10 Mighty Facts About Great Danes


Great Danes are known for casting a shadow over most other dogs—and small children. Learn more about what makes this colossal canine tick. 

1. The name is misleading. 

Despite being called the Great Dane, these dogs have ties to Germany, not Denmark. Some believe the name came about when French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon happened upon the breed while traveling in Denmark in the early 1700s. He called the large dog "le Grande Danois" or Great Dane, and the name just stuck.  

2. Great Danes were once used for hunting boars. 

The gigantic canines were probably bred from the Irish wolfhound and the old English mastiff. Great Danes were used to take down wild boars, and needed to be physically strong as well as brave. The powerful hunters were quick and deadly; their aggressive behavior wasn't anything like the temperaments of the Great Danes you see today.

Although not a distinct type until roughly 400 years ago, the Great Dane’s origins extend even further back in history—their ancestors may have mingled with the ancient Egyptians. Depictions of giant dogs can be seen on Egyptian monuments dating back to 3,000 B.C. Other ancient art and literature in countries like Tibet, Greece, and China allude to the dogs as well. 

3. Gentleness was bred into them.

Today Great Danes are known as gentle giants. As hunting became less popular, the breed evolved from vicious killers to show dogs. The fight has been bred out of the canines, and now modern day Danes prefer a more leisurely lifestyle. In fact, the docile pooches make good additions to families and are rarely aggressive. 

4. There is a reason Scooby Doo was a Great Dane.

Great Danes were once thought to ward away ghosts and evil spirits, which was why Scooby was the perfect companion for those meddling kids. While that may not have been on the cartoon creators' minds while they were developing characters, there was a lot of debate about Scooby’s breed during the show’s conception.

Originally called “Too Much,” the dog was either going to be a large cowardly dog, or a small courageous pup. When the former was chosen, they had to decide between a sheepdog or a Great Dane. The Great Dane was eventually picked to avoid overlap with Hot Dog, the sheepdog in the Archie comics.  

5. They’re not the tallest breed.

Great Danes are huge, with an average height of 2.5 to 2.8 feet, but Irish Wolfhounds tend to grow a hair taller. That said, the tallest dog in the world was a Great Dane named Zeus.

6. One was awarded two Blue Cross Medals. 

In 1941, Juliana the Great Dane was awoken when a bomb fell on the house she lived in. The dog did what any canine in need of a walk would do—she peed on it. The urine diffused the bomb and earned her her first medal. She was awarded her second medal three years later, when she alerted authorities that a fire was raging in her owner’s shoe shop. 

7. Another joined the Navy. 

Just Nuisance, the Great Dane, remains the only dog to be officially enlisted in the Navy. The dog was born in the late 1930s and grew up in the United Services Institute. There he befriended the Navy sailors that commanded the base. Just Nuisance liked to take the train with his new friends, but the train conductors were less than thrilled with having a dog stowaway (it’s not easy hiding a Great Dane on a train). The railways threatened to put down the dog if he continued to ride on the train without paying his fare.  

The Navy loves this traveling pooch so much, that they decided to have him enlist. Sailors were allowed to ride for free, which meant as a Navy man, Just Nuisance was able to ride with his friends without fear. The canine never went to sea, but he did keep the sailors company and appeared at promotional events. Eventually he was “married” to another Great Dane named Adinda.

When Just Nuisance passed away, he was buried with full naval honors at a former SA Navy Signal School. 

8. Pennsylvania loves Great Danes. 

The Great Dane is the official state dog of Pennsylvania. You can find a painting of the state's founder, William Penn, and his Great Dane hanging in the Governor's reception room.

9. They grow fast.

When Danes are born, they weigh only one or two pounds. In just half a year, they can weigh as much as 100 pounds. The dogs can continue to mature and grow until they’re two or three years old. 

10. Great Danes and goats can be friends. 

A goat and a Great Dane were found wandering around a Dallas-area chapel together in 2010. The trouble began when Minnelli the goat unlatched the gate of his home, also releasing Judy, the Great Dane. Perhaps hoping to elope, the two animals fled to a nearby church, leaving behind their other friend, a three-legged yellow lab named Lucky. Still, the three animals were inseparable and captured the hearts of Americans across the country. The original owners of the motley crew decided they could not afford to take care of them, and put them up for adoption. Luckily, a kind couple named Norman and Sandy Williams took in the trio.

Watch How a Bioluminescence Expert Catches a Giant Squid

Giant squid have been the object of fascination for millennia; they may have even provided the origin for the legendary Nordic sea monsters known as the Kraken. But no one had captured them in their natural environment on video until 2012, when marine biologist and bioluminescence expert Edith Widder snagged the first-ever images off Japan's Ogasawara Islands [PDF]. Widder figured out that previous dives—which tended to bring down a ton of gear and bright lights—were scaring all the creatures away. (Slate compares it to "the equivalent of coming into a darkened theater and shining a spotlight at the audience.")

In this clip from BBC Earth Unplugged, Widder explains how the innovative camera-and-lure combo she devised, known as the Eye-in-the-Sea, finally accomplished the job by using red lights (which most deep-sea creatures can't see) and an electronic jellyfish (called the e-jelly) with a flashy light show just right to lure in predators like Architeuthis dux. "I've tried a bunch of different things over the years to try to be able to talk to the animals," Widder says in the video, "and with the e-jelly, I feel like I'm finally making some progress."

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

Big Questions
Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

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