As described by the American Kennel Club, "The Great Dane combines, in its regal appearance, dignity, strength and elegance with great size and a powerful, well-formed, smoothly muscled body. It is one of the giant working breeds, but is unique in that its general conformation must be so well balanced that it never appears clumsy, and shall move with a long reach and powerful drive." The Great Dane is a short haired breed with a strong galloping figure. In the ratio between length and height, the Great Dane should be square. The male dog should not be less than 30 in (76 cm) at the shoulders, a female 28 in (71 cm). Danes under minimum height are disqualified.
From year to year, the tallest living dog is typically a Great Dane. Previous record holders include Gibson, Titan and Georgehowever the current record holder is a black Great Dane named Zeus who stands 112 cm (44 in) at the shoulder. He is also the tallest dog on record (according Guinness World Records), beating the previous holder who was a blue Great Dane named George, who stood 110 cm (43 in) at the shoulder.
The minimum weight for a Great Dane over eighteen months is 120 lb (54 kg) for males, 100 lb (45 kg) for females.Unusually, the American Kennel Club dropped the minimum weight requirement from its standard. The male should appear more massive throughout than the female, with a larger frame and heavier bone.
Great Danes have naturally floppy, triangular ears. In the past, when Great Danes were commonly used to hunt boars,cropping of the ears was performed to make injuries to the dogs' ears less likely during hunts. Now that Danes are primarilycompanion animals, cropping is sometimes still done for traditional and cosmetic reasons. In the 1930s when Great Danes had their ears cropped, after the surgery two devices called Easter Bonnets were fitted to their ears to make them stand up. Today, the practice is common in the United States and much less common in Europe. In some European countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, parts of Australia, and in New Zealand, the practice is banned, or controlled to only be performed by veterinary surgeons.
Like most dogs, Great Danes require daily walks to remain healthy. However it is important not to over exercise this breed, particularly when young. Great Dane puppies grow very large, very fast, which puts them at risk of joint and bone problems. Because of a puppy's natural energy, Dane owners often take steps to minimize activity while the dog is still growing.
Given their large size, Great Danes continue to grow (mostly gaining weight) longer than most dogs. Even at one year of age a Great Dane will continue to grow for several more months.
Great Danes, like most giant dogs, have a fairly slow metabolism. This results in less energy and less food consumption per pound of dog than in small breeds. Great Danes have some health problems that are common to large breeds, including gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV). The average life span of Great Danes is 6 to 8 years. Like many larger breeds, Great Danes are at particular risk for hip dysplasia.
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and many congenital heart diseases are also commonly found in the Great Dane, leading to its nickname: the Heartbreak breed, in conjunction with its shorter lifespan. Great Danes also may carry the merle gene, which is part of the genetic makeup that creates the harlequin coloring. The merle gene is an incomplete dominant, meaning only one copy of the gene is needed to show the merle coloring, while two merle genes produce not only excessive white markings on the animal, but also a slew of health issues along with it, such as blindness, deafness, or other debilitating ocular issues.