Part I in a series
“Where’s her saddle?”
“Can I ride it?”
“I bet she eats a LOT!”
These are things Great Dane owners hear on an almost daily basis when out and about with their dogs. Sure, Great Danes aren’t ordinary dogs. They aren’t pocket pooches. They aren’t typical; in fact, they are extraordinary. But, like many extraordinary things, special care and consideration goes into selecting, caring for, training, and living with one.
This article launches a three-part series focusing much on Great Danes, but also exploring the realities around proper breeding practices, how a pet parent finds the right breeder, and how modern pop culture and media can affect our four-legged friends.
The upcoming release of the movie, Marmaduke, by 20th Century Fox, is cause for concern for many of us in the Dane community. Think 101 Dalmatians in the ‘90s and you’ll understand our fears.
This month we’ll discuss the Dane’s temperament and personality, growth, typical costs, health concerns and nutrition, wrapping up with an introduction to some famous Great Danes. In May we’ll address healthy breeding practices and important questions to ask breeders, Marmaduke the movie, as well as other pet films and the breeds they have affected. The series will conclude in June with a look at local efforts in the Portland Great Dane Community, plus tips and ideas on how you can make a difference.
Who is this grand creature?
There is no canine personality quite like a Great Dane. I’ve had dogs of many breeds in my lifetime, mixed and pure, and the Dane is truly unique. They are loyal almost to a fault. They are a shadow to their person. Really; you’re not even allowed to use the bathroom alone. They are funny and fun, goofy and loveable, easygoing and protective.
Danes know no bounds when it comes to having fun and loving life. They are often as happy hanging out on the couch all day as they are hiking in the woods, romping in the surf, bounding around the dog park, or diving through tunnels and crossing teeter-totters (yes! Danes can do agility!). They are athletic, smart, stubborn, willful, demanding, and time-consuming. Their bodies are as strong as they are delicate, their minds as tough and resilient as they are easily confused and frustrated. They are unique.
Danes tend to be great with anyone they meet. They lean on people, circle between them to have as much human contact at one time as possible, and generally just want to be touched. With good social exposure from a young age, this attitude toward people can fairly well transcend age. Babies and toddlers are as much fair game as the elderly, and everyone in between. My girl, Vegas, started going to dog parks as soon as she was properly vaccinated against disease. Soon after that she began frequent jaunts to the Saturday Market and our local pet store. She met dogs of all sizes and breeds, people galore, and became relaxed in virtually every circumstance. However, Danes can also be very enthusiastic about greeting people. They might swat with a paw, sneak an extra-large kiss without an invitation, or jump and place their feet on your shoulders. Which brings us to . . .
Training is one of the most important practices a new guardian can incorporate from the time the new bundle arrives. While the Dane traits sound great — and they are — what you also have is a puppy who comes home at 20-plus pounds and begins to grow at an astounding rate (about a pound a day for several months). Before you know it your new puppy is bigger than your eighth grader! One of the most important things you can do for a Great Dane (and your family) is to socialize it and set boundaries. These are strong-minded dogs and you don’t want them taking over your house. Don’t believe they can? Ask any Dane owner how many ways their fur-kid has tried. Look into those melt-your-heart, don’t-you-love-me-eyes.
Great Danes are highly trainable but they require boundaries from the start. Decide what is important to you and stick to it. For instance, will the dog be allowed on the furniture and bed? Obedience, good recall, and good manners are so important. You could love a walking lawsuit if you’re not careful — while 90% of the time it would be completely accidental, your Dane could casually plant his or her feet on the wrong someone’s shoulders and send them tumbling. You would feel horrible if someone was badly hurt, and of course such incidents negatively impact everyone who loves, lives and works with a breed.
Training doesn’t stop with Basic Obedience 101. Training centers offer many classes beyond that. Plus, training well and consistently means practicing what you’ve learned. At the pet store. At the dog park. Out for a walk. In the backyard. When company comes over.
Practice may not ever make perfect when you’re dealing with an independent variable like a dog, but practice gives you the best chance of succeeding when it counts. Plus, training forms a bond. Danes love their people. I cannot express this enough. They need to be needed and bonded to someone. They want to connect to you, and training is another form of working that provides this opportunity.
And training can be fun! Vegas learned basic obedience at home because I had taken a class a few years previous with another dog. In addition to all the external exposure she went through going everywhere with our family, she quickly learned what was okay and what was not.
Shortly before age two, we also started training in agility which, believe it or not, actually solidified her basics even more. This also opened other new training avenues. We started taking periodic sessions with a local trainer using therapy balls for core strengthening and hind-end awareness. Amazingly, Vegas climbs right up on her 120-centimeter ball and loves it. Every moment I spend teaching her, praising her, treating her is a bonding moment for us. That bond is what can help you make sure your dog knows what your expectations are at any given time.
Your growing Dane (and shrinking wallet)
Did I mention Great Dane puppies can gain an astonishing pound a day during certain growth periods? When Vegas was just three months old I had to leave town on business. The night I returned she was in her kennel. I had been gone just nine days, but to look at her it might have been two months. In fact, seeing her actually gave me pause, wondering whether this was truly the puppy I had left.
Growing that fast means many things. We’ll talk health risks next month, but for now just know there is an exponential shrinking of your wallet as your Great Dane puppy grows. The costs of raising a puppy of any breed for the first year can be astounding in comparison with subsequent, ordinary, healthy years. But when that puppy can eat a 40-pound bag of dog food in three weeks . . . When you have to special order a crate because pet stores don’t carry one big enough . . . when the shipping costs for said crate are more than the crate itself . . . . Oh, and that ordinary spay or neuter that should be routine? Try $1500. And forget a regular Kong — you’ll need the super, heavy-duty black one that costs $20. Did you like your couch? Sorry, you’ll have to replace it . . . but I would suggest waiting another year or so because a Great Dane puppy can quickly dismantle the new one, too.
Toys and big bags of treats that should last months are a thing of the past. You might ask your local Goodwill to put you on speed-dial for their next huge donation of stuffed animals. And squeakies in the toys? Forget about it. Did you know puppies’ mouths are actually highly skilled surgical instruments? Those poor squeakies don’t stand a chance. They’ll be disemboweled in under 30 — guaranteed. Oh, and you know how us ladies like to window shop? Danes like to counter shop. Yep, counters are soon at chin height, and that means easy access to anything that looks or smells yummy, intended for eating or not. Even at age three, just last summer Vegas counter-surfed most of a chocolate-frosted cake. Yep. She barely left any crumbs, and was kind enough to leave the tin foil carefully next to the pan.
When you drove to your breeders to pick up your new puppy, you might have been driving a cute little hatchback or a four-door sedan. Six months later you’re investing in a pickup or SUV because that sweet puppy with the jowls, long tail, and melt-Jack-Frost’s-heart eyes is 100 pounds now and won’t fit in that compact, economical, fuel-efficient car. So now instead of having a car that’s paid off, you have a new $400 car payment.
Everything, it seems, just costs MORE. Leashes (must be stronger and longer); collars (must be wider and bigger); vet bills; beds; coats; and bathing. They’re big animals, and so is their maintenance.
Famous Great Danes
Great Danes truly are wonderful — but they may not be for every dog lover. There are so many things to consider and we’ve just barely scratched the surface here. However, their endearing faces have captured the hearts of so many over the years, they are a captivating, heart-grabbing bunch, and Hollywood has long known it. Here are just a few of these wonderful beasts we’ve seen in cartoons, comic strips, and movies.
The Ugly Dachshund, circa 1966, is an offbeat picture about a husband and his wife who raises Dachshunds. The husband is persuaded to take on an abandoned Great Dane pup, Brutus, who grows up thinking he’s a Dachshund. As you can imagine, a 150-pounder who thinks he weighs 15 is a recipe for disaster. The reality is, this really captures the very essence of the Great Dane! To their credit, there are plenty of other large- and giant-breed dogs who think they are very small. Likewise, many itty-bitty pups have Herculean self-images.
Scooby Doo is one of my childhood favorites, and still is with kids today, along with his best pal, Shaggy. As a character, Scooby Doo has two major characteristics that really resonate with Dane owners. First, Scooby doesn’t act like a dog. He is Shaggy’s best pal and exhibits many of the same mannerisms and characteristics. He’s goofy, comical, and afraid of things that go bump in the night. Second, Scooby likes to eat — a lot! Whether or not a Great Dane likes to eat is irrelevant. He or she WILL eat — a lot — at least compared to other dogs during high-growth periods.
Astro is another cartoon fav, from The Jetsons. This fun, loveable canine definitely conveys how Danes are truly members of the family. In fact, Astro’s story really resonates with the familial connection I know Danes need because he found true family with the Jetsons that he did not have in his original home. In many episodes you see him lovingly by the side of his pal, Elroy, or his master, George.
Marmaduke originated in a comic strip drawn by Brad Andersen begun in 1954. A number of other cartoonists have contributed to Marmaduke over the decades , and, on June 4, 2010, Marmaduke will have his own movie featuring the voice of Owen Wilson. The original Marmaduke revolved around life with his family, the Winslows. The modern-day movie sets the dog park up as the canine equivalent of high school.
So now you’ve met a few of the characters Hollywood has built using this distinguished breed as its muse. There is much more to come as there is so much more to the Apollo of breeds. Tune in next month for a look at health-related issues such as disease, testing, conformational problems, nutrition and genetics. In the meantime, I encourage you to watch some old episodes of Scooby Doo or The Jetsons; they’re great entertainment. And consider a visit to the Portland Great Dane Community website (www.pdxdanes.com) for local info and happenings!
Kennedy Morgan is a Portland-area dog mom, customer service manager for a small software company, and now freelance writer. Kennedy, her Dane, Vegas, and new addition, a Pomeranian, Leo, can be found playing with their many Dane friends (and their people) at weekly Portland Great Dane Community meetups. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo is Vegas (Apache Vegas Rose)