Nikki Riggsbee is approved to judge all Hound and Working breeds and several Sporting breeds. She has been active in both all-breed and specialty clubs. She was delegate to the AKC for Manatee Kennel Club.

She began showing dogs in 1980 with Norwegian Elkhounds and Great Danes. Under the affix McEmn, she has bred nearly one litter of Great Danes per year and has owned and bred over twenty champions, with many more produced from her dogs. In addition to conformation, Nikki has exhibited and titled Great Danes in obedience.



A Modest Proposal:
Suggested Changes to
the Great Dane Standard

by Nikki Riggsbee

I think the current standard of the Great Dane is overall excellent. It certainly mostly describes the dog we should aim for in our breeding programs and selections and the one judges should point to.

However, I think that there are a few areas that might be modified to make it better. Perhaps some are less modifications than returns to the wording of a prior iteration of the standard.

1. The current standard says, at the end of General Appearance, that “Lack of true Dane breed type, as defined in this standard, is a serious fault.” Then, under Head and Teeth, it says, “An undershot jaw is a very serious fault.” The standard therefore says that an undershot jaw is more serious than lack of true Dane breed type. I think this is an incorrect priority. I believe that the standard should say, “Lack of true Dane breed type, as defined in this standard, is the most serious fault.” Nothing is more serious, and I strongly hope this change is made to the standard.

Further, under Teeth, it discusses “bites.” Only with undershot does it say “undershot jaw.” Does it mean undershot jaw or undershot bite? They really are two different things.

I also would like to hear the rational why “undershot jaw” is the most serious fault – after lack of true Dane breed type (assuming that change is made). While it certainly is serious, is it more serious than a bad temperament, serious movement faults, serious structural faults, and other serious faults?

2. The current standard says, in Size, Proportion, Substance “In the ratio between length and height, the Great Dane should be square.” Prior to the 1990 revision, the standard said, “should appear as square as possible.” I believe that we should revert to the earlier “appear as square as possible” wording and that calling the dog “square” has caused serious damage to our breed.

The standard doesn’t say where to determine measurements, but the Illustrated standard says “The squareness of body called for is measured from the withers to the ground, and from the point of shoulder to the back of the upper thigh.” (Note that the drawing in the Illustrated Standard does not match these words.) The withers is a continuum, over several vertebrae, so this could be more precise. Perhaps it should say “the withers above the highest point of the shoulder blade” which is where one would place a wicket when measuring a dog.

The standard does say “The male shall not be less than 30 inches at the shoulder,” with a similar sentence for bitches. “At the shoulder” is even more vague than “from the withers.” It might say “at the top of the shoulder.” But even this does not describe where we measure a dog with a wicket. The top of the shoulder is below the actual withers where we place the wicket. So again, when we say where to measure the dog, I think the most general agreement could be gotten for “the withers above the highest point of the shoulder blade.”

When a judge “eyeballs” a dog to see if it looks square, his eye will naturally see the backline as the top horizontal line of the square. It is just human nature to look at the longest line. But the height of the dog, measured at the withers (above the highest point of the shoulder), may be two to four inches higher than the height at the level portion of the back, depending on the size of the Dane. A dog that looks square will actually measure taller than he is long. A dog that measures square will appear off square. This is due to the giant size of the breed where the structure and musculature of the withers from which the dog should be measured is decidedly higher than the backline.

In emphasizing the squareness in the last fourteen years – and many judges rely on a few basics, including proportions - we have lost many other features that the standard calls for that are incompatible with a dog that appears square.

First, the standard calls for a long head and a long neck. Both of these are critical to the essential elegance of the breed that is called for in the first sentence of the standard. But, how does one get long bones in the head and long vertebrae in the neck when we have shortened the vertebrae in the topline portion of the spine to get the “square” look? We can’t fool Mother Nature, and we can’t add or delete vertebrae, or have long ones at one end and short ones at the other. By selecting for shorter vertebrae in the topline, we have also gotten a shorter neck and head, since they are continuations of the same structure.

Second, the standard calls for (in Forequarters) “The shoulder blade must be strong and sloping, forming, as near as possible, a right angle in its articulation with the upper arm” and the Hindquarters are described as “well angulated.” With a square-looking dog (which is actually taller than long), there is no place for the angulated quarters to go; the dog cannot move without crabbing or some other compensating action. You know that many judges value collected and straight up and back movement. You can’t have that with a square-appearing and well-angulated dog. So, we have given up our angulation in order to move acceptably with this body shape.

We’ve sacrificed some important components of the breed in using the word “square.” I think we cannot remedy the problem unless we revert to the wording “appear as square as possible.” I strongly hope that we do so.

3. As of the 1990 revision, the following was added under Forequarters: “The elbow should be one-half the distance from the withers to the ground.” This was not in previous Great Dane standards, and I believe that this is an incorrect proportion. The elbow or chest marking half the height of the dog is called for in Akitas, Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs, and Rottweilers, among others. Great Danes are more elegant than those breeds. To be elegant, we must have a length of leg that is slightly greater than the depth of body. I would prefer the statement being removed, or at least changed to something like “The measurement of the elbow to the ground is 55% of the height of the dog at the withers.” The shorter leg makes for a coarse dog and reduces the elegance that is an important characteristic of the breed, along with great size, strength, and power called for in the opening sentence of the standard. It is this elegance which differentiates the Great Dane from the other giant and powerful giant breeds.

There are other small portions that I think were changed in the 1990 revision that actually changed the content of the standard and didn’t simply clarify and reorganize. My preference would be to return to the earlier characteristics and priorities.

But I think the above items are the big three that have had the most significant and negative impact on the breed. It would be good if the standard were revised to correct just those three areas. I would be afraid, actually, to open the standard up to wholesale changes, perhaps making it fit the dogs today rather than having us breeders breed dogs to the standard.

This article is based on a letter sent to Robert Edison,
Chairman of the Standards Committee for the Great Dane Club of America

Contents & Graphics Copyright © DaneLinks.com 2004-05.
No material from DaneLinks.com may be republished in any form without written permission.
DaneLinks.com seeks to provide insight into various subjects regarding Great Danes.
 We approach a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral and other judgments to the reader. The opinions of the various contributors to this web site are their own opinions and are not necessarily the opinions of the webmaster.
We reserve the right to monitor, refuse or remove any information that is in serious conflict with the over-all integrity of this web site.