Great Danes are one of the most recognizable giant breed dogs. But, with giant breeds comes giant responsibilities. If a Great Dane were to act aggressively, it could do a lot more damage than a smaller dog like a Chihuahua, Pomeranian, or pug. But, what are the chances that this dog will exhibit aggressive behavior? Are Great Danes aggressive?
The not-so-satisfying truth is that any breed of dog can become aggressive if they don’t receive early socialization. And while many dog breeds — including German shepherds, Doberman pinschers, rottweilers, pit bulls, and English bulldogs — have gotten a reputation for aggression, the reputation is seldom supported by facts.
The Great Dane is rarely associated with aggression — its reputation paints it out to be a gentle giant. But, does this breed deserve its docile reputation?
Certain factors, like what a dog was long ago bred to do and its inherited health conditions, can put a breed at higher risk of aggressive tendencies. To determine whether the Great Dane is an aggressive dog or a good family dog, we’ll look at these factors. We'll also share tips to help dog owners raise well-adjusted Great Dane puppies.
Are Great Danes Aggressive?
So, are Great Danes aggressive? No, Great Danes are not typically aggressive dogs. In fact, the American Kennel Club (AKC) describes the Great Dane temperament as friendly, patient, and dependable.
While a Great Dane could still become aggressive if it isn’t given proper treatment and training when it’s young, we can say fairly confidently that the breed is not predisposed to aggression. Everything from this dog’s breeding to its inherited health issues to the data surrounding dog bites indicates it’s a gentle and reliable family pet.
Breed is typically a better predictor of a dog’s looks than its personality. But certain traits can become hardwired, based on what the breed was originally bred to do. Hundreds of years ago, Great Danes were bred to hunt wild boar — a task that required a lot of confidence. That natural confidence can make Great Danes less prone to fear aggression.
But, it’s been a long time since this breed served as a hunting dog. They’re now much more likely to act as family pets and guard dogs.
In spite of their friendly disposition, this large dog could scare off intruders with its size alone. However, some Great Danes make better watch dogs than guard dogs because they’re more likely to greet an intruder with a wagging tail and sloppy kiss.
Others of the breed will act to protect a family member — this is one of the rare instances where you may see signs of Great Dane aggression, though they’re unlikely to use more force than necessary.
Certain health conditions, including rage syndrome, cognitive dysfunction, epilepsy, and hypothyroidism, can put a dog at higher risk of aggressive tendencies.
Of these disorders, the only one that sometimes affects Great Danes is hypothyroidism, a condition where your dog’s thyroid isn’t producing enough of the thyroid hormone. This condition can lead to aggression if it’s left untreated, but with proper treatment, your dog should return to their typical laid-back self.
Great Danes can experience a variety of health problems that aren’t associated with aggression, but that can cause pain and contribute to a shorter life expectancy. Bloat, hip dysplasia, and bone cancer are all common for this breed. If your dog is in pain from one of these conditions, they’re more likely to act aggressively.
Make an appointment with your veterinarian if your typically friendly Great Dane starts showing signs of aggression. And if your dog is suffering from chronic pain, try supporting their system naturally with a Relief Chew.
Great Danes are the 17th most popular dog breed in America. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has found a strong correlation between how common a dog breed is and how often it bites. This makes sense: If there are more labs than any other breed, you would have a higher chance of getting bitten by a lab than any other breed.
So, based solely on the numbers, Great Danes should be responsible for the 17th most bites of any breed. But, we couldn't find Great Danes listed on any reports about dog bites. And in a local report out of Denver, Colorado, Great Danes didn’t even make the list of the top 26 breeds responsible for dog bites in the city.
How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Great Dane
Even though Great Danes typically have docile, laid-back dispositions, they need better than average training to prevent behavior problems. Because of their large size, even a friendly Great Dane can accidentally hurt someone if they jump up or behave too boisterously, especially around small children and older people.
Great Dane owners can take these steps to ensure they’re raising a well-behaved dog:
- Choose a responsible breeder: A responsible dog breeder will screen their adult dogs for possible genetic health issues before breeding and will start socializing their puppies within their first eight weeks of life.
- Sign up for puppy socialization classes: In one of the first formal dog training classes that every puppy should take, puppy socialization, your dog will learn to politely interact with other puppies and people.
- Teach bite inhibition: Bite inhibition training is a process of slowly teaching your dog that teeth hurt. Start by saying ouch and removing your attention (stand up, cross your arms, and don’t acknowledge your dog for 10-30 seconds) any time your puppy nips too hard. Then, repeat the process for medium-strength nipping and soft nipping until they learn not to put their teeth on people at all.
- Host guests: Invite people over to your house on a regular basis. Let them play with your puppy and give your dog treats if they want to. This teaches your dog to be less territorial of your house and to allow invited guests to enter.
- Hand-feed your pup: To prevent food aggression, try hand-feeding your puppy part of their meal or placing your hand in their bowl of dog food while they eat.
- Meet as many different people as possible: Introduce your dog to people of a variety of ages, colors, and genders. Ask passersby if they’re willing to pet or give a treat to your pup so that your Great Dane develops a positive association with people of all kinds.
- Play with friendly dogs: Some pooches love the dog park while others find it overwhelming. You can socialize your pup in a more controlled setting by scheduling puppy playdates with friends who have reliable dogs or by visiting the dog park at off times when it’s less busy.
- Attend obedience training: Look for a positivity-based training class where you can teach your dog manners, including paying attention to you, not jumping, walking nicely on a leash, and redirecting their attention when they get distracted or startled.
- Learn to recognize the signs of aggression: If your dog is tucking their tail, pinning their ears, lowering their head, raising their hackles, snarling, or lunging, then they are frightened and may act aggressively. Remove them from the situation. Take them to a safe, calm environment, and offer them an all-natural calming chew.
- Get regular check-ups: Regular health screenings can help identify issues before they become painful and lead to aggression. Annual vaccinations can also prevent issues that cause aggression, like rabies and canine distemper.
- Consider spaying or neutering: According to the National Canine Research Council, more than 84% of dog bites are committed by dogs that haven’t been spayed or neutered. If you’re not planning on breeding your Great Dane, consider getting them spayed or neutered.
Great Danes: The Gentle Giants
With early socialization, Great Danes are typically laid-back companions who generally get along with everyone. To raise a well-adjusted Great Dane puppy, sign up for puppy socialization classes, provide ongoing dog training, and help them meet as many different people and friendly dogs as possible.
In rare cases, Great Danes can inherit hypothyroidism, which has been linked with aggression when it’s left untreated. They're also predisposed to health problems, like hip dysplasia, that cause pain which can contribute to aggressive behavior. If your typically docile dog starts to show signs of aggression, take them to the vet to make sure they aren’t experiencing any underlying health problems.
To learn more about your favorite dog breeds, visit the Native Pet blog.