Where did our favourite Great Dane come from?

Great Dane’s ancestors.

Scientists try to find out the origin of present day dogs’ breeds since the second half of 20th century. Many skeletons of animals transitional between wolf and dog were found during the archaeological  excavations. The bones were approximately 8000 to 10000 years old and made it possible to admit all the variety of dogs’ breeds. The skeletons were given simple names, like bronze dog, ashy dog, lupine dog, etc.

It’s impossible to say for sure from which of the aforementioned breeds originated Great Dane, because it’s very difficult to follow the Great Dane’s stemma to such ancient times.

Assyrian hunting and fighting dogs

The oldest picture of Dane-like dog is dated to 12th century B.C. and was painted on the wall of Babylonian temple. The picture shows strong Dane-like dog lead by ancient Assyrian. Assyrian fighting dog is almost identical to modern Tibetan Dane. Tibetan high mountains are considered to be the place of origin to all kinds of Dane-like dogs. They came to India through the Himalayas and Alexander the Great was presented these dogs during his campaign against Indian tribes. Later, from Greece and Rome, Dane-like dogs came to Western Europe through the Alps.
In Rome Dane-like dogs were considered to be the separate breed and, along with the fighting dogs, hunting Dane-like dogs were selected. Fighting dogs participated in so called “gladiatorial combats” against giant Molosser dogs from the Northern Greece. Later, the Kelts brought these dogs to Europe and then to England and Ireland, where they were crossed with Irish wolfhounds.
The scientists found out that Dane-like dogs were present in Poland, Russia and Germany. It’s a well-known fact, that Germans used these dogs when hunting or during the battles.

Dane-like dogs in the Middle Ages

History of Dane-like dogs is closely associated with hunting traditions. The dogs participated in hunting for wild boar, bear and wolf, widespread in European forests. First descriptions of Dane-like dogs were written in the descriptions of hunting. Very strong and big-sized dogs were called English dogs. They were dogs, resulted from cross of English mastiff and Irish wolfhounds. Special armour was put on the dogs to prevent injuries during hunting. The cape was made of brown brocade or silk with wooden strips, the chest and stomach of the dog were protected by special strips made of whalebones. Rich owners provided their dogs with strips, decorated with golden and silver threads and jewelry.

In 18th century Dane-like dogs gradually stopped being used when hunting, because the total number of wild animals was decreased and firearm appeared, so there was no need in etching dogs.

The etching dogs had the same appearance as present-day Great Dane. They were active dogs of grey, black and beige colors, used for chasing and searching the prey.

Single name of the breed

It’s difficult to find any other breed, that had so many variants of it’s name in 19th century. They were called Hunting dog, Ulm dog, Great Dane and many other. In the middle of 19th century Germany adopted the fashion for dogs’ exhibitions. First exhibition took place in 1863 in Hamburg. Dane-like dogs participated in this exhibion, among them 8 Great Danes and 7 Ulm dogs. In 1869, 1876 the same division remained, though in 1876 the judges of the exhibition expressed the assumption that the Great Danes and Ulm dogs belong to the same breed and the division shouldn’t exist. It was offered to call the breed “German Mastiff”. The final decision was made in 1880 in Berlin.

However, in France and English-speaking countries Dane-like dogs are still known as “Grand Danois” or “Great Dane”. This name was first used by Frensh naturalist Buffon and is still widely used in literature. There is no basis to consider Denmark to be the motherland of this breed.