Great Dane behavior is mostly wonderful but there can be issues that need correcting

Wonderful Dogs

As with any dog breed, Great Dane behavior can be puzzling sometimes! Why does your Dane bark or whine? What’s with parking her rear end on the couch, with front paws on the floor, settling down to watch T.V. with you? And the digging – those paws can throw a lot of dirt!

The fact is, there can be behavior problems with Great Danes, although the good news is that in almost all cases, negative behavior can be corrected. There are aggressive Great Danes that have less than friendly dispositions, but these are the exception.

The behavior of a Great Dane is generally wonderful. They are bred to be gentle. Always understand they are sensitive and must –must- be with their humans. Leaving them outside for extended periods while their families live life indoors is inviting all sorts of behavioral issues. They adore and crave their humans and that is non-negotiable. If your Dane is not allowed to live with you at all times, any behavioral problems will not be solved.

So, Great Dane behavior that you can expect (and frankly, should cherish) includes a dog that will always want to be in the same room with one of its humans. Throughout the day, your Dane will also repeatedly approach for attention. Sometimes she’ll want out, sometimes, she’s asking for food, but most times she just wants you to drop what you’re doing and make her your center of attention for a couple of minutes! (As we write the articles on this site, we’ve become quite good at typing with a very large Dane head pushing under our arm pits!).

Your Dane will also be most comfortable with physical contact and if standing, will often come to you and lean. Nothing to worry about – a normal Dane behavior!

Danes are also lazy dogs – they need exercise daily, but they will also make themselves comfortable wherever you are and nap much of the day away.

However, even though these dogs are bred to be gentle and loving, every Dane needs to be socialized and trained – otherwise there will be some negative behavioral issues. Before we discuss some of the specific behaviors you might see, and what you might do about them, let’s review how the Dane thinks and what her point of view might be.

The Great Dane is not the smartest dog in nature. Instincts are strong, but generally, this is not the brain surgeon of the dog world! Your Dane is a pack animal and needs to know where it stands in the hierarchy of the family. And this is important –knowing their place provides a sense of security for them. Even if they are the lowest member in the pack (your family) they will be happy –provided this is clear to them.

If there is confusion about this – and there will be if your Dane is not taught to respect you, the Dane will often try and assert its dominance. And this can be a very stubborn and obstinate dog! The good news is, through training, your Dane will understand you are the leader of the pack and will respect your authority accordingly.

The Dane is also an “immature” dog. It takes three years before mental maturity is reached, so if behavioral problems come up, don’t forget you’re dealing with a child!

A final point to think about before getting into specific behavioral examples, is that the motivation for negative behaviors (besides growling or aggressiveness) is probably because the Dane is bored, or upset for some reason – separation anxiety is classic. Removing the cause, will often stop the behavior.

Digging

A Great Dane with a digging attitude can re-landscape the yard in very short order! The “Diggers” in the Dane breed are usually motivated by either anxiety, boredom, comfort or interest.

If the Dane is left outside and can’t get at its family, she will often dig as a result of the anxiety she feels. Again, Danes belong with their families – not in the yard all day. If this is the motivation, it is easy to fix.

Digging is a natural behavior, but excessive digging is something you can train your Dane not to do. It requires a lot of supervision – every time you see your Dane going at it, you need to issue a correction. We found by allowing digging in one spot, our Dane came to understand that was the digging place and everywhere else in the yard was off limits. Understand the motivation for the digging behavior in your Dane and act accordingly.

Whining and barking

Great Danes will whine as long as it gets them results (much like a baby crying) and all will bark until trained when that is acceptable and when it is not.

The two reasons a Dane makes noise are because he wants your attention for something or he is (or thinks he is) protecting his pack. And this can be a tricky behavior to correct because you might want your Dane barking if a stranger approaches – you just don’t want to hear it every time the wind changes direction!

The good news is that excessive barking can be corrected using the techniques in any basic dog obedience course. The important thing to remember is to issue corrections consistently. And contrary to popular belief, just ignoring the barking won’t fix it. If you ignore your Dane’s barking for two hours and then go see what he wants, you’re teaching him he’s got to bark for two hours until he gets the reaction he’s looking for. Your Dane has to be taught when it is inappropriate to bark.

The happy humper

Although this is a family site, we wouldn’t be honest if we ignored the humping your male Dane may occasionally (or more frequently) exhibit. The incidence of this annoying behavior is certainly reduced after neutering, however that in itself won’t stop it.

Humping is a dominance thing that all male dogs instinctively engage in. With a normal size dog, kids laugh, parents think “gross”, but generally it isn’t a huge issue. When a Great Dane decides to mount, there can be some real drama!

If you see your Dane “humping” when playing with another dog, just remember it is a natural way of trying to assert dominance – there is nothing sexual to it at all. We don’t allow ours to continue with this behavior – mostly because it almost certainly offends those that do not understand, but we don’t make a big deal of it. We just separate them until it stops and then allow play to continue.

However, if the Dane humps a human during play (and when they get excited and forget themselves, this happens), we immediately correct. Our Dane was a happy humper sometimes during play, but immediate and consistent correction soon broke the habit. Occasionally, he’ll still forget himself but not often. Be consistent and never let him continue if playing with a human – he’ll think it is part of playing and a behavior you approve of.

Growling

Sometimes, a Dane is just naturally aggressive and growling and aggressive behavior towards other dogs or humans simply cannot be fixed. But in most cases, the reason is most likely no more than a lack of socialization.

Because Great Danes are pack animals, if not socialized they will naturally grow to see anyone or anything outside the pack as a potential threat. Early socialization, both with other dogs and humans is absolutely necessary to avoid aggression problems in the future. This is most naturally done through obedience training, however just being in public areas and interacting with other dogs and humans at an early stage will go a long way to ensuring aggression problems don’t develop.

However, if socialization has not been consistent, aggressive behavior like growling and barking can become evident. Even if you believe your Dane will not bite, this is still a problem. Try and imagine what a person is thinking if he sees a dog the size of your baby growling at him. Scary.

Consistent correction and gradual introduction of your Dane to other humans and dogs (in neutral territory) will usually improve this type of aggressive behavior. But remember that your Dane may be acting this way because she is frightened – never force interaction between your Dane and someone she doesn’t know or with other dogs. When she’s ready, she’ll let you know. Small steps.

So, there can be behavior problems with Great Danes. And because they are a giant breed, these problems need to be addressed. But with consistent correction and appropriate supervision, most issues can be corrected. Unless your Dane is misbehaving because he wants to assert his dominance (and we’ve discussed what needs to be done in this case), the behavior is most likely because he doesn’t understand what you want.

Your Dane loves you and wants to please you. If you let him know what you want from him, he’ll do his very best to oblige!

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