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16 Interesting & Unusual Great Dane Facts

Chelsie Fraser

By Chelsie Fraser

great dane

Great Danes are known for their size and their gentleness. In fact, this dog breed is known as “the gentle giant.” While they can be intimidating, they make great family dogs and will be happy to climb in your lap for a snuggle. But did you know that the Great Dane is an ancient boar-hunting dog that dates back to the 16th century? Also, despite holding a world record for size, they aren’t the largest dog breed! Here are 16 more interesting and unusual facts about the Great Dane.

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The 16 Interesting Great Dane Facts

1. Great Danes originate from Germany

While the breed name implies that these dogs have ties to Denmark, they actually come from Germany. It’s believed that the name comes from a French naturalist who stumbled upon them while visiting Denmark in the 1700s. The large dog was named “le Grande Danois,” or the Great Dane, and the name stuck.

Great Dane
Image by: mtajmr, Pixabay

2. Great Danes are a hunting breed

Great Danes were originally bred to hunt and kill wild boars. This is why they are so large and powerful. The original hunting dogs had an aggressive prey drive that differs greatly from the personality of the Great Dane that we know today.

3. They are bred to be gentle

Over time, the Great Dane breed evolved from an aggressive hunter to a popular show dog. Their “fighting” instincts have been bred out in favor of a gentle personality. Now these dogs are so docile, they would happily take a seat in your lap (if they could fit). They make fantastic family dogs and love children.

4. Scooby-Doo is a Great Dane

Historically, Great Danes were thought to ward off evil spirits and ghosts. This is why the creators of Scooby-Doo chose a Great Dane for the character. While he’s massive, he reinforces the idea that Great Danes prefer to be lap dogs.

Great Danes appear in other popular cartoons. The doggy detective Marmaduke is a Great Dane, as is Astro, the Jetson’s family dog.

fawn great dane
Image by: Dmussman, Shutterstock

5. Great Danes are not the largest dog breed

While Great Danes have an average height of 2.5 to 2.8 feet, they aren’t the largest dog breed in the world. Irish Wolfhounds have a taller average height, though Great Danes still hold the world record for the tallest dog.

6. A Great Dane named Juliana was awarded two Blue Cross medals

A Great Dane named Juliana had a bomb dropped on her house in 1941 during the London Blitz. The bomb didn’t explode, and Juliana chose to claim it by urinating on it. She earned the Blue Cross medal when her urine diffused the bomb and prevented it from exploding.

Three years later, in 1944, Juliana ran for help when her owner’s shoe shop caught on fire. This earned her a second Blue Cross medal. Sadly, Juliana’s life came to a tragic end in 1946 when she was poisoned through her owner’s letterbox.

7. A Great Dane named Just Nuisance enlisted in the Royal Navy

Just Nuisance is the only dog on record to officially enlist in the Royal Navy. The Great Dane grew up in the United Services Institute and befriended sailors based in South Africa in the 1930s (a British colony at the time).

While the dog took regular train rides with his comrades, the train conductor didn’t appreciate such a large dog being smuggled onto the train. The railway company threatened to put the dog down if he kept riding without paying his fare. To fix the problem, the Navy had Just Nuisance enlist, as sailors could ride the train for free.

Just Nuisance served to keep sailors company and appear at promotional events. He was married to another Great Dane named Adinda, and when Just Nuisance passed away, he was buried with full naval honors.

a female great dane standing on long grass
Image by: David Pegzlz, Shutterstock

8. The Great Dane is the official state dog of Pennsylvania

The state of Pennsylvania’s founder, William Penn, owned a Great Dane. As such, it became the official dog breed of Pennsylvania in 1967. William Penn and his dog are pictured in a painting hanging in the Governor of Pennsylvania’s reception room.

9. Great Danes are one of the fastest-growing dogs

While Great Danes are born weighing only 1–2 pounds, they can grow to 100 pounds in as little as 6 months. They continue to grow to full height until about 3 years of age.

10. These dogs have a low life expectancy

Sadly, these gentle giants only have a life expectancy of 7–10 years, much lower than most dog breeds.

merle great dane
Image by: velora, Shutterstock

11. Great Danes are pictured in Ancient Egyptian artwork

Dogs resembling Great Danes have been found etched into Egyptian monuments that date back to 3,000 B.C. Great Dane-like dogs also appear in Ancient Greek art from the 14th century B.C.

In China, there is literature that mentions dogs resembling the Great Dane that date back to 1121 B.C.

12. This dog breed originated in the 16th century as a crossbreed

Great Danes were bred in the 16th century by crossing an English Mastiff and an Irish Wolfhound. The breed that we know now also has Greyhound genes, which add to their running speed.

The Great Dane became recognized as a distinct breed by the American Kennel Club in 1887. They have nine approved colors and three sets of distinct markings.

13. A Great Dane holds the world record for the world’s tallest dog

A Great Dane named Zeus holds the world record for the world’s tallest dog. Zeus measured 44 inches (approximately 112 cm) tall at his shoulder. When standing on his hind legs, Zeus measured a whopping 7 feet, 4 inches in height.

Sadly, Zeus only lived to the age of 5. His massive size meant that he exhibited symptoms of old age early, which is believed to be the cause of his premature death.

Great Dane woods
Image by: mtajmr, Pixabay

14. Great Danes are prone to several health conditions

Great Danes are prone to certain lethal conditions, such as bloat. This stomach condition is the leading killer of Great Danes, so it’s extremely important to have any digestive issues checked by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Their large size means Great Danes age much faster than most other dog breeds. It’s not unusual to see arthritis and joint issues in dogs as young as 5. Great Danes often need a special diet to counteract these problems, keep them healthy, and prevent discomfort.

15. Great Danes are the 17th most popular dog breed in the world

The American Kennel Club ranked the Great Dane as the 17th most popular dog breed in the world in 2021. This is fairly high, given that hundreds of breeds are on the list.

Most likely, the breed’s popularity is due to their gentle personalities and ease of training. They are intelligent dogs that make fantastic family pets. They are loyal and trustworthy, and while they don’t bark often, they are intimidating in size and will warn you of danger.

great dane dog in the woods
Image By: Nikolas Otto, Shutterstock

16. Great Danes weren’t originally called Great Danes

The first dogs of this breed came from Germany in the 19th century. They were named German Boarhounds because of their job of hunting wild boar. There was an early attempt to change the name to the German Mastiff in honor of their English Mastiff relatives, but it didn’t stick. Other attempted names included the Englische Tocke and Englische Docke (later spelled Dogge or Englischer Hund in German). These names translated to “English Dog.”

The name Great Dane came from a Frenchman who discovered the breed in Denmark in the 1700s. He called the dog a Great Dane, and the name stuck. We’ve called the breed this ever since.

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The Great Dane is a fantastic breed with a fascinating history. These dogs are big, strong, kind, and gentle. They are low maintenance, but due to their size, they do need a large amount of space and exercise, so be sure to keep their needs in mind if you’re considering adopting this breed.

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Featured Image Credit: Al_Er, Shutterstock

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