Training a new puppy does not come with a one-size-fits-all approach — especially when dealing with a very large breed like the Great Dane.
“Great Danes are considered working dogs and are intelligent dogs,” says Russell Hartstein, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified trainer and Founder of Fun Paw Cares. “Still, all [dogs] are individuals.” Hartstein points out that with any breed, a lot of their temperament or personality will really come down to the “nature versus nurture” philosophy. And this is why a foundation of positive training is so vital.
A Great Dane is considered to be fully grown between the ages of 18 months and two years of age. At this point, your pet will graduate from puppyhood. You’ll want to be sure that your new pet is set up for a lifetime of success by introducing some basic training commands early on and instilling them throughout their lifetime.
From 8 Weeks – 16 Weeks
While most puppies will come home to families between 8-10 weeks of age, Hartstein notes that there is a sensitive period to attend to between the ages of 2 and 12 weeks, as “this is a biologically predetermined growth phase for a dog’s emotion and cognition.”
Training Goal #1: Socialization
These early days are critical for developing your Great Dane’s social skills. A puppy at this stage should be socialized and introduced to as many healthy life experiences as possible. Hartstein stresses the importance of seeking the guidance of a certified behaviorist at this time too, “The larger the dog, the more social training the owner should be ready to provide.” Your puppy won’t stay puppy-sized for long and will soon rival your own strength. That makes socialization with people and other pets while they are young that much more important.
Hartstein recommends enrolling your pet in a puppy class or training program to help them socialize with other people and pets of different breeds and sizes.
Training Goal #2: Crate Training
Crate training can be more than just a method to aid in-house training efforts. Many experts agree that a crate can be a very positive place for a pet. “A crate is a vital tool for potty training and shouldn’t be used as a negative [form of punishment],” says Hartstein. The goal should be to positively condition a dog to look forward to going into that environment. Positive reinforcement and rewarding your Great Dane puppy with treats can help encourage a positive association with their crate. Hartstein recommends leaving an interactive toy or slow feeder in the crate to help establish a dog’s positive feelings too.
Training Goal #3: Begin House Training
Patience and consistency are two big keys to house training success. The process can be time-consuming and take up to 6 months. So, while you might start training your pet now, it could be some time before they fully grasp the concept. “The biggest mistake I see pet owners make is that they give too much space too soon,” warns Hartstein. To avoid this common pitfall, Hartstein refers back to crate training and creating those positive associations with it.
From 3 Months – 9 Months
This is a fun growth phase for puppies. They are becoming more attached to their environments and may already feel a sense of ownership over their surroundings. This makes further socialization and behavior training important.
Training Goal #1: Prepare for the Canine Good Citizen Test
Hartstein stresses that training a pet is not so much a checklist of tricks to run through as it is an introduction to life skills that every dog needs in order to thrive. Further, training a pet is about training yourself too. The Canine Good Citizen Test covers skills — like reacting to a distraction, coming when called, and walking through a crowd — that you and your pet will experience in everyday life.
The methods shared throughout the Canine Good Citizen Test guide provide “proper positive training techniques, as well as tips for how to be a respectful and appropriate owner,” says Hartstein.
Training Goal #2: Leash Training
Great Danes are space-intensive and require exercise; they’re not as docile as a Greyhound for example. As a good rule of thumb, Hartstein recommends that the breed take walks at dusk and dawn. Hartstein also suggests that owners look for front-attaching harnesses that form an “H” over the dog, so that it doesn’t impact their gait, as well as a martingale or flat buckle collar for their tags. Be sure to stay away from shock or prong collars as these can create fear-induced reactions. For a Great Dane puppy, a standard 6-foot leash should offer enough length.
Hartstein warns against going on a walk with multiple pets at a time and notes that it is important that the dog is stimulated prior to their walk. Allowing time for cognitive exercise before you head out will help keep your pet calmer while walking on a leash.
Training Goal #3: Practice the Basics
The basics, including Sit, Down, Stay, Recall, Drop it, and Mat Training are all fundamental “tricks” of the trade for your pet to master. But don’t feel like you have to rush through them so that you can get to more exciting tricks. Hartstein suggests that you slowly add more difficulty to the basic commands. “Telling your pet to sit when you are ten feet away at home vs. telling them to sit when you are in Times Square is very different.”
From 9 Months – 24 Months
The title of this section should really be labeled from 9 months and beyond, because a pet’s training is never really complete. “It takes 10,000 iterations of any behavior, that’s 27 times a day per one year, for a dog to truly know something.” says Hartstein.
Training Goal #1: Reinforce the Basics
At this stage, it really becomes less about learning something new and more about perfecting the basics. “The larger the dog the more important it is for them to have the basics,” says Hartstein.
Hartstein also points out that food can be a great tool for motivation while training a large breed dog. “Interactive feeders and toys can help provide that necessary stimulation for [your Great Dane puppy] in place of a traditional bowl.” And Hartstein notes that you should feed your Great Dane a complete and balanced large breed puppy formula that has the correct ratio of calcium and phosphorus.