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What Were Great Danes Bred For? Breed History Explained

Brooke Billingsley

By Brooke Billingsley

a female great dane standing on long grass

Great Danes are one of the most easily recognizable dog breeds because of their tall, muscular stature and appearance that falls somewhere between elegant and comical, thanks to their long jowls and unique personalities.

But what were Great Danes bred for in the first place? Based on their modern temperament it’s hard to tell what they could have been bred for. While some people today keep them for protection and home guarding, most simply keep them as pets. This breed may be older than you realize and likely didn’t originate where you think they did, though, so let’s talk about the history of the Great Dane.

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What Were Great Danes Bred For?

Most sources point to Great Danes originating as boar hunting dogs. Boars are fierce combatants and are known to have the strength and ferocity to injure, kill, and eat people and animals alike. When it comes to boar hunting, an equally fierce dog is required to run the boars down and help the hunter catch the animal.

Most dogs aren’t cut out for this type of work due to their size and temperament not being in line with what’s needed to compete with wild boars: filling this need led to the inception of the Great Dane breed. The original Great Danes weren’t just large, but they were fierce and powerful dogs capable of keeping up with the running and fighting involved in boar hunting.

This origin is why Great Danes are often seen with cropped ears, even in historical accounts. Early ear cropping was performed to prevent the ears from being injured or removed by other animals, which is a real risk when fighting with a wild boar. Ear cropping in early Great Danes would have helped the dogs retain as much of their ear flaps as possible while reducing the risk of the ear flaps being ripped from the dog in a fight. In modern times, this is a wholly unnecessary procedure in most dogs.

Great Dane
Image by: Martin Tajmr, Pixabay

Where Did Great Danes Originate?

Surprisingly, Great Danes didn’t originate in Denmark at all, and it’s unclear where the name started. This breed originated in Germany, and even in modern Germany, the breed is known as the Deutsche Dog, or “German Dog”.

It’s believed that the breed originated sometime between the 1600s to 1800s, with the breed getting its own breed club in 1889. Great Danes may have originated before the 1600s even, but it’s not known for sure. They were purposefully bred from Mastiff-type dogs for their power, size, and ferocity.

German nobles would have been some of the earliest people to keep these dogs, using them as companions on boar hunts. They would also have been kept by some as guard dogs, but due to their size and temperament, they are not likely to have been kept as house pets like they are today.

Modern Great Danes

Today, Great Danes are a far cry from their ancestors in temperament, although their appearance has not likely changed significantly. An aggressive temperament toward animals or people is not desirable in most dog breeds today. As time has moved forward and expectations of dogs as pets and workers has grown and changed, more and more breeds have moved toward a more personable dog that can safely and happily interact with people and animals. The Great Dane is not exempt from these changes.

Modern breeders aim to breed dogs with pet temperaments. Although some breeders may intentionally breed Great Danes for home guarding, it is not the overall desired temperament for the breed. Most people want a dog that will protect the home if needed and be alert to the arrival of visitors, but that is also accepting of visitors and not aggressive or aloof with strangers and visitors. Very few people want a dog that shows animal aggression, so this temperament has been largely bred out of the Great Dane breed.

great dane lying on grass
Image By: Capri23auto, Pixabay

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In Conclusion

The Great Dane is a fantastic dog breed that makes a great pet for many homes. They may be large but tend to be big lap dogs that are happy to lazily lounge on the couch all day. Very few modern Great Danes have the right temperament for boar hunting like their ancestors. Many of them are protective of the home when needed but are also friendly and welcoming to visitors and other animals. The original temperament of the breed is not appropriate for most modern homes, so breeders have worked to create a more pet type of dog and less of a working dog than the original Great Danes.

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Featured Image Credit: David Pegzlz, Shutterstock

Brooke Billingsley

Authored by

Brooke Billingsley spent nine years as a veterinary assistant before becoming a human nurse in 2013. She resides in Arkansas with her boyfriend of five years. She loves all animals and currently shares a home with three dogs, two cats, five fish, and two snails. She has a soft spot for special needs animals and has a three-legged senior dog and an internet famous cat with acromegaly and cerebellar hypoplasia. Fish keeping...Read more

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