The Great Dane traces his interaction with humans back to Egyptian culture in 3,000 B.C. and Chinese civilization in 1,100 B.C. -- both time periods when art and literature of those cultures depict the large canine as a guard dog. He's always been a large dog and accepted as a companion animal for his loyalty and sheer formidable size that makes him a natural protector of his human companions.
He's appropriately called the gentle giant. The American Kennel Club describes the Great Dane as having a gentle and loving disposition. Yet it is his size that makes him the largest dog. Males average 35 inches in height and weigh 130 to 180 pounds. Females average 31 to 33 inches in height and weigh 100 to 150 pounds.
At 7 feet, 4 inches, he towers over his human companions when he stands upright on his hind legs. Yet it isn't that measurement alone that earned Zeus, a dark-colored Great Dane from Michigan, a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records in September 2012. His length is 44 inches from his paw to withers, which is the point between the shoulder blades at which the official height of a four-legged mammal is judged. He weighs 155 pounds. The Telegraph Online, which regularly covers world records, reports that Zeus eats an entire 30-pound bag of dog food each day.
Before Zeus, there was Giant George. He's a dark-colored Great Dane hailing from Arizona. He was declared the world's largest dog by Guinness in February 2010 with his length measurement of 43 inches. His human companions, Dave and Christie Nasser, quickly parlayed George's size and timid demeanor in to a book tour that took them across the United States and included numerous television appearances discussing what it is like to live with a dog who weighs 245 pounds.
While Great Danes such as Zeus and George have held the title of world's largest dog in recent years, authorities on world records believe an English Mastiff named Zorba was the largest dog ever. Zorba took the title of the heaviest dog in the Guinness records in 1987 with a weight of 314.5 pounds. Another title -- world's longest dog -- came two years later in 1989 when Zorba measured 37 inches from paw to withers and 8 feet, 3 inches from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. He no longer is the record holder for either title, because Guinness record holders must be alive. Zorba died just a few years after earning his titles, according to PetPlace.com.
- Death and Taxes Magazine: Zeus Overtakes Giant George as 'World's Largest Dog'
- Giant George: World's Biggest Dog
- Find the Best: Dog Breeds: What Is the Biggest Dog Breed?
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- The Telegraph: By Zeus! 7'4 Dog Declared World's Tallest
- PetPlace.com: The World's Smallest Pooches
- Animal Planet: Great Dane Guide
- American Kennel Club: Get to Know the Great Dane
- Siri Stafford/Photodisc/Getty Images