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Apollo of Dogs-The Majestic Great Dane

The Great Danes are very German. They display as intensely and as proudly the many traits German race is known for. Two of the most well regarded German in the past century had great liking for it. The famous Prussian king, Frederick the Great, known to be an ardent dog lover owned several Great Danes. His favourite dog, Biche, a Great Dane, is said to have accompanied him everywhere, including on military campaigns. The first Chancellor of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck, openly displayed  his fondness for Great Danes. His dogs, named Tyras and Sultan, were often by his side and became symbolic of his strong personality and leadership.
A Noble Lineage
Clearly a German breed and  a remarkable blend of mastiff and sighthound, Great Dane stands as a symbol of elegance, power, and loyal companionship. Descending from the hunting dogs of the Middle Ages, these magnificent creatures were once used to hunt bears, wild boar, and deer, and served as guardians for German nobility. Their impressive stature and graceful appearance have earned them a place among the most notable dog breeds in history. Alongside the Irish Wolfhound, the Great Dane is arguably one of the two largest dog breeds in the world.

Variously known as the German Mastiff, German Boarhound, and Grand Danois, their presence began to be noted over 400 years ago in Germany for boar hunting. Soon they evolved into a swift, alert, and courageous companion, renowned for its friendly and dependable nature. The breed’s French moniker "Grand Danois" ("Big Danish"), though nothing to do with Denmark, seems to challenge its true German origin, but the assertion is both weak and unsubstantiated.
A Striking Majesty
The Great Dane's appearance is nothing short of breathtaking, with a massive, square-jawed head and an elegant, athletic physique. Its short coat, available in striking colours such as black, fawn, brindle, blue-grey, harlequin, and mantle, adds to its majestic presence. Particularly uncommon and eye-catching are the blue, harlequin, mantle, and brindle variations. Observing a blue-coated Great Dane reveals an aura of grace and command, underscoring the breed's noble stature.

Standing between 28 to 32 inches (71 to 81 cm) at the withers and weighing between 110 to 175 pounds (50 to 79 kg), the Great Dane holds the title of the tallest working breed. Males can sometimes tip the scales at 200 pounds (90 kg), while females, though slightly lighter, still present a formidable presence. This impressive size demands careful attention to their care and living conditions.
Care and Upkeep
Owning a Great Dane is a commitment that comes with unique challenges, primarily due to its substantial size. The cost of maintenance, from food to medical care, is significantly higher than for smaller breeds. These gentle giants require ample space to stretch out and sleep, ideally on soft bedding to avoid callouses. Transporting a Great Dane necessitates a large vehicle, and having an emergency plan for veterinary visits is crucial.
An enclosed yard with a fence at least 6 feet (2 meters) high is necessary, although Great Danes are not known for their jumping prowess. They need at least an hour of interactive play or walking each day. To protect their developing bones, they should not engage in running until they are at least two years old. Great Danes enjoy a variety of activities, from games of tug and running to hiking and trick training. Some even participate in agility competitions, though their size makes many standard obstacles challenging.
Health Considerations
Despite their robust appearance and heroic disposition, Great Danes are prone to serious health issues, particularly heart conditions. The breed has earned the nickname "the Heartbreak breed" due to its susceptibility to dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition that weakens and enlarges the heart, impairing its ability to pump blood effectively. Additionally, Great Danes are vulnerable to gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV), a potentially fatal bloating condition.
Breeding practices must be carefully managed to avoid undesirable outcomes. Merle-coloured Danes, with their unique dapple-spotted coats and striking blue eyes, should never be bred together, as their offspring, known as "double merles," can suffer from severe hearing and vision problems.
The Gentle Giant: Affection and Loyalty
The term "gentle giant" perfectly encapsulates the Great Dane's demeanour. These dogs are known for their affectionate and friendly nature towards both family and strangers. While they possess a relatively low energy level, they enjoy playful activities and are easy to train, albeit not as quickly as some other breeds. Great Danes make excellent watchdogs, offering a fair level of protection while generally being friendly towards other dogs and household members. They are not prone to excessive barking, making them suitable for various living situations.
Guardians of Myth and Reality
The history of the Great Dane is rich with fascinating legends and anecdotes. In medieval times, they were believed to ward off evil spirits, serving as the Ghostbusters of their era. Often referred to as the "Apollo of dogs," they have been associated with European nobility for centuries. Initially bred to hunt wild boar, a dangerous task requiring a powerful and fearless dog, they became cherished companions of the aristocracy.
In modern culture, Great Danes have been celebrated in media and entertainment. They have starred in the comic strip "Marmaduke" and the Disney film "The Ugly Dachshund" (1966). Perhaps most famously, Scooby-Doo, the beloved cartoon character, is a Great Dane, chosen for his imposing size and gentle, somewhat cowardly personality, adding humour and appeal to the show. Scooby-Doo has significantly contributed to the breed's popularity and recognition worldwide.

Tales of Heroism
Numerous tales highlight the protective nature of Great Danes. One famous story involves a Great Dane named Juliana, who was awarded two Blue Cross medals during World War II. She once extinguished an incendiary bomb by urinating on it, and another time, she alerted her owners to a fire in their shop.
In Greek mythology, Cerberus, the large, powerful dog guarding the entrance to the Underworld, is often interpreted as a Great Dane due to their size and strength. This mythical role aligns with the breed's guarding abilities and imposing presence.
An Amalgam of Grandeur and Grace
The Great Dane is a breed of unparalleled grandeur and grace, steeped in history and legend. Its majestic appearance, coupled with a gentle and affectionate nature, makes it a cherished companion. While owning a Great Dane involves significant responsibilities, including managing health concerns and accommodating its size, the rewards of companionship with this gentle giant are immeasurable. Whether warding off medieval spirits or starring in modern media, the Great Dane continues to captivate hearts with its remarkable presence and loving demeanour.

(Uday Kumar Varma is an IAS officer. Retired as Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting)










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