In his definitive The Boxer – Complete Information On The History, Development, Characteristics, Breeding, Feeding, Care And Management”, first published in 1939, John P. Wagner provides an alternative version of Great Dane history:
Of course it wasn’t so strange that the Mastiffs lost favor in England as the decline of the blood sports almost wiped them out. But thanks to the very prolific Johann Elias Ridinger (16 February 1698, Ulm – 10 April 1767, Augsburg), and his Entwurff Einiger Thiere, wie solche nach ihren unterschiedenen Arten, Actionen und Leidenschafften, nach den Leben gezeichnet, samt beygefügten Anmerkungen (Some engravings of animals, differentiated according to their types, actions and passions, drawn after live animals, along with accompanying notes), published in 1738, we can see the “Englische Docke” in Germany, doing rather well at the time and still looking like an English Mastiff, although much more capable of doing a day’s work; it’s in fact plate no.1 in the artist’s book, so the breed obviously had pride of place there at the time – and no German breed of similar type or stature to dispute its preeminence.
Unless, of course, that ‘English dogge‘ was (or had become at the time, long time after its introduction in the country) a German breed, as some suggest, and for some reason best known to themselves the Germans were still calling it ‘English’. Although they also had, at the time, their two bull-dogs, the medium sized Danziger type and the smaller still Brabanter; they weren’t quite satisfied with these brave, tough, utilitarian bullenbeissers (Bärenbeißer); why weren’t those good enough to become a national symbol? Just the whims of history – and vanity; by the time Bismarck arrived on the scene, with a noble Dogue on his side, those humble servants had pretty much exited center stage via assimilation.
In another snippet from Wanger’s book we read:
And Ridinger provides a visual of the particular type of Grosse Irlandisch Windspiel known in Germany in his time:
(which used to throw muzzles like this). So Wagner seems to chime in with this other author who (in Great Dane the Complete Anthology of the Dog) disputes the official version of developments:
“The origin of Great Danes, like that of many other varieties of dogs, is so obscure that all researches have only resulted in speculative theories, but the undoubted antiquity of this dog is proved by the fact that representatives of a breed sufficiently similar to be considered his ancestors are found on some of the oldest Egyptian monuments.
A few years ago a controversy arose on the breed’s proper designation, when the Germans claimed for it the title “Deutsche Dogge.” Germany had several varieties of big dogs, such as the Hatzrude, Saufanger, Ulmer Dogge, and Rottweiler Metzgerhund; but contemporaneously with these there existed, as in other countries in Europe, another very big breed, but much nobler and more thoroughbred, known as Great Danes.
When after the war of 1870 national feeling was pulsating very strongly in the veins of reunited Germany, the German cynologists were on the lookout for a national dog, and for that purpose the Great Dane was re-christened “Deutsche Dogge,” and elected as the champion of German Dogdom. For a long time all these breeds had, no doubt, been indiscriminately crossed.”
One last intriguing reference to Wanger and to Ridinger, this etching from 1728:
an impressive set of head studies in which the Boxer authority saw three different types of Doggen: the Bullenbeissers, on top, the Boarhounds in the middle and the Danes at the bottom. I won’t disagree much, but the middle row of heads seems to me to depict three different types of dogs – the Stag hound to the left, the poor unfortunate ‘cannon fodder’ to the boars, the Sau Ruden in the middle, and another hound on the right, the equivalent of the Foxhound, or just another fore-runner to the hunt-point-retrievers – a general purposes jagdhund (hunting dog), game finder, charger and dispatcher of all kinds of medium-sized quarry, as we see in Ridinger’s extensive portfolio of hunting scenes. They all have natural ears – they were expendable, ‘budget hounds’ unlike the more precious, expensive to keep, well-bred, resplendent in gilded collars as we’ve seen elsewhere and specialized Doggen, top and bottom, that represent, methinks, the two diverse types – the heavier more bully-type and the more Apollonian and fast Great Dane proper.