Saturday 27 August 2016

Two minutes to save a breed - here's how

I've documented the hideous drift in type in European Great Danes here many times. And, sadly, this mastinoid creep is spreading like some virus. Even in those countries where Dane bodies still remain lean and graceful, such as the US, we are seeing heavier and heavier heads.

1903 breed standard  illustrations compared to today's 'hypertype' Danes

UK Danes
Now Dane campaigner Maria Gkinala is petitioning the FCI to do something about the physical degradation of this beautiful breed - which has suffered, sadly, in many ways from not having a working job to keep it sound.

Please sign the petition here and help stop this before it is too late. It will take just two minutes of your time.  Petitions really do work if enough people sign them as they pressure organisations into engaging with the critics. This is the first step to reform.

I had Danes as a kid (galumphy boy Dougal just a pup here), so this one matters to me.

Further reading:

The demise of the Great Dane

More French Great Danes

Maria's excellent Great Dane Gnosis blog


  1. Screw dog shows. I am hating them more and more. Ruining such amazing breeds over and over again, while pretending that nothing is wrong.
    Seriously, they are so freaking useless and pointless, wasting genetic diversity, ruining the appearance of the breed with exaggeration over and over, ruining the working ability of a breed, and for what reason? To get a nice title?

    You don't need to go to a show to evaluate breeding stock. There's working options (herding, IPO, retrieving, lure coursing, etc), Service dog training, and you can analyse your own dogs structure yourself, or ask a judge to do it for you.
    No need to ruin your own dogs for this useless endeavour.

    1. As the team of northamerican psychologists stated in a work that gave them a Nobel Prize in 2000, Dunning and Kruger, would agree, if you are absolutelly sure of a matter well studied, then your knowledge regarding that matter is still superficial. Between the signers, there are genetists, breeders, absolute dog lovers that also are scientists, and, sorry, can´t buy your statement as, as it is. Shallow.

    2. Anonymous at 15.01 you are rigtht. Show dogs should not be taken into account as a part of assesing genetic value. Show dogs ruins breeds. Everybody who have eyes can see exaggeration and health damage associated with exaggeration and lack of genetic diversity.

    3. @Anon 17:18

      First, it adds to the popular sire effect. A winning/successful male showdog can produce ridiculous amounts of offspring.
      If you know anything about genetics, you would know this is hugely detrimental to a breed.

      Second, show dogs support "cookie-cutter" looks. If you have a winning showdog, then in order to produce dogs similar, inbreeding and linebreeding are ways to help produce similar dogs.
      Where as outcrossing can improve a dog can give higher potential and better heritability, inbreeding reduces the heritability of certain traits making dogs more similar to each other.

      Both those combined create less genetic diversity. Also removing perfectly good dogs from the genepool of the breed simply because they would not be as good as their siblings in a show scenario is also not useful, nor is removing dogs with improper colourings such as parti-coloured poodles.

      Third, we have extreme appearances which are detrimental to the breeds health.
      Excess wrinkles trap bacteria allowing for the best environment for them to eat at and irritate the skin.
      Short noses give breathing problems as stressed on this blog plenty.
      We have seen the show ring mess with breeds such as the German Shepherd, Basset hound, Bulldog, Chow chow, shar pei, setters, boxers etc.
      Exaggeration is not good in any breed. Even ones where there is less of an issue, such as in bearded collies, the extra long fur reaching the ground makes them inappropriate for many houses and families, as opposed to working bearded collies or bearded collies of the 1900s where the coats were much more easily managed.

      And it does ruin working ability and instincts of the dog. Very quickly. Without selecting for herding ability for example, dogs quickly loose it. Drive, instinct, athleticism, they can quickly be lost if not bred for.

      It changes a breed over time as well. So many dog breeds were so different in the past.
      Yet despite changing the breed to suit the fancy, show breeders ridicule dogs that do not fit the standard. I've had people straight up tell me if a dog does not look like people expect the breed to look like, then it should not be bred and is a poor example of the breed. They tell me that if it does not look like breed x, than it is not breed x.
      Which is ridiculous considering modern show dogs do not look like they should anyway.
      Despite changing through time, ironically, the "poor examples" of the breed bred for work, aka working dogs, actually look like the dogs of the past did despite NOT breeding for appearance.

      And for what purpose?
      Please explain the purpose in doing all this to a breed simply for a title. Is there a reason to all this? A reason the showring needs to exist?

  2. THANK you Jemima ! For you know how magnanimous these gentle souls are and how silently and in dignity they suffer. A million thanks - for your unyielding care for all dogs and for your enduring fondness of the Great Dane. There are many of us absolutely determined to preserve and restore our beloved breed - and grateful for your stance !

  3. The last set of pictures to me are truly remarkable, the 1973 dog and the Crufts 2015 one. It's just hideous how the skull has morphed from a handsome honest head into a sad fantasie. The same happened to the pointer and most setter types.

  4. Show Great Danes in America remind me of the dog in a cartoon show (Skooby Do?), who raises his head up just at the wrong moment as his musical owner clashes together a pair of cymbals, thereby laterally compressing the Great Dane's head.

    The show Danes really do look that way to me, their head and muzzle having been bred so narrow that there is little span from left to right.

    Ha! At this rate, someday the ideal show Dane might someday be one whose two ear bases touch because the skull is so narrow, the two eyes meet into one Cyclops-like huge center eye, and the muzzle has but one center row of teeth.

    It would be funnier if it weren't so sad.

  5. Many of these dog clubs hold close to and promote the vague idea of "improve the breed". This is open to wide interpretation, and considering the health of several breeds and their rapid physical changes, it is clearly not just about health and temperament.
    I think the only way to preserve classic types for the long term is to set up strictly preservation clubs instead of relying on the current dog clubs or registries. The preservation clubs would be about "preserving the breed" or dog type. The idea of preservation is more restrict than the idea of "improve the breed" (which is vulnerable to fads and opinion) and by default includes the health of the dog.

    1. Those are called working dogs actually.

      Dogs bred for work will still look like they did 100 years ago.
      For example, the Fox terrier and JRT were originally the same breed, however the JRT was the working lines, and the Fox terrier was the kennel clubs breed.

      And they both originally started from dogs which look exactly like the JRT does today.

      Also look at the working bearded collie, they also look more like the dogs of the past than our modern bearded collies could ever hope to.

      And somehow, despite breeding for work, working bred dogs are also much healthier too on average.
      Take the working cocker spaniel, there are very few, if not no health issues in the working lines. Compared to the show cocker, they are very different.

      In the past, form always came as a result of function. They go hand in hand.
      They didn't create the appearance because they felt like it, they needed a functional working dog. Thus appearence will match the use of the breed, and appearance occurs because of the use as well.

      I wouldn't even get started on the many breeds which have changed as a result of show breeding.

      I am sure that the future for many breeds is the same as that of the English White Terrier.
      Health and form is getting worse and worse. Its only time until the show dogs eventually loose too much health and either start dying off, or open their studbooks.
      I reckon terrier breeds will be the worse off. Except for the Jack Russell Terrier, that working breed is still very popular with the public.

  6. How about: "restoring the breed", instead of "improving the breed" or "preserving the breed", because, in many breeds, I think that it is simply to late to just preserve them - even if that was once possible.

  7. Hi Maria Gkinala (mentioned in Jemima's post),

    Might I offer you another possible tact to improve the breed?

    For decades, people have looked at the Great Dane's big head, on it's agile body, and asked both "Is it a thin Mastiff?" and asked "Is it a big headed Sighthound?"

    This is a very important question, because if judged in the ring with Mastiff breeds, the judge will look for big boned legs and huge heads, but if judged in the ring with Sighthounds, they will be judged for very tight bodies, and less head.

    Like most people, I struggled with the Mastiff/Sighthound question.

    Then one day, while watching my dog's play behavior, suddenly all that I had read about Great Dane history was thrown under a new light.

    The Great Dane is a giant boarHOUND. Hopefully, more like a giant foxhound than a giant SHOW type Bloodhound (which also often has a laterally compressed muzzle).

    The Hound group is where the Great Dane belongs, and that is where I believe they would have the best future - being bred for a more moderate type.

    Think about it for awhile, looking at Great Danes as giant Hounds, and see if you can see it in them too.

  8. One minute to save a breed: ban closed registries. Problem solved.

  9. Signed.

    But have to try one more time...There are 2 ways to save our breeds.
    1st option is to force any K.C registering body to define a reputable breeder by their practices first, Not on the pedigree or lack of a pedigree.
    Breeding dogs that are NOT eligible for registration CAN NOT be grounds for discrimination, or refusal of membership.
    So the 1st mark of a reputable breeder is not a pedigree and adherence to a standard. It MUST then be based on sound practice.

    2nd option is a simple registry based on purpose with a mission statement to promote value and purpose for dogs in the community.

    Restrictions on what is bred will not work, long term.

    Allowing a breeders status to be governed by K.C membership and pedigree standards is to put all your faith and value into pedigrees, instead of dogs. Its promotion of a belief system over science.

    Its not only closing stud books, its closing the culture of breeders to influence out side of their own environment based on belief that a pedigree makes a dog.

    While they are promoted as the only VALID environment for dog breeding, they also form an identity for breeders. Because it is not open to outside influences, its a separate identity. The K.Cs operate in a closed culture, governed by the standards that set the boundaries of their environment. Those standards, the rules and regs. of the registering body, are like a genetic blue print for that identity as a pedigree breeder. Effective change is not possible while it threatens that identity. The only change that can be accepted is more limitation.

    An environment is limiting. Only response can over come limitation. But here you have a membership whos identity is defined by its limitation to standard. Its whole purpose is the standard. Any value is defined by the standard.
    It can't respond except to impose more limitation to those standards.
    It can only respond by rejecting what does not fit the identity they they have imposed on their membership. Never by what values can be brought to it- no value can be 'Brought' to an identity bound by its limitations. An identity formed because it does not accept what lies out side its own bounds.
    The term 'Breeder' needs to be accepted as meaning any one who breeds dogs. Equally and with out qualification by all breeders.
    Until that happens, Any values a breeder brings to the purpose of breeding dogs is going to be held accountable to the standards and single purpose of the K.Cs.
    There can be no discussion or solutions to the limitations of the K.Cs. No discussion of what practices or purposes bring value to DOGS, with out a pedigree standard to give validity to those 1st.

    The K.C identity is defined by its own environment. It does not recognize the environment that holds it. According to all laws of physics applied to biology, that identity loses purpose and value. It does not recognize the environment that holds it.It does not bring or demonstrate value to it. It 'believes' any value is contained with in its 'self'. And attacks any demonstration of value from else where as being invalid.

    The only way to counter act this effectively over the long long term with any hope of sustaining purpose and value for dogs in society is to actively bring back purpose and value in dog breeding out side of an identity bound by its limitations.

    Set standards create an environment. Only response can ALTER that favorably. The standards are NOT the response of a good breeder. They are only one possible environment to be worked in.
    There is no value in the limitations of the K.C standards and environment. Those must be brought.

    Purpose and value are the RESPONSE to environment. They can't be the environment AND the response.

    1. Thanks for this.

      Could you paint a picture of how you could see this working in practice?

    2. I agree, changing the KC could be the key.

      But logic can't be used to predict human behavior - something I learned long ago by working with wood.

      You get these lovely plans (blueprints), and every step all laid out perfectly, but then you get a load of lumber in, but the wood has not been sawed exactly right, or it has been stored crooked and under pressure and so is warped or tilted.

      The end effect is that you must alter perfect plans to accommodate imperfect materials.

      Meaning that imperfect plans work better than perfect plans - when dealing with warped materials.

      People are never perfect. So plans to change human behavior can't be based in logic, they must be based in " what will work?".

    3. I've read many posts & comments about "What is a reputable breeder?".

      Don't go there.

      It often leads to flaming or quiet but hurt feelings.

      More importantly TO THE DOGS, it draws a circle around "who is our friend" and leaves everybody else out.

    4. Jemima,

      To your question how it works in practice-

      A change to the K.Cs constitution and rules alters the identity of the K.Cs.
      The Constitution and rules are what 'sets' the identity of the K.C environment, Just as its designed to. Thats the purpose of a constitution and rules.
      As most K.C bodies stand, the only value recognized by that entity IS a standard. It has become the purpose of dogs bred in that environment. Because no purpose thats not already enclosed in the space opened by a standard is acceptable to that entity.

      A breeder who breeds dogs out side of a pedigree standard, as it is recognized by that body, is not accepted as a member of that body.

      So changing the rules so members who breed out side of the pedigree standards are acceptable members changes the identity.
      It becomes one that recognizes purpose and value beyond the limits of their own standards.

      Changing rules to reflect that truth is the only way the K.C breeder entity can recognize it, and act on it.

      It does not force any change on the standards themselves, or force an opening of stud books or pedigrees. It just makes it a possibility for the K.C entity to recognize when there is value in doing that.
      Its no longer a value 'foreign' to their identity when members are free to take that response to the standard of breeding away from it.

      When people are free to do that, THEN they can bring value TO the standards by applying what they have learned to recognize as other values.

      Their identity as breeders is no longer defined by adherence to pedigree standards alone.

      DOGS would be recognized as the purpose of a breeder, Not the K.C identity.

      Dogs would be the common purpose.

      K.Cs standards and pedigree would be one value of many that contribute to dogs, not the purpose of breeding them.

      Reputable breeder must then be some thing other than adherence to standards.
      We can begin to respond to that; by taking responsibility for demonstrating the product of a responsible breeder. Not just the product of a pedigree.

      We can't talk about what makes a responsible breeder ATM.
      The pedigree and its standards is always going to get in the way of that, while belief is promoted that pedigrees are the purpose that give dogs value.
      Only a good dog can give a pedigree any value. There are no pedigrees with out dogs. There were good dogs long before pedigrees.
      Pedigrees are a value that add to the purpose of dogs. We are asking pedigrees to represent and replace both.

      It would not be an instant cure. It would take time for membership to reflect the new cultural identity. Thats partly generational.
      But the generational span of a breeder is shorter than a human life span.

    5. The other half of your question Jemima is how would a new registry based on purpose work in practice.

      As 13:57 says, with out too much planning.

      A constitution will attract the culture it is programed to accomodate. It will favor those who follow its instruction.

      So you want it to accomodate any one who can bring value to the goal you set out in your constitution.

      The more simple its kept, the less chance of inadvertently setting up contradictions in instruction or rules.

      Goals are are clear and positive instructions that set direction. Rules set out how those goals are accomplished.

      Negative rules or instruction are never clear- They are the opposite of direction. They don't provide direction, but block it.

  10. In practice, yes.
    But easier for me to work it out in simplest terms before trying to post.

  11. "How?" Is the question we need to ask each other.

    "What exactly could we be doing to save the Great Dane breed from the deterioration that we have seen in other breeds?

    One idea is to give the breed some type of work or sport.

    Obedience contests encourage some breeders to choose Great Danes that like to please, can be trusted off leash at shows, and who learn & remember well.

    But what about the physical Great Dane? The body & mind must both be healthy.

    Forget boar hunting. People don't much boar hunt anymore, and from watching videos of boar hunting with dogs, the breed of choice for swinehund (catch dogs) seems to be pit bull dogs, some sort of American Bulldog.

    The one video with a Great Dane was pathetic. The Great Dane was so sensitive, I could see the worry in his face just from getting somewhat near the feral pig. It looked, to me, as if the Great Dane was thinking "Are you sure you want me to try to make friends with this beast?"

    He looked playful, worried, and sensitive - which is good in a modern Great Dane.

    You don't really want a fierce catch dog, do you?


      Something to do with running I reckon. Though racing would not be the best idea, and jumping could be bad on the joints...
      Hmm, not sure.
      An obedience dog can come in any form, so I don't think obedience would preserve a less exaggerated appearance or athleticism.

  12. I have done a little bit of dog carting, and I believe this might be the answer for the Great Dane.

    This could weed out unfit Great Danes, and encourage the breeding of more easily controlled dogs.

    (Did you ever hear that the word "handsome" was a term for horses who responded willingly to the pressure of a person's hands on the reins? - hence HANDsom".

    Using both meanings of the word we get the phrase "Handsome is as handsome does".)

  13. Carting can be fun. A little bit hard in the city because of all the public that comes out to ask questions, take a photo, and watch. And because of all the kids wanting a ride.

    Perhaps better to save city carting until the dog can be safely worked at the trot - leaving the public behind.

    But carting could also put your Great Dane in the role of an assistance dog, helping the handicapped, lame, and older less mobile persons.

    But your dog MUST be one who listens to you and looks to you for directions.

    I have used one of the head halters for dogs, with homemade reins, and it worked well on the Great Dane (longer neck = more leverage) - dogs don't understand the words "left" and "right" as well as they understand gentle pressure from the halter.

    The secret to good carting is in the balance of the cart. I went to an advertised dog carting demo once, where people in the club told me how long they'd been dog carting.

    Remember doing something the wrong way for 4 years (or 40 years) doesn't make anyone an expert. You must balance the cart so that the weight of the load is centered over the tires, not on the dog's back.


    Photos of dog carts. TAP THE LITTLE PHOTOS to get a larger clearer image!!!

  15. It doesn't have to be a single purpose, so long as we actively encourage the idea of purpose, individuals learn what values aid their own and how to seek them out. Its a cumulative effect of improvement in MANY ways.

    It depends on what priorities an individual identifies, and takes responsibility for improving. Theres no narrow focus.
    Its putting the dog back into his natural environment where he was 1st developed- only these days we have better welfare expectations and solutions, better communication platforms, less isolation and far more science to bring. We can do it better than ever, once people accept they as individuals must take that responsibility. Its not some one elses.
    It starts in your back yard and good results don't need a pedigree to be good. They shouldn't need one before they they can demonstrate what they offer. So long as they do offer value to some ones purpose.