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:
the Great Dane Standard
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
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.
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