Great Danes are some of the most majestic and easily recognizable dogs in the world, with their distinctive enormous stature. They are often kept as home guardians, although they also make great family dogs and are generally patient with children.
In fact, Great Danes are very sociable dogs, and can often benefit from having other canines in the household. A companion dog can help provide a Great Dane with a willing playmate, cuddle-buddy, supportive friend, and all-around partner in crime.
While Great Danes can get along with most breeds with the proper training and introduction, there are certain breed pairings that generally work better than others.
So, what are the best companion dogs for Great Danes?
The best companion dogs for Great Danes are generally breeds that can keep up with a Dane in terms of playfulness and energy level – and those that are physically big enough to do so! Relatively large breeds like Retrievers, Labradors, Setters, Pointers, Weimaraners, and so forth often do well with Great Danes.
However, that’s not to say that your Great Dane can’t get along just fine with another breed that we haven’t mentioned. It essentially always comes down to the temperament of the two dogs, their training, and the method of introduction.
In this article, we’ll look at some traits common in Great Danes to help you select a compatible companion dog and we’ll cover some suggested companion breeds in more detail as well as share tips for how to ensure the successful integration of a new canine family member!
Great Dane Breed Traits
Let’s first highlight some of the common traits of Great Danes in order to fully understand their personalities before we try to identify the perfect match.
Despite their enormous size and (mostly) regal bearing, Great Danes are extremely affectionate, earning a 5 out of 5 ranking on the AKC’s lovey-dovey scale. They crave your attention and as most Great Dane owners know, they will regularly attempt to insert their 150-pound selves onto your lap, sit on your feet, or lean their full weight against your legs.
As you can imagine, this tendency can be potentially painful for adults and even dangerous for small children. Many Great Danes simply don’t realize their own size and weight – they don’t mean to inflict pain, they just want to snuggle!
Since Great Danes love their humans so much, they are also very vigilant and protective – earning another 5 out of 5 from the AKC. This is ideal from a home protection standpoint, but not always so ideal when it comes to a Great Dane making friends – they can sometimes display situational aggression to people and dogs that they don’t know.
They were originally bred to be guard dogs, so this instinct makes perfect sense. Fortunately, though, they were specifically bred to simply look intimidating and to alert the property owner of an intruder with their authoritative and potentially fearsome bark rather than to actually attack, so true aggression is typically rare.
Plus, with proper training and preparation, Great Danes can be excellent socializers with unknown humans and dogs alike.
Great Danes are also quite adaptable, which means that although they might initially be hesitant about strangers, they can certainly overcome their momentary discomfort and thrive in new situations. They don’t need a strict routine, and in fact they enjoy novelty and a hefty amount of mental stimulation.
While it can be exhausting to try to keep a Great Dane entertained on your own (especially if you have to work), a companion dog can provide nearly endless mental and physical exercise.
While many people think that Great Danes are giant couch potatoes, they are actually quite athletic and require a good amount of exercise. A companion dog can also be a great outlet for a Dane’s energy – the two dogs can wear each other out and keep each other entertained.
Finally, Great Danes are very playful! I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a Great Dane frolicking, but the flapping chops and sometimes less-than-coordinated gallop can render even the most majestic Dane a little bit (or a lot) derpy. They also tend to love wrestling and roughhousing, which makes sense – if I was guaranteed to be the biggest dog at the dog park, I probably would too!
Unfortunately, this can sometimes cause injury to smaller dogs who might bite off more than they can chew by challenging a Great Dane to three rounds. It’s not that a Great Dane is being vicious – again, he often just doesn’t recognize his own size and strength and may accidentally squash a smaller dog.
Characteristics to Look For in a Companion Dog for a Great Dane
Now that we’ve explored Great Dane traits, let’s look at some specific characteristics that make for a good companion dog for these gentle giants.
As we mentioned above, Great Danes can certainly get along with breeds of all sizes – as long as the proper care is taken to introduce them correctly and supervise their play so things don’t get out of hand. However, as a general rule, a companion dog for a Great Dane will need to be sufficiently large that she can handle her own during play time and physically keep up with the long strides of a Dane.
For reference, a Great Dane can stand between about 28 and 32 inches at the shoulder and weigh 110 to 175 pounds or more. When they get up on their hind legs, Great Danes can be over 6 feet tall!
A dog that prefers slumbering on the couch as opposed to playing or romping likely won’t be a great companion dog for an energetic Great Dane. It’s important to look for a dog that has a similar energy level so that the pair is evenly matched – you don’t want to have to do a 20-minute walk with one dog and then take the other out again for an extra 40 minutes.
Plus, one of the main points of having a companion dog is so the two can wear each other out, reducing the chances that they’ll find mischief to get into. If the companion dog never wants to run around or burn energy, your Dane may be left frustrated and bored – and that can be a recipe for an extra-large disaster.
The same thing goes for the level of playfulness. An ideal companion dog for a Great Dane will have about the same play needs. Again, the goal is for the two dogs to entertain each other – playing together, wrestling together, and maybe even snuggling together at the end of the day.
Since Great Danes are so affectionate and loyal to their humans, it can be hard for them to share attention. As such, it’s best to select a companion dog that can handle a Great Dane’s potentially prima-donna nature.
This will mostly come down to the individual dog, as some Great Danes are perfectly capable of sharing attention and others don’t do well with a dog that will “compete” for attention.
We looked for similar traits in Boxers who also love to be the center of attention!
Obedience and Intelligence
Great Danes have many amazing qualities, but intelligence sadly isn’t one of them. Dog intelligence expert Stanley Coren ranked Danes 48th of all dog breeds based on intelligence – but there are many multiway ties so in fact, Great Danes are outsmarted by 87 other breeds. Giant noggins do not equal high IQs, in their case.
Coren placed Great Danes in the “Average Working/Obedience Intelligence” category, noting that they generally need 25 to 40 repetitions of new commands in order to understand, and they have a rather abysmal rate of following commands on the first try – just 50%.
All of this to say, when choosing a companion dog for your Great Dane, selecting a brainier dog who is likely to follow commands on the first try may increase good behavior in your Dane. For example, if you ask both dogs to come and the companion dog immediately heads your way, your Great Dane may just follow along.
It’s often best for your Great Dane’s companion dog to be the opposite gender, especially if your Dane has possessive tendencies. This can reduce the need for competition between the dogs and keep the pair from getting too rough with each other.
Male dogs in general are more likely to be dominant or display aggressive tendencies, while females are usually easier to please and more affectionate. As such, it’s best to have one of each gender in a pair to avoid unnecessary conflict.
What Are The Best Companion Dogs For A Great Dane?
Now that we know what characteristics to look for in a Great Dane companion dog, let’s look at some specific breeds that usually do well in the role.
1. Labrador Retriever
Labs are the quintessential happy-go-lucky dogs. They are energetic, playful, and get along with almost any other dog. They are also big enough to keep up with a Great Dane and hold their own in a wrestling match. Labradors can weigh up to around 80 pounds, which is certainly lighter than a Great Dane, but they are rough-and-tumble sporting dogs with similar personalities and an easygoing nature.
Labs have earned the #1 most popular breed spot in the U.S. and have held the title since 1991. Obviously, they didn’t win this title for no reason – they are very good with people and with other dogs.
Labs are also ranked the 7th most intelligent among dog breeds, which as we outlined above, may rub off on your Great Dane. Labs were named to the elite “brightest dogs” category, often understanding new commands with 5 or fewer repetitions and obeying commands on the first try at least 95% of the time.
When faced with your commands AND a star student Lab who always does the right thing, your Great Dane may find it harder to feign ignorance to your wishes. Labs are also equally silly as Great Danes, and have a similar penchant for derpy-ness.
2. Golden Retriever
Golden Retrievers actually beat out Labrador Retrievers on the intelligence scale, coming in 4th overall. Goldens are generally a bit smaller and lighter than Labs, with a more slender and graceful appearance and a longer coat. They are also among the most popular breeds in the U.S., ranking 4th in 2020.
Golden Retrievers have goofy personalities, obedient natures, and easygoing temperaments, which make them excellent companion dogs for Great Danes – or any dog really. They can help balance a Great Dane’s slowness to obey with their chipper obedience.
3. Irish Setter
Irish Setters are great with other dogs, earning a 5 out of 5 in the category from the AKC. They are quite tall, reaching up to about 27 inches at the shoulder – just a few inches shy of the Great Dane. While they are much lighter than Danes at just 60 to 70 pounds, they are very fast and rugged, making them excellent playmates and companions for the gentle giants.
Irish Setters are sweet-tempered, eager to please, and obedient, ranking in the “above average working dogs” category as per Stanley Coren. They enjoy making friends, which can be the perfect counterpoint to a more reserved Great Dane who may be suspicious of strangers. Irish Setters can be rambunctious during playtime, and their impressive stamina is enough to keep up with even the most determined Great Dane.
4. German Shorthaired Pointer
German Shorthaired Pointers are renowned for their power, agility, and endurance – they are always up for physical activity! While a Great Dane could easily have 100 pounds on a GSP, the German Shorthaired Pointer makes up for her smaller size with exceptional speed and boundless energy.
Like Great Danes, they are high-energy, playful, and do best when they have a job or activity to do. German Shorthaired Pointers came in at #17 on the dog intelligence scale, meaning they too can assert a positive obedient influence on a Great Dane (not to be confused with the plain ol’ Pointer, who tied for #43, barely above the Dane).
5. English Springer Spaniel
English Springer Spaniels are fairly small, measuring about 20 inches at the shoulder and weighing only about 50 pounds. However, they are quite rugged and muscular. They are easy to train and love the companionship of people and other dogs. These Spaniels are very polite, which can help nudge a Great Dane to be polite as well. They also rank highly on the intelligence scale, earning 13th place.
6. Border Collie
Border Collies are generally considered to be the smartest dogs around, and although they are significantly smaller than Great Danes, they can still make wonderful companion dogs. They are incredibly playful and high-energy, as well as exceptionally eager to please and adaptable to new situations.
They usually weigh between 30 and 55 pounds, so play with a Great Dane should be supervised to ensure no accidental squashing occurs.
Weimaraners are one of the most energetic breeds on the planet, with seemingly endless reserves of energy. They will play non-stop and thrive when they have a task or activity to do. Entertaining a Great Dane is a perfect task!
Weimaraners are substantial dogs, weighing up to 90 pounds and measuring up to 27 inches at the shoulder. Originally bred as hunting dogs, Weimaraners are highly intelligent. However, they may even have more energy than a Great Dane, requiring additional exercise after the Dane is tuckered out.
8. Belgian Malinois
Belgian Malinois are fairly large dogs who were initially bred for herding. They excel at agility and obedience events, making them an excellent counterpart to a sometimes bumbling Great Dane. Belgian Malinois are also less lovey-dovey than most other dogs on this list, meaning they can pair well with a Great Dane who does not like to share human attention.
9. Other Great Danes
Finally, other Great Danes are often a good bet as companions. There’s no breed that can match the unique temperament and personality of a Great Dane like another Dane! A male/female pair usually works best, but it can work to have two female Great Danes, if you have one adult female and then later introduce a female puppy. Two male Great Danes in one household can be difficult to handle and we only advise this scenario if you are very experienced at handling giant dogs.
Getting a second Great Dane can go either way though – it might simply double all the good qualities in your Dane, or it might compound the not-so-ideal qualities such as not obeying commands on the first try. One Great Dane insisting on doing his own thing can be hectic, but two running rampant…well, that’s going to be chaos!
Of course, with proper training and regular positive reinforcement, a pair of Great Danes can make excellent, well-behaved pets.
What About Great Danes and Small Dogs?
Although we mentioned earlier that it works best to have a companion dog of similar size to a Great Dane, it’s certainly possible for a Dane to bond with a smaller dog. However, care must be taken to prevent the Great Dane from accidentally injuring a smaller dog. Many times, a Dane will be very gentle with a small dog/puppy, as if they know they need to be careful around such a tiny creature.
However, young Great Danes especially may be too exuberant to realize this or simply get too carried away and forget their size and strength.
That being said, a Great Dane interacting with a teeny puppy is almost painfully adorable…
How To Help a Great Dane Get Along With Other Dogs
There are several steps you can take to set your Great Dane up for success when it comes to meeting new dogs, making friends, and accepting a companion dog into the home.
Socialize Your Great Dane Early and Often
Just like for human children, polite social interaction is a learned behavior. Start teaching your Great Dane when he’s very young to accept new people, dogs, situations, places, sounds, sensations, etc. This will help him grow into a calm, polite adult who isn’t phased by meeting a new dog or the addition of a new dog to his household.
Start With Solid Obedience Training
It’s important for all dogs to have a solid foundation of obedience training. However, since Great Danes can weigh up to 175 pounds, it’s absolutely essential that he has basic commands down pat since he can easily physically overpower a good majority of people.
Obedience training is critical for everyday life, but it’s also an excellent framework for meeting new dogs and people. Knowing that your Great Dane will sit or come when you tell him to makes potentially unpredictable scenarios much more manageable for both of you.
Have the First Meeting With a New Dog in a Neutral Space
It’s always wise to conduct first meetings between your Great Dane and a new dog in a neutral space, where neither dog will feel the need to protect their territory. Parks are a great option – especially parks that aren’t super busy so the dogs won’t get overstimulated and they can focus on calmly meeting each other.
If your Great Dane shows any signs of stress, aggression, or anxiety, lead him away from the other dog and take a break until he’s calmed down. Continue the introduction in small increments until both dogs are happy and comfortable.
Once the dogs have met successfully in a neutral space, it’s time to introduce them again at home. Follow the same guidelines as the neutral meeting – repeat the process in the yard and again inside the house.
Supervise and Use Leashes
Initial meetings should always take place on-leash until you are confident the dogs are getting along well. Never leave two unfamiliar dogs together unsupervised. Ease the meeting process by ensuring that both dogs have plenty of food, water, toys, and attention so they don’t feel the need to compete with each other. This can be a delicate balance, especially if your Great Dane is used to being the sole recipient of your attention.
If the dogs aren’t going to get along, they will likely make that obvious in the first few days. If they can peacefully coexist for a week, you’ve likely got a good match and can start leaving them unsupervised in increments.
For example, first leave them alone together for a short time where you can see or hear them but they can’t see or hear you – like dogs in the yard and you inside watching through the window. If that’s successful, leave the house altogether for a few minutes and work your way up from there until you can confidently leave them together for any duration.
Remember Every Great Dane is Different
Of course, every Great Dane is different, with a unique personality and his own quirks. All the breed information we’ve covered so far is generalized, and is by no means exhaustive or applicable to every member of each breed.
You know your Great Dane best and can assess which traits and qualities are most important in a companion dog. Don’t force a relationship, and remember that your Dane is ultimately the one who will decide if a companion dog is right for him.
While of course we all love and dote upon our Great Danes, there’s something special about a dog’s relationship with another dog that we just can’t replicate or replace. Set a Great Dane up for a successful companion dog relationship with early socialization, proper obedience training, and careful selection of the new dog. Then enjoy watching them entertain each other for hours on end!