Do Great Danes Make Good Service Dogs?

November 5, 2012

By Linda Cole

When you think of service dogs, it’s the German Shepherd or Golden Retriever that comes to mind, not a huge dog like a Great Dane. However, this breed is finding a place as a service dog precisely because of their size. The Service Dog Project has been training these massive dogs to assist children and help war veterans have a better quality of life, and you can follow the development of six puppies on two different puppy cams.

The Great Dane is second only to the Irish Wolfhound when it comes to height. This working dog is from the mastiff group, and known as the “Apollo of all dogs” because evidence of the breed dates back to 36 B.C. The Great Dane is most likely a combination of the Irish Wolfhound and the old English mastiff, and was used in the early years as a war dog and hunting dog. Regardless of his name, the Great Dane is of German origin. This dog has the stamina that was needed to chase down wild boar and bear, and the strength and courage to stand up to his prey. He has also been used as an estate guard dog.

A service dog is trained to assist their owner with a specific disability. Mobility assistance dogs helps people who suffer from diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Parkinson’s Disease, Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, spinal cord disease, stroke and brain injuries, as well as other diseases or conditions that limit a person’s mobility.

The Great Dane is a perfect breed to train as a service dog because of their giant size and gentle personality. Any dog that’s used to help give balance support for their owner needs to be at least 45 percent of the person’s height and 65 percent of their weight. It takes a strong, tall dog to give confidence to someone who needs support to walk and help to regain their balance if they start to fall.

The Service Dog Project trains Great Dane dogs with the unique needs of the person in mind. The training is pretty straightforward for a walker or balance dog. They have to learn how to match the walking speed of their owner and how to stand still if their person falls and needs their assistance to use the harness on the dog to help them stand up. A dog is trained to position themselves to help keep their owner from falling, allowing their owner to lean on them for support.

Because Great Danes don’t require a lot of exercise –  just a few walks each day is all he needs – this intelligent breed is a good match for a person with limited mobility. The dogs have a short coat that doesn’t require a lot of grooming, and their large size gives someone more confidence when walking. The dogs are also trained to do specific tasks such as pick up dropped objects, pull wheelchairs, hold open doors, turn on light switches, and even work with people who need crutches to get around.

People with Parkinson’s have periods where they just stop and freeze while walking, and it can cause them to fall. It was discovered that dogs can help break the freeze just by touching the foot or ankle of the Parkinson’s patient, which allows them to move their foot and continue walking. These dogs give physical and emotional support.

The current puppies being trained by the Service Dog Project are Perry, Lola, Ebony, Mia, Willow and Roxanne. Puppy cams let you watch them playing outside on the “puppy hill,” or view them relaxing and sleeping indoors in the evenings.


In 1927, a man named Morris Frank was 20 years old when he lost his sight and his independence. He heard about an American women, Dorothy Eustis, training German Shepherd dogs in Switzerland as guide dogs for the blind, and jumped at the chance to travel to Switzerland to learn how to work with a guide dog. Frank returned to New York City with his guide dog, Buddy. He instructed Buddy to lead him across a busy New York City intersection, with stunned reporters watching. History was made as Buddy skillfully and safely guided Frank to the other side of the street.

We’ve come a long way since that historic street crossing in NYC. Today, service dogs are trained to assist people in a variety of ways. One thing the Great Dane brings to the table is its massive size. Instead of people gawking at a person who is having trouble walking, the giant dog is the one that draws the stares. However, for people who depend on their Great Dane dog for emotional and physical support, their lives have been forever changed by one of the largest dogs in the world.

Top photo by Jon Hurd
Bottom photo by Michele Meyer

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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  1. Joanne says:


    I have a spinal cord injury and this sounds like exactly the kind of dog that I’ve been looking for. I would like to start taking steps towards seeing if I could possibly get one of these dogs, how should I proceed?

  2. Pauline says:

    I am looking for a Great Dane to train for myself, I have MS. I am hoping someone would donate or sell me one at a low cost. After I train my dog as a balance/stability service dog I plan on holding a class once a week to train people with their dog to be their service dog. This would be a once a week class free of charge.

  3. TRose says:

    So would Great Danes be good for say, mental issues? I have severe anxiety, especially in crowds. When I have a panic attack, I have a tendency to collapse. So I can’t go with most of the normal psychiatric service dogs they have because I’m a pretty big person, and I would need to have a dog able to catch me and lower me to the ground until I am able to regain control over my body. Or even be able to bring me back to reality before it happens. I’m currently a recluse and can barely go shopping unless a store is basically dead.

  4. james weber says:

    I have had two brain stem strokes,which have left me 100% disabled. I love to walk in the park, but many times I am just too fearful to walk by myself. I am a large man, at 6′ foot 3″, and 250 lbs, so I would need a very large dog. Are there any organizations that will help to purchase a wonderful animal like the Great Dane?

  5. Elisa Gallo says:

    We have a 10 week old great dane that I’d like to donate to be trained as a service dog. Can you contact us please? Thank you!

    1. I would love to have a Great Dane puppy to train to personally accompany and be with me for emotional support and to use in my chaplaincy work as a volunteer hospital chaplain. I’m also a veteran, my last service was in 1991 Desert Storm. I had a Great Dane 15 years ago but she only lived 7 years.

  6. Stella says:

    I have chronic pain and nerve damage and drop foot. I trip on my drop foot sometimes and stumble or fall. How can I get more information on a great dane balance assistance service dog? How do I see if I qualify?
    Thank you.

    1. Sarajane Mai says:

      I bought 2 female Greatdanes puppies from a breeder 3 years ago . Originally just to be my pets But in the back in my mind I thought they could help my husband with a few things . My husband has no ability to smell , which is dangerous since the gas on our stove is easy to be turned on accidentally Which has happened. Also my husband has had 3 major back surgeries ( spinal cord was cut ) My husband has drop foot and also he some type of diagnosis that is causing muscle deterioration. My hubby has hearing loss also in his right ear .Also my husband has diabetes and has had 4 heart surgeries. My question is can my dogs or one of them be trained ? Or is it too late for my who has never been trained and has no boundaries?

  7. KATHY BARGER says:

    I have atypical Parkinson’s with psp ad I am falling a lot . I am currently recovering from surgery due to a Parkinson fall on my right shoulder I am left handed and before I was diagnosis with Parkinson’s I had two other surgery because of falls on my left shoulder and my nose. so I believe a Great Dane dog would be just what I need I have the rollators and the lasted u step and today I only feel save on the arm of someone or my wheelchair do u know of a place close to Acworth ga it can be Rome ga and above that or don south of Atlanta of the border of Alabama the reason I say those areas is because I have read it is many weeks before u can bring the dog home and I have to be their on a daily bases for us to train together.
    I do have other animals I have 3 inside cats and one Maltese dog and 1 outside cat that either sleeps basement or upstairs. I have a raised ranch home which means after I use by lift chair that I have now I am on one level when I get to the top of the stairs. I have tried to do everything I can but I also liked working outside COUPLE HOURS A DAY PULLING UP WEEEDS BUT IN HE LAST FOUR WEEKS OF WORKING OUTSIDE AND NOT EVEN EVERYDAY I HAVE FALLLED A LEAST 5 TIMES OUTSIDE B MYSELF and I feel if I have to give up that small task I want have anting else I enjoy as much any longer and I seat in the glider we have in the basement for hours and it would be wonderful to have a service dog with me o walk anytime I want to THANK YOU FOR ANY INFO U CAN SEND MY WAY KATHY

  8. Katie Reed says:

    I’m looking for help in obtaining a service dog for Autism (high functioning/asperger’s) for my son. I believe that it would greatly help him in family life and social situations. He doesn’t like many people around but when there are family gatherings and he goes to his room he has meltdowns because he wants someone with him. He screams in meltdowns about being so alone but yet can’t handle being in a group. We once had a smaller dog, that tried to herd him, and we had the privilege of being around a GREAT DANE one full day and though my son is afraid of many dogs, and animals he totally connected with these 2 Great Danes. I’m a single mom on limited income, does anyone know or able to help connect in how to obtain one of these for my son? THANKS for any and all helps.

  9. Khayyam Baig says:

    I had all color Great Danes and I can stand firm behind what I say of this breed that they are not chewers nor distractive as smaller breeds are. Beside having this breed which is the only of its kind a giant breed who is super handsome.

  10. Grate Dane dog is perfact sequerty in home

  11. Mary Shuey says:

    Just got a second dane. Has anyone heard of them being good on search and rescue.We have one who is 8 yrs old that we rescued several years ago..We laugh about having to buy a cough for the humans..

  12. I have 2 danes and am having another one imported which will be trained as I suffer from vasovagal syncope and pass out with out warning. It's been happening for several years now and as a busy mother of 3 I need service dog to make sure I never get mugged or anything 🙂

  13. Andrhea Case says:

    As a caregiver to an autistic child I wonder if there is a program or book anything that might help me to train a great dane to be his service animal.

  14. Marie says:

    I have (4)..Best Dogs in the World…We emotionally support one each other…Bonnie & Clyde are both Deaf and depend on me for their ears…and I depend on them for emotional support, companionship, cuddles & lots of Love & slobery kisses.

    However, Bonnie & Clyde seem to believe I am actually their Doggie Mum…and both never leave my side for even a minute, not exagerating. I get up to go to the bathroom, they follow, even if in a dead sleep! they are also cojoined at the hip…meaning they are always together.

  15. Taira Tuck says:

    I’m one who does need a Great Dane I’m blind in my right eye going blind in left and have pattella tendanitis and degineritive. Disk diese and anxiety and hypotension

  16. Marg says:

    That sounds terrific. I did not know that Great Danes were trained to do this. So many people probably need this. And they are big enough to help someone that falls down a lot.Great post.