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Great Danes are huge dogs that, when they strike a pose, can appear majestic, regal, and dignified. But that’s not necessarily always the case, as the breed also has a reputation for being clumsy and, frankly, kind of derpy.
However, Great Danes were originally bred to hunt boar, deer, and even bears, which suggests a certain level of athleticism and coordination.
So which is it – are Great Danes clumsy or are they athletes?
Great Danes often go through a clumsy stage in the first year or two of their lives, which coincides with their phase of explosive growth from a 1-2 pound puppy to a 100-200 pound adult. Great Danes can remain clumsy into adulthood, but with proper training and exercise they can develop into strong, athletic dogs.
In this article, we’ll look at why Great Dane puppies are so clumsy, what to do if your Dane doesn’t grow out of his clumsiness stage, and when to consider seeking a vet’s opinion for your hapless Dane.
Let’s get started!
Is It Normal for Great Dane Puppies to be Clumsy?
It is normal for Great Dane puppies to be fairly clumsy. That’s because they are growing so fast that they have to relearn coordination and balance over and over again until they reach their adult size and weight. Similar to how humans sometimes go through an awkward, gangly, clumsy phase during teenage growth spurts, Great Danes face these same challenges for the majority of their growth phase, and since Great Danes are typically larger than most other breeds they’ve got a long growing phase to work through!
Additionally, Great Dane puppies often have disproportionately large paws, which can lead them to trip over their feet regularly. Eventually, Danes grow into their paws and look a bit less ridiculous.
Great Danes also often don’t realize just how big they are getting as they grow. As a result, they will commonly bump into walls, tables, people, and so forth as they have to constantly readjust their body perception.
A young Great Dane’s center of gravity is also constantly changing, which can make even basic things like walking and running temporarily challenging. It’s the same concept for young human athletes – they often have to tweak or completely relearn their technique after going through puberty.
Finally, a Dane’s bones and muscles are still developing and growing very rapidly, and that lack of muscle tone can cause some coordination issues, slow reaction times, and so forth.
While a Great Dane puppy’s clumsiness can be cute, it’s important to keep an eye on him and control situations where he could possibly get hurt. Don’t put him into overly challenging situations, take him on strenuous outings, or let playtime get too rough. While his bones and muscles are still developing they are more prone to injury, so be sure to keep exercise age-appropriate.
While puppyhood clumsiness can largely be attributed to rapid growth as we covered in the last section, there are some other potential causes.
One of the most common culprits is that Great Dane puppies can experience panosteitis, or growing pains – just like some humans do. This condition causes painful inflammation on the outer surface of the leg bones, and it can come and go seemingly at random, sometimes occurring in multiple legs at a time or moving from one leg to another.
Growing pains are more common in large dog breeds that grow rapidly, although it can affect any breed. It usually only affects Great Danes that are between 5 and 14 months old, although it can affect slightly younger or older Danes as well.
Obviously, if your Great Dane puppy is in pain, he might limp, hop on three legs, or be more prone to falls and other mishaps that might mistakenly be attributed to clumsiness. Keep a close eye on your Dane puppy and if you think he might be experiencing growing pains, take him to the vet right away. Your vet will likely prescribe rest as well as pain relief and/or anti-inflammatory medication.
Will A Great Dane Puppy Grow Out of its Clumsiness?
Most Great Danes eventually do grow out of their clumsy phase, but it can last until they are around two years old! That’s because although Danes often reach their full adult height in 12-18 months, they can continue filling out and putting on weight until they are two years old, which means their center of gravity and overall size will be changing until then.
However, while your Dane will likely eventually stop tripping over his paws, get a grasp of his size, and master his balance, that doesn’t mean that he will turn into a finely-tuned athlete overnight when he turns two years old.
Great Danes are usually under exercise restriction for the first two years of their lives, because their growing bones and muscles are prone to injury as we touched on above. The AKC recommends waiting until your Great Dane is two years old before introducing any vigorous exercise like jogging or hiking, and keeping your Dane puppy away from slippery surfaces that could cause them to slip and fall.
Gentle walks, controlled playtime with you or with a companion canine, basic agility, and swimming are all approved age-appropriate exercises for young Great Danes. These types of activities protect your Dane’s growing bones and joints while allowing him to get in the range of movements he needs to learn balance, coordination, and body awareness.
All of this to say, if your Great Dane is accustomed to doing only a few types of gentle activities for the first couple years of his life, it will likely take some time and practice for him to get used to more ‘advanced’ and demanding activities – if you suddenly ask your Great Dane to run an agility course with no prior training, he will probably look clumsy and ridiculous.
So, be sure to slowly work up to new activities in order to help your Great Dane confidently transition out of the clumsy puppy stage and develop poise and athleticism.
Clumsy Adult Great Danes
You might be thinking, “That’s all well and good, but my 5-year-old Great Dane is a huge klutz. What’s up with that?”
If you’ve done your best to slowly introduce exercises and activities that promote coordination to no avail, here are some potential reasons to consider:
Even if your Great Dane isn’t particularly clumsy, he might look klutzy compared to other smaller dogs, who are generally much more nimble and agile. For example, a herding dog like an Australian Shepherd might juke a massive Great Dane right off his feet simply because the Aussie is lower to the ground, lighter, and can turn much faster.
So, keep that in mind if your Great Dane looks a little silly while playing with other dogs. He’s got a disadvantage in that he has to move 100-200 pounds around while the rest of the dogs probably tip the scales at just a fraction of that. Plus, there’s that whole ‘the bigger they are, the harder they fall’ thing, so Great Dane fails can look extra dramatic.
Unfortunately, Great Danes are prone to some conditions that can cause excessive clumsiness, weakness, or difficulty moving around, like wobbler syndrome, hip dysplasia, vestibular syndrome, ear infections, arthritis, cardiomyopathy, and so forth.
If you notice that your Great Dane has suddenly lost coordination or seems much clumsier than usual, take him to the vet right away to identify and treat any potential health issues.
All Dogs Are Different
Finally, not all Great Danes are destined to be star athletes and individual dogs of any breed can sometimes be prone to clumsiness. And, with their goofy personalities, some Danes just enjoy doing weird, clumsy-looking things. As long as they are having fun and not hurting themselves, there’s no reason to intervene!
How To Help a Clumsy Great Dane
If your Great Dane has a serious case of klutziness but nothing medically wrong with him, you can help him practice his balance and coordination in a couple of different ways:
Teach Your Great Dane to Go Up Stairs Backwards
I know, this sounds like a tall order for a clumsy Great Dane, but it can really help him develop rear end awareness – something that doesn’t come naturally to most dogs and can greatly reduce clumsiness. Basically, a Great Dane doesn’t necessarily know where his back legs are stepping or even what they are doing, unless you train him to think about it.
Training him to go up the stairs backwards will force him to think about lifting his hind feet first, rather than just letting his hind legs follow his front ones. Here’s how to go about doing it:
Agility training is another way to help your Great Dane develop balance, coordination, and body awareness. The AKC has some helpful information about how to get started with agility training. As with any new activity, start small and easy, and conduct training sessions that are no more than 15 minutes long. If your Great Dane gets frustrated, end the session and try again another day. Training should be fun and constructive for you both, and not feel like a chore or a punishment.
Great Danes can certainly be clumsy, especially when they are puppies and their bodies and centers of gravity are constantly changing. However, it’s possible to help your Great Dane overcome some of his clumsiness through training, exercise, and practice!