Written by Doris Donnerman (last updated April 6, 2009)
The Great Dane is a dog of unusual beauty. He has been called "statuesque" a term which fits him perfectly, for he is of great size and dignity, and is cleanly made throughout. He has nobility of carriage to an unusual degree, and his dignity is not combined with aloofness, but with friendliness. Modern Great Danes range in height from thirty-two to 36 inches in males.
Because of his size and beauty, the Great Dane is a typical "estate dog." Yet he is one of the few large breeds which have been taken into the city apartment with equal success. This has been a hurdle which few of the larger dogs could negotiate. The Great Dane, with his short coat, dignity, and easy-keeping qualities, has seemed to thrive in apartment houses about as well as on the large suburban estates.
Authorities have agreed that the Great Dane is a descendant of the Molossian dog of Greco-Roman times. Still others carry him back as far as 2,200 B.C., believing the "tiger dog" of Egypt to be his ancestor. Several reasons for this are that the dogs of immense size have been portrayed since 2,200 B.C. where these great dogs have not been as heavy as the Mastiff or as light as the Greyhound. Another reason is that, wherever artists have tried to portray head anatomy of these dogs in detail, Great Dane type has always been shown.
One cannot, of course, state that a single breed has kept pure since 2,200 B.C. Since that time there has been a dominant type of dog that we can say resembles the Great Dane. Strains developed, and were mingled with other strains, and re-crossed. Strains were given various names. Through it all, a dominant, Dane-like type remained.
The Cunobeline Coin, a Greek coin which some authorities place at 39 years before Christ and others earlier, is believed to show a Dane-like dog. The dog is immense, for a human is riding it. The ears are erect. The tail is longer than that of any modern dog. The hair is short. Several authorities have said that this is a Great Dane in every important particular.
The breed apparently disappeared in later times in England. One reason given was the extraordinary ferocity of the breed. This appears to have been a characteristic of the Great Dane until quite recently, for the breed was barred from the New York dog show for a time for this cause.
The Germans, of course, claim the breed as their own. Neither could he have been of German origin. The Germans themselves disowned the name of German Boar Hound. They called the breed by various names. Or rather, they stated there were various strains, or varieties of the breed, called Boar Hound, Ulmer Dog, German Mastiff, Tiger Dog (for the harlequins), etc.
It was pointed out, about 1870, that no one could distinguish between these races of dogs. At which point it was decreed that all the other names were to be abolished, and that thereafter the breed would be known as the German Mastiff. The Germans then began to bring the breed to a perfection which gave it a world-wide popularity. Despite this, the Germans could not make the name stick. The breed was not of German origin, and it was certainly not of Mastiff type. So the rest of the world stuck to just as illogical a name, the Great Dane. That is what it remains to this day.
During the years from 1850 to 1890, the Germans were busy perfecting the breed, about as they later did with the German Shepherd. The effects of this can be shown in England and America, where the breed developed along similar lines, and during a similar period.
With the dogs of 1900, through some miracle of breeding, breeders totally eliminated the bad tempers which had characterized the breed for centuries. It has been noted that since that time the breed is known for their gentility. Fights among them are no more common than that of other breeds. It has been stated that it is far easier to stop them from fighting than it is with other breeds.
Outstanding Great Danes in America during the intervening years have been too numerous to mention. Ever since the earliest days, the Americans have imported the best that could be bought in Germany. With this stock and blood native to Canada and the United States for many years, the Great Dane breed has prospered.
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