Living with a Great Dane

Living with a Great Dane can be pretty difficult, even though it is also one of the most rewarding pet experiences I have ever had. Its difficulty is increased by the behavioral problems and shenanigans that come with our dog, Cara, having been adopted. After having lived with her for almost a year now, and consulting sources across the internet, talking to friends, and also discussing her behavior with doggie experts, I now feel qualified to offer a bit of advice to other pet owners who may have larger adopted animals.

I would definitely recommend finding the balance between being stern and strict in training, and being lenient and caring. Whichever approach you take should also be informed by the opinions of experts on dog behavior, but you also might have a sense of what to do through getting to know your animal companion. For example, larger and more aggressive dogs need to have more repetitive training, and almost all dogs will push the boundaries to see what you will let them get away with.

In terms of larger canines especially, it is important to establish dominance. Many people get a little concerned when they think of this idea. I know that I was definitely not on that training bandwagon. This does not mean yelling at your dog or barking orders at them (no pun intended). Instead, it means that you should simply inform your pet of what behavior you approve of, and make sure that they know their orders come from you. Most dogs are actually more comfortable following an alpha figure, rather than being alpha themselves, so they will usually become more calm and docile.

Since our dog was adopted, she has also taken a bit longer to train than our previous dogs, and needs constant reminders of what she is and is not allowed to do. Since she is so tall, her head easily reaches most tabletop and counter surfaces, and she can easily eat any food sitting out without really having to jump. This became a problem one day when we had guests over, and she ate an entire cake that someone had brought while the hugs were being exchanged. She is big, but she is graceful and has had quite a few incidents like that. She also seems to try to hide the evidence of her food theft by quickly and quietly exiting the room, usually only leaving the corner of a wrapper or a plastic lid under her dog bed.

It was pretty clear to us that she needed training after a few weeks of this. However, we definitely wanted to be gentle with her, while at the same time letting her know that she needed to listen to our cues. Her behavioral problems were so bad with her last owner (supposedly) that she could not leave the house, was on Prozac for mood to keep her under control, and she grew to hate other dogs. She does not seem to have been abused, but she certainly had an adjustment period to go through with us. Her last owner was very lax, and since she was so huge, she felt like she had the run of the house.

My advice would be to seek out experts, give your dog small rewards, and be very consistent and firm with your rules. Is the dog allowed to sit on the couch with you? Do you call for them when you want to pet them? Do they wait patiently while you eat dinner, or go down the stairs? These were things we wanted to train Cara for, especially since she was so large. The biggest contributor to our success has been repetition and consistency, and also positive reinforcement. When she is even just lying down, I tell her what a good dog she is. I think this has been much more effective than any previous negative reinforcement techniques we’ve used. Big dogs can be unwieldy, but they are also such amazing pets once you find the perfect balance.


Photo by CC NJClicks via Flickr


Written by Aaron Gormley who has adopted several dogs, knows the great benefit animals can bring to a relationship.  While always an avid animal lover, he is also currently interested in the social media site, badoo.

Filed under: All About Dogs

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