If you are wondering how to breed Great Danes, you should be prepared to screen your dogs for a long list of inherited genetic health conditions. Besides health clearances, a Great Dane breeder must absolutely be prepared for bulk buying quality dog foods, and be very attentive to bloat in their dogs.
Breeding Great Dane dogs is actually quite straightforward, especially when compared to very small dog breeds. However, because of the large size of the puppies, large litters may require a c-section to avoid complications at birth for the mother.
When you are involved with Great Dane breeding, you also have to plan ahead for when the puppies will be a week old and running around. These are big dogs and their puppies can be bigger than other breeds’ adults. Such dogs are not apartment dogs unless you are able to give them for their lifetime, hours of daily exercise.
Background of Great Dane Breeding
The Great Danes are amongst the most favorite dog breeds each year in the United States; people love these gentle giants. They were originally bred to hunt and keep large game but quickly evolved to stay in our households in exchange for a good amount of regular exercise.
The name of the breed is a misnomer since the Great Dane dog breed originated in Germany. How the breed actually got its name is not exactly known. Some commentators believe it originated from the writings of the French naturalist, Count Buffon, who while traveling in Denmark in the 1700s happened upon an athletic boarhound that he called, “Grand Danois” or “Great Dane”. A good many breed historians do agree that there was a deliberate attempt by non-German breeders to divorce the breed from its country of origin because of Germany’s ignominious 20th-century behavior (much like German shepherds came to be known as Alsatian after the first World War). Though the breed came to be more distinctive in medieval Germany, the family of mastiffs to which it belongs is much older. Mastiff-type dogs were used in the war in the civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome as early as 1000 BC.
The dog in its current form at least dates back to medieval Germany. It is most likely a result of cross-breeding the English Mastiff and the Irish Wolfhound (though some sources list the greyhound in its ancestry as well). The dogs were bred to hunt bear, boar and other large game. A typical hunt would use more than one type of dog. One could be used to track or flush out the quarry. Others could be used to kill or retrieve. Great Danes would hold the game for the hunters. It took a strong and tenacious dog to seize upon a wild boar and prevent its escape. So a Great Dane’s job, originally, was to hold the boar until the hunters arrive. Hence, it is oftentimes called a boarhound in writings of this period. The dogs of medieval Germany obviously would need to have an aggressive nature and strong prey drive. These characteristics have over the centuries been bred out of the breed as the need for boar hunting dogs waned.
In addition, to their work as boar hunters, Great Danes were favorites of royal courts. They served as guard dogs for the royal family. Great Danes actually would sleep in the bed Chambers of the prince or princess in order to protect them from assassination. Great Danes came to be known in Germany as Kammerhunde, or Chamber Dogs.
Many Great Danes appear alongside historical figures. General Cornwallis had his Great Dane with him as he fought against the Americans in the Revolutionary War. Otto von Bismarck bred many of Germany’s fine Great Danes at the turn of the 20th century. Manfred von Richthofen (the “Red Baron”) is reported to have given his dog a ride on an airplane. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s son had a Great Dane at the White House named, “President”.
They, also, have been associated with the occult. In the Middle Ages, it was thought the had the ability to see ghosts considered to be protectors against the influences of evil spirits. (It is unknown whether or not the creators of the cartoon Great Dane, Scooby-Doo, knew of the breed’s association with the ghosts but it is an interesting coincidence if nothing else.)
The first breeding club was established in Germany in 1896 where it was called, “Deutsche Dogge” or “German Dog”. The AKC recognized the breed in 1887. The Great Dane Breed Club of America (GDCA) was the fourth American breeding club recognized by the AKC in 1889. The breed is the fourteenth most popular breed in the United States (2016). Their popularity in the United States has remained stable over the years with the breed being featured by Hollywood in movies like Oscar & Company and All Dogs Go to Heaven. Cartoonish Great Danes like Marmaduke and Scooby-Doo have appeared over the years in various Hollywood movies including Westerns of the 1930s which included some of actor Tom Mix’s dogs.
Health Concerns When Breeding Great Danes
The lifespan is between six and ten years. Giant breeds like Great Danes do not live long even when they do not succumb to one of the many health problems that mark this breed. It’s sad that such large and giant breeds finish their growth later and tend to die earlier than most other dog breeds. Great Danes are athletic and therefore require daily intense exercise to keep them in shape, along with a protein-packed diet.
In general, large dogs have shorter lifespans than smaller ones. Great Danes have an average lifespan of eight to ten years. It falls short when compared to Labrador Retrievers at ten to fourteen or Chihuahuas at seventeen years. This is partly explained by the fact that they age faster. The other problem is some of the serious congenital heart problems which can claim the lives of some of these dogs even before the conditions are diagnosed (thus bringing down the overall average of the breed).
Cancer is among the top three causes of death in Great Danes. Lymphoma and bone cancer are lethal types of cancer and are among the top three most common causes of death in dogs.
Giant breeds like Great Danes continue to grow after the first year. Both male and female dogs will weigh over a hundred pounds when fully grown. The breed eats an enormous amount of food and does not complete its growth until its third year. Though Great Danes are big dogs they are mostly an athletic breed. A dog that becomes overweight may have a hormonal problem. The breed has a genetic predisposition to an autoimmune illness called canine thyroiditis. This condition is marked by hypothyroidism or lack of thyroid hormones. Symptoms of this condition include weight gain, sluggishness, and a dull coat. It is diagnosed by a simple blood test and treated by thyroid replacement pills which will need to be continued for the dog’s life. Dogs with canine thyroiditis should not be bred since it is a genetic condition (though the specific mechanism is not yet known).
Great Danes were bred to have a square body. Their wide chests make them very susceptible to gastric dilation volvulus or bloat. In bloat, the dog’s stomach twists on its axis and blood flow are cut off from the intestines. Dogs that engage in exercise immediately after eating are more likely to get it. Symptoms include vomiting, retching, drooling, difficulty breathing and weakness. The condition must receive immediate medical treatment. Without medical assistance, the dog will go into shock and die. Unfortunately, even with medical help between a quarter and a third of dogs with bloat still, do not survive. Various techniques have been tried to prevent the incidence of bloat including positioning the food bowl at a height and breaking a dog’s meals into smaller portions. None of them appear to be very significantly successful so far.
Structural & Growth Problems
All of these dogs should be tested for dysplasia prior to being bred. In hip dysplasia, hip sockets are poorly formed. The ball joint does not fit correctly and slides around in the socket. Painful arthritis can develop in the hip. The dog will eventually become lame. The OFA lists Great Danes as being ranked 88th among the breeds for the incidence of hip dysplasia. According to its statistics, 12.7% of the dogs tested for hip dysplasia showed abnormalities.
Another problem common in the breed is the Wobbler syndrome or cervical spondylomyelopathy. This is a disease of the spinal cord in the neck. There is a slippage in the intervertebral disks, and sometimes, bony growths that impinge on the sensitive nerve endings. Symptoms include a wobbly gait, weakness, and difficulty getting up. Eventually, the dog will experience some degree of paralysis. This disease seems to be associated with rapid growth and is diagnosed by its clinical signs and confirmed by x-rays. Surgical treatment yields the best result.
Advanced cardiac issues especially ones that result in sudden death crop up in the breed fairly often. In OFA statistics, Great Danes were listed as the sixth highest breed with advanced cardiac problems. Dilated cardiomyopathy and other genetic or congenital diseases of the heart strike Great Danes and cause sudden often enough to earn the breed the nickname, “the heartbreak breed”. In dilated cardiomyopathy, the wall of the heart and heart failure ensues. The disease usually strikes middle-aged dogs and can rapidly progress. The disease is thought to be hereditary but the exact mechanism of inheritance is not yet known. The Great Dane Club of America recommends that dogs that are used for breeding receive a heart examination every two years. That examination should include an echocardiogram to assess the structure and function of the heart.
Other structural problems of the heart are congenital and symptoms usually occur in the dog’s first year. Patent Ductus Arteriosus and Persistent Right Aortic Arch are among the congenital heart problems affecting Great Danes. Valve defects are usually fatal in the first year of the dog’s life. Poor appetite and lethargy in a young dog may indicate heart defects and should be investigated prior to any dog being bred.
How to Breed Great Danes
Breeding Great Danes is costly but not very risky compared to toy dog breeds. Most health concerns can be screened and cleared using genetic testing, but you should expect high vet bills during your dogs’ lifetimes. Indeed, Great Danes tend to require more veterinary attention than medium-sized dogs and this is solely due to their body shape and giant size.
Birth and whelping are smooth in the vast majority of cases with Great Danes but always be prepared, if you have a very large puppy count, to go with a c-section. Ask your veterinary during pregnancy to have expert advice.
Average Litter Size
The average litter size in Great Danes is eight puppies with litters of ten puppies not that uncommon. Litters of eight or more puppies necessitate surgical delivery more often than smaller litters. In addition, Great Danes are among the breeds more prone to dystocia and birthing difficulties. Elective cesarean delivery of Great Dane puppies is preferred by some breeders because of this risk factor. Such decisions have to be thought about as soon as you know the number of puppies your bitch is carrying and should be discussed with your veterinarian.
The AKC breed standard allows for nine colors including fawn, black, black & white, brindle, white, blue, mantle, merle, and harlequin. Markings of black, black mask and white markings are acceptable with white markings on the chest and toes on a base color of black, fawn, blue or brindle not desirable.
Genetic Issues with Merles
Certain genetic diseases and abnormalities are associated with the merle color including eye abnormalities and deafness. If two merles are bred, the puppies have a 25% chance of inheriting two merle genes. These homozygous merles will be mostly white and the recessive diseases will be expressed in the puppies. Sometimes the double merle puppies will be stillborn or even die shortly after birth. More often they will be deaf, blind and prone to a multitude of other genetic defects (including heart problems). It is considered an unethical breeding practice to breed two merle Great Danes (or to breed two merles of any breeds, for that matter).
Ear Cropping & Tail Docking
The cropping of the ears of the Great Dane began during the years when the dog was used to hunt boar. A floppy ear could be grasped and ripped by the dangerous wild boar. Today it serves no purpose and is done solely for cosmetic reasons. The surgery is most often done between ten and twelve weeks. The procedure costs on average several hundred dollars. Aftercare of the ears is about six months. Sometimes the procedure fails to produce ears that stand straight up. Great Danes may according to the AKC breed standard have cropped ears. It is not a requirement though. Ear cropping and tail docking have both fallen into disfavor and are illegal in most countries. It is illegal in the U.K. and will disqualify a dog from shows under the auspices of the Kennel Club. Tail docking is a disqualification in the AKC breed standard and in the Kennel Club. Sometimes Great Danes will injure their tails by smacking them against a wall or another hard object (happy tail injuries). When Great Danes do injure a tail in that manner, the tail oftentimes must be docked.
Miniature Great Dane
The essence of the breed makes a miniature Great Dane version somewhat of a contradiction. This dog is supposed to be a big dog. The breed standard sets out the minimum size of the male as 32 inches at the withers and of a female as 30 inches. Dogs disqualified for being undersized may be advertised as a miniature but there is nothing special about these smaller dogs. Consumers should be wary of breeders who charge a premium for small-sized Great Danes.
While Irish Wolfhounds are on average taller than Great Danes, the record for the tallest dog is held by a Great Dane named, “Zeus”. Zeus towered some seven feet four inches when on his back paws. Zeus was featured in the Guinness Book of World Records. He died in 2014. The current tallest dog is another Great Dane, Freddy. Freddy stands at seven feet tall when on his back paws. Great Danes like to be tall, not miniaturized.
The breed makes a great family dog. Long ago any aggressive tendencies were bred out of them. They are good with children. If children are too small, though, they may run the risk of being stepped on or pushed over by the dog, and of course, small children will need to be supervised. The breed is many times called, “a gentle giant” and will get along with other household pets. The Great Dane scores a 48 on Dr. Coren’s dog intelligence test—in other words, the middle of the pack.
A Great Dane puppy will cost from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars depending upon the pedigree, the location and the quality of the puppy. Great Danes are more expensive to own on average than the majority of other breeds. First, mature dogs weigh in excess of a hundred pounds. They have a huge appetite to go along with their large size. A person can expect to feed an adult Great Dane ten-twelve cups of dog food daily. Second, Great Danes are among the top ten breeds with high veterinary bills. Medical treatment for the emergency situation of bloat can run into several thousand dollars. Finally, the large size makes the breed incompatible with very small living spaces. They can exist in an apartment with proper daily walks but still, the square footage to accommodate them will be bigger than the more common apartment dwellers like toys.