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Den danske Hund Didrik Fuiren 1686_1

Didrik Fuiren (1681-1700) with Great Dane. Dated 1686-87, Denmark.


“To all readers in the English-speaking world with an interest in the history of the Great Dane:

            • The Great Dane Club of America,
            • The Great Dane Club of Canada,
            • The 9 clubs and associations of the United Kingdom (Northern Great Dane Club, Pennine GDC, East of England GDC, Midland and West of England GDC, Great Dane Club, Great Dane Breeders Association, South Western GDC, Scottish GDC, Great Dane Club of South Wales
            • The Great Dane Club of New South Wales

This chapter, termed ”Mjóhund & Tæffue – Den Danske Hund” which in modern English rather awkwardly translates to something like “Hound and Bitch – the Great Dane”, as the two words used in Old Norse and Old English have now been lost from the English vocabulary, is the chapter that addresses the large hunting dog of the Danes.

The chapter forms part of an extensive historic description of the migration story of the Danes up until their arrival in the present day landscapes about 40-77 ACE, and the first onwards migration to the new kingdoms in Britannia from 449 ACE and 50 years onwards.

The chapter of the Great Dane is, I trust, the most comprehensive research done on the subject to date. It demonstrates in archaeology, in art, in philosophy from our earliest records in Elder Edda, itself a partial evolution from Rig Veda, in buildings, in paintings, oil and murals, on rune stones and in our common language that is Old Norse and Old English, the existence and evolution of our large hound and why.

The presence of the large hound in the Northern parts of Western Europe appears to be the result of two principal human migrations from the area around the Sea of Asov.

The first migration that brought along the large hound northwestwards was the arrival of the tribes that called themselves “Combrogi” (“Kimbrer” in modern Danish and “Cymry” in Welsh). By the 5th Century BCE these tribes have full control of ‘Cumbria” (England), the whole of present day Denmark and the west coast of present day Sweden. We have physical skeletons of the hounds and depictions in art to demonstrate the presence of the large hound beyond doubt.

The second migration is our own arrival about 40-77 ACE. In physical skeletons from burials with men and women and in art, the evidence explodes and can be traced onwards to East Anglia and further from the first migration to the new kingdoms in Britannia from 497 ACE.

The most treasured hound, as is the case with the horse, is the white coloured with black markings. Today we know this hound as ”Harlequin/Harlekin” (English/Danish). However the origin is “Herla Cyning” (OE) or “King of the Army”. The word evolves because the human king is titled “Hariwalda” (ON/OE), in the new kingdoms in Britannia evolving to “Bretwalda” or “Ruler of the army, Ruler of Britannia”. The king’s personal hounds in white with black markings, his guiding spirits, are therefore “King of the army [of dogs]” (Herla Cyning).

An unbroken record of the large hounds exists from these early days until today. The chapter evidences this in primary sources and by visual depictions of more than 200 photographs.

The original large hound was lighter in construction than the current one. We know this both from depictions and from the Royal Danish Hunting Protocols. We also know what caused this to change, when and how.

In the 16th Century the Royal Courts of Denmark introduce the new fashion of the Parforce Hunt – an unnatural hunt where the hunting dogs are no longer allowed to run down and kill the large game. On the contrary the hounds are expected to hunt the deer, boar or wolf, knock it down and hold it firm until the human huntsman arrives and then makes the kill.

We can see from the protocols of the Danish court that the large hound is not well equipped to perform this new role in the Parforce Hunt. It is too light in built to hold down a deer or wolf without killing it. To solve this problem King Frederik II (regent 1559-1588) sends a ship to London in 1585 to bring back “Englandshvalpe” (English puppies) given to him by Queen Elisabeth I. (regent 1558-1603). The “English puppies” are the far heavier English mastiff (today known by it’s name from the 19th Century “Broholmer”). The protocols of the Royal Danish Kennel maintain two separates lines in the kennel’s breeding programme; the Danish and the English line. The cross breeding becomes known as “Blendinge” (same word and meaning as the English word “Blend”). This new line of large hounds is the foundation of the present day Great Dane as we see them in Denmark, England and North America.

The various names used to identify the hound;

              • “Great Dane” (English speaking world),
              • “датский дог“ (Dahtskeey Dog, Russian),
              • “Gran Danés” (Spanish and Portuguese speaking world including South America),
              • “Grand Danois, Chien danois” (French speaking world, Scandinavia in the 20th Century),
              • “Tanskandoggi” (Finland),
              • “Danubius Dog” (Hungary),
              • “Danua cinsi kopek” or “Grand Danua” (Turkey) and
              • “Dänische Dogge” or “Grosse Dänische Yagd Hund” (German speaking world up until 1888-9)

simply reflects the tribal and landscape origin of the hounds. The large hound was imported into the Roman empire and thus correctly is referred to as “Alano” in Italian. The hound was highly treasured and a tribal competitive advantage. Thus the hound did not exist in Germania until Christian VI, King of Denmark (regent 1730-1746) ceased the Parforce Hunt in 1741 and gave away all the large hounds from the royal kennel.

The protocols of the Royal Danish Kennel at Jægersborg Castle (the royal hunting lodge north of Copenhagen), Denmark show us who received the hounds as gifts:

          • King Fredrik I. of Sweden – 11 pack of hounds
          • Markgraf Friedrich von Brandenburg-Bayreuth – 25 pack of hounds
          • The Duke of Pløen, Friedrich Carl – 6 packs of hounds
          • The Duke of Savoy and King of Sardinia Charles Emmanuel III – 4 large “Blendinge” (Blended) hounds

This event distributes the large hound throughout Europe amongst the aristocracy and forms the basis for all later rewritings of history. Up until this event in 1741 the hounds were only to be found in the original landscapes, including Normandy from year 912 ACE as the Bayeux Tapestry of the Battle of Hastings testifies in abundance.

George Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon in 1749 begins publishing his large thesis on evolution called “Histoire Naturelle, générale et particulière”. His uses the large hound as an example of evolution (Book 4) and since he cannot find it anywhere in France or in Germania he seeks it in its home turf Denmark. It is he who for the first time coins the name “le Grand Danois”. In the English translation of his work by William Smellie the same word becomes ”Great Dane”. Up until that time the hound was referred to in England as “Danish dog”.

We know from a thesis by the Dane Jacob Nicolay Wilse published in 1767 that the Danes called the dog “large hound”, a terminology continued well into the 20th Century.

In Germany in 1780 the hound is referred to as ”Grosse Dänische Yagd Hund” or “Large Danish Hunting Hound”.

The first dog exhibition was held in Hamburg 14-20 July 1863. 8 dogs were called “Dänische Dogge” and 7 “Ulmer Doggen”.

As part of the ever increasing German aggression throughout Europe 1 Bismarck insisted on rewriting history and sets up a commission, “Kynologischer Verein Hektor” to invent a new origin of the hound, away from Denmark and England, the enemies of his country. He does this by pulling a rabbit out of the hat and creates a new word – “Deutsche Dogge”. This is made public in 1878 and from 1880 it becomes illegal in the German Reich to refer to the dog as anything but “Deutsche Dogge”.

1 A Canadian reader has suggested to me that most people on the North American continent at least would need a little background to understand the reason for this aggression: That Germany at that time didn’t exist, that she had lost the race on almost anything that made the great European nations great and gave them status of small and not so small empires. Germany was fragmented since the Reformation, and the mid-European empire was Austria. France and Britain and Italy, as well as Spain and Russia, had much, much more to “have it in”, and so the Germans were jealous and willing to go to great lengths to equip themselves with more brilliance and splendour. So, they appropriated both our hound, our religion and our identity.

By 1936 the German equivalent of the national kennel clubs, called “Reichverband für das Deutsche Hundewesen” has been put under Nazi control and its activities are now run by the thugs from S.A. (Sturm Abteilung). In December 1936 the Danish national kennel association “Dansk Kennel Klub” is put on notice in writing that Nazi-Germany will demand the cessation of usage of any words not identifying the hound as of German origin on the forthcoming General Assembly of the International Canine Federation/ Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) in Paris 22nd July 1937. This results in a great deal of activity and the Danes are successful in refuting the German rewriting of history. However, this does not seem to have stopped German efforts in this direction later on.

The base language of my chapter is Danish. Until I find the time and energy to effectuate a translation in to modern English I hope the short summary above has increased the reader’s awareness and perhaps interest in at least looking at the many, many photographs that shows the evolution of our large hounds over time.

One of the foremost breeders and judges of the Great Dane in Denmark from 1920-1950 was the Danish-American silent movie actress Alfi Muriel Levison (1882-1966).

In the Christmas edition 1948 of the American magazine “Dog World” the editor-owner of the magazine, Will[iam] (Lewis) Judy (1891-1973), makes the statement “that the Great Dane is not a product of Denmark” – in time honoured fashion without explaining why. Captain Judy had earlier made an attempt to have the [American] Staffordshire Terrier renamed the “Yankee terrier”.

Mrs Levison explains in the Danish publication “Hunden” (The Hound, 1950, pages 236-237) that this statement so provoked her that she posted a reply to “Dog World” in her capacity as Secretary of The Great Dane Club of Denmark. Her statement was published in “Dog World” (January 1950, page 90). Today we have far more extensive knowledge available but Mrs. Levison’s short description as it was understood in 1950 by and large sums it up pretty well.



Sec. Mrs. Alfi Muriel Levison (born in Chicago) of Klubben Den Danske Hund (Great Dane Club of Denmark), Heimdalhus, Holte, Denmark, takes exception to a statement in an article in Dec ’48 DW. ”That the great dane is not a product of Denmark”. Here is the club’s reply:


Hamlet says, “To be or not to be, that is the question;” so do we Danes say, and we want to convince the world that the great dane is a Danish-bred dog.

I will now try to explain it in a concentrated form. I could write volumes with quotations from historical writings about our breed. Mr. Judy would (5 lines missing)


“The Great Dane is not a product from Denmark,” with no further commentary.

Denmark is a small country, but nevertheless a country we are proud of. I say we, as I myself am a born American, and after my father’s death, mother took us back to Denmark – she was a Dane.


As all breeders of danes know, it is one of the most ancient breeds. Old coins and prints carry it back to some hundreds of years before the Christian era to a very similar dog, which was a large-headed, powerful dog of the proportions and type of the present dane.

When a product gets a national indication, it always gets this from abroad, as American flour, Chinese tea, butter from Denmark.

This concludes that the dane was exported from Denmark to other countries; it must have been a prominent specimen, and so exceedingly good in inheritance that foreigners bought it for breeding, and the dog was called Great Dane, Grand Danois, Danischer Hund.

The great Swedish naturalist Linné (1707-1778) and the renowned Frenchman Buffon (1707-1788) call it a “breed that is Danish.” Dr. Leop Jos Fitzinger Tybingen, 1876 in Der Hund Und Seinen Racen, writes, “Denmark is the country the Great Dane first was bred and from there came its name.” In this work he does not even mention the Deutsche Dogge (the breed name used by the Germans).


In the last of the 19th century, all dog breeding was organized in the most of the European countries and the interest for the dane was very great in Germany, as Bismarck’s love for these dogs was the prime motive. After our wars with Germany, the Germans were animated with patriotism and they wanted the breed to be called Deutsche Dogge.

The English Great Dane Club was started 1882 1, and the German Deutsche Doggen Club in 1888.
1 1883

The French also call it Grand Danois; the English Great Dane; Denmark; Danish dog (Grand Danois).

Each Country has Choice

July 22, 1937 the Germans went to the Federation Cynoli (Cynologique) Internationale, F.C.I. and wanted to confirm that this dog’s name the whole world over should be deutsche dogge. The case was pleaded from the Danish side. The result was that all countries could call the dog the name they pleased.

In spite of this; Denmark is the country where the breeding of the dane was started. The Normans had the head of a dane in the front of their ships.

Danes Want Larger Danes

America and England and Germany have put their stamp on this dog through their breeding of yellow (fawns) and brindles, and this must be greatly appreciated. Good dogs have been exported to America where the standard of this dog is very high. The only thing we could complain about is the size. We would like it bigger. Now I am speaking as a judge.

Original Dane a Harlequin

The original dog was a harlequin. All breeders of danes know it is much more difficult to breed a correct harlequin than brindles and yellows (fawns).

At our shows the yellow (fawns) and brindles compete by themselves, and the harlequins, blue and black by themselves.

– MRS. ALFI MURIEL LEVISON, Secretary, the Great Dane Club of Denmark, Heimdalhus, Holte, Denmark.


My chapter about our large hound is sub-divided as follows:

Attention brought to any mistakes, errors, further information, questions or queries would be very much appreciated as the chapter remains a “work-in-progress”. If you wish to write me please do so at mail@verasir.dk

February 2007, Flemming Rickfors”.




Peter Paul Rubens, portrait of Sir Dudley Carleton, with Alethea Howard, Countess of Arundel, c. 1620. From Wikipedia.

This is an important post, to be aired and shared as often as possible, as far and as wide as possible. Breed Clubs need to be educated, Kennel Clubs need to be educated, breeders and owners too. I copied the above verbatim from Flemming’s website, because so many Great Dane fanciers today ignore the breed’s history; dog show hosts and commentators every time the breed appears in the main ring continue parroting the same unhistorical versions of the breed’s origins to millions of television (and youtube) viewers around the world, breed books copy the same and as we know a lie repeated enough times becomes the accepted truth. But we simply have to correct our mistakes when the evidence is presented. And my duty is to present here as well, for the readers who have not had the opportunity to read it elsewhere.

As far as the country of origin dispute is concerned, here are my thoughts in all honesty:

as a simple Gt. Dane lover all I knew before was what was put forward by Germany – that the breed was of German origin, that Buffon made a mistake and that the Great Dane had nothing to do with Denmark at all. I have to say it puzzled me, especially as I read in old books that even in Germany the breed was known under different names, and one of them was Danische Dogge (and another Englische Dogge), that it was quite late in the breed’s history that the Iron Chancellor Bismark came along and decided to adopt it as a national symbol of Germany, reinforced by the Nazi nationalism during the Reich, but I had no reason to doubt the official ‘party line’.

Now I have to confess that it doesn’t matter to me at all if the breed is from Denmark, Germany, or Timbuktu. All I care for is for the Great Dane to be a Great Dane, healthy and sound, if you know what I mean. Not to be called a Gt. Dane while it looks like the hunchback of Notre Dame or a cross between a manatee and a Shar Pei, or an undernourished Whippet’s lovechild with an Anteater ! I had also studied a little about ancient Greek history & Art, enough to realise that Greece had also a significant part to play in the breed’s development in its ancient history, and that Greek Molossian dogs of the big game-hunting type again contributed in the modern time, adding stature to the boarhounds & bullenbeissers, as Hancock has documented, and as it’s obvious to anybody who has seen the Suliot dogs today in my country, because they resemble so much an early Dane; and they are available still to contribute some of their genes to the Gt. Dane breed, if ever need be; so I was happy enough and content, thinking I roughly knew about the history of the breed as much as there was to know.

Then came the revelations of Flemming Rickfors’ website and all this painstaking detail and documents and evidence he has amassed, detailing our breed’s history back to the earliest of times; it all rang true, although it took me days and weeks on end to read and translate and digest, tying up the loose ends and the inexplicable “Dane” bit of the breed’s name and the other info I had read elsewhere. The evidence is overwhelming and any objective researcher can draw the inevitable conclusions. As a person who loves the breed and also loves justice and fairness since I was a little girl (as my father, a true servant of justice, brought me up with those ideals), I would love to see this injustice repaired and the FCI undo the damage they seem, in the face of this overwhelming evidence, to have inflicted to the Dane people and the breed, due perhaps to a monumental and unprecedented blunder or clerical error on their part.

Sure I would because I only think it’s fair. And I’ll tell you why: it has nothing to do with nationalism – I believe nationalism is a nasty disease; I think of myself as an Earthling and believe that John Lennon’s “Imagine” is the greatest song ever written about the human condition. BUT ! I don’t believe it’s right to take what isn’t yours by force or fraud, either ! I also believe we are all the same (human) and at the same time different individuals, communities and peoples and we can celebrate our cultural differences and heritage and languages because it’s what makes us grow and dream and create and think with nuance and broadness of mind and experience. So, although I deeply believe that the FCI system -one breed club per breed per country, and one country of origin per breed– is fundamentally flawed and doomed to fail as it puts absolute power in the hands of a handful of people, who are human after all and likely to err in judgement and because “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”

and as much as I prefer that breeds were managed by international consensus and democratic procedures, I am also a realist and understand there are practical difficulties and such evolution will be slow and difficult because of established processes – for example: National Kennel Clubs (like the AKC,TKC etc) exercising their right to draw up their own breed standards for their native breeds and therefore prone to the conventional thinking that it’s also their right to do the same with another (imported) breed, too, instead of following the standard that applies in the country where the breed originated. I don’t necessarily agree, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Another difficulty is that not all countries are FCI members, and above all, there’s human nature (and arrogance) which often makes consensus difficult. So the FCI came up of this system which can, at best, be seen as a be benevolent dictatorship, as far as breed standards are concerned. Their Scientific and Breed Standards committees have a job to make sure breed standards are not ‘crazy’, as in, they do not call for features that put the dogs’ welfare at stake, etc. It saves a LOT of time in potentially endless negotiations between all the 80 plus FCI member-countries, as to what should be the standard for each breed. So it’s practical, but it’s not necessarily always fair.

Let me explain:

imagine you live in a country where there isn’t a Kennel Club. And your native breeds are fair game to anyone that crosses your border and chooses to adopt them and “save” them from the inferior, uncivilized natives (something similar happened to the Greeks under Ottoman occupation, when benevolent Lord Elgin took some bits and pieces from the temples of the Acropolis, buying them -for peanuts- not from their rightful owners, but from the occupying force). Imagine then, an occupying force or some foreign visitor coming to your country and taking a shine to your native breeds; then shipping these breeds abroad and transferring them to their lands to merrily develop them in a breed of the foreigners’ own choosing of name and standard. As it happens so often – recent example, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog (Karabaş).

And imagine time passes and your country is liberated and it has now a Kennel Club which eventually joins the FCI. What would you say is fair now ? Are the Turks (for example) entitled to take back the leadership over the Turkish breeds that were transported abroad and are under the jurisdiction of foreign Kennel Clubs and Breed Clubs and are known as the Anatolian and the Kangal in the West ? Should they be made give some of them back to the Greeks who developed them first? Should the Chinese be entitled to take ownership of the Chinese breeds that were transported from thence to the West and became under British patronage, the Pekingese, or the Chow Chow or the Pug ? Will the unfortunate Tibetans, if they are ever allowed to choose their own destinies, be given back their rightful legacy, the historical Tibetan LGDs and the other Tibetan breeds ? Or are we going to deny these peoples’ and those cultures, their birthrights, and say to them no, sorry, tough luck mate, first come first served only ? Just because you weren’t there, or you were occupied when the FCI was formed, you have lost your rights to your legacy ? Would we ever dare to say to a people that, because they weren’t a country, when the UN was formed, they would have to abolish their international and human rights ? (Not that I believe dog ownership & dog breeding is a birthright – it is a highly skilled responsibility – and should be subject to suitability, education and expertise – as we see all around us the tragic results of the excess and abuse any idiot can inflict on dogs)…

I am not very satisfied about this situation with the FCI, because it creates injustice, inequality and a lot of ‘political’ problems and it does seem to enforce a first come first served de facto rule. Greek native breeds, as I happen to know, have been taken or ‘usurped’ (funny little word that !) and recognised abroad by other countries because Greek cynology was non existent when the FCI was formed. It’s too late now for them. The horse has bolted and the stable is empty. But I don’t think it’s fair or right, that these other countries / breeders / clubs have to be forced to and negotiate like beggars, as if under the boot of an occupying force, from an inferior position, to retrieve some morsels from what used to be rightfully their cultural treasures for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years; or that they have to accept, by having it shoved down their throats by a former Empire, that the country who adopted their breeds has taken the lion’s share of the deal and that all themselves, the original developers, are reduced to, at most, is make do with a split, allowing them to develop their own version; like in the case of the American and Japanese Akita, or some former Soviet breeds that Russia was quick to claim, or aboriginal Central Asian breeds that the Soviets usurped previously. It smacks of the cheek and the outrageous demand of the hypertype fans who put everyone else almost at gunpoint and claim it’s their ‘right’ to take the breed and change it into what they prefer – namely, a cripple. Hello ? Does that sound fair (or sensible) to you ?

So, who knows what will happen with the Afghan Hound if and when Afghanistan becomes an FCI member, or what will happen with the Saluki, if Iran ever joins… At least in some cases the FCI has put its Scientific committee in charge of some breeds, as the caretaker in lieu of the country of origin, until it is ready and able to take over, one day.

And that is why I expect the FCI to do the right thing, in the case of the Gt. Dane; and if there was an injustice done, as regards rightful origin, I want to see it undone. As far as I’m concerned, the Great Dane as a type of dog, long before it became a modern ‘pure’ breed, has a history – and this history owes a lot to Germany (and even countries that don’t exist anymore, like Prussia) but it also owes a lot prior to that to Denmark and the British isles and other European regions; it is a European breed and it must be restored in a manner that would ensure it will be managed fairly and efficiently. There are precedents and FCI admitted it as a Danish breed – so if that status changed because of foul play, justice must be done.

A decision must be taken sooner rather than later and the FCI can’t be putting the matter on the long finger indefinitely, just because it has its own internal problems and power struggles. The issue is not going to disappear; Denmark has lodged the complaint officially with the Federation and demands answers. Solving this might even convince the doggy public in the 80-some member countries that the Federation is serious about and capable of effecting it’s own reform, something that many have voiced reasonable doubts on.

Solving the Great Dane origin dispute in a fair and just manner would also go a long way towards clearing the air in the subject of Breed Type, and how the latter will be resolved could rely a lot on the former. I think it is very important, for the integrity of the breed, its present and its future, for all of us to consider and ponder and discuss.  And arrive at the best solution. Because if you don’t know where you’re coming from, you really don’t know where you’re going…

Den danske Hund Prins Christian 1603-47 karel van Mander

Prince Christian of Denmark (1603-1647), c. 1665, by Karel van Mander III.


More recommended reading: the background of the current situation, previous posts here, here & here and original breed standards here, here & here.