History

The name of the breed is a misnomer since the Great Dane dog breed originated in Germany. How the breed actually got its name is not exactly known. Some commentators believe it originated from the writings of the French naturalist, Count Buffon, who while traveling in Denmark in the 1700’s happened upon an athletic boarhound that he called, “Grand Danois” or “Great Dane”. A good many breed historians do agree that there was a deliberate attempt by non-German breeders to divorce the breed from its country of origin because of Germany’s ignominious 20th-century behavior (much like German shepherds came to be known as Alsatian after the first World War). Though the breed came to be more distinctive in medieval Germany, the family of mastiffs to which it belongs is much older. Mastiff-type dogs were used in war in the civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome as early as 1000 BC.

Boar-Hunting Dogs

The dog in its current form at least dates back to medieval Germany. It is most likely a result of cross-breeding the English Mastiff and the Irish Wolfhound (though some sources list the greyhound in its ancestry as well). The dogs were bred to hunt bear, boar and other large game. A typical hunt would use more than one type of dog. One could be used to track or flush out the quarry. Others could be used to kill or retrieve. Great Danes would hold the game for the hunters. It took a strong and tenacious dog to seize upon a wild boar and prevent its escape. So a Great Dane’s job, originally, was to hold the boar until the hunters arrive. Hence, it is oftentimes called a boarhound in writings of this period. The dogs of medieval Germany obviously would need to have an aggressive nature and strong prey drive. These characteristics have over the centuries been bred out of the breed as the need for boar hunting dogs waned.

Royalties

In addition, to their work as boar hunters, Great Danes were favorites of royal courts. They served as guard dogs for the royal family. Great Danes actually would sleep in the bed Chambers of the prince or princess in order to protect them from assassination. Great Danes came to be known in Germany as Kammerhunde, or Chamber Dogs.

Many Great Danes appear alongside historical figures. General Cornwallis had his Great Dane with him as he fought against the Americans in the Revolutionary War. Otto von Bismarck bred many of Germany’s fine Great Danes at the turn of the 20th century. Manfred von Richthofen (the “Red Baron”) is reported to have given his dog a ride on an airplane. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s son had a Great Dane at the White House named, “President”.

The name of the breed is a misnomer since the Great Dane dog breed originated in Germany.

They, also, have been associated with the occult. In the Middle Ages, it was thought the had the ability to see ghosts considered to be protectors against the influences of evil spirits. (It is unknown whether or not the creators of the cartoon Great Dane, Scooby-Doo, knew of the breed’s association with the ghosts but it is an interesting coincidence if nothing else.)