The history of Great Dane is not a one version story. Some would argue the breed evolved primarily in Britain over several hundred years, while others would say the Germans did all of the work. So the history of Great Dane depends on which version you listen to!
Great Dane dog history first appears about 3000BC. We see Dane like dogs in carvings on Egyptian monuments built around this time. Fast forward 3400 years to the 5th century, when present day Europe was invaded by the Alanis, an Asiatic race, who brought giant mastiff dogs with them. Over the next several hundred years, it is surmized that these mastiff like dogs were cross bred with Irish Grey Hounds, producing a giant but slimmer breed than pure mastiff.
It is also possible that these large mastiff dogs were brought to Europe by the Romans. Over several hundred years the Celts cross bred these giants with either grey hound or Irish wolf hound (or perhaps both). This effort led to the development of the "English Dogge", which some would say is the ancestor to the Modern Great Dane.
It is probably true that both versions of Great Dane history are accurate and contributed to the beautiful animals we now enjoy, but certainly, the Germans deserve most of the credit for the development of the breed as we know it today. By the 16th century, these giant dogs were fairly common as boar hounds in both Britain and the Germanic states. The Germans did import a large number of these "Englishe dogges" for cross breeding with their own version as they worked to develop the perfect boar hunter for their own needs.
But here the history of the great dane takes another twist. Boar hounds were not cudly stoic dogs.European wild boar were very dangerous and hunting them required a fast, strong and aggressive dog. And that's what had been developed. But it was also realized, that a dog of this size could be an excellent guard dog - although in order to fulfill this function something would have to be done to make it more people friendly. And so over the 18th and 19th centuries, German dog breeders concentrated on evolving their boar hound into a breed of good temperment and friendliness
In appearance and nature the Great Dane is one of the most elegant and distinguished varieties of giant type dog.
Accurate canine history is limited to but little longer than the last half century. The first dog show was held as recently as 1859 in England where the 'dog game' was born. Before that time, there were occasional records of different sorts of dogs over a period of more than three thousand years; but the items are so few, incomplete and inaccurate that a student of the dogs of antiquity can 'prove' almost anything he care to imagine.
The name of the breed (in the English language) is a translation of an old French designation, grand Danois meaning "big Danish". This was only one of half a dozen names which had been used for centuries in France. Why the English adopted the name Great Dane' from the French is a mystery.
At the same time the French were also calling it dogue allemand or"German Mastiff"
There is no known reason for connecting Denmark with either the origin or the development of the breed. It was 'made in Germany' and it is German fanciers who have led the world in breeding most of the finest specimens.
If the reader is susceptible to the charms of antiquity, he will be interested in Cassel's claim that on Egyptian monuments of about 3000 B.C. there are drawings of dogs much like the Great Dane. Also the earliest written description of a dog resembling the breed may be found in Chinese literature of 1121 B.C.Eminent zoologists like Keller and Kraemer believe that the mastiff breed originated in Asia. They think the modern Tibetan Mastiff, occasionally shown in England, is the most direct descendant of the prototype.
The great naturalist Buffon (1707 - 1788) claimed the Irish Wolfhoud as the principal ancestor of our Great Dane. The comparative anatomist Cuvier (1769 - 1821) found more evidence in favour of the old English Mastiff as the root from which it sprang. Both Irish and English breeds are known to have been carefully bred for 1300 years and more. Today, most students favour the idea that the Great Dane, or Deutsche Dogge, resulted from a mixture of both these ancient types.
This is not to say that the German Mastiff or Great Dane is a new breed. It is indeed a very old one, which has been cultivated as a distinct type for probably over 400 years, if not longer. Like all old varieties of dog, it was deveoped for a useful purpose. the Germans used the Great Dane as a boar hound. Europe's erstwhile boar was one of the most savage, swift, powerful and well armed of all big game on the Continent. To tackle the wild boar required a superdog, and that is precisely what the Germans developed. We who fancy him speak of him as the king of all dogs.
In common with all other breeds, the Great Dane's history of and development to a modern standard type began in the latter nineteenth century. In 1880 at Berlin, Dr. Bodinus, called a meeting of Great Dane judges who declared that the breed should be known as Deutsche dogge and that all other designations, especially the term "Great Dane", should be abolished thereafter. So far as the German people are concerned this declaration has been observed, but English speaking people have paid no heed. The Italians, who have a large Great Dane fancy, have also failed to give Germany credit for the name selected;aliano. This word means "a mastiff", consequently the name of their organization means "Mastiff Club of Italy." This however, has not prevented close co-operation between fanciers of the two countries. The leading Italian breeders have based their operation on nothing but German imported stock or its descendants.
In 1891 the Great Dane Club of Germany adopted a precise standard, or official description of the ideal specimen. In 1885, there was a Great Dane Club in England and in 1889 at Chicago, the German Mastiff or Great Dane Club of America was founded with G. Muss-Arnoldt as first delegate. Two years later the club reorganized as the Great Dane Club of America. At that time, its membership was mostly of Eastern fanciers.