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Great Danes are exceptionally large and powerful, but their sedate natures and love of sleeping and cuddling often result in the misconception that they are lazy or particularly low-energy dogs. However, this isn’t necessarily true.
So, are Great Danes lazy? Great Danes have lower exercise requirements than many other breeds and they certainly enjoy a good couch snooze, but they are in fact strong working dogs who thrive with regular exercise and physical activity. However, it’s best to limit rigorous exercise for Great Danes under two years old and for all Danes around meal time.
In this article, we’ll discuss what Great Danes’ energy levels are like, why it’s important to limit exercise in some circumstances, and how to motivate a couch-potato Dane into being more active.
Let’s dive in!
What Are Great Danes’ Energy Levels Like?
The American Kennel Club gives Great Danes a 4 out 5 on the high-energy scale, countering the assertion that all Great Danes are lazy. This may be a skosh on the optimistic side, but Danes were initially bred as hunting dogs so they do have a decent amount of stamina.
If you are used to the boundless energy level of a terrier, retriever, or herding dog, a Great Dane will likely seem extremely relaxed and content with less exercise. However, Danes are generally happy to accompany you on a couple of brisk walks each day, play in the yard, or gallop around the dog park with some canine friends.
Why Are Great Danes Lower-Energy Than Other Dogs?
One possible reason that Great Danes have lower energy levels than other dogs is that it’s actually not safe for them to vigorously exercise before they reach two years of age. That’s because their bones and joints are still developing, and too much exercise can cause lasting joint damage.
This issue is specific to Great Danes and other giant breeds who undergo an explosive growth period – Danes are often born weighing only 1-2 pounds and can tip the scales at up to 140 pounds by the time they are a year old. That’s some serious growth!
So, since Great Danes are generally placed under exercise restriction for the first two years of their lives, it can become ingrained and lead to adult Danes who just aren’t accustomed to getting much exercise. Fortunately, you can help your Great Dane learn to embrace and enjoy exercise as an adult dog, as we’ll cover later in this article.
Additionally, since Great Danes were initially bred as hunting dogs, they likely learned to relax when they had the chance – hunts could be long and demanding, so it’s possible that Danes learned to take advantage of any and all downtime by lounging around.
Many Great Dane owners also train their Danes to behave calmly indoors, for everyone’s safety and sanity. A 5-pound Chihuahua who is bouncing off the walls is unlikely to inflict any real damage, but an excited Dane can be like a bull in a china shop, so sedateness indoors is usually trained and encouraged, perhaps furthering the impression that they are lazy or low-energy dogs.
And finally, since Danes are so enormous, every action requires more energy than it would from a smaller dog. Just think about jumping up onto the couch, for example – a Great Dane has to launch anywhere from 100 to 200 pounds off the ground while small or medium dogs only have to move maybe a quarter of that weight range.
As a result, many Great Danes will reserve their bursts of energy for going on walks and other adventures rather than needlessly burning energy around the clock.
Essentially, all of these factors mean that Great Danes are a bit like Olympic weightlifters – they are giant, strong, and exert a lot of energy in short bursts – whereas terriers and retrievers are more like cross country runners, exerting more constant energy over long periods of time.
How To Encourage a Great Dane to be Active
If you’ve got a major couch potato on your hands, don’t worry, you can still help your Great Dane learn to love exercising. The biggest key here is to make it feel like a fun adventure rather than plain old exercise – incidentally, the same way to get me to exercise. Here are some tips for getting started and some ideas for fun exercise:
Just like humans, Great Danes need to ease into a new exercise routine or they risk injury or exhaustion. If you want to introduce a new activity, start with just a few minutes at a time, keep the intensity low, and watch your Dane for signs that he is struggling or no longer enjoying himself.
Be Mindful of the Temperature
Always be aware of the temperature and weather conditions before you embark on an outdoor adventure with your Great Dane. A Dane is much more likely to enjoy an outing if the weather is pleasant and the temperature is neither too hot nor too cold.
If it’s too hot and sunny, your Great Dane can be susceptible to burning his paws on hot pavement, getting sunburned, getting dehydrated, or suffering from heat exhaustion. Conversely, very cold weather can cause hypothermia.
As a general rule, if the weather seems comfortable to you, it will likely be comfortable for your Dane.
Set Up an Agility Course
Great Danes are actually fairly athletic, so an agility course is a great way to get them excited about exercising. It combines problem-solving skills and persistence with physical elements like balance and speed.
As this Great Dane expert points out, a truly lazy dog would likely have no interest in even attempting an agility course while Great Danes will often engage:
Many dog parks include agility courses now, but you can also get started at home with some DIY agility events.
Great Danes aren’t necessarily natural swimmers, but they can definitely learn to love the water and swimming is a great form of low-impact exercise. Start with some shallow, calm water to help your Dane get acclimated and work up to bigger bodies of water from there. Consider getting your Great Dane a life jacket to help him learn to swim and to keep him safe around water.
Swimming is an excellent way to help your Great Dane stay cool on hot days, and still get some exercise in without risking overheating. It’s also an approved joint-friendly activity for young Great Danes! Just be sure to keep an eye on your Dane to be sure he doesn’t get too cold in the water – Danes have short, single-layer coats that don’t provide much insulation.
Train Your Great Dane to Pull
With the invention of guns, Great Danes were no longer really necessary for hunting, so the breed was repurposed as home guardians and cart haulers. With proper training and conditioning, a Great Dane can pull thousands of pounds on a wheeled cart. You can even train your Dane to pull you in the cart! He gets exercise, you get a free ride, and together you’ll create quite the spectacle for your neighbors. Some Danes who don’t really get excited about basic walks may show enthusiasm about walking while pulling something since they feel like they have a job to do.
Invest in Some Irresistible Toys
Many Great Danes enjoy playing fetch, so investing in some fetch toys is a wonderful way to encourage them to exercise under the guise of playing. Plus, they’ll love spending quality playtime with you!
Get Your Great Dane a Companion Dog
Finally, getting a companion dog for your Great Dane can help motivate him to be more active – especially if you choose a higher-energy companion dog. The two dogs can entertain each other, romp around in the yard together, and generally be exercise buddies.
Training a Great Dane to be Calm in Your Home
While you want to encourage your Great Dane to be active and healthy, you also don’t want him running wild inside your home. Here are some tips to help train your Great Dane to be calm indoors:
Provide Plenty of Outdoor Exercise
Naturally, your Dane will need some outlet for his energy, so be sure to provide an appropriate one by taking him outside regularly for walks or any of the above fun adventures. When your Great Dane is tired out from all the outdoor activity, he is more likely to catch up on his sleep and relaxation inside and generally behave calmly.
Encourage Lowkey Indoor Activities
Obviously, you’ll want to avoid purposely hyping up your Great Dane with rambunctious indoor games and activities. Instead, opt for more sedate activities like chew toys, food puzzles, and so forth. If your Dane doesn’t enjoy toys, check out these 6 ways to entertain him.
You can also create a routine for your Great Dane where he knows that after he gets some outdoor fun-time, he will be expected to settle down inside with a treat toy or some other calm activity.
Great Danes aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, so teaching self-control can require some patience on both your parts. However, by beginning training as early as possible, you can instill a solid sense of self-control in your Dane.
Start by teaching your Dane to sit for treats. In this exercise, you’ll ask your Dane to sit and then give him small treats or pieces of kibble periodically for as long as he stays seated and engaged. If he stands up, walks away, or otherwise gets distracted, he doesn’t get any more treats. This will encourage him to control his impulses and remain focused for increasingly long periods of time, and it’s a precursor to teaching the very useful ‘stay’ command.
‘Drop it’ is another excellent command to teach your Great Dane as early as possible, and it’s another way for him to practice self-control. If you want your Dane to release something, just offer him something better than whatever he has in his mouth, that’s appropriate for him to be chewing on. Your Dane will eventually learn that you always magically have something better than what he currently has, and will be able to control his impulse to chew, on your command.
Exercises like these can be used as a way to redirect excessive indoor energy. If your Dane seems like he’s getting amped up, simply get him focused on a self-control exercise as an outlet for his energy.
Lead By Example
Great Danes, like most dogs, will pick up on your energy and often match it – they’ll read the room, so to say. If you are being energetic, upbeat, and active, your Dane probably will be too. However, if you demonstrate a relaxed, controlled demeanor inside your home, your Great Dane likely will as well. Make it clear that the indoors are a place to be calm and the outdoors are a place to play, run, and get the zoomies out.
Managing a Great Dane Puppy’s Energy
Somewhat frustratingly, the period of Great Danes’ lives when they have the most natural energy is unfortunately the same period when they need to go easy on the exercise: the first two years of their lives. This doesn’t mean that young Great Danes can’t do any exercise however – they should still get at least a couple of gentle, short-distance walks and some quality playtime each day.
More strenuous exercise like hiking and running should be reserved for older Danes, and even then it’s wise to keep an eye on your Dane throughout the adventure to ensure that he’s not getting overtired, showing any signs of joint pain, etc. Additionally, strenuous exercise should be discouraged for Great Danes of all ages around mealtimes, as it may increase the likelihood of life-threatening bloat.
Since tons of physical exercise isn’t the best option for wearing out a Great Dane puppy, you may wish to turn to mental stimulation. Thinking hard and problem-solving can tucker out your young Dane almost as well as a long romp at the dog park! A treat toy can keep your Great Dane puppy’s attention for a long time and provide a fun diversion without encouraging too much exercise.
Training sessions are also great mental stimulation and it’s always a good idea to start training your Dane as early and often as possible. Start with sessions no longer than 15 minutes and use plenty of positive reinforcement to keep things fun and exciting for your Dane puppy. Training will not only tire him out, but it’ll also result in a polite, well-trained doggo!
Closing Thoughts: Great Danes Are Calm, Not Necessarily Lazy!
Although Great Danes have been known to sleep up to 18 hours a day (especially if it means getting some cuddle time in), that doesn’t mean they are lazy. They are simply reserving their energy for when you are ready to go on adventures. Historically, Danes have been bred for calm temperaments and even-keeled personalities to support their duties as hunting dogs, guard dogs, and cart pullers.
By giving your Great Dane a task or making exercise feel like fun, you can motivate a couch potato Dane into an active, energetic dog!