Having a Great Dane was on my bucket list and something I thought would never happen, but much to my surprise my husband put us on a waiting list for an impending litter. Over the next few months I searched the internet learning all I could about the breed and what I should expect. This article is a compilation of the top 10 things I learned in my first two years with my Great Dane that might help a prospective owner in preparing for their new family member.
1. Size. They call them great for a reason. Their presence is striking and can quickly draw a crowd eager to see this magnificent breed. People are fascinated not only by their height, but also their weight which can vary greatly depending on diet and exercise. My Dane does not seem large to me, but I am with her every day and her size seems normal to me, but it is funny to see the expressions when people meet her for the first time. I am often asked if she requires a lot of room in the house. I say no because she typically just follows me from room to room or is napping on her cot. There are the occasional romps through the house when she is wound up and burning off a bit of energy. It is nice to have a bit of extra space when this happens, but certainly not a necessity. The biggest thing to keep an eye on is their tail. These can cause damage to you and your possessions if you have tight spaces and an active tail. I dare say every male owner of a Dane has experienced the quick painful whip to their privates from their loving companion. Also young children are at just the right height and care should be taken that they are not too close to an excited tail. Overall they are mere gentle giants that have no clue about their size.
2. Food. My Dane averages a 31 lb. bag of food every 10 days. This is dry food and we do not supplement her diet with anything else, including human food, i.e. no table scraps. We struggled through many brands and types of food before sticking with Purina One for Large Breed Dogs. They also have a variety for puppies. Great Danes can have finicky digestive systems and it may take some time to find the one that works for your dog. One tip we learned along the way was to feed her raw canned pumpkin (just a few tablespoons) whenever she had diarrhea. This worked much better than anything prescribed by the vet.
3. Elimination. What goes in must come out and for a Great Dane this will be a lot. Their urine output is tremendous and it will kill your grass. One remedy for this is to train your dog from the start to go in one area, preferably an area with gravel, bark, mulch, etc. Another option is to monitor where your dog goes and rinse the area afterwards. I have a water spray gun for this purpose and it also comes in handy whenever she tries to dig. Just the sound of picking up the spray gun makes her stop. My dog will create on average 5-7 lbs of poop a day. We initially scooped and bagged it, but soon the odor from the trash can was unbearable, especially during the summer months. You cannot leave it in the yard thinking nature will take care of it because it takes considerable time for it to break down. Unless you have several acres of land or a designated area, you will find it best to scoop. We now use the Doogie Dooley Septic System which is basically a deep hole in your yard to deposit the waste (no need to bag). The system comes with a hatch lid and digestor tablets. You just need to add water. We have very sandy soil and the water does not remain long, but the system is still efficient. You can also use Rid-X® in place of the digestor tablets. I would also highly recommend the jaws type scoopers.
4. Bedding. Choosing the proper bedding is important for a few reasons. Danes are known to be susceptible to joint issues and selection of an orthopedic foam bed helps many dogs with arthritis by distributing the weight evenly to reduce pressure points on the joints. My princess sleeps on a memory foam mattress from K9 Ballistics, specifically the Orthopedic TUFF Bed. I tried other bedding when she was a puppy, but as she gained weight these quickly flattened and had to be replaced. The K9 bed is just as supportive after nearly 2 years of use as it was from the first day. It also comes with a super strong chew proof cover if you happen to have a dog that likes to chew on their bedding. These beds can be on the pricey side, especially when purchasing the larger sizes, but this is a quality product that will last and you will not be replacing it over and over. The XL fits perfectly in the Midwest XXL Dog Crate (54” L x 35” W x 45” H). They now have a crate that is 2” wider. These are very large crates and take up a bit of space. Your dog will be happiest if the crate is in the bedroom where you sleep. We started our Dane puppy in this crate, but used wood flooring slats to block off the majority of the crate and expanded the area as she grew. The reason for this is if you give a puppy access to the entire large crate, they will use one end to sleep and the other end to soil. Until they are house broken, use washable bedding.
If you start out letting your Dane sleep with you, beware they will want to continue to do this when they are full grown. Many owners let their Dane sleep with them and use their furniture to lounge on when they are puppies. You need to decide from day one if you will allow your dog to sleep in your bed and lounge on your furniture because once you start there is no turning back. An important rule to remember (courtesy of my husband) – do not start something when they are a puppy that you do not want them doing when they are full grown. Our dog has never been on our furniture or in our bed and has absolutely no interest in either. We always played with her on the floor as a puppy and still do to this day. When she wants to nap while in the family room, she has an elevated Kuranda dog bed which is another great durable product. After going through a few beds that she chewed and soiled, we first tried the Coolaroo elevated bed until she got too large for it. These beds are not only very comfortable for your pet and easy on their joints, but they are also very easy to clean. These are also easy to assemble and disassemble when traveling with your pet. I wish I had known about these bedding products from the start and I would have not wasted money on trying so many other products.
5. Exercise. Great Danes are not high energy dogs and do not require large amounts of exercise, but they do require exercise on a daily basis. My Dane gets a 2-3 mile walk each day which also involves some running (just her, not me!). I am fortunate to have an open area where she can run off leash and usually is joined by another dog for a friendly chase. Some days she attends a doggie daycare which is great for exercise and socialization. When you have a dog of this size, socialization is very important because you want to be the dog owner with the dog that likes all the other dogs rather than the owner that has to constantly try to keep their dog under control when another dog approaches. Dog parks are another great source for exercise and socialization. I find my dog prefers I mix it up a bit so that she has time walking with me, as well as time with her doggie friends at the park or daycare.
6. Socialization. Let’s talk a bit more about socialization. Socialization for dogs is very important, especially if you plan to take your dog to public places, doggie daycare, or have guests in your home. A socialized dog is one that knows how to properly meet and greet other dogs without becoming aggressive. The earlier you can start this, the better. Doggie daycare is probably the best place for this as dogs are screened to determine how they interact before they are allowed to mingle with the pack. These daycares also require current vaccinations. If you find a daycare that does not have both of these requirements, seek out another daycare. Second on the list would be the dog park. I list this as second because you will find people bring dogs that are not socialized and this can of course lead to problems. Additionally, you have no idea which dogs have received their vaccinations which could be an issue if they are all using the same water source. Great Danes should also be socialized to other humans. We take our Dane everywhere that will allow her. She travels with us, stays in hotels, frequents restaurants, and is often seen at our local hardware store. You will immediately see the two reactions people have to your dog – they either want a closer look or they turn and walk in the opposite direction. When you have such a large dog, most people are naturally curious and want to touch the dog and ask you a myriad of questions. Your dog needs to be able to handle this attention, including young children reaching out to them. If your dog cannot handle these situations, do not force them. Again, you will have the highest rate of success if this is started when they are young and they are frequently exposed to this attention. If you see your dog is stressed, back off and try exposing them over short periods and increase over time.
Great Danes are very social and want to spend the majority of their time with you. If you are thinking you can leave a Dane outside while you are at work, think again. Great Danes are strictly inside dogs. They like to go outside for walks and to take care of business, but the vast majority of their time will be inside. They want to be close to you and will rarely stay in another room without you. It is best if someone can stay home with them and if that is not possible, doggie daycare should be considered.
7. Training. Enrolling your puppy in a training class is one of the best things you can do. We used the training services offered at PetSmart. The key to success is consistency and the realization that it is really the human that is being trained. If you stick with it, it will make life with your dog so much easier. A tip to training is to make a list of commands you plan to use and ensure everyone living with the dog knows these commands. An example is I use the command “wait” to signal to my dog to stop and wait for me. I spend the most time with our Dane and my husband occasionally forgets our agreed commands and might tell her “stop”, which she totally ignores. Dogs have a great capacity for understanding commands and are quick learners when positively reinforced.
I credit this next tip to the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan. When your dog is a puppy, expose them to frequently looking in their ears, opening their mouth and checking their teeth, checkout their feet and nails – you and your vet will reap the rewards from this because you will acclimate your dog over time to these inspections so when they go for a vet visit or you need to trim their nails they will not fight you over it. My dog actually gets excited about going to the vet because she gets to smell all the other dog scents and the vet appreciates how calm she is whenever he does an examination. It is also a good idea to acquaint your dog to being bathed at an early age. If you have a walk-in shower these work very well for Great Danes, especially if you have a hand held showerhead.
Before you take ownership of your dog, you should make a decision regarding whether you will crate your dog. This should be started the first day your dog enters your home. Our Dane sleeps in her crate every night, although now we leave the door open so she can stretch out her legs. Whenever we leave her home alone, we leave her crated just to ensure she does not get into anything. She knows my routine well enough to know when I am preparing to leave and she will freely get into her crate and wait for me to close the door. This is her haven.
8. Bloat. I met a Great Dane owner a few months ago at the dog park whose Dane suffered bloat at 8 years of age. The owner was familiar with bloat and knew the symptoms and quickly got her dog medical attention and the dog survived. Bloat is a dangerous and often deadly condition where the stomach fills with gas, fluid, or food causing it to expand and may rotate or twist causing restricted blood flow. This blood flow restriction can cause shock and can happen very quickly. I mention this because the woman I met was not aware you can take steps to minimize this from happening. When our dog was spayed we elected to have her stomach sutured to her abdomen to prevent the stomach from twisting. Please educate yourself to the symptoms and prevention of bloat which are readily available on the internet.
9. Transportation. I must admit I never thought about this when I got my Dane, but when I bought a new car last year my main criteria was how well she would fit in the car. As stated earlier, I take her almost everywhere. As a puppy, transportation was not a big deal, but now she is the size of a small horse and it can be challenging, especially on long trips with luggage and her accouterments. Compact cars are not the best fit although our Dane can still fit in the back seat of a Maxima, but only for short trips of less than an hour. The best vehicles are SUV’s and vans with seats that can be moved into various configurations for the best comfort. On long trips they need room to turn around as they need to change positions and cannot be expected to remain lying down or in one position for extended periods of time. Did I mention I have a princess?
If you review most hotel pet policies they have a weight limit that your Dane will easily exceed. So how do we get around this? You can’t sneak them in under a blanket, but it does not hurt to ask the hotel manager to make an exception for your dog. We have never been denied permission to have our Dane stay at any hotel. We do offer that we will not leave the dog in the room alone. Call in advance of your visit to request permission and when you check in let the front desk know who approved your dogs stay. Also ask in advance if there are any associated fees. Most hotels do charge a fee, but none have charged us above the standard rate.
We frequently dine with our dog at dog friendly restaurants. Your dog must be well socialized to both dogs and humans as there will most likely be tight quarters which could prompt some anxiety. Additionally, your dog cannot be begging for food or grazing off adjacent tables.
BringFido.com is a great website for locating parks, hotels, and restaurants that are dog friendly. Always call ahead if possible to ensure the information is accurate as we have found some establishments have policy changes that have not been updated to the website.
10. Drooling. Drooling is fairly common with Danes, but there are facial characteristics which can impact the volume. The European Danes with boxy heads and thicker jowls tend to drool more than American Danes that tend have a slimmer face and jowls. We lucked out in that our Dane rarely drools. I think all drool when they drink water. We have lessened this by having her drink out of a running faucet. She seems to prefer this to her bowl and this works for us too because we were constantly cleaning and filling her water bowl. She just lets us know when she needs the water turned on.
I hope you find this list helpful and I am happy to answer any questions you may have regarding the care of a Great Dane.
Without hesitation I can say my Great Dane is the best dog I have ever owned. I am so grateful for my time with her.
I am sure there are many Great Dane owners that have more great tips to share. Please share via your comments and I will add these to the list – of course giving you proper credit!