276 Great Dane- Hound or What

by   David Hancock

 The Hound Group, as recognised by the English Kennel Club, contains a distinguished and wide-ranging collection of breeds of dog. The scenthounds are particularly well represented, from the solemn Bloodhound to the spirited Beagle, with more foreign breeds like the Basset Fauve de Bretagne, the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen and the Hamiltonstovare, entering the list with each decade. The sighthounds also feature strongly, from the sheiks' Saluki to the miners' Whippet. The Group even embraces a breed which works to the gun: the Finnish Spitz, and a breed better grouped with the terriers, the Dachshund. It includes wolfhounds but strangely no boarhounds. There is therefore one popular breed omitted from this Group, that of the Great Dane, once a renowned hound of the chase, used on all 'big game'. The FCI places the Great Dane in its Group 2, presumably as a Molossian dog, whereas it should be in Group 6, Scent hounds and Related Breeds, even as one of the two forms of Molossian dog. The Great Dane was a 'par force' hound.

 Theo Marples FZS, editor of 'Our Dogs' in the 1920s, comments on this omission in his book 'Show Dogs', stating: "The two breeds (i.e. The Great Dane as a boarhound and the Borzoi as a wolfhound) are exactly on all fours with each other in their sporting use and English relationship, which makes it difficult to understand by what line of logic the Kennel Club has thus differentiated between them on its register." Three quarters of a century later this 'registration logic' is even harder to understand or support. Now accepted by the FCI as a German breed, its emergence as a pedigree breed was in no small way due to  English Victorian fanciers of the breed, who formed The Great Dane Club several years before a comparable breed club had been formed in Germany.

 But what do the more authoritative writers say on this subject? The esteemed 'Stonehenge' in his 'The Dog' of 1867 writes, on the subject of The Boarhound: "This is the Great Dane, and is used for boar-hunting in Germany and for hunting the elk in Denmark and Norway." Drury, in his 'The Twentieth Century Dog' of 1904 refers to "the great Dane, or boarhound, as it is also called." Dalziel, in his 'British Dogs' of 1881, stated that: "...the Saxons brought with them their Great Danes, and hunted boar with them in English forests and fens." 

 The Rev.M.B.Wynn, in his 'the History of the Mastiff' of 1886, writes that: "...readers and translators should be very guarded how they render molossus as a mastiff, for the true molossian was an erect-eared (altas aure) slate coloured (glauci) or fawn (fulvus) swift footed...dog, identical or almost so, with the modern Suliot boarhound." This is a significant statement coming from such a mastiff devotee. Hamilton-Smith, writing at the end of the last century stated that Great Danes were most likely the true Molossian hound of antiquity. Interestingly, he also states that Caelius and others refer to a race of blue or slate-coloured Molossi (Glauci Molossi). The strangely under-rated American writer, James Watson, in his masterly "The Dog Book" of 1906, writes on the Great Dane: "As to the origin of the dog there is not the slightest doubt whatever that it is the true descendant of the Molossian dog."

 I support that; the ancient Greeks always referred to the mastifflike dogs as 'Indian' dogs coming from the east, linking them with Hyrcania up near the Caspian Sea. The Molossian dog took two forms, a flock guardian, rather like today's Maremma or the Kuvasz, and a huge hound. The latter emerged again at the end of the last century in the form of the Suliot Dog, named after the Suli area of what was Molossia, imported into Central Europe and sometimes seen as the mascots  of famous regiments. Lord Truro had one; most admirers called it a boarhound. In his 'Dogs and their Ways' of 1863, the Rev. Charles Williams relates that: "Colonel Smith saw one at Brussels, marching at the head of the Regiment of Clairfait, and another at that of Bender, both little inferior to Shetland ponies."

 Rawdon Lee included the Great Dane in his 'Modern Dogs, Sporting Division: Vol 1' of 1897, stating : "...that he was used for these purposes (i.e. to hunt the wild boar and chase the deer) long before he came to be a house dog there is no manner of doubt...This is the reason I place him in the Group of Sporting Dogs." The first official record of a Great Dane at the Kennel Club was in the KC stud book of 1878, Marko no.7893, described as an Ulmer Dog. A second Marko, registered in 1879 was actually described as a 'Royal German hunting hound'! No doubts about a hound ancestry there.

 Hounds which hunted boar were often killed in the hunt and boar hunting in Central Europe down the ages was massively conducted. In 802AD Charlemagne hunted wild boar in the Ardennes, aurochs in the Hercynian Forest and later had his trousers and boots torn to pieces by a bison; all three quarry were formidable adversaries and were hunted by the same huge hounds. The sheer scale of hunting is illustrated by these 'bags': in 1656, 44 stags and 250 wild boar were killed on Dresden Heath; in 1730 in Moritzburg, 221 antlered stags and 614 wild boar were killed and in Bebenhausen in 1812, wild boar were pursued by 350 'strong hounds', clad in armour like knights of old.

 Between 1611 and 1680, gamebooks reveal that around 40,000 wild boar, sows and young boars were killed in Saxony. In 1737, King Augustus II himself killed more that 400 wild boar in the course of a single hunt in Saxony. His son, John George II, killed over 22,000 wild boar in 24 years. In the Bialowieza Forest in 1890, in a fortnight's hunting, 42 bison, thirty six elk and 138 wild boar were killed. This is the frame in which to picture the Great Dane type as a bison hound, auroch hound, staghound and boarhound.

 It is important too to acknowledge that boar hunting was not just another form of hunting. In his valuable book 'Hounds and Hunting in Ancient Greece', published in 1964 by the University of Chicago, Denison Hull states: "It was the very danger of the boar hunt that made it fascinating to the Greeks; victory was essential, for there was no safety except through conquest. It was that urge to display courage that made the boar hunt the highest manifestation of the chase;" the hounds of course were always in greater danger than the human hunters. Hull quotes from Xenophon's Cynegeticus as recording that boarhounds "must by no means be picked by chance, for they must be prepared to fight the beast". These were clearly highly respected and rather special hounds.

 In 'Sport in Classic Times', published by Ernest Benn in 1931, A.J.Butler notes interestingly that Oppian mentions big-game hounds which are blue-black and considers 'a tawny colour' denotes swiftness and strength. He also refers to boarhounds which have light-coloured bodies with patches of black, dark red or blue. In his 'Hunting in the Ancient World', published by the University of California Press in 1985, J.K.Anderson writes that the Greek writer Xenophon considered that boarhounds should be "of exceptional quality, so that they may be ready to fight the beast". He quotes Arrian as reporting: "The best bred hounds have a proud air and seem haughty, and tread lightly, quickly, and delicately, and turn their sides and stretch their necks upward like horses when they are showing off." That sounds very Great Dane-like to me! 

 I can find no reason for the Great Dane to be so named. The French naturalist Buffon (1707-1788), responsible for so many canine misnomers, called it 'le grand Danois' but, knowing his fallibility, he could have been mishearing the words 'Daim' (buck) or 'Daine' (doe), French for fallow deer, 'daino' in Italian, when packhounds used to hunt deer were referred to by sportsmen. Other references to a Danish dog could have been directed at the Danischer Dogge or Broholmer, the mastiff of Broholm Castle, a Great Dane-like if smaller breed, now being resurrected by worthy Danish enthusiasts. In his authoritative 'Encyclopaedia of Rural Sports', published in 1870, Delabere Blaine records: "The boarhound in its original state is rarely met with, except in some of the northern parts of Europe, particularly in Germany...these boarhounds were propagated with much regard to the purity of their descent..."

 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 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 'parforce' hunting mastiffs imported into Central Europe from England were similarly known as Englische Dogge.

 It is important to note however that artists such as Tempesta, Snyders, Hondius, Haekert 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 mongrel 'killing dogs'?

 Sadly too, once, later on, Kennel Clubs around Europe wrongly accepted the Molossian dog as a broad-mouthed or mastiff-type dog, the genuine possessors of the Molossian dog phenotype: modern breeds like the Great Dane, the Dogo Argentino and the Broholmer,  were lost to hound groups. But the word 'Dogge' in medieval Europe meant a hunting mastiff not a catch or capture dog like the broad-mouthed dog, the latter being perpetuated nowadays by breeds like the Perro de presa Canario (literally seizing or pinning dog of the Canary Isles), Fila Brasileiro (literally seizing or pinning dog of Brazil) the Neapolitan Mastiff (once known in Naples as the Cane de Presa or dog that grips), Cane Corso and our Bullmastiff. Hartig, in his 'Lexicon for Hunters and Friends of the Hunt', published in Berlin in 1836, wrote that "The stature of the English Dogge is beautiful, long and gracefully muscular. The stature of the Bullenbeisser is less pleasing." In referring to the 'English Dogge' Hartig meant the hunting mastiff from England. The Bullenbeisser was a catch-dog, the ancestor of the Boxer.

 It is worth noting that the Italian name for the Great Dane is Alano. The alauntes were the fierce dogs of the Alans or Alani, who invaded Gaul in the fourth century AD, with settlements on the Rhine and the Elbe. Place names of Alanic origin are Kotzen near Brandenburg, Kotschen near Merseburg, Kothen near Bernberg and Choten-Koppeldorf near Sonnenberg. One variety of the Alaunts depicted and described in Gaston Phoebus's great work "The Book of Hunting" in the early 15th century is very much of Great Dane type. So too are the hounds portrayed by Antonius Tempesta of Florence in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It must be kept in mind that Alaunts were not a breed; Phoebus describes three principal types: one resembling a Greyhound, another a powerful hunting mastiff of Great Dane construction and a third a short-faced butcher's dog or catch-dog, the ancestor of the baiting dogs.

 In his celebrated work "The Illustrated Book of the Dog" of 1879-81, Vero Shaw refers to the breed as the German Mastiff. He mentions a letter from a Herr Gustav Lang of Stuttgart, an authority on the breed at that time, which stated: "The name 'Boarhound' is not known in Germany. In boar hunting every possible large 'mongrel' was used." If you extend this logic, you should no longer call a Harrier by that name because lurchers also course hares. Do you stop calling an Elkhound an Elkhound because other breeds also hunt them? I think not.

 Herr Lang was however making two points which I do not dispute: firstly that there was no breed of boarhound in Germany, the bigger quarry was hunted separately using the same hounds; and secondly, the boar-hunt utilised large fierce 'killing dogs' of mixed breeds, as well as hounds of the chase. No nation in the world has a breed with boarhound in its title. This is because large hounds did not specialise as a rule. The same hounds hunted stag, boar and sometimes bear and wolf too. In this way, the French used breeds like the Poitevin, the Billy, the Grand Griffon-Vendeen and the Grand Bleu de Gascogne for 'la grande venerie' generally. Our own huge scenthounds ended up being called Staghounds, but it was a description of function rather than a breed title; before the loss of wild boar to Britain such hounds would have been used in the boar-hunt too.

 Herr Lang never disputed that the breed called both the Great Dane and the Deutsche Dogge had once been used as a boarhound, he was disputing the title not the function. Hounds and dogs used in boar-hunts in what is now Germany were called Saurude or Hetzrude, if they hunted in packs and Saupacker or Saufanger if they were the less carefully bred catch-dogs. The Americans use huge Bulldogs as catch-dogs with wild hog to this day. In the thirties an English sportsman in France used a pack of Dogues de Bordeaux to hunt boar. They were boarhounds by function at that time but were mercifully not renamed. It is indisputable that most hounds of the chase used at boar-hunts across Central Europe for a thousand years had the conformation of the Great Dane.

 So what should today's breed of Great Dane be called and more importantly how should they be most appropriately grouped? It can be argued that if you get the breed title right you are more likely to get the grouping right. Dealing with the breed title, there is no credible direct association between Denmark and this breed. It was just as wrong to call this breed 'le grand Danois' as it was to call the harlequin Pinscher 'le petit Danois'. Buffon at least acknowledged the latter error but went along with what became common usage. He appears to have made the 'grey matin' into the great Danish Dog, perhaps confusing the mongrel catch-dogs with the hounds of the chase. Professor Gmelin, updating Linnaeus in 1792, referred to these catch-dogs as 'boar-lurchers' (canis laniarius fuillus), drawing attention to their strongly made heads.

 The title Deutscher Dogge is fine if people realise that 'dogge' means a hunting mastiff and not a broad-mouthed breed like the Neapolitan Mastiff, the Bordeaux Mastiff or the Bullmastiff. There is compelling evidence that the Great Dane is the nearest descendant of the ancient Molossian dog, the hound variety of that name. It was a pity that the Germans didn't name their national breed 'The German Hunting Mastiff' and thereby made it immediately identifiable as a sporting breed.

 The Germans already have scenthounds and mountain hounds by name, the Hanoverian Schweisshund or scenthound and the Bavarian Mountain Hound. A similarly precise title for the Deutsche Dogge would have made good sense. Even the German artist Riedel, two hundred years ago, realised it was a hunting dog. It might be advantageous to rename the breed here: The Great Dane (German Hunting Mastiff), which would embrace the Deutsche Dogge title even more accurately and not offend those who are only comfortable with the status quo. The amendment of the title 'Alsatian' to German Shepherd Dog shows what can be done. Originally registered here as the Alsatian Wolf Dog; in due course the 'wolf dog' was dropped and the breed became the Alsatian (German Shepherd Dog) and then finally The German Shepherd Dog. A similar trail could be followed by the Great Dane, in a comparable pursuit of authenticity.

 In 'Great Danes -- Past and Present', Dr. Morell MacKenzie was concerned that "if the Great Dane is considered a hound he is the only representative (although he responds to 'pack law') which does not carry his tail erect or like a flag when on the track." This reveals the ignorance of the writer; such hounds were not purely scenthounds, they were 'parforce' hounds which hunted by scent and sight. Why should such a versatile hound carry its stern like a scenthound when it is a more complete hound than that? The Great Dane, as a boarhound, had to have speed and the construction which produces it. The breed needs the pelvic angulation which permits a good forward reach of the hindlegs, more like the sighthounds than the scenthounds. Such a desired pelvic angulation decides set of and carriage of tail in the breed.

 Once the hound origin evidence is accepted, the pressure for this breed to be transferred to the Hound Group will be irrefutable. Just as the Airedale is King of the Terriers, so too will the Great Dane (German Hunting Mastiff) be King of the Hounds. It will no longer be exhibited on the same day as the sled dogs, herding dogs, flock guardians, heelers, water-dogs and broad-mouthed gripping or holding dogs and be judged by those who know such breeds best -- and possibly favour them. It might even lead to a concentration on anatomical soundness and functional athleticism in the breed rather than the mere production of statuesque canine ornaments unable to move with power and purpose.

 The very expression 'working breed' undermines and demeans the noble associations and rich sporting heritage of these outstanding dogs. It is time to heed the views of Marples, 'Stonehenge', Drury, Dalziel, Hamilton-Smith, Rawdon Lee, Leighton, Wynn and Watson --  can all these distinguished writers really be wrong? Surely Great Dane fanciers should listen to their combined wisdom and then strive, in their own lifetime, to improve the stature of their beloved breed. Breed titles do matter; breeds no longer bred for an historic function soon deteriorate. In his 'Dogs and all about them', published in 1914, the well-respected writer Robert Leighton, stated: "The Kennel Club has classed the Great Dane amongst the Non-Sporting dogs, probably because with us he cannot find a quarry worthy of his mettle; but for all that, he has the instincts and qualifications of a sporting dog..."  

 Allocation to an FCI or KC grouping does matter; being judged by judges used to hounds must suit a breed with this construction, let alone its "instincts and qualifications" as Robert Leighton put it. Come on, Great Dane breed clubs, what was your breed for? How can you breed successfully without a functional design? Against which criteria do you judge a breed which has no accepted purpose? Is your magnificent breed not worth your determined efforts to get it properly classified after all its selfless service to man?

 In the quaintly titled 'Dogs: their whims, instincts and peculiarities' of 1882, edited by Henry Webb, these words are used to describe the German Boarhound: "This giant amongst dogs is placed by strength, activity and courage, in the front rank of his race; as guardian or protector he has no superior, and but few equals. If you look at him when he stands, with all his qualities fully aroused, involuntarily the thought strikes you, I should wish that dog by my side in the moment of danger, well sure I should find in him a staunch friend and mighty champion." Over one hundred years later, we continue to deny such a breed its rightful sporting place in dogdom and are surely lesser people in so doing. We owe this distinguished breed its rightful recognition as King of the Hounds without any further delay.

    "Palmam qui meruit ferat"

   (Let him who has won the palm wear it).