Great Danes are known for casting a shadow over most other dogs—and small children. Learn more about what makes this colossal canine tick.
1. The name is misleading.
Despite being called the Great Dane, these dogs have ties to Germany, not Denmark. Some believe the name came about when French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon happened upon the breed while traveling in Denmark in the early 1700s. He called the large dog "le Grande Danois" or Great Dane, and the name just stuck.
2. Great Danes were once used for hunting boars.
The gigantic canines were probably bred from the Irish wolfhound and the old English mastiff. Great Danes were used to take down wild boars, and needed to be physically strong as well as brave. The powerful hunters were quick and deadly; their aggressive behavior wasn't anything like the temperaments of the Great Danes you see today.
Although not a distinct type until roughly 400 years ago, the Great Dane’s origins extend even further back in history—their ancestors may have mingled with the ancient Egyptians. Depictions of giant dogs can be seen on Egyptian monuments dating back to 3000 BCE. Other ancient art and literature in countries like Tibet, Greece, and China allude to the dogs as well.
3. Gentleness was bred into them.
Today, Great Danes are known as gentle giants. As hunting became less popular, the breed evolved from vicious killers to show dogs. The fight has been bred out of the canines, and now modern-day Danes prefer a more leisurely lifestyle. In fact, the docile pooches make good additions to families and are rarely aggressive.
4. There's a reason Scooby Doo was a Great Dane.
Great Danes were once thought to ward away ghosts and evil spirits, which is why Scooby was the perfect companion for those meddling kids. While that may not have been on the cartoon creators' minds while they were developing characters, there was a lot of debate about Scooby’s breed during the show’s conception.
Originally called “Too Much,” the dog was either going to be a large cowardly dog, or a small courageous pup. When the former was chosen, they had to decide between a sheepdog or a Great Dane. The Great Dane was eventually picked to avoid overlap with Hot Dog, the sheepdog in the Archie comics.
5. They’re not the tallest breed.
Great Danes are huge, with an average height of 2.5 to 2.8 feet, but Irish Wolfhounds tend to grow a hair taller. That said, the tallest dog in the world was a Great Dane named Zeus, who stood more than 3 feet tall.
6. A Great Dane was awarded two Blue Cross Medals ...
In 1941, Juliana the Great Dane was awoken when a bomb fell on the house she lived in. The dog did what any canine in need of a walk would do—she peed on it. The urine diffused the bomb and earned her her first medal. She was awarded her second medal three years later, when she alerted authorities that a fire was raging in her owner’s shoe shop.
7. ... and another joined the Navy.
Just Nuisance, a Great Dane, remains the only dog to be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy. The dog was born in the late 1930s and grew up in the United Services Institute. There, he befriended the Navy sailors that commanded the base in Simon's Town, South Africa (then a British colony). Just Nuisance liked to take the train with his new friends, but the train conductors were less than thrilled with having a dog stowaway (it’s not easy hiding a Great Dane on a train). The railways threatened to put down the dog if he continued to ride on the train without paying his fare.
The Navy loves this traveling pooch so much, that they decided to have him enlist. Sailors were allowed to ride for free, which meant as a Navy man, Just Nuisance was able to ride with his friends without fear. The canine never went to sea, but he did keep the sailors company and appeared at promotional events. Eventually he was “married” to another Great Dane named Adinda.
When Just Nuisance passed away, he was buried with full naval honors at a former SA Navy Signal School.
8. Pennsylvania loves Great Danes.
9. They grow fast.
10. Great Danes and goats can be friends.
A goat and a Great Dane were found wandering around a Dallas-area chapel together in 2010. The trouble began when Minnelli the goat unlatched the gate of his home, also releasing Judy, the Great Dane. Perhaps hoping to elope, the two animals fled to a nearby church, leaving behind their other friend, a three-legged yellow lab named Lucky. Still, the three animals were inseparable and captured the hearts of Americans across the country. The original owners of the motley crew decided they could not afford to take care of them, and put them up for adoption. Luckily, a kind couple took in the trio.
A version of this story ran in 2015; it has been updated for 2022.