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Are Great Danes really related to horses?

merle great dane

“That is not a dog. That is a horse!” my grandma used to jokingly say about my uncle’s Great Dane. They are large dog breeds like German Shepherds and Labs. But for Great Danes, perhaps the “super-size” category would be more appropriate. Since the larger ones sometimes rival the size of smaller horses or mules, it might make you wonder if these animals are related. 

Are Great Danes actually related to horses? Despite each being respectively large animals, Great Danes and horses are not related.

Keep reading to better understand how the Great Dane breed came to exist, along with some additional discussion on their personalities and other features.

They Are Not Related, But They Are Still Similar in Some Ways

We understand the confusion though. After someone meets a Great Dane in person for the first time, it is often hard for them to believe that it is just another dog breed.

As great animals and pets in their own rights, Great Danes and horses share some similarities. Let’s go through those, as well as their differences, in matters concerning:

  1. Size
  2. Personality
  3. Diet
  4. Preferred Environments
  5. Lifespan

1. Size

Size is probably why you thought Great Danes might be related to horses in the first place. Great Danes are the tallest dog breed in the world, and it is not close.

They are often 30 inches tall (from paw to shoulder) for males, 28 inches for female, with the record being 44 inches by a dog named Zeus.

Fun note: Standing on his hind legs, he reached an unbelievable 7 feet, 5 inches. He never won any basketball scholarships, unfortunately.

2. Personality

Here is where there is some light between Great Danes and Horses. Both are docile. While each can be commanded to run and compete in other vigorous exercise when needed, their default mood is calm.

Horses are herbivores, which means they are not hunting animals and therefore do not really care for assertiveness or aggression (except for younger racehorses of course). Typically, they would much rather go for walks and eat some hay.

Great Danes are somewhat similar: while they have a massive bone structure, their joints and heart are not really designed to scale up to that kind of sustained exercise. (That is also why Great Danes often seem like they do not really know their own size and strength.)

But make no mistake: even though Great Danes are not built for rigorous activity, they are still dogs and carnivores. They were bred for hunting, after all.

Great Danes love:

  • Playing
  • Going for walks
  • Brief running and jumping
  • Eating (although not quite as much as you would think)
  • Chasing rabbits in the backyard

For comparison, a German Shephard is 24 inches from paw to shoulder.

That amazing height might make it seem like a Great Dane could hold its own against a mule or small horse. However, an average horse is still way taller than a Great Dane, ranging anywhere from 4.7 to 6 feet from hoof to shoulder.

Horses also follow the “square” principal, where the height dimension is nearly equal to the length dimension, meaning that they are almost always much larger than dogs, even Great Danes.

Most importantly, Great Danes are full of love and are eager to please. But they also do not get too annoying because they like time to themselves to sniff and nap.

3. Diet

As I said, horses love to sit in a pile of hay and eat. They also do not mind a carrot or two every now and again. Or even apples and oats. As a treat, putting a big salt lick in a stable does not hurt either.

Great Danes could not be more different in this regard. They are carnivores, so Fido will not hesitate to knock that apple out of the way for a big steak.

They love the same kind of meats that we like and will happily devour:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Turkey

Seafood is iffy though. Obviously Great Danes are a good way to get rid of table scraps and leftovers, but feeding them, or any dog, a human diet will get expensive.

To that end, look for any dog food in stores that is meant for larger breeds like this one. As long as he or she likes it, you are fine.

And do not worry: Great Danes eat a little more food than other large breeds, but not a ton. The appetite is not quite there like a Shepherd.

4. Preferred Environments

Both Great Danes and horses, as large animals, love wide open spaces to roam and stretch their legs. For a horse, that might be a farm. For your Great Dane, it is a big backyard. They also like friendly animal and human neighbors with lots of petting.

Inside, a horse is perfectly happy with a stable full of hay. Great Danes will freely roam around the house and get excited. If you have small kids, safety dictates you may want to wait until they get older before adopting a Great Dane.

Even as a puppy, they are already bigger than many other adult breeds. When you are not home if you are not comfortable letting them roam inside or in the backyard, you may want to consider a dog cage that comfortably fits their massive frames.

Just do not leave them in there for more than a few hours.

Also, if you do not want your Great Dane sleeping on your couch or taking up all the room in your Queen size bed, you might want to consider a nice dog bed (if you can get him or her to stay there).

5. Lifespan

Perhaps nowhere else does the genealogy difference between Great Danes and dogs matter more than lifespan. Impressively, horses live quite a long time, averaging 25 to 30 years.

Great Danes, sadly, do not enjoy the same longevity. Because of their weak joints and heart, their average lifespan is just 7 years, although some have been known to make it to 10 or 11.

That is even shorter than most other dog breeds, who live closer to 12 or 13 years on average. 

Still, people who adopt Great Danes say it is absolutely worth the time you have with them. Do not let their large size fool you; Great Danes are big loves.

Attacks, although rare, are usually purely by accidental shoving or self-defense. Plenty of large breed dogs are much more aggressive than Great Danes.

The Actual History of the Great Dane Breed

Starting in 16th century Europe, people began to see a use for dogs beyond just family pet. Larger breeds could be used to help hunt for food, and as a cheap and friendly way to protect the home.

The English Mastiff and Irish Wolfhound were imported and mixed with the other dogs of central Europe with the goal and producing larger breeds for these purposes.

The lineage of the Great Dane can be traced back to these dog families in general, starting in the 18th century. Dogs like the Molossian hound and the Suliot were brought in from Greece, mating with current boarhounds.

Successfully, the boarhound, which was closer to the size of the Shepherd at the time, was gradually increased to be the current Great Dane we know and love today.

Of course, it is possible that dogs as a whole could share a common, four-legged, mammal ancestor from millions of years ago. But science widely accepts that Great Danes are not any closer related to horses than they are to cats or pigs.

While Great Dane are not related to horses, they do have far more in common with Mastiffs. Make sure to take a look at my article comparing Great Danes and Mastiffs here.

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