870 HOW GREAT IS A GREAT DANE
HOW 'GREAT' IS A GREAT DANE?
The breed of dog known in Britain as the Great Dane is, with the Irish Wolfhound, our tallest breed. The Kennel Club, in its Breed Standard or word picture, for this breed sets a minimum height for a dog over 18 months at 30 inches and a minimum weight for such a dog at 120lbs. Our Deerhound is also expected to reach this height but, understandably for a sighthound breed, weigh 20lbs less. The American KC prefers a mature Great Dane to be 32 inches at the withers. The Irish Wolfhound has to be a minimum height of 31 inches. But the Great Danes I see both at Championship Shows here and at World Dog Shows are usually over 31 inches at the withers. Is the pursuit of such size a benefit to the breed or even historically correct?
The Great Dane, as a breed type, is believed by some to have been originally brought here by the Saxons, quoting the words "He who alone there was deemed best of all, The war dog of the Danefolk, well worthy of men", in Hel-Ride of Brynhild. The breed was certainly known here in the late 18th century as the well known paintings at Tatton Hall in Cheshire indicate. Two of the breed were presented to HRH The Duchess of York in 1807, being described as Wild-Boar Hounds or Tiger-Dogs from Hesse-Cassel. It is important to note that in the early days of dog shows, e.g. the Birmingham Show of 1884, the breed was actually listed as the boarhound. Wynn in his "History of the Mastiff" of 1886 always refers to boarhounds rather than Great Danes. In 1780 the German artist Riedel portrayed the breed and described it as a Grosse Danischer Jagd Hund, or great Danish hunting dog.
In what is now Germany, names such as Saurude, Ulmer dog, Deutsche Dogge, boarhound or Great Dane eventually became standardised into one breed name: Deutsche Dogge or German Mastiff. It has been argued however that this decision was born out of the need of a reunified Germany to have a national dog, after the war of 1870, rather than any pursuit of historical accuracy. Heavy 'par force' hunting mastiffs imported into Central Europe from England were similarly known as Englische Doggen, translated from the German as English Mastiffs. It is important to note however that artists such as Tempesta, Snyders, Hondius, Hackert and Ridinger produced paintings, etchings or drawings of boar hunts featuring not just prized highly-bred hounds of the chase but also the 'catch-dogs': huge, savage, expendable, broader-mouthed, rough-haired cross-breeds. These dogs, which the French called 'matins', went in at the kill so that the valued hounds of the chase were spared injury from deadly tusks. After all who wants their favoured carefully-bred hound of the chase portrayed and then confused with more casually-bred 'catch-dogs'? Professor Gmelin, updating Linnaeus in 1792, referred to these catch-dogs as 'boar-lurchers' (canis laniarius fuillus), drawing attention to their strongly made heads.