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How on fiddlesticks, did a breed ultimately defined as “neither a mastiff nor a greyhound”, and the “Apollo amongst all dogs”, ended up classified as a mastiff by the FCI ? Clearly, a mastiff would not have been associated with the Apollonian, graceful, elegant body type; if the Great Dane was a mastiff it would have been far more reasonable, we’d expect its breed standard to say: “it is the Hercules amongst all dogs”.
The malarkey begins with “Molosser” (or “Molossoid”), a made-up word for “Molossian” (mountain dogs , flock guardians & big game hounds) becoming a synonym for Mastiff,
and Mastiff becoming a synonym for compact, slow, massive, heavy, bull-type dog.
None of the above was historically true.
Yet not only these “Molossers” / “Molossoids” got somehow muddled up, they have also been multiplying – so nowadays we have their babies, divided in two kinds:
– the mastiff type (which some dog experts like to call “the true molossers” – although the Molossian dog, clearly, was NOT a Mastiff)
– and the “mountain type” (in other words, Livestock Guarding Dogs); these are of course closer to the original Molossian, yet even that is economical with the truth and does not shed even a glimpse of feeble candlelight on the whole story, as there were, in ancient Greece, not one but at least two Molossian dog types or landraces, specified by function: one that was used to guard the flocks of sheep (ακόλουθος τοις προβάτοις) and another that was used to hunt big game (θηρευτικός). And as we know, form (and behavior) follows function.
To confuse subsequent students of dog history even further, individuals from both these categories were used in human conflict and war in antiquity. So we could actually argue there were more than two Molossian / Molossus (ancient Greek: Μολοσσός) dog types or landraces (in fact there were) but no need to, within the scope of this post.
The Molossian dogs of ancient Greece were simply large strong dogs. They were used to guard sheep and other livestock, they were used for protection in general, they were used as watch dogs and guard dogs, in war battles, as messengers, and also to hunt big game. Small game was hunted with a plethora of other, fast and slender, landraces and types.
Greek and Roman authors mention over sixty different varieties of dogs, although it’s not entirely clear what all of these looked like. Hellenes, prone to rational thought and somewhat magnanimous, after so many philosophical debates at symposiums fuelled by fine wine, music, and naked dancers, recognized several of these had Asiatic, Egyptian, Indian and generally foreign origins.
Back then, it was a sign of civilitas and good manners to acknowledge cultural influences and actually be proud of the fact that the city and / or its citizens had adopted a custom or imported a thing of great beauty or usefulness, or totally useless (like exotic deities), an animal, invention, work of art, manner, method, material or product of significance, from other peoples and faraway lands. It was the prevalent ethos of a cosmopolitan, sophisticated society, self-confident and rather well-travelled.
Undoubtedly some of these large strong dogs we encounter in ancient Greece, Rome and throughout the ancient world were lupoid (like wolves in appearance) and some resembled the robust hunting dogs for big game that we see depicted in Asia. Because that’s where they came from, originally.
Now let’s examine how the term dogue came about and what it actually meant.
Just like the Greeks and the Romans called the biggest and strongest dogs Molossians, the English and the Germans had a word that simply meant big strong dog, strong hound or muscle dog. That word became a generic name for all dogs, but it also gave rise to the terms dogue & dogge.
The Germans call all dogs hund (hunde) which in English has the equivalent hound and is reserved exclusively for hunting dogs.
The English in turn have a collective term for large dogs with strong muscle: it’s the word “mastiff”.
So we have to understand that what the English call mastiff is also what the French call mastin / mâtin & Dogue, and what the Germans call dogge.
The terms mastiff and dogge are (have become) synonymous.
The German name of the Great Dane is Deutsche Dogge (in French, Dogue Allemand) which in English translates as German mastiff. Originally, the British mastiffs were called Englische doggen in Germany.
Now, some native German speakers argue that the term “dogge” is not synonymous with mastiff but simply means big dog / strong dog, strong hund / hound or simply dog with strong muscle, muscle-dog (just like muscle-man means “strong man”).
And they do have a point and that argument would be correct and applicable today, as it was in the olden happy times before people destroyed ancient working dog breeds, if we were talking about the original meaning of the words docga / dogue / dogge. It simply meant large dog, powerful / strong dog, muscle-hound.
But the word has since taken a wholly different meaning in cynology [word derived from the Greek κύων (kýon) = dog]. Dogue and dogge have become synonyms for a mastiff-type dog, not in the original sense of mastiff / mastin / matin (which simply meant, from Latin, a tame dog) but in the specific meaning of a dog that is heavy, massive, built for strength and not for speed, a dog like the French mastiff (Dogue de Bordeaux) and the Italian Mastino and the English Bulldog and the French Bouledogue: additionally, it has regrettably come to mean a dog that is brachycephalic or has a marked tendency for brachycephalic features: a cuboid head, heavy round bone, compressed, in contrast to elongated form, like the modern, extreme, short-faced St. Bernard.
So when the FCI breed standard of the Great Dane, in the German language, calls the breed Deutsche Dogge, and further more defines the breed as a “doggenartige hunde” (dogge-like dog) there can be no argument that dogge means anything different, in modern cynology, than mastiff-like dog.
That is a very long way from the original Great Dane standard, which clearly differentiated the breed from the mastiff, as, in a nutshell: neither a mastiff nor a greyhound.
The original, universal type. Etfa was acknowledged by the breed’s leading connoisseurs as the living ideal in her time.
So the original sin, the archetypical nonsense that landed the Great Dane into trouble, was this very unfortunate (and frankly, silly) contradiction in terms, of calling the breed Dogge, while defining it, a few phrases later, as neither a mastiff nor a greyhound. That is a paradox and an oxymoron, as by logic it should be mutually exclusive to call a dog a Dogge / dogue and, simultaneously, not a mastiff.
But there are many such, and worse, erroneous and irrational, pseudo-scientific notions and often repeated lies becoming accepted as biblical Gospel in cynology.
As the breed was developed from both mastiff-like and greyhound-like dogs, yet at the same time it was undesirable to breed Great Danes towards a mastiff type (because the original breed standard which set its breed type unequivocally informs and in fact dictates, that the breed is neither a mastiff nor a greyhound), designating it as a Dogue (=mastiff), by baptizing it “Deutsche Dogge”, was clearly a mistake. A very serious mistake, that was about to have some very grave consequences. However, the Germans made that error at a time when no hypertypes and no extreme mastiffs existed, has to be said…They could not foresee the absurdities that were to follow…
It is undeniable that the Great Dane was developed from a background of Livestock Guardian Dogs and Large Game Hunters (Molossians, in the original sense: LGDs of mountain type, as well as greyhound-type dogs) : not just the historical evidence, pointing out to the use of Souliot dogs to increase size, but also the DNA evidence, are revealing. The progenitors of the Great Dane were a multitude of “Alpine” – type LGD dogs (Swiss – type) and big game hunting dogs, both “mastiff”-like and hound-like and gaze-hound and sight-hound in morphology and use.
These two “extremes” that the original standard talks about, were dogs displaying morphology ranging from the compressed form (cuboid, massive, heavy, tending to brachycephaly, built for strength at the expense of speed) to the elongated form (long dogs, fast dogs, lightweight, built for speed at the expense of strength, like the primitive hounds and the greyhound sighthound windhound types).
The Great Dane is a composite of these two opposing elements, represents a median between these two extremes, is the result of a marriage between the compressed, shortened form and the elongated form, equally balanced; and let’s for once and for all be clear about this fact: the Great Dane, from the time of its inception as a breed was meant to be neither. Neither a mastiff nor a greyhound, right there, in black and white. It was clearly intended to be bred as a separate type, combining both elements but maintaining equal distance from both extremes.
The original breed standard set this commandment in stone instructing the breed’s keepers to steer clear between Scylla & Charybdis, in a manner of speech: keep the Great Dane away from a predominantly mastiff expression of morphological features as well as from a predominantly greyhound (whippety) expression of features. That was the will and testament of the breed’s original founders. The Great Dane was not an outcross intended to return to the mastiff type, or to the greyhound type, with back-crosses to either: it was not ever supposed to become mastiffy or whippety. It was intended as a new, stand-alone breed, different from these. The Great Dane was always meant to stay in the middle, combining strength and speed, power and elegance, mass and grace, in splendid, harmonious, individual, unique and well balanced equal measures. This balance was intended from the beginning by the breed’s original visionaries. That is precisely why the original standard in its English translation states: “elegance of outline and grace of form essential”. And the successors of those breed founders were supposed to follow that plan. There can be no mistake about that.
Substance and strength of muscle combined with refinement (refinement is not a dirty word, dear DDC! You cannot banish refinement and expect the Great Dane to remain the Apollo among all dog breeds – without refinement, “finish”, finesse, there is no Apollonian ideal, no Apollo beauty / body type, no classic statuesque harmony, proportion and balance !), bone and structure endowed with ability to course and gallop and keep up with fast large prey and with the physical & mental capacity to grapple and hold it and wrestle it to the ground. That bone is not the heavy round bone akin to slow LGDs that are stationed around flocks as deterrents against wolves and bears, but the bone that befits running, hunting, endurance galloping dogs. That muscle is not the heavy ropey bulging muscle of the Bullmastiff, but the flat fast-twitching muscle of the dog capable to keep up with boars and deer running flat out at 40 km/ph.
And some of us failed.
The reason is a problem of all breeds that combine contrasting elements, such as the Bull Terrier: warnings against excess towards one or the other foundation types (the Bull type, the Terrier type and the Dalmatian type) are essential breed education in this case, “the ideal being a blend of the good points of all three”. In the Great Dane’s case, the balance is split in two: mastiff & sighthound. The ideal was the “blending” of the good points of these: power and elegance combined in perfect balance.
The failure began by the absurdity of naming the breed a mastiff (dogge) when clearly the intention was to steer clear from that morphological type.
Yet at the beginning that was not an issue.
The seeds of the hypertype deviation were sown when an influential French breeder decided to part ways with the breed standard and her spouse provided the theoretical “justification”: veterinarian, professor of zootechnics Yves Pincemin published his Morphologie et esthetique canine (Canine Morphology and Esthetics) in 1965. In this book he partly analyzed, borrowed, copied and expanded from previous authors on classification of dog breeds (Mégnin & Baron in particular), as an introduction to his treatise of the Great Dane: this includes commentary on the Great Dane standard and a detailed analysis of the breed’s morphological traits. Pincemin classifies the Great Dane as type “dogue” like the Boxer and Bullmastiff. His distinction between “giraffe type” and “kangaroo type” Great Danes makes one marvel and wonder what exactly the good doctor was sniffing in his study…
Giraffe tendency, Kangaroo tendency (from Morphologie et esthetique canine, 1965)
Some fifty years later, it does seem quite ironic that this author could not at the time provide more mastiffoid specimens than these still quite typical dogs shown above: simply because there were no hypertype Danes at the time. The photographs provide even further proof that the “mastiff type” heavy Great Dane is not original: it was virtually non existent for the first century of the breed, being a contemporary ad lib invention which was conceived by this French couple. By the 80-90s, France had largely succeeded in the goal to grossly deviate from the “neither a mastiff nor a greyhound” directive of the standard and transform their “type” into a “Molossoid”; dominating France thanks to the life-long influence of producer, international judge and absolute guru in all things “Doggen”, Michelin Pincemin Merat, from the position of President in the Club Français du Dogue Allemand, the fashion quickly caught on in Italy and other countries, catering for a clientele that did not have much care for sophistication and Apolloesque ideals of refined, classically statuesque, elegant forms and body types: those aesthetic preferences, stemming from classic education and tastes, informed by the plasticity and harmony without crudeness of Ancient Greek sculpture, are deemed too antiquated and effeminate for the still widespread “machismo” (uber-masculinity) image and behavior prevalent among many hormonal, body-building young males (and their corresponding female fans); idolizing the grotesque physique produced by anabolic steroids, they show off with big, imposing, heavy canines that look threatening, much in the same vein that the extreme American Bully has become the dog of choice within certain American urban cultures. It is a typical symptom of overcompensation and ties quite well with the posthumanist, relativist, anti-intellectual, neo-brutale trends of our times.
Yves Pincemin’s book will be the subject of a future blog post, as he is, in a sense, the father of the hyperbolic Dogue Allemand and the hypertype Great Dane.
Meanwhile, it is high time the FCI and its Scientific Commission sorted out the classification mess.
Stop calling the brachycephalic mastiffs “Molossers” / molossoids. Clearly, the only breeds that should be listed as (more appropriately) “Bull Dog type” are the bull breeds / brachycephalic breeds (the category not exclusive to those individual breeds under that name, as the Bulldog and Bullmastiff of Britain and the French Bouledogue, but to include all truly brachycephalic dogs based on craniometry, and irrespective of size – from Dogue de Bordeaux to Pug).
All “Dogues” would belong to this category – but…there is one major caveat as “Dogue”, originally, did not mean what people think it meant: it did not mean Bull dog type, it did not mean Molossian / molossoid, it did not mean brachycephalic, it did not even mean Mastiff: it merely meant “strong hound”, big game hunting dog, “muscle dog”. So essentially these pseudonyms need to change use and association, because the “dogue” / “dogge” term is a misappropriation; it needs to be reclaimed and restored to it’s rightful owners: the big game hunting dogs and those alone.
Stop calling the non-brachycephalic mastiffs “Molossers”: simply call them “Mastiff types” (decide if the Mastiff of Britain is desirable to be brachycephalic or not, and class all those massive dogs with non brachycephalic craniums under the Mastiff proper category, separate from the Bull types).
Restore the Molossian / Molossoid title to its proper origin and meaning: Livestock Guardian Dogs (you can call them “mountain type”, if you like, it does not matter, its actually a tautology because in essence the LGDs are not Herding breeds, they are dogs like the Alpine type-derived mountain type “molossoids”, the Swiss cattle dogs and the Tibetan “mastiff” – which isn’t a mastiff, but a Molossian and a LGD; Tibetan Mountain Dog would be a more appropriate name).
Remove the Molossians (LGDs) from the Group II : their inclusion there (see Prof. Triquet’s admission about the classification of the Swiss Cattle Dogs) was not based on a scientific approach to the classification system as undertaken by the FCI, but it was done at the request of one influential man – and he later regretted it. It is totally absurd to separate the mountain type “molossoids” from the Swiss Cattle Dogs: they are all LGDs and they either belong to Group 1 together or to another group again together – but they are definitely not “mastiffs” like the English, French or Italian mastiffs.
Create a New Group for Large Game hunters to include:
– Gazehounds / Boarhounds / Staghounds
- Strong Hounds (dogge / dogues: Great Dane)
- Dogo Argentinos , Rhodesian Ridgebacks
- Hunting Molossians
Take the Flock Guardians from the Group II and place them in Group I : Rename Group I from Herding to “Herding & Livestock Guardian Breeds” (After all, the original purpose of all these was to protect livestock, but in different ways). Leave the Mastiffs & Bulldogs in the FCI Group two.
Problem solved. This solution would also help to restore breeds like the St. Bernard to their original type and fitness and ease them away from brachycephaly and excessive, harmful features.
Another way to solve the problem, and avoid the “mastiffication” of large game hunters, would be the obvious: Rename Group 10 from “Sighthounds” to: “Gazehounds, Sighthounds & Big Game Hunters”.
Several other possible solutions include:
adding a subgroup to group 6 (Scenthounds) to include Big Game Hunting Breeds / Boarhounds. After all, Group 6 includes the Rhodesian Ridgeback – not a “pure” scenthound ! (And the Dachshunds belong there…but that’s outside this blog’s scope).
adding a subgroup to Group 5 (Primitive dogs) to include Large Gazehounds (as it already includes some gazehounds)
adding a subgroup to Group 9 (Companion dogs) – Large size Companion breeds.
taking the Dachshunds and all the “unclassifiable” breeds and putting them in a new group: Utility Dogs. Great Dane, Dogo Argentino, Dalmatian, Ridgeback would go into the section: Large Game Hunting Dogs. The Dachshunds would go into Small size Hunting (Warren) Dogs. Any other breed difficult to classify could go into this group and the groups would still be ten in total.
I personally don’t see much wrong with the American, Australian, British, Canadian, Indian, South African, New Zealand etc classification system(s) that are basically categorisations by original task rather than obsessive morphological minutiae and uber-zealous overclassification, reminiscent of such “serious” theological debate as the number of angels that would fit on the head of a pin; Herding, Working, Utility, Gundog, Terrier, Hound, Toy/ Companion breeds – simple. The Great Dane would fit in three of the above – Hound, Working or Utility; obviously, the Hound group would be preferable as most convincingly argued by several dog historians and authors, like the pre-eminent Col. David Hancock.
The new FCI classification system attempted to classify morphologically – but left out size (how else can we explain the fact that the Pug and the French Bulldog are in The Companion group and not with the Bulldog in group II?). Therefore it is not a definitive, absolute, strictly-by-morphology system, it is a system that allowed and created exceptions based on criteria other than absolute morphology (like size, in this example, convenience, or where-else-to-put-them conundrums & whims). It should then also, logic dictates, allow and provide a further rational reclassification in order to solve the problems it created – and these problems need to be identified and admitted and redressed. It solved some non-important problems of mere practicality and categorisation, but it created very important problems for breed type and breed essence for some breeds, including ours and the Dogo Argentino, as well as LGDs.
We can’t sacrifice the very definitive issue of breed essence, morphology and fitness to an issue of merely menial administrative ease of grouping them conveniently.
The dogs’ health and physical integrity is the prime consideration – grouping them is a secondary concern. So we’ve got to get our priorities right: the FCI has set the order correctly: all breeds, all dogs ought to be physically and mentally sound and capable to perform their original function – the very function(s) that shaped their morphology and drives. Classification groups should serve that primary objective – not override it and never, ever harm it.
So about time to sort out this mess and restore the Great Dane: one breed, one type.