The Great Dane is known to be an ancient breed. Drawings and carvings of Dane-like dogs have been found among ancient Assyrian artifacts dating back as far as several thousand years B.C. The Assyrian's were known to be traders that exported many goods. It is because of this that the Dane-like dogs started to show up in artifacts of ancient Romans and Greeks.
For instance, there is a Grecian coin in the Royal Museum which dates from the fifth century B.C. that depicts a dog that closely resembles the Great Dane of today.
Germany is considered the most influential country behind the modern Great Dane with England being next. In Germany, the Great Dane is officially known as Deutsche Dogge (German Dog) and was named their national dog in the latter half of the 19th century. The early German Danes were very massive and coarse in appearance. It was a large and powerful dog used for boar hunting and as a guard dog. It is believed that these large massive dogs were accredited to the Mastiff and the Irish Wolfhound.
While hunting boar, to protect their natural long hound-like ears, they were cropped very short to prevent injury. This short ear resembled the modern Pitt Bull ears. Today, the ear crop has grown in length and appears more graceful and balanced to the head size. Since these early Danes (Boar Hounds) were bred to hunt & protect, they were specifically bred to be very fierce and aggressive. They had a much different temperament from the "Gentle Giants" that they have become today.
The 1st Great Dane to be documented in the United States was in 1857. The 1st time that Great Danes were shown in the ring in the United States was in 1877. In 1881, they were able to participate in a notable show that was held in New York. Here, the Danes showed their aggressive temperament by fighting amongst themselves as well as other breeds. Because of this, they were barred from further showing until 7 years later, in 1888.
It is because of these aggressive genes that breeders must consistently select their breeding stock for good temperament. When visiting any breeder for a potential puppy, keep an eye on the parents, if they are both available. Make sure they are not aggressive nor timid. They should be cautious of strangers, but understand that if you are accepted by their owners to be on the property, then they should have no reason to fear you.