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Great Danes are obviously very large dogs, weighing in at anywhere between 100 and 200 pounds as adults. Since they are so giant, a poorly behaved Great Dane can wreak havoc and be a real danger to humans and other dogs.
Fortunately, Danes are generally easy-going and trainable – a little discipline can go a long way towards making your Great Dane a happy, well-behaved member of society.
So, how should you discipline a Great Dane?
The best way to discipline your Great Dane is to firmly tell her no and then withhold what she craves most: your attention. On the flip side, reward her for good behavior right away. Positive reinforcement is one of the most effective training techniques!
There’s no need to use physical force, establish dominance, or be mean to your Great Dane. In this article, we’ll discuss why that is, why your Great Dane might be misbehaving to start with, and how to use gentle discipline and positive reinforcement. Let’s get started!
Dominance Isn’t Necessary For Great Dane Discipline
There has long been a misconception that to effectively discipline a big dog like a Great Dane, you must establish dominance. This concept relies on the incorrect assumption that dogs will misbehave on purpose as a way of challenging you or asserting their dominance, and you must therefore nip this in the bud by asserting your dominance once and for all over your Great Dane.
Not only is this difficult, dangerous, and unpleasant for you and your Great Dane, it’s also not effective. The dominance training idea mistakenly likens human/dog relationships to relationships within a wild wolf pack, asserting that the human should establish him- or herself as the ‘alpha.’
However, in recent years it has come to light that even wolf pack hierarchies are in fact more reliant on family structure than any type of fighting or strength-related dominance test, with the parents as the natural leaders and their pups as natural followers. So, the term ‘alpha’ is not used anymore to describe ‘leaders’ of wolf packs and therefore the whole dominance school of thought in regards to dog training has effectively been debunked.
Long story short, a Great Dane is highly unlikely to use misbehavior as a tool to establish their dominance over you, and attempting to establish dominance over your Dane will be an exercise in futility – plus neither of you will have a very good time.
Understand Why Your Great Dane is Misbehaving
Now we know that your Great Dane isn’t misbehaving to flex her dominance over you. So why is she acting out?
Honestly, she likely just doesn’t know how you want her to behave – yet!
Your Great Dane isn’t able to make the mental connection between her tearing your throw pillow to shreds after you leave for work in the morning and your annoyance when you get home several hours later. Disciplining or reprimanding her that night will have no effect on preventing her from shredding another pillow – she might even just get confused if she greeted you with good behavior and you reprimanded her.
While Great Danes are very affectionate and protective, they are unfortunately not the brightest crayons in the box, ranking only 48th in dog intelligence (although due to several multi-way ties, they are actually beat out by 87 other breeds), and the AKC only gives Danes a 3 out of 5 for trainability.
What does this mean in terms of why your Great Dane might be misbehaving? Well, according to dog intelligence expert Stanley Coren, Danes are likely to require between 25 and 40 repetitions of a new command to fully understand it, and they may only obey on the first command as infrequently as just 50% of the time.
But, with some patience, regular training, and gentle discipline, you can certainly train your Great Dane to be well-behaved by helping her understand the difference between behavior that you want and unacceptable behavior!
How To Discipline a Great Dane
Great Danes are very loving with their human family members, and as I mentioned above, they generally crave your attention above all else. This desire to be loved and included leads us to the most effective way to discipline a Great Dane…
Ignore Behavior You Don’t Like
Whenever your Great Dane engages in undesirable behavior like excessive barking, jumping, and so forth, firmly tell her “no” and then turn your back to her and do not engage or give her any attention until she stops the unwanted behavior. This technique might also involve removing a reward – such as taking away a toy if your Great Dane begins to misbehave while playing with it.
Then, once your Dane has calmed down and stopped the unwanted behavior, reward her with your attention and/or give her the toy back. For this type of discipline to be effective, you must be very consistent with ignoring bad behavior and disengaging. Otherwise, you may only further confuse your Great Dane by not giving consistent feedback.
Remember that even negative reactions will still be giving your Great Dane what she wants – your attention. So, whenever your Dane misbehaves, resist the temptation to yell or otherwise engage. Instead, prevent her from doing the action again if possible (i.e. turn your back if she jumps up on you, remove a toy, etc.) and make it clear that you are withholding your attention.
Then, give her the chance to demonstrate the correct behavior to earn a reward, which leads us to…
Use Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is the perfect counterpart to ignoring bad behavior, since it essentially involves rewarding good behavior! Great Danes love to please you, and consistently disengaging for bad behavior and rewarding good behavior will make it clear to your Dane what is expected of her.
Remember, these giant lovable goofs will probably need a few dozen repetitions before they completely have a command down, and the same thing goes for establishing acceptable versus unacceptable behaviors.
Positive reinforcement rewards can take the form of a few pieces of kibble, higher value treats, toys, verbal praise, or pets and cuddles. If you are doing frequent training sessions with your Dane and she’s highly motivated by food, be careful not to let her overindulge in treats or she might gain weight. Also, be sure to mostly use actual dog food/treats as opposed to human food like lunch meat or other tasty morsels, as too much can give your Dane an upset tummy.
Give Immediate Feedback
Great Danes, like all dogs, require immediate feedback on their behavior in order to make the connection between the action and whether they get a reward or discipline for it. Like I mentioned before, if your Great Dane demolishes a throw pillow at 11am and you come home to the mess at 5pm, it’s already far too late to discipline her.
However, if you catch her in the act of starting a pillow fight, that’s the perfect time to mete out some gentle discipline. Remove the pillow, tell her “no,” and then withhold your attention.
Since the feedback needs to be immediate to be effective, this means that you’ll need to spend a lot of time with your Great Dane to establish your behavior expectations. When you aren’t able to be with your Dane, take steps to help her succeed, such as tuckering her out before you leave, removing temptations (like shoes that are just asking to be chewed), and providing several fun diversions like treat puzzles or some of her favorite toys.
Teach the ‘Place’ Command
The ‘place’ command allows you to instruct your Great Dane on where you’d like her to go. This command is especially useful for giant breeds like Danes, who can get underfoot in a major way. By telling your Great Dane to find her place, she’ll know where to go to get out of your way, which can help prevent frustration on your end and confusion on hers. This can also be a good way to interrupt and redirect unwanted behavior. See how the ‘place’ command is used and how to teach it in this video:
Disciplining a Great Dane Puppy
Discipling a Great Dane puppy follows the same principles as disciplining an adult Dane, but on a more frequent basis. Like puppies of all breeds, Great Dane puppies have tons of energy and they haven’t yet learned how to contain their exuberance. So, expect that your Dane puppy will make mistakes, be patient, and stick with it.
Never Hit or Spank Your Puppy
Physical punishment is cruel and unnecessary, and will likely just lead to a Great Dane avoiding her owner whenever she senses a punishment is coming – which can compound exponentially because then she has failed her recall as well. This erodes the bond and trust between owner and Dane and will probably just result in a stressed, fearful dog.
Like human children, sometimes puppies just get carried away – they might get overexcited, be overtired, or become overwhelmed and all their training so far seemingly goes out the window. If this happens, give your Great Dane puppy a timeout in her crate or in the yard so she can regroup.
Conversely, if you feel yourself becoming frustrated or annoyed with your puppy, consider giving yourself a timeout by taking a quick break. Leave your puppy in a safe, secure place and go outside or into another room for a few minutes until you feel calm.
Tips For Training Good Behavior in Great Danes
Again, Great Danes want nothing more than to please their owners and bask in their attention. Help set your Dane up for success by providing effective training with these tips:
Start Training Early
It’s much easier to ‘train in’ good behavior than it is to ‘train out’ bad behavior, and the best way to accomplish this is to start training as soon as possible. Even very young Great Dane puppies can benefit from basic training and learn to understand simple commands.
Do Short But Frequent Training Sessions
Especially if you are training a Great Dane puppy (but really for Danes of all ages), keep the sessions short – no more than 15 minutes at a time. This is long enough to get some repetitions of a few different skills in but not so long that your Great Dane gets bored, frustrated, or overwhelmed.
Conduct these short training sessions as frequently as you can – remember that Great Danes may need up to 40 repetitions of a command to fully master it!
Consistency is crucial when training and disciplining your Great Dane. As I mentioned above, giving immediate, consistent feedback to your Dane’s behavior is the quickest, easiest way to achieve the results you want and build her confidence.
Socialize Your Great Dane Early and Often
Since Great Danes are so attached to their human owners and have a vigilant, protective personality, it’s extra important to socialize them with other dogs and new people regularly, starting as early in her life as possible. This will help prevent any stranger aggression and your Dane will learn how to politely make friends – a critical skill for such a large and potentially intimidating dog.
Plus, your Great Dane may even learn a thing or two from other dogs – if they see another dog execute a perfect recall on the first command, they may be more motivated to do the same. The same thing can happen if you choose to get a brainier companion dog for your Great Dane.
Finally, it’s always wise to practice skills and commands with other dogs and people (aka distractions) present. Having a perfect recall only when no one is around won’t help when you call your Dane to come to you at the end of a dog park play session.
Don’t Encourage Rough Play
Since Great Danes are so massive, it’s possible that they might accidentally hurt a smaller dog or a person by playing too roughly. While most Danes are naturally pretty easy-going and laid back, they don’t always realize their own size and strength, especially as they are growing.
So, it’s best not to encourage overly rough activities that might trigger your Dane’s guarding instinct or that could be dangerous with smaller dogs. There are tons of games and activities that are safe, fun, and won’t encourage any bad behavior, like tug-o-war, hide and seek, going swimming or hiking, or treat puzzles.
Finally, remember that while your Great Dane wants to please you, she is still in fact a dog so it would be unrealistic to expect perfection, especially if you are just getting started with training. If your Dane seems to forget everything between training sessions, keep at it – sooner or later it will click for her and then you can both celebrate her success!
How To Deal With Aggressive Behavior in Great Danes
While Great Danes aren’t generally considered an aggressive breed, they are very protective of their owners which can sometimes escalate from being on stranger danger alert to being outright aggressive towards strangers.
Great Danes have historically been used as guard dogs, so this instinct makes sense. However, it can be a real problem when you want to have friends over but your Dane isn’t having it. If you notice your Great Dane exhibiting aggressive tendencies, here’s what to do:
Identify Aggression Triggers
First, make a list of things that cause your Dane to become aggressive. There are a few different types of canine aggression, so identifying the causes will help you effectively deal with the problem behavior.
Limit Exposure to Triggers
Once you know what’s triggering your Great Dane’s aggression, limit her exposure to those things as much as possible. That way she won’t be stressed, you won’t have to worry about her reacting aggressively, and you can tackle the aggression triggers one by one to help her get over them.
Reward Your Great Dane for Passive Behavior
Finally, reintroduce one of the triggers in as controlled of an environment as possible.
Slowly walk your Great Dane towards the trigger on a leash, watching for signs of aggressive behavior. As soon as she displays it, turn her away from the trigger and walk in the other direction. When she stops acting aggressive, reward her with plenty of positive reinforcement. Repeat this process many times, slowly working your way closer to the trigger until she can remain passive through the whole exercise.
If your Dane has more than one trigger, repeat the process for each trigger.
However, Great Danes are huge animals that can easily outweigh their owners, so if at any point you feel that you won’t be able to physically restrain your Dane in the course of this training (i.e. she could potentially pull the leash right out of your hands and possibly hurt a person or another animal), don’t hesitate to call in professional help.
It’s sometimes impossible to know what your Great Dane’s life was like before she joined your family, and she may have internalized past traumas which come out as aggressive behavior. In that case, an expert trainer will likely be the best option to help her.
Great Danes are majestic dogs who make wonderful family pets and loyal companions. In the vast majority of cases, following these simple discipline and training tips will set your Dane up for success with clearly defined behavior expectations. As time goes on, you’ll likely find that you need to discipline your Great Dane less and less as she masters commands and builds her confidence!