Are Great Danes Aggressive?

Great Danes are known as easygoing, gentle-hearted giants, but their sheer size may lead some to wonder: are Great Danes aggressive? With males standing at least 30-32 inches at the shoulder and females reaching 28-30 inches, researching the temperament of a Great Dane is a responsible initiative prospective dog owners can undertake to ensure that they choose the correct breed for their circumstances.

great dane barking loud
The Great Dane is a large German breed of domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) known for its enormous body and great height.

The short answer to the question is no, Great Danes are not naturally aggressive dogs. However, they are natural watch dogs and, as with any living animal, they may become aggressive or develop aggressive behaviors as a result of an inappropriate environment for their needs.

Great Danes are massive dogs that require space. Historically, they were bred to hunt wild boar in Germany, a purpose which some still serve today. In the majority of cases today though, Great Danes are bought or adopted to be kept as family pets. They are loved for their sweet demeanor and protective alertness, a combination that gives them a noble bearing and recalls their other historic use as guard dogs for German nobility.

While not hyper energetic animals by nature, Great Danes are classified as members of the Working Group by the American Kennel Club. Breeds in this category are strong animals bred to assist humans, making them intelligent and watchful by nature. However, prospective owners should not mistake

Working Group breeds to be naturally suited for ownership by any level of dog owner. On the contrary, Working Group breeds generally require experienced dog owners who know how to manage these large animals that are naturally inclined by protective.

There are many breeds included in the Working Group besides the Great Dane, many of which may surprise prospective owners who find themselves drawn to the Great Dane for the gentle and easygoing nature. For example, Akitas, Dobermans, Rottweilers, and Siberian Huskies are all classed in the Working Group with the Great Dane.

For their part, Great Danes are known to be exceptionally affectionate with their family members and make excellent guard dogs. They are extremely loyal, and their patience makes them generally suitable for children. However, their interactions with children should be carefully monitored as a basic standard of good practice, and because an excited Dane can easily overwhelm a small child.

When supervising interactions between Great Danes and children, it is important that the Dane not feel emboldened to “dominate” the child. Playtime that becomes too rough or dominant can result in unpredictable behavior from both dog and child, both of whom can quickly become overexcited or frustrated. For this reason, children should be taught as soon as possible to interact with Great Danes in a respectful way that reinforces that they are above the animal in the family hierarchy. Great Danes that understand their placement in the family hierarchy will be respectful and gentle with children, whereas Great Danes who do not understand their place in the hierarchy may exhibit disrespectful behaviors such as jumping up and knocking down. These behaviors should be corrected immediately so that the rowdy behavior does not become aggressive.

Are Great Danes born aggressive?

great dane puppy being calm
Portrait of a beautiful dog on a white

With regard to other household animals, Great Danes who are raised from puppyhood with other dogs or household pets such as cats typically get on well with other animals. However, it should be noted that Great Danes have a predisposition to chase and seize smaller animals, so given their size even as puppies, this tendency should be carefully considered if you have smaller animals at home and aren’t confident in your ability to quickly and effectively train your Great Dane to leave other smaller animals in the home at peace.  

Although not aggressive by nature, Danes are natural guard dogs and courageous companions. They do not bark often, but when they do, the sound is deep-throated and startling, many would say even scary. Due to their spirited nature and imposing size, it’s important to socialize Great Dane puppies well and early so that they learn how to differentiate between threatening and non-threatening situations. If a Great Dane does not learn to appropriately differentiate, it may display inappropriate aggressive behavior. Obedience classes are also essential for the healthy development of a Great Dane, and fortunately their dispositions are pre-disposed to respond positively to firm and consistent training methods.

Prospective owners should be aware that the puppyhood of a Great Dane is long – they may be boisterous and rowdy for up to the first three years of their life, requiring their owners to be patient, consistent, and firm in their training. However, harsh training methods should never be imposed on Great Danes due to their extremely sensitive nature. One of the easiest ways to establish a clear relationship between yourself and your Great Dane puppy from the onset is to engage it in leash training and heeling. You will be walking your Great Dane a lot throughout its life due to its need for regular exercise, therefore, training your Great Dane to walk calmly and respectfully at your left side will lay a great foundation for the dog’s happiness and sense of confidence.

Are Great Danes Dangerous?

great dane hugging person
Cheerful sporty woman jogging with dog and active great Dane dog on sand shore along water in sunlight

Due to the Great Dane’s size, their exercise needs to be carefully monitored to ensure that they are getting enough of it, but at the same time, owners need to regulate exercise to ensure that puppies are not doing damage to their still-developing limbs. Regular walks serve as a means of engaging your energetic Great Dane puppy mentally and physically, with the payoff being a well-adjusted and confident animal that will not suffer from issues such as aggression or skittishness.

It’s important for prospective owners of Great Danes to research the breed carefully before making the roughly seven-to-ten-year commitment to own the animal. In many cases of dog aggression in general, not just that of Great Danes, aggression manifests due to discomfort with their environment or as a result of incorrect training methods. Unfortunately, when Great Danes become aggressive, they can become difficult to control and even frightening (if they rise onto their hind legs, Great Danes are taller than many adult humans). Owners should also bear in mind that Great Danes, much like people, may have varying personalities ranging from extremely sociable to a bit skittish. The ideal Great Dane is friendly, calm, and loyal. However, these base traits can be influenced by their environment and result in an animal that needs an individualized training approach.

For example, the size of the Great Dane may predispose them to bossiness if they are not corrected consistently and firmly early on, particularly during their exuberant puppy days. That’s not to say that Great Danes cannot be spirited adults – quite the contrary. If cheerful and firm training methods are applied from puppyhood, the sensitive and intelligent Great Dane puppy will become a respectful and good-natured adult.

Raising a Great Dane puppy with the correct training methods is also important because it encourages confidence in the animal, which in turn results in a well-adjusted and happy dog. To co-opt a famous quote from a well-known movie – “Well-adjusted and happy dogs don’t just become aggressive.” Thus, it’s important to view the phenomenon of aggression in Great Danes as something that largely occurs as a result of external factors, such as incorrect or poor training, or an environment inconducive to the psychological well-being of the animal.

Regarding environmental factors, your Great Dane may indicate to you that it’s uncomfortable by displaying territorial behavior such as hogging the couch or refusing to give up something it has claimed as its own –whether it’s their toy or something of yours. While at first these types of behaviors may seem funny, they can quickly become exasperating and annoying. It’s important to correctly assess the personality of your Great Dane and implement a consistent approach to correcting the undesired behavior in a way that encourages your Dane to trust you and encourages a sense of calm in the animal.

Great Danes may become psychologically distressed due to a number of factors, but common ones include changes in environment, health conditions, or a perceived threat to their family or themselves. However properly trained and well-socialized a Great Dane is, their natural instinct to protect their family typically supersedes all else in the face of danger (real or perceived), which is why it’s important to expose your Great Dane to as many external stimuli and situations as possible beginning early on in life so that they become discerning adults who can accurately determine whether a situation is threatening or not.

Great Danes that are not socialized and trained correctly as puppies may become adults who chase, bark, jump, or bite as adults, behaviors which are completely unacceptable in any animal, but especially for one so large as a Great Dane. Even if they do not exhibit aggressive behaviors up front, poorly socialized Great Dane puppies are at risk of becoming suspicious, skittish, and defensive adults, which may manifest as shyness or even biting.

So, what should you do if you buy or adopt a Great Dane puppy or dog that has clearly been improperly socialized and/or trained? In many cases, the root of aggression in dogs is fear stemming from anxiety or a lack of confidence, so it’s important to ensure that your Great Dane trusts you and feels that it can rely on you for guidance. In the case of an adopted Great Dane, you may not be able to know the entire history of the animal, but the organization offering the dog for adoption will always do their best to provide as clear a picture of the animal’s backstory as possible. Further, many shelters now work with trainers or vets in order to ensure that their adopted animals have the best chance of thriving in their new homes.

For Great Danes in particular, it’s important that they are trained with a firm, but gentle hand, and that their owners engage them in regular obedience sessions. They will look to their owners to be their leaders in all training sessions. These regular sessions will ensure that your Great Dane feels secure in the rules of the household, its place in the hierarchy, and can look to you for reliable guidance and reassurance. All in all, the Great Dane is one of the most even-tempered and mellow guard dogs, but their need for a strong blend of gentle and firm guidance is something that should be carefully considered by prospective owners due to the potential for Great Danes to become aggressive if they are improperly trained and socialized. If you feel capable of meeting the Great Dane’s need of a patient and benevolent owner capable of training firmly, but with consideration for the Great Dane’s unique sensitivity, this excellent family and watchdog may be for you.

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