Do Great Danes Have High Prey Drive?

Adrienne Farricelli

Whether great danes have high prey drive is something many folks who love this breed may be wondering about. Perhaps you dream of owning a dog breed that gets along with your cats or who ignores squirrels on walks. Does the great dane qualify as a low-prey drive dog?

Discovering whether great danes have high prey drive requires taking a closer look into this dog breed's past. What were great danes selectively bred for? Did they carry out any activities related to hunting? Are they attracted to movement? These are all important questions to keep in mind. 

A Hunting Dog...

Great danes were bred to be long-legged for some good reasons. Their imposing size (many are as tall as 32 inches at the shoulder) indeed made them particularly suitable for the task they were originally bred for, that is, hunting ferocious walk boards. 

Great danes descend from crossbreeds between old English mastiffs and Irish wolfounds. These hybrid dogs, who were quite popular in the 16th century, mostly came in different sizes and boasted different looks and were referred to as "English dogges."

Despite the name "Dane" great danes though are not from Denmark. Indeed, this dog breed is as German as a mug of beer. 

Selective breeding carried out by German nobles led to dogs who were exceptionally tall and used for hunting large animals such as bear, boar and deer. Their primary task entailed tackling and immobilizing these large animals with their weight and teeth until the hunters could kill them. The term "catch dog' was therefore coined to depict dogs bred for this specific task.

Favorite dogs were allowed to sleep at night in the bedchambers of their lords and for this reason they were referred to as "Kammerhunde," the German word for "Chamber Dog."

Did you know? Great danes are affectionately nicknamed, the "Apollo of Dogs." Like Apollo, the God of Sun, these dogs are large and powerful and are blessed with a strong, noble character.

painting
Catch dogs hunting bears, 17th century , painting by Carl Borromäus Andreas Ruthart 

 Converted into a Protective Guardian

The emergence of firearms led to significant changes in hunting practices making the use of certain hunting dogs no longer in vogue. This led to some dogs breeds becoming unpopular. Not the great dane though.

These noble dogs later on assumed the role as faithful guardians, wearing ornamental gilded collars and protecting princes from potential assassins at night when they were most vulnerable.

Their sheer size and devotion towards their families made great danes particularly adept for this task. In the 18th century, great danes were therefore mostly used as protective guardians of estates and carriages. 

Despite the changes in hunting practices occurring with the emergence of firearms,  great danes were still occasionally utilized for hunting, but this time as a sport, by accompanying the upper class in some wild boar hunts. 

Nowadays, great danes are mostly kept as pets, although they remain popular among city dwellers who keep them as guardians against potential robbers.

chamber dog
A "chamber dog" with a gilded collar, Bradenburg (Germany), 1705

Prey Drive in Great Danes 

Most modern great danes are a fry cry from the the powerful hunters of the past. Their strong instincts and initial aggressive behaviors have been mellowed down, allowing them to evolve from hunters, to guardians, to then plain companions with a reputation for being "gentle giants." 

This has led to rather docile great danes who rather conduct a leisurely lifestyle.The American Kennel Club describes these dogs as being "spirited, courageous, always friendly and dependable, and never timid or aggressive. "

While this breed's prey drive is classified as rather average, they still remain dogs and dogs will chase given the opportunity. Also, we must consider that, even within a dog breed, there may be quite vast variances between one dog and another. 

Perhaps, (this is just a theory) despite many years of selective breeding, in certain specimens, that heritage from the Irish wolfhound is more prominent than in others, leading to a stronger drive. Or perhaps, that drive just popped out because your great dane is bored and under-stimulated and practice makes perfect with time. 

You may therefore sometimes stumble on great danes with stronger prey drive. These dogs may be totally focused on rabbits and squirrels giving you a hard time distracting them from their state-like trance. 

"Some great danes may have retained their prey drive and may see smaller animals as something they can hunt. If you have cats, rabbits or other small animals, great danes may chase these around and trap them with its massive paws!"~ Mark Manfield, Great Danes Bible And The Great Dane: Your Perfect Great Dane Guide

Now That You Know...

As seen, you may sometimes stumble on great danes with higher than average prey drives. You may therefore wonder what you can do to reduce a great dane's high prey drive and get him to listening to you better on leash and off leash. Here are some tips:

  • If you have cats or planning to have cats, introduce both of them from a young age. Puppies are more likely to get along with cats if introduced early, preferable when the cat is a kitten. Make sure your cat has a place to escape from the puppy's constant desire to play. 
  • Channel the prey drive. Sure, treats are a powerful way to get dogs to perform behaviors, but in dogs with high prey drive, the opportunity to engage in predatory behaviors is often the biggest reward. Invest in flirt poles, tug toys. balls and dog Frisbees. Engaging in such prey-drive activities is not only fun for your great dane, but also satiates his strong drive.
  • Provide brain games to keep that mind stimulated. Treasure hunts, food puzzles and interactive toys will keep that brain busy. Also, consider training dog impulse control games. 
  • Practice dog leave its and drop it exercises in case your great dane attempts to approach a small animal or grabs it in his mouth. 
  • Train your great dane an alternate response to chasing critters. Start in low distraction areas with your dog under threshold and build up from there. When on leash, stay as much as you can at a distance from the critter and ask your dog to do several steps of attention heeling and then reward with high-value food or a toy/game that your dog loves. 
  • More tips on training dogs with a strong prey drive can be found here: strategies for channeling a dog's high prey drive. 

  

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