by   David Hancock

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?

 Saxon Hound

 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.

National 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.

Hunting Role
From the above, it can be concluded that the boarhounds bayed the boar but did not close with it - that was the task of the catch-dogs or seizers, many of whom died in the hunt, the boar being a fearsome adversary. Quite a number of French packs of hounds still hunt the boar, but their hounds are all around 24-26 inches at the shoulder; this has been decided by function not their national kennel club. To hunt the boar a hound has to be agile - or it dies! Far too many of the show Great Danes are not exactly nimble on their feet, being bred for size ahead of any 'fitness for function' criterion. For a French boarhound to be preferred at six inches lower at the withers than a German one comes directly from field experience, not from any desire to seek great height purely for aesthetic reasons. Apart from seeking a dog too large for the task, what is being overlooked by show breeders is that the German boarhound (of the hunt) was never that huge. The added stature came from their use as 'Parade Dogs' or mascots by German regiments, rather as the Irish Wolfhound leads parades of the Irish Guards. These Parade Dogs had to impress in size and so were crossed with the Suliot Hounds, used by the Ottomans as outpost sentries in war. These Suliot Hounds came from the Suli Mountains of Epirus in Greece, where the Molossii were based, making them the contemporary form of the ancient Molossian Dog. This added height from the Parade Dogs found favour when the German boarhound found its way to the early show rings, those of England especially.

Faulty Classification
 The Great Danes of the show ring are not classified as hounds and placed in the Hound Group. They are regarded as working dogs, perhaps as guard-dogs only, and for a century not bred to be hounds of the chase, which they are. Great size in the boarhound would have been a lethal requirement; immense agility was the first priority. The earliest show dogs in this breed, as exhibited on the Continent, were never that huge; before the parade dog type was cast across the whole breed, the hound look and size prevailed. Now the kennel clubs of the world demand a giant dog ahead of an historic hound and that brings health challenges to this noble breed. This breed would benefit from a return to historically-accurate boarhound conformation and being bred for function - not glamour.