bone cancer)

Going with a reputable breeder and doing your due diligence on the genetics of the parent dogs can give you the best chance to get a very healthy Great Dane.

If there ever was a dog to get Pet Insurance for, it’s the Great Dane. Check out my Guide to Pet Insurance for information related to picking which company is best for you.

Where Can I Find Out More About Great Danes?

Great Dane Club of America

AKC Breed Page

Where Can I Find a Great Dane?

Breeder List From The Great Dane Club of America

AKC Puppy Marketplace

Looking for a Rescue? Start with the Great Dane Club of America. They maintain a state-by-state Rescue list.

Interesting Facts about Great Danes

Did you know?

Great Danes Aren’t Danish

No one knows why Great Danes are associated with Denmark. Born and bred in Germany as Boar hounds, their name is the English translation of the French term, le Grande Danois, meaning “big Danish.”

They’re a Historic Breed

The Great Dane’s ancestors were described in Chinese writings dating back 3000 years. Depictions of similar dogs are carved in Egyptian monuments more than 5000 years old. As a distinct breed, they’ve been around for at least four centuries and were only the 34th breed recognized by the AKC in 1887.

• Scooby-Doo is a Great Dane

Shaggy’s constant companion, Scooby-Doo, was modeled after the Great Dane. Once kept to scare ghosts, it was the perfect choice for the canine crime fighter.

• It’s Close — But Great Danes May Not be the Tallest Dogs in the World

Great Danes are tall with an AKC required minimum height of 30 inches, preferably 32, for males. Irish Wolfhounds average a hair taller at 32 inches or more, though they often overlap.

One Enlisted in the Navy

“Nuisance,” a stray Great Dane, was the only dog ever enlisted in the US military. He befriended sailors at a naval base, and though he never went to sea, he served as a mascot, appearing at promotional events and providing welcomed company. He died in 1944 at just seven years old and was interred with full honors at the Navy Signal School in South Africa.

• Great Danes Are the Official Dog of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s founder, William Penn, was a fan of the breed. A portrait of Penn and one of the many Danes he brought to the colonies from England still hangs today in the Governor’s Reception Room at the State Capitol.

• They’ve Won Medals for Bravery

Juliana, a Great Dane, lived with her shoemaker-owner in Britain during World War II. A bomb fell through their roof, and undeterred, she urinated on it, extinguishing the flames that threatened to ignite it. For her bravery, she was honored with the prestigious Blue Cross medal by a UK rescue charity, winning a second years later for alerting her owners to a house fire.

• Celebrities and Spies Love Great Danes

Celebrities past and present, from Batman’s Adam West and pin-up girl Jayne Mansfield to actress Cameron Diaz and entrepreneur Kendall Jenner, love their Great Danes. Austrian-born inventor, star of the silver screen and suspected spy, Hedy Lamarr, was often photographed with her favorite Dane, “Duke.”

• Marmaduke was Inspired by — a Boxer

Great Danes are synonymous with cartoon artist Brad Anderson’s leggy, lovable pooch, Marmaduke. But his real-life inspiration was his mother’s Boxer described by Anderson as a fun-loving clown.