There are so many Great Dane breeders these days, that the sheer number of choices can be overwhelming. I have some helpful thoughts about how to sort through the long list of breeders to find a puppy to fit your family and lifestyle. These ideas are specifically for choosing a Great Dane, but you will find the principles useful for any breed.
Begin by asking yourself some basic questions about whether or not a Dane is for you: hundreds of Danes wind up dumped, abused, neglected, and surrendered to pounds or rescues because they were an impulse purchase. Giant dogs have their own peculiarities, and you should be prepared for the commiment of the next 10 years or so. Inexperienced owners make lots of simple mistakes that become giant sized problems. So please consider:
1. Can I realistically provide my Dane with the exercise, training, and care he or she will need?
Great Danes are especially social dogs, and will not behave well if excluded from the daily activities of a family. They must be indoors and have interaction with you, even if that requires extra effort on the part of apartment or condo dwelling owners.
Their extreme intelligence should not be ignored, because a bored Dane will entertain himself, and you might not like how they do it. They need the stimulation of interaction with you and socialization their entire lives. This means going places and meeting new people.
Big dogs have big exercise: not just pacing the back yard, or they get goofy from lonliness and boredom. Interactive exercise, like fetch is the best option. Apartments are fine for Danes, so long as you take them somewhere they can stretch their legs to run and play in a big way.
And their size requires that you train them to be gentle and well behaved from an early age. This is rule number one with Danes, because an overexcited Dane can accidentally hurt someone. I can’t tell you the number of Danes that are bought, then sent to rescues because the family wasn’t prepared for the ultimate size, nor trained them as babies to be gentle and calm.
2. Am I able to afford the bigger costs associated with bigger dogs? Food bills, medicines, surgery costs all are increased by the size of the dog.
A show breeder will charge around $1000 for a companion pup, ie one who has a minor beauty flaw like a white spot on the chest. If it seems steep, and it is, remember that cheap puppies often become expensive dogs. Every single one of my sickly, AKC registered Danes were bought for $500 or less. Shabahs’ vet bills totaled some $15,000 over his 10 year life.
Great Danes are nutritionally delicate, so cheap, low quality food is not an option. Not unless you want to deal with growth deformities, which are expensive and painful. Costs for an adult average $50-$60 per month for food alone.
And sadly, there are numerous illness both genetic and environmental that can afflict your Dane and your budget. Veterinary care cannot be neglected. Giant Dogs have veterinary needs that other breeds don’t, and Danes aren’t called the heartbreak breed for nothing…
If you cannot afford the cost of a high quality food and veterinary care, then you should reconsider buying a Dane for the sake of the dog. Loving a Dane and taking care of a Dane are two different things. The breed just isn’t a good fit for everyone.
3. What personality do I want? Energetic, calm, outgoing, reserved…match this to your family.
Many a good Dane was rescued because the family just bought a “cute” puppy that did not fit their lifestyle. Most Danes are quiet natured, and prefer a couch to an agility course. But there are Danes who have high energy, and will enjoy agility, tracking, and need more than average time for exercise.
Do you want the Dane to have a “job”, such as backpacking with you, search and rescue, babysitter, etc? Each of those desires require a certain personality. So know what you want and tell the breeder so they can place the right puppy for you.
And consider which color and sex you would like your Dane to be. Yes, you can allow yourself a little vanity: there are 7 acceptable colors in Danes, though I would ask you not to buy from breeders who deliberately breed the “rare” colors which are not allowed in conformation.
Gender also plays a role: females are smaller and lighter built, the males are bigger and thicker in bone (unless you neuter before 12 months). Most people say they have different temperments, ie males more dominant etc, but I haven’t found enough difference to warrant any special consideration to training. I don’t think it makes a significant difference.
Note: Every good breeder will take care not to breed the unaccepted colors. There will occationally be a merle, a blue merliquin, a pure white, etc, but it is unusual in pure bloodlines. If you find a breeder who is deliberately breeding for off colors, please report them to the Great Dane Club of America, after you run away! They are not reputable, AKC papers or not.
Once you have decided if a Great Dane would be a good companion for you, and know what you want, then you can begin searching for a breeder whose dogs have these traits. There are literally hundreds of Great Dane breeders in the US. Don’t make a decision on a decade long responsibilty too quickly! There are enough puppies to choose from that can be a perfect match for you, so you don’t have to get the first cutie that catches your eye.
Unfortunately, some breeders are not especially reputable. Puppy mills are an obvious problem, yet the casual “backyard” breeder who really doesn’t know what they’re doing has also played an unintentional role in perpetuating inheiritable diseases and less than acceptable temperaments in Great Danes.
In my experience, you may find the following things a good indicator of high quality puppies, and you should ask these questions:
1. Does the breeder show their dogs? Conformation, agility, tracking etc. all require extremely healthy and well tempered dogs. A breeder who goes to the expense and effort of training and showing their dogs will take great care in the choice of sire and dam. They will not have “mixed breed” litters, or breed unsound dogs just because they love them. Great Danes should never be cross bred–genetics is a tricky business, and should be left to experts.
2. Can the breeder provide verifyable proof of health in their Great Dane breeding bloodlines? Often there is a health guarantee for the puppy. This includes tests for hip dysplasia and thyroid abnormalities. A truely outstanding breeder will know and share with you if any of family members of the breeding stock has had Wobbler’s disease, cancers, displaysia, panosteitis or other inheiritable illnesses, as well as bloat, allergies, and such. They want their puppies to have long happy lives.
3. Does the breeder ask you to submit a questionaire about yourself, your family, and the home environment their puppy will be raised in? This shows a concern beyond the sale, and indicates that you will have a valuable resource for information and answers about your puppy as they grow and eventually get old.
4. Does the purchase contract contains a spay/neuter clause? Some don’t care when it is done, only that it is done. Others will have a specific time period in which the puppy should be spayed or neutered. If the breeder decides to allow you to breed their puppy, they will have conditions upon the breeding.