Great Danes

As puppies they can knock over small tables and large children. As adults they can clear a coffee table with a swipe of a tail. Although he may sometimes seem like a bull in a china shop, the biggest thing about the Great Dane isn't his formidable size (up to 175 pounds), but his heart. They may have been bred to protect from poachers, but these days, this tall and elegant dog is better suited to live as a lover, not a fighter. The largest dog in the Guinness Book of World Records is a Dane, but on average this dog usually measures in a little smaller than the tallest breed, the Irish Wolfhound. If you're looking for a gentle giant, this may well be your dog.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

The Great Dane will certainly attract attention if you're looking for such a breed. But aside from the natural protection provided by a dog of such size, you don't have to be too concerned about your property with this gentle dog. The Great Dane of today is a family companion, and he won't thrive if left outdoors to guard the yard. He wants to share the couch and help you watch TV.

His size may seem to require its own zip code, but the Dane's calm nature makes him more suitable even to apartment living than many a more anxious or active breeds. While puppyhood may be a challenge in an apartment, a well-socialized and well-trained Dane will be perfectly content to have one good walk a day for his exercise.

Because Great Danes have protective natures when their families are involved, it's essential to teach young dogs not to jump up on people and that nipping or any act of aggression is not allowed. What tends to be laughed off in a tiny dog is no laughing matter in a full-grown dog of this size. Let their size itself serve as a deterrent and never encourage aggressive behavior.

While most Great Danes aren't nuisance barkers, if allowed to develop barking as a habit, they'll have what's probably the loudest, deepest, most far-carrying bark of any canine. (There's a reason that a Great Dane led the Twilight Bark to get the news of missing puppies into the countryside in the classic movie, "101 Dalmatians.")

Many Great Dane have cropped ears, but that look seems to be on the wane, even in the show ring, where "natural ears" are now allowed. While there are still people who defend this cosmetic procedure, ear cropping has no benefit to the dog whatsoever, and is a painful fashion that most of the civilized world has outlawed. As for grooming, Dane owners get off relatively easy, his short coat is easy to care for, although he does shed and it can seem like a lot of hair since he's a lot of dog.

What you'll save on grooming bills you'll more than spend on food, since these giant dogs need a lot of fuel, particularly when they're growing. Although overfeeding is not healthy for any dog, it's especially important in a Great Dane puppy since rapid growth can contribute to skeletal problems including arthritis. Put aside extra time for clean-up, by the way, since much of what goes in must come out, in rather alarming quantities.

Health Issues Common to Great Danes

Health is an area where biggest clearly isn't best. The Great Dane is prone to a condition known as "bloat and torsion," where the stomach twists on itself, trapping air inside. This is as grave an emergency as you'll ever face with your dog, and immediate surgery is the only thing that can save his life. The Internet is full of home remedies and suggestions for how to avoid that expensive trip to the emergency hospital. Ignore them and head for the veterinarian if you want to save your dog.

Before surgery, ask about having your dog's stomach tacked -- a procedure that will prevent it from twisting again in the future. Nearly all dogs that bloat once will do so again, and that surgery can save your dog's life. In fact, many Great Dane owners have it done routinely on all their dogs as a preventive measure.

Gastric Dilation-Volvulus, more commonly known as Bloat, is the number one killer of Danes, and they bloat more often than any other breed. In fact, they are 43.2 times more likely to be at risk of bloat compared to all other breeds according to a study done by the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at the Ohio State University, and according to a JAVMA study reported in 2003, 5.3% of Great Danes exhibit GDV per year. This condition is known to be at least partly genetic, but there is no screening test for bloat at this time. Your puppy's breeder should be able to give you an idea of how many close relatives of his parents have bloated in the past; the fewer such animals in your puppy's ancestry, the better.

Great Danes also suffer from a high incidence of cardiomyopathy, where the heart becomes enlarged. This is very common in all giant dogs, and when it occurs late in life, it is usually manageable with medication. Have your dog's heart checked at least once a year, and have any murmurs or unusual symptoms investigated by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist. This condition is genetic as well, but the testing currently available can only clear the dog for the time being; a dog could test clear one day and develop heart disease the next.

Great Danes can also suffer from hip dysplasia, a crippling malformation of the hip socket that requires costly surgery to repair and that can result in painful arthritis later in life. Another genetic problem with an imperfect screening test, the best prevention for hip dysplasia at this time is to only buy a puppy whose parents both tested with normal or better hips and who have very few close relatives with the disease. Keeping your dog lean, particularly when he's young, can also help.

Another painful bone condition is Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy, occurring during the rapid growth phase of puppyhood. According to a study reported in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association in 2002, Great Danes are 189.8 times more likely to be at risk for HOD than all other breeds.

Cancer is another leading cause of death in Great Danes, particularly lymphoma and bone cancer. They are also prone to a number of other skeletal, vision and neurological problems, both major and minor. Great Dane vet bills, like the dogs themselves, tend to be very, very large.

To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Great Dane before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (Bloat) High $1,500-$7,500
Cardiomyopathy High $500-$1,500
Entropion High $300-$1,500
Hip Displasia Medium $1,500-$6,000
Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy High $200-$1,500
Aortic Stenosis Medium $500-$1,500
Myotonia Low $500-$1,500
Osteochondrosis of the Shoulder High $2,000-$4,000
Lick Granuloma High $100-$1,000

6 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Great Dane Puppy

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers all breeds and popular mixes, shipped with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Embark on your search for a Great Dane puppy with caution. Start at the Web site of the Great Dane Club of America, which maintains a list of its member breeders. Your puppy's breeder should be a member in good standing and have agreed to abide by its Code of Ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores.

Look for a breeder who is active in some form of canine activity such as dog shows or obedience. She should also have written documentation that your puppy's parents were cleared of genetic problems including hip certification from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip); heart health certification by a board certified cardiologist and OFA; thyroid clearance from OFA; eye clearance within the previous year from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF).

Don't fall for the lies of bad breeders. If a breeder tells you that those tests aren't necessary because her dogs are "vet-checked" or she doesn't have those problems in her lines, pass that breeder up. Genetic health is invisible to the eye and undetectable by routine veterinary examinations, and any breeder with the best interest of her dogs and the breed in mind will not only be willing to do those tests, she wouldn't consider breeding without them.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Some of the health and behavior problems in Great Danes aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Great Danes

Pet insurance for Great Danes costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Great Danes are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Great Danes are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Great Dane is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.