American vs. European Great Dane: What’s the Difference?

European Great Dane walking outdoors in park

Great Danes are often addressed as the “Apollo of dogs” due to their grace, stature, and beauty. However, a number of breeders are quick to point out that not all of them should be associated with the Greek god of the sun because they are believed to be pseudo-dogs.

This controversy is primarily a result of the long-standing debate about which is better between the American and European Great Danes.

Even though the American and European Great Dane are fundamentally the same breeds, they began to diverge due to breeding practices and pet owner preference. Today, European Danes are described to be larger and more Mastiff-looking than American ones who are smaller due to their Greyhound roots.

I feel the need to discuss their differences because many pet owners are purchasing them based on the prestige of their geographical indicators instead of their actual style.

I hope that by the end of this article, Great Dane enthusiasts will become wiser on choosing which variety is more suitable for them.

American Great Dane

Physical Traits

  • Head: Rectangular and long.
  • Eyes: Almond-shaped, slightly droopy.
  • Neck: Set high and well-arched.
  • Muzzle: Thin and less prominent.
  • Chest: Broad and well-muscled.
  • Body: Tightly muscled and well-defined.
  • Height: Males measure 32 inches, while females are 30 inches.
  • Weight: 125 to 140 pounds.
  • Coat: Short and glossy.

European Great Dane

Physical Traits

  • Head: Square-shaped and long.
  • Eyes: Almond-shaped, droopy.
  • Neck: Long and muscular.
  • Muzzle: Deep and lips are hanging.
  • Chest: Broad with well-sprung ribs.
  • Body: More massive and elegant.
  • Height: Males measure 31 ½ inches, while females are 28 inches.
  • Weight: 220 to 240 pounds.
  • Coat: Short, dense, and glossy.

What Is a European Great Dane and American Great Dane? Are They the Same?

European Great Danes were developed by Germans some 400 years ago to serve as boar hounds.

One of the pieces of evidence that they’ve been around for quite some time now is the article published by Dr. G. Ciaburri in the Great Dane Club of Italy in 1929. Ciaburri claims that the breed was first described in Chinese texts in 1121 B.C.

The French name of the European Great Dane is Grand Danois which means big Danish. They also go by the name Dogue Allemand and Deutsche Dogge which means German Mastiff in some parts of France.

All of these names, no matter how dissimilar, pertain to a hunting dog with a massive head.

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), they recognized the Great Danes in the year 1887 as their 34th breed. This brought about several changes to the dog’s appearance and temperament because they were bred with other dogs in the United States.

Breeders started labeling the Great Danes as American and European because they already manifested striking differences throughout the years.

Who Is Responsible for the Differences Between the American and European Great Dane?

This may sound funny, but Great Danes are actually facing some sort of identity crisis due to their breed standards. The big question is, who is responsible for their variations.

Well, they are none other than the following entities:

  • Breeders: Great Dane breeders contributed significantly to the split between the American and European varieties. Some of them purposefully alter the breed instead of working to restore them because of personal reasons. The litter they produce was then seen to deviate from the breed standard published by the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI).
  • Breed Clubs: Breed clubs are responsible for the different styles of this dog. Since they do not exist in uniformity, they offer different guides that confuse both breeders and pet owners.
  • Dog Shows and Their Judges: Unfortunately, conformation shows weren’t able to preserve the ideal appearance and temperament of the breed because some of the judges support their vested interests. They fail to evaluate Great Danes carefully and even declare non-conforming dogs as champions.
  • Dog Owners: Some dog owners are after dogs that are classier than their breed standard would allow. Since the demand for this kind of dog is rising, breeders are pressured to create them and set aside the standards.
  • Government: Yes, the administration plays some role in this, too. Departments in charge of pet protection laws are not that strict in implementing the rules governing appearance alteration, etc.

Physical Differences

Generally speaking, European Great Danes appear to be more imposing because of their size and strength. They seem to be strongly associated with their Mastiff origins instead of their other ancestors.

Meanwhile, American Great Danes are smaller because they take after their Greyhound progenitor. Below is a more exhaustive review of their appearance.

American Great Dane

According to the AKC standard, American Great Danes have an overall regal appearance. Their well-formed body exudes power and dignity, and the males are easily distinguished from females because they possess great masculinity.

Here are the specific details of their phenotype:

  • Head: Their head is rectangular, long, and finely chiseled. It is smaller as compared to that of the European bloodline, but it is proportional to their body.
  • Eyes: Their eyes are medium-sized and almond-shaped. It is usually dark and deep-set, creating an expression of intelligence. The standard colors are dark, but blue eyes and other shades also exist.
  • Neck: Their neck is set high and well-arched. It is firm and muscular, but not as much as the European Great Dane. Some even observe that their neck is relatively thinner.
  • Muzzle: Their muzzle is thin, and their lips are less prominent.
  • Chest: Their chest is broad, well-muscled, and deep.
  • Body: Their body is tightly muscled and well defined. They are a bit leaner than the European Great Dane.
  • Height: The desirable height for males is 32 inches, while females should be 30 inches. Some American Great Danes only measure 30 inches for males and 28 inches for females. These are still acceptable, according to the AKC.
  • Weight: The preferred weight for both males and females are between 125 to 140 pounds, although they can weigh up to 160 pounds or higher. Males also appear more massive than the females, but they are not as ginormous as the European Great Danes.
  • Coat: Their coat is short and glossy in appearance. The standard colors are shown in the photos below:

Black American Great Dane

The AKC described this coat color as glossy black without any markings on the chest and toe.

Blue American Great Dane

Grey or Blue American Great Dane
Photo from @giantdoggo (IG)

Danes with this color have a pure steel blue coat. Some may have white markings on their chest or toes.

Brindle American Great Dane

The base color of this dog is yellow gold, and their “tiger stripes” are black.

RELATED: Brindle Great Dane – A Pet Parents Guide To This Loyal Breed

Fawn American Great Dane

The coat of a fawn Dane has a yellow gold-tone. They have black rims on their eyes and have a black mask that may also occur on their tail tip and ears.

Harlequin American Great Dane

Harlequin American Great Dane
Photo from @bigdogrv (IG)

This is the most common color of the American Great Dane, which can be described as having a white base color and black patches that are well distributed all over their body.

RELATED: An In-Depth Look Into the Beauty of a Harlequin Great Dane

Mantle American Great Dane

This is another coat that is composed of black and white tones, but the distinctive feature is that the black shade blankets the body.

Merle American Great Dane

The Merle Dane has a dark or pale base color and black patches on their coat.

White American Great Dane

This is the rarest color of American Great Danes. They may appear completely white, while some have a few markings.

Aside from these colors, several other tones are acknowledged by the AKC, but they are not considered as the standard. They are the following:

  • Blue and White
  • Blue Brindle
  • Chocolate
  • Chocolate and White
  • Chocolate Brindle
  • Mantle Merle
  • Merlequin
  • Silver

European Great Dane

European Great Danes typically have a fuller body type than their American counterparts. Many breeders observed that they have a more wrinkled look which makes their head more expressive.

Here’s a detailed description of their physical appearance:

  • Head: They possess a heavier square-shaped head that appears short because of their long body. It is finely chiseled under the eyes; that’s why they look nobler.
  • Eyes: Their droopy eyes are almond-shaped with an intelligent expression. The standard colors are dark shades, but blue dogs may have lighter tones.
  • Neck: Their neck is long and muscular. It is relatively thicker than the American Great Dane.
  • Muzzle: Their muzzle is deep and rectangular, and their lips are noticeably hanging.
  • Chest: Their chest is broad and reaching the elbows. They have well-sprung ribs that reach far back.
  • Body: Since they look gigantic, their body is more massive than that of the American Great Dane. It looks powerful, but at the same time, highly elegant.
  • Height: The ideal height for males is 31 ½ inches, while females are 28 inches. Males may stand up to 36 inches and females up to 33 inches. If they exceeded this limit, they wouldn’t be recognized by the FCI.
  • Weight: The preferred body mass of the Euro Great Dane, whether male or female is around 220 to 240 pounds. That’s way heavier than those of American descent.
  • Coat: Their coat is described as short, dense, and glossy. The colors recognized by the FCI are pretty much the same as the American Great Danes:

Black European Great Dane

European Great Danes of this color have a jet black coat with white markings on their chest and feet.

Mantletiger European Great Dane

This is similar to that of the mantle American Great Dane. Dogs with this coat are covered in black, while their muzzles, belly, chest, legs, throat, and tail tip may be white.

Plattenhunde European Great Dane

European Great Danes with a plattenhunde coat have a white base color and large black patches on their body. FCI notes that the black markings should not appear to be brown, fawn, or bluish-black.

Blue European Great Dane

This dog has a steel blue coat and white markings on the feet and chest.

Fawn European Great Dane

The coat of this dog may be light to deep gold fawn. They should also have a black mask.

Brindle European Great Dane

The base color of this dog is light to deep gold fawn. They have clearly defined black stripes and a black mask.

RELATED: Brindle Great Dane – A Pet Parents Guide To This Loyal Breed

Harlequin European Great Dane

White is the base color of the harlequin European Great Dane. They have black patches that are well distributed on their whole body.

RELATED: An In-Depth Look Into the Beauty of a Harlequin Great Dane

Temperamental Differences

Temperament is perhaps the biggest difference between the American and European Great Danes. This is the result of some genetic manipulations that were purposefully made by breeders for the past decades. Let’s take a closer look at how these dogs behave.

American Great Dane running in a park with another dog

American Great Dane

American Great Danes are neither timid nor aggressive. They are well-spirited and very much courageous, just like their European cousins.

Many breeders call them gentle giants, and it is reasonable because they are genuinely one of the best companion dogs out there.


Great Danes from the American bloodlines are quite intelligent, so they are easy to train. They are observed to be eager to please, and they seem to respond well with a firm and consistent method of training.

AKC suggests that American Great Danes undergo obedience training and socialization since they are large and powerful.

With Strangers

Because of their sweet nature, American Great Danes are friendly with anyone. However, some anecdotal records from pet owners and fanciers state that they may be a bit watchful and skeptical of strangers compared to the Euro Danes. Early socialization for this dog is a necessity.

With Children

Despite their size, American Great Danes do well with children. You won’t see them uneasy when a child is playing inside the house. They would even join them if invited.

These playtimes with Great Danes should still be supervised because their massive build might cause accidental injuries to small kids.

With Other Dogs and Pets

The gentle quality of American Great Danes also manifests in the way they socialize with other animals. However, they may showcase aggressive tendencies if they are asked to live with dogs of the same sex.

European Great Dane

The FCI describes European Great Danes as docile, loving companions. They are calmer than their American counterparts, but they can also be exuberant and active.


Just like the American Great Danes, Euros are easy to train, but they always need consistency. If you usually repeat cues once a day, and then you repeat it four times the succeeding day, they will feel your inconsistency and refrain from following you.

For your communication and training with your European Great Dane to be effective, you have to make all your verbal and non-verbal cues consistent. This will help them learn new tricks and become better at following commands.

With Strangers

European Great Danes aren’t that welcoming when it comes to strangers. They are a bit standoffish, and it takes a lot of time before they warm up to others.

I recommend that you socialize them early to improve the way they react with your friends or pedestrians you’ll come across once you bring them for a walk.

With Children

One good thing about the European Great Dane is that they aren’t only devoted to their owners but also their other housemates. This includes the elderly, toddlers, and even infants.

The only problem is, their gigantic size makes it hard for them to interact and play with kids. Assisted playtime is suggested similar to the American Great Dane.

With Other Dogs and Pets

Great Danes are easygoing dogs that will get along with other pets inside your home once socialized early.

However, I do not suggest raising them with a European Great Dane of a similar gender. They may manifest aggression that isn’t that easy to handle considering their size.

RELATED: Male vs. Female Great Dane: What Are the Differences?

Differences in Gait/Movement

There isn’t much difference in the way the American and European Great Danes stride, but the AKC and FCI have used different terms in describing them. Read the details below to fully visualize how they move.

American Great Dane

The American Great Dane has a powerful gait and long easy strides. Their topline does not toss, roll, or bounce and their backline looks parallel to the ground. They carry their head forward, and when they speed up, their legs converge in the center to balance their body.

Below is a youtube video showing the gait of the American Great Dane.

Great Dane - AKC Dog Breed Series

European Great Dane

The gait or the European Great Dane is described as harmonious, lithe, and a bit springy. Their legs are often parallel in movement whenever they walk or run. It is also observed that their front and rear legs are always coordinated.

Given that European Great Danes are bigger, their stride covers more ground than the American Great Dane.

Watch this video to see how they move.

Great Danes | Breed Judging 2020

Which Is a Better Family Companion?

Although there may be subtle differences between how the American and European Great Danes behave towards their owner and family members, they are both considered excellent companions. Here’s why:

American Great Dane

American Great Danes are tagged as ideal family dogs despite being more high-strung than the Euros. This is because they do not showcase aggressiveness towards others, and they also aren’t that timid. They are very dependable and affectionate, which is ironic of their size.

European Great Dane

European Great Danes are quite loving and gentle, too, even though they are relatively larger. You’ll often see them drape their big bodies on your couch or right over other furniture inside your house.

They are huge babies, and they aren’t as active as their American cousins which makes lazing off with them more relaxing and calming.

Which Is a Better Guard Dog?

You may already have an idea about the guarding capabilities of the American and European Great Danes based on how I described their temperament and behavior.

However, let me still discuss it in detail because I know some pet owners are planning to buy or adopt Danes for the sole purpose of protection.

American Great Dane

With their imposing size, it is often easy for American Great Danes to scare off burglars and other potential threats to you and your property.

The only downside is that they don’t really attack because they have an even temperament. They are active barkers, though, which is a good thing because you will be alerted for possible intrusions.

European Great Dane

European Great Danes take the name “gentle giants” to a whole new level. As compared to the Americans, they are a lot more subdued, so they probably won’t react if a stranger is lurking around your property.

It’s a good thing that they are enormous in size. This creates a fierce predator look that would send any criminal running for the hills in just a stare.

Which Dog Deviates from the Breed Standard?

The primary reason why both the American and European Great Danes are facing a string of controversies is that they are seen to be deviating from the standards set by the AKC and FCI.

Let’s take a look at how the two dogs have changed over time in consideration of the standards set by the kennel clubs I have mentioned.

American Great Dane

If you look closely at an American Great Dane’s eyes, you will notice that they are slightly droopy compared to what the standard requires.

AKC specifies that the eyes of Great Danes should be tight and almond-shaped. This current deviation may be a result of accidental genetic manipulations throughout the years.

European Great Dane

There are three noticeable changes on the European Great Dane’s appearance that I have noticed. They are the following:

  • They also possess droopy eyes that do not adhere to the standards. The FCI reiterates that European Great Danes should have almond-shaped eyes.
  • They have excessive skin as compared to the American Danes.
  • Their lips are a bit saggy when the FCI standard clearly states that the Euro Danes’ lips should be not too much.

Across Europe, Great Danes are also seen to be developing into several varieties.

More and more countries are shifting to hyper-type Danes who are distinct in appearance because they resemble the mastiffs. Some even call these Danes a product of “mastiffication” or “mediterranisation.”

Nordic countries which still follow the classic FCI standards in breeding their Danes strongly criticize these types of dogs.

Differences in Health Issues and Life Span

It is a well-known fact Great Danes do not live long because of several complications brought about by their size. A Euro’s lifespan is usually 6 to 8 years while the American is 9 to 10 years. There are some instances where they live up to 13 years, but that’s about it.

In terms of health issues, the American and European Great Dane doesn’t differ much because they have the same massive body type. I would no longer divide this section into two, and I’ll just discuss some of the most common diseases that afflict both dogs.

  • Gastric Torsion: Gastric torsion or canine bloat is the number one killer of Great Danes no matter what the bloodline. This is a common problem exhibited by big dogs which results in a twisting of the stomach and difficulty in getting enough blood supply. Some of the symptoms of this condition include an enormous belly, absence of normal digestive noises, hunched standing position, pacing, whining, dry heaving, shallow breathing, and weak pulse.
  • Cardiomyopathy: This is a genetic condition that causes the heart to enlarge. It is hard to diagnose this, so most owners only realize their dog suffers from it once they die. I strongly suggest that once you notice your dog being lethargic, coughing, having difficulty breathing, bring them to a trusted veterinarian to be tested for this disease.
  • Hypothyroidism: This is often caused by autoimmune thyroiditis which makes the dog lose its fur, scale, gain excessive weight, and be intolerant of cold. The good news is, this can be managed through medication and constant monitoring of thyroid levels through blood work.
  • Hip Dysplasia: This disease is gradual and results in the slow deterioration of your Great Dane. Much of the discomfort they are experiencing is brought about by the failure of their femur bone to fit it in their hip sockets. Treatments for this condition include exercise restriction, physical therapy, medications, weight reduction, and joint supplements.
  • Cruciate Ligament Tears: If your Great Dane becomes lame in their hind legs, there’s a big chance that they may have ruptured their CCL or cranial cruciate ligament. The common symptoms of this are limping, knee swelling, difficulty standing, and awkward posture.
  • Tricuspid Valve Disease: This is a congenital condition where the left part of your dog’s heart fails. Dogs who suffer from this disease have a distended stomach, increased heartbeat, difficulty exercising, and heart murmuring.
  • Addison’s Disease: This disease forms because the corticosteroid secretion in the adrenal gland decreases. Most middle-aged female Great Danes are affected by this health issue, but it can be treated by replacing the glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids in the body.
  • Wobbler Syndrome: Also called cervical spondylomyelopathy, this disease affects the neck and cervical spine of Great Danes. The usual symptoms of this ailment are weakness, wobbly gait, shorter strides, difficulty standing, weak front limbs, stiff neck, muscle loss near the shoulders, and paralysis that may be partial or complete.

Differences in Puppy Price

Great Dane puppies playing outdoor

There is only a slight difference in the pricing of American and European Great Danes. However,  breeders have the discretion to adjust the price of their litter depending on their credentials.

American Great Dane

American Great Danes cost between $600 to $3,000 if you buy them from a reputable breeder. Specifically, non-show puppies are around $1,500 to $3,000, while simple family companions are $600 to $1,500.

This is non-inclusive of the additional crate and flight expenses that you would have to shoulder if you purchase across your state.

European Great Dane

I have consulted several kennel facilities, and it appears that the cost of a 100% full European Great Dane is almost similar to that of the American.

It ranges from $600 to $3,500 inclusive of guarantee, health certification, kennel club registration, microchip, and shipping. Breeders usually ask for a non-refundable $500 deposit to reserve this pup.

Which Great Dane Is Right for You?

To help you decide which Great Dane variety is fit for your lifestyle, let me recap the most significant differences between the two dogs.

American Great Danes are suitable for:

  • Those who want big dogs but are intimidated by the size of the European Great Danes.
  • Those who need excellent watchdogs.
  • Those who have other animals at home.
  • Those who desire Great Danes who are more elegant looking.
  • Those who can handle active and high-strung dogs.

European Great Danes are suitable for:

  • Those who want dogs with a very imposing size.
  • Those who find dogs with drooping eyes and loose skin preferable.
  • Those who desire dogs who aren’t that friendly to strangers.
  • Those who want their dogs to be mastiff-looking.
  • Those who are fine with dogs that are major couch potatoes.

American and European Great Dane Breeders: Places to Get Your Great Dane Puppy

Here are some places where you can buy an American Great Dane:

  • AKC Marketplace: AKC Marketplace is a trusted source of Great Dane Puppies in the U.S. Hundreds of breeders post their litters on this directory including those from the AKC champion bloodline.
  • Miles Great Dane Family: Miles Great Dane Family was created in 2000 and has since connected healthy Great Danes to their new families. All of their puppies come with a minimum 30-day guarantee.
  • Great Dane Club of America: The members of the Great Dane Club of America are dedicated to following the best breeding practices of the American Danes. You can use the club’s website to find a reputable breeder, and you can also donate to them.

If you are after 100% European Great Danes, here’s where you can find one:

  • Full Euro Great Danes: Full Euro Great Danes breed dogs following the West European Standards. They believe that through this, they can produce pups who have sound health and stable temperament.
  • Beefcake Danes: Beefcake Danes use 100% European Danes in breeding their puppies. You can check out the studs they use on their website as well as the litters available.

Final Thoughts

In the case of the Great Dane, bigger doesn’t mean more aggressive and active. This is evident in the varying temperament of the American and European Danes.

Those from the American bloodline are observed to be more easygoing, while their European cousins are famous couch potatoes.

If you want a Great Dane to serve as your family companion, consider the phenotypes and temperament of these two dogs before deciding. You don’t want to rush choosing between the two because they will both occupy a big part of your house and your life.

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