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Last Updated on December 19, 2023
Great Danes, despite their intimidating size and presence, have a doting temperament. This is why they are popularly known as “gentle giants”.
However, despite their friendly nature, there are instances where an otherwise warm and outgoing Great Dane displays a sudden aggressive behavior. The situation gets further alarming when a huge Great Dane acts aggressive towards other people or dogs.
If you are trying to figure out the reasons behind an aggressive Great Dane, then you are in the right place! In this article, we’ll help you understand and, possibly, correct the behavior in the best possible ways.
Great Dane Temperament
Great Danes are very sociable and friendly dogs, both with humans and with other dogs. They are also eager to please and are good with children. And despite their huge size, they’re very affectionate and loving, especially towards their owners – and that’s why people affectionately refer to them as “gentle giants”.
Furthermore, Great Danes are always recommended to many families as pets. This is because their temperament is perfect for families, especially big ones which include many children.
Despite such warm and wonderful characteristics, your Great Dane dog can display a sudden aggressive behavior. And when it happens, you have to understand that there will be reasons behind the unexpected change in behavior.
What is Aggression in Dogs?
Aggression is any such behavior which is linked to a strike or an attack towards another person and/or animal. Aggressive behavior in Great Dane pronounces that an attack is imminent.
At times, dogs in general, are called aggressive when in reality they’re just “reactive“. But the main difference between an aggressive dog and a reactive one is that the former is determined to cause physical or emotional harm to others. However, it is worth noting that reactivity, when it escalates, becomes aggression.
Aggression in Great Danes
As mentioned above, Great Danes are generally friendly and social dogs. And they are revered as huge bundles of joy and love.
However, like any dog, Great Danes can also become aggressive. And this change in behavior can cause serious problems. Because they are giant dogs, they can easily cause another individual serious injuries. Hence, an aggressive Great Dane could become a liability, and a danger to itself and its owner. Therefore, finding the reason behind dog’s aggression becomes necessary.
Signs of an Aggressive Great Dane
There are numerous signs that indicates an aggressive Great Dane. If the signs in the body language of the dog are read properly, you would be able to head off trouble way before the attack occurs.
And an aggressive Great Dane may display body language or threat in the form of:
- Hard staring
- Flattening of ears tightly
- Stiffening or freezing
Types of Great Dane Aggression
Looking for the cause of aggression in your Great Dane is important. Because the dog can be aggressive for several reasons. And the type of aggression they show can be motivated and caused by different factors. Below, we list down some of the most common types of aggression.
1. Territorial Aggression
As the name suggests, this type of aggression is directed towards an individual (whether a person or another animal) that tries to enter your Great Dane’s perceived territory, which is in most cases, the Dane’s owner, home or property.
Great Danes are known as good guard dogs and can be very protective of their families and homes. So, this might be the most common type of aggression they’ll display due to their protective nature. Although this poses a danger when your Great Dane lunges or bites regardless of the other individual’s actions.
2. Possessive Aggression
This is also called resource guarding and is closely related to territorial aggression. This is when an aggressive Great Dane growls, lunges or bites an individual over items and/or food that it believes belongs to it. Some examples are toys, food or even household items and furniture.
Furthermore, possessive aggression is an indication that a dog has trust issues. In such situations, do not ever try to take the thing which makes the dog possessive. Because they will grow even more suspicious of you and you will eventually lose their trust.
What Causes Possessive Aggression?
This type of aggression is commonly instinctual. But a lack of proper training from puppyhood and traumatic events can also cause this behavior.
How to Prevent Possessive Aggression
The easiest way to correct this behavior is training your Great Dane as early as puppyhood. Although, possessive aggression can happen at any stage in life. So, regardless of their age, you have to gradually teach them that they don’t need to protect certain things from people.
Here are a few tips to prevent a possessive aggressive Great Dane:
- Since a possessive aggressive Great Dane is mostly overprotective of its food, it’s best to feed the dog in seclusion, where no individual can interact with them.
- If your Dane is a still a puppy, you have to gradually and positively associate your presence when you are near their food.
- If it is possessive over an item other than food, like toys, walk towards the possessive Great Dane while it has the item, and then toss some treat at it without looking at it. Keep doing it till you find your dog expecting more things from you when you are near.
- Do NOT take away things that your Great Dane have grown attached to. Instead, you should offer to trade. So for example, if you are taking away their toy, you should trade that with a treat or food.
- Use praise and positive reinforcement. Get into the habit of praising or commending your dog when they let you take something from them.
3. Maternal or Protective Aggression
This type of aggression is most common with female Great Danes. It is a behavior manifested by the mother to defend her puppies against threats.
This can also manifest in bitches that experience pseudo-pregnancy or a false pregnancy. In these cases, the dogs protect their nesting areas or stuffed toys at the same time when the puppies would have born.
This type of aggression can be corrected when the litter of puppies have been weaned and/or the female Great Dane is spayed.
4. Pain-induced or Irritable Aggression
A Great Dane can become aggressive due to pain or irritability. They might display such behavior when they feel pain and/or discomfort. And they don’t want people, even their owner, to approach or come close to them due to the fear of increased pain.
An aggressive Great Dane can experience this type of aggression when they get an injury, cut, infection, or sometimes when they get diseases.
Disease or Health-related Aggression
This type of aggression is directly connected with pain aggression. Your Great Dane might be feeling pain or discomfort caused by a health-related issue. As dogs cannot verbally voice these issues, they show it through a sudden change in their behavior.
Causes of Pain-induced and Disease-related Aggression
Some of the most common health issues that can cause aggression in your Great Dane are:
- Loss of eyesight or hearing
- Hormonal imbalances (such as hypothyroidism)
- Brain diseases or cancer
- Hip Dysplasia
How to Prevent Pain-induced and Disease-related Aggression
When your Great Dane has started becoming aggressive due to pain or a medical condition, it is important to take it to the vet immediately. Getting a thorough examination (such as an oral checkup and blood tests) of the dog will help diagnose and treat the problem faster.
5. Anxiety Aggression
This type of aggression manifests when a Great Dane encounters an individual or a situation that makes them uncomfortable or uncertain. And it can also be perceived as a form of self-defense. It is basically a dog communicating that an individual should “stay away” from them.
What Causes Anxiety Aggression?
The causes behind a fear aggressive Great Dane can be a combination of both nature and nurture.
Some examples include:
- Developmental factors. Certain situations like abuse, traumatic events, loss of a caretaker/owner can affect the way a Great Dane grows up and develops. Improper, or the lack of, socialization in its puppyhood can also make a Great Dane more fearful and anxious.
- Environmental factors. Being in an overcrowded environment and strangers (both people and dogs) can cause aggression in a Great Dane. Furthermore, being raised in an abusive or neglectful environment will make a Great Dane fearful or anxious.
Types of Anxiety Aggression
- Fear-related anxiety aggression
- Separation anxiety aggression
Fear-related Anxiety Aggression
Great Danes express fear-related anxiety aggression, especially with strangers. An aggressive Great Dane with this type of aggression is usually a dog that feels afraid when approached or cornered. It can also be the result of certain situations like loud noises, traumatic experiences, strangers, new and uncomfortable situations. A few examples where this aggression may occur are:
- At home, when there are strangers
- At the veterinary hospital
- At any public setting where your Great Dane may encounter other people or animals.
How to Prevent Fear-related Anxiety Aggression
The initial step in dealing with a fear aggressive Great Dane is to not scold or punish it for its fear response. This will only escalate the problem.
Here are a few tips to help your fear aggressive Great Dane:
- When at home, keep your dog in a separate room or crate when new people visit.
- Slowly bring the people into the crate area where the dog is while talking with them.
- If the dog seems easy, relaxed and comfortable, let the guest toss food into the crate.
- Do not look directly on the dog during this whole time.
- Till the dog becomes calm in other individuals’ presence and does not show any signs of aggression, you can bring the dog out of the crate.
- When in a public setting, keep your dog on a leash when it meets strangers. Leash training your Dane will help.
Not all fear aggressive Great Danes can be trained. At times, when the problem has escalated, you will need to consult with a veterinary professional to properly address the issue.
Separation Anxiety Aggression
Separation anxiety is when a dog is hyper-attached to its owners and cannot cope up when its owners leaves it for a period of time. And it can lead to aggression when not prevented or treated.
For example, during and after COVID-19, more and more dogs are reportedly developing separation anxiety. This is because they’ve been so used to having their owners at home, they get anxious when their owners leave them at home for a long period of time.
How to Prevent Separation Anxiety Aggression
There are instances when Great Dane anxiety issues just keep getting worse. Despite all the efforts the owners put in into calming the dog, the number of items destroyed at home during their anxiety attack never comes down.
This desperate situation can be dealt with the help of a veterinary professional. They can prescribe some anxiety medication for your Great Dane. Among these medications is Prozac. It is considered as the most effective Great Dane anxiety medication.
NOTE: Please consult with your vet when administering Prozac. And only administer it according to the dosage your vet recommends.
Other Ways to Prevent Separation Anxiety
Beside medication, there are other ways to calm a Great Dane dog. Music is said to be the food for one’s soul. And it might be true for dogs as well. Many studies have been conducted over the years that evaluates the effects of music on dogs.
Based on these studies, music therapy can help canines suffering from aggression. Many kennels around the U.S. even use music to calm dogs.
Some helpful tips on how to calm an anxiety aggressive Great Dane are:
- Right after it has shown its aggression, you have to put your dog in a crate.
- Let the Great Dane listen to some soothing melodies. Music with long sounds, pure tones and slow tempos are especially good at calming down dogs.
- Try to understand what the Great Dane dog is conveying. Generally, dogs get excited over things like potential threats.
- Some underlying source can also make a dog agitated. Once you have identified the source, removing it will calm the Great Dane dog.
- Dog trainers mainly recommend thunder shirts to calm aggressive dogs. Employ a thunder shirt to calm your aggressive Great Dane dog.
- In addition to thunder shirts, anxiety wraps are also available. Use this to calm your Great Dane.
- Do not forget to pet your Great Dane dog if its is showing anxiety. Positive interaction with owners can calm a Great Dane.
How to Tame an Aggressive Great Dane
Generally, dogs can sense potential threats and can become aggressive to protect what they own. So, you have to socialize them properly and teach them that other individuals are not dangerous.
Most often, an aggressive Great Dane is motivated by different, overlapping factors and they cannot be put into a single type of aggression only. If you’re unsure about why your Great Dane has suddenly become aggressive, you can try these tips to tame them:
- Use a muzzle. It is one of the best tools to deal with an aggressive Great Dane. Particularly, when people are around, it is safe to keep the muzzle on an aggressive dog.
- Do leash training. Tie your Great Dane to you on a leash. Do this when you both have idle time or have nothing important to do. In this way, the aggressive Great Dane would follow you wherever you go. Therefore, having no close access with another dog or other people without your permission and presence.
- Be careful when bringing friends over at home. An aggressive Great Dane dog ought not to be in contact with anyone except family. When friends visit, make sure the dog is put away in a crate or at least on a leash.
- Train using counter conditioning and desensitization. These two work hand in hand with each other. Desensitization is a gradual process where the dog learns to not react aggressively towards a specific thing or individual. Counter conditioning then teaches a dog a new and positive response towards the thing or individual it reacts aggressively to.
Though, aggressive behavior can be controlled and handled, there is no assurance that the Great Dane will be cured completely. When it escalates, it is best to get professional help, either from a veterinary or from a skilled dog trainer.
Great Dane Aggression Towards Other Dogs
When a Great Dane is aggressive towards other dogs, it could be due to anxiety, fear, lack of proper social and communication skills, or even a health-related issue.
If the Great Dane shows aggressive behavior towards other dogs, excluding the aforementioned motivations, this is how you can deal with the condition:
- Do not allow sharing. Sharing food bowls is not a good idea even for friendly dogs. This might provoke a Great Dane’s protective instincts. Feed the aggressive Great Dane in a separate room with gates, if possible. Even toys, bones, other chewing stuff and likeable items – these must be given to dogs on separate occasions. This will help prevent any sort of negative interaction between dogs.
- Isolate it from other dogs. If your Great Dane is depicting aggressive behavior towards other dogs, you must separate it from others. The dog can harm other dogs any moment if not isolated right away. If at home, crating might be a workable option to handle an aggressive Great Dane. And in a public setting, having it on a leash will help.
How to Train a Great Dane to Not Attack Other Dogs
Training a Great Dane to not attack other dogs is a long and gradual process. The training is not only crucial for the aggressive dog, but also for you.
When it comes to training an aggressive Great Dane that attacks other dogs, never opt for harsh and forceful methods. In saying that, here is a step-by-step guide:
- Get the aggressive Great Dane dog separated from other dogs.
- Put your Great Dane on a fixed routine. Keep things and activities organized and scheduled. This will help the dog keep up with the routine easily. At times, aggression stems from changes in a dog’s usual routine.
- Keep doing activities according to schedule so the dog gets familiar with the training. You can include activities like essential obedience commands, chew time, walk, mental stimulation activities, and play.
- Keep the aggressive Great Dane on a leash. Do not let the Great Dane interact with other dogs without your supervision.
- When things escalate, an aggressive Great Dane must not interact with anyone outside the family.
- Feeding must be done separately. Dogs must not be allowed to share food to begin with. If possible, do not feed an aggressive Great Dane with other dog’s in its presence. Dogs have an instinct to want what other dogs have. So, do not let this behavior develop. Ensure the dogs get their toys and treats separately and individually.
- An aggressive Great Dane shows its negative interactive capability through its temperament. And this needs to be altered. Use counter conditioning and desensitization to practice some team activities and positive interactions with other dogs. For example, while keeping the aggressive Great Dane behind a barrier or gate, feed your other dog(s) with its treat. Then instantly, feed the aggressive one its treat and praise it a lot when it doesn’t react negatively. Or you can involve other family members in its training to positively associate training with other people.
- Apply and repeat the ‘nothing is for free’ mindset on your aggressive Great Dane. It is like giving a job to your dog and rewarding it with things it works for. The dog has to be relaxed and appeasing before it gets what it needs. For instance, when it is time for a walk in the park, the dog should sit till you unleash it. Same goes with food and toys. The dog has to show restraint to get food. And it can also have its favorite toy only if it follows your command.
- Commending is also key to teach your aggressive Great Dane to behave around other dogs. Do not forget to appreciate the dog when it follows your lead perfectly without going for anyone near its vicinity. Add in treats with appreciation to induce positive reinforcement training rather than punishment or forceful training.
Getting a New Dog When You Have an Aggressive Great Dane
Getting a new dog while dealing with an aggressive Great Dane is not advisable. It is better to deal with your existing aggressive dog first before adding a new member to the family.
Aggressive dogs pose serious dangers to other dogs, especially when they’re a large breed like the Great Dane. Furthermore, the chances of your new dog developing the same behavior is high.
Aggressive Great Dane Puppy
Like any other Great Dane, aggression in puppies can be due to a variety of reasons. If your Great Dane puppy is showing potential aggression, it is best to deal with the problem as soon as possible. Aggression can start at a young age due to fear, anxiety or frustration.
Furthermore, it can also be learned from its environment. For example, some Great Dane puppies can learn to be aggressive at kennels where sharing and overcrowding prevails at large.
Great Dane Puppy Biting
Great Dane puppy biting is normal behavior. However, some puppies bite due to anxiety, frustration, or fear. It is crucial to discourage this behavior right from the start as this can develop into aggressive behaviors. If a Great Dane puppy tends to get aggressive, the biting would be a lot worse.
Here are a few tips to help discourage puppy biting:
- Provide your Great Dane puppy with a lot of chewing toys.
- Whenever a Great Dane puppy shows its teeth, it is usually an indication that it’s about to bite. Telling the puppy not to bite by showing your firm disapproval can inhibit the biting behavior in your puppy.
- Try to deviate the Great Dane puppy’s attention. Toss the puppy its favorite toy so that it can forego its biting instinct.
Whether a Great Dane is slowly showing signs of aggression or has suddenly become aggressive, it is important to get to the bottom of the situation before it gets worse. Remember, the sooner, the better.
Training an aggressive Great Dane and correcting such behavior takes a lot of time and patience. You can follow the aforementioned suggestion to correct your aggressive Great Dane’s behavior. However, if these suggestions no longer work, seeking professional help is the way to go.
As a last resort, if training and seeking a suitable professional don’t work, re-homing your Dane might be an option. This will give your big furry friend a better chance at getting its aggressive behavior treated a lot easier and better.