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The origin of the Great Dane, 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 the Great Dane. 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.
The Great Dane was introduced into this country spasmodically some thirty-five years ago, when he was commonly referred to as the Boarhound, or the German Mastiff, and for a time the breed had to undergo a probationary period in the "Foreign Class" at dog shows, but it soon gained in public favour, and in the early 'eighties a Great Dane Club was formed, and the breed has since become one of the most popular of the larger dogs.
The Kennel Club has classed the Great Dane amongst the Non-Sporting dogs, probably because with us he cannot find a quarry worthy of his mettle; but, for all that, he has the instincts and qualifications of a sporting dog, and he has proved himself particularly valuable for hunting big game in hot climates, which he stands very well.
Respecting the temperament of the Great Dane and his suitability as a companion writers have gone to extremes in praise and condemnation.
In his favour it must be said that in natural intelligence he is surpassed by very few other dogs. He has a most imposing figure, and does not, like some other big breeds, slobber from his mouth, which is a particularly unpleasant peculiarity when a dog is kept in the house. On the other hand, it must be admitted that with almost the strength of a tiger he combines the excitability of a terrier, and no doubt a badly trained Great Dane is a very dangerous animal. It is not sufficient to teach him in the haphazard way which might be successful in getting a small dog under control, but even as a companion he ought to be trained systematically, and, considering his marked intelligence, this is not difficult of accomplishment.
The Great Dane attains his full development in about a year and a half to two years, and, considering that puppies have to build up in that time a very big skeleton and straight limbs, special attention must be given to the rearing of them. The dam whelps frequently eight puppies, and sometimes even a few more.
Mr. Larke's Princess Thor had a litter of seventeen, but even eight is too great a number for a bitch to suckle in a breed where great size is a desideratum. Not more than four, or at the outside five, should be left with the bitch; the others should be put to a foster mother, or if they are weaklings or foul-marked, it is best to destroy them. After the puppies are weaned, their food should be of bone-making quality, and they require ample space for exercise and play. Nothing is worse than to take the youngsters for forced marches before their bones have become firm.
Before giving the description and standard which have been adopted by the Great Dane Clubs, a few remarks on some of the leading points will be useful. The general characteristic of the Great Dane is a combination of grace and power, and therefore the lightness of the Greyhound, as well as the heaviness of the Mastiff, must be avoided.
The head should be powerful, but at the same time show quality by its nice modelling.
The eyes should be intelligent and vivacious, but not have the hard expression of the terrier. The distance between the eyes is of great importance; if too wide apart they give the dog a stupid appearance, and if too close he has a treacherous look.
Another very important point is the graceful carriage of the tail. When it is curled over the back it makes an otherwise handsome dog look mean, and a tail that curls at the end like a corkscrew is also very ugly.
In former times "faking" was not infrequently resorted to to correct a faulty tail carriage, but it is easily detected. Great Danes sometimes injure the end of the tail by hitting it against a hard substance, and those with a good carriage of tail are most liable to this because in excitement they slash it about, whereas the faulty position of the tail, curled over the back, insures immunity from harm.
Until recently British Great Dane breeders and exhibitors have paid very little attention to colour, on the principle that, like a good horse, a good Great Dane cannot be a bad colour. The English clubs, however, have now in this particular also adopted the German standard. The orthodox colours are brindle, fawn, blue, black, and harlequin. In the brindle dogs the ground colour should be any shade from light yellow to dark red-yellow on which the brindle appears in darker stripes. The harlequins have on a pure white ground fairly large black patches, which must be of irregular shape, broken up as if they had been torn, and not have rounded outlines. When brindle Great Danes are continuously bred together, it has been found that they get darker, and that the peculiar "striping" disappears, and in that case the introduction of a good fawn into the strain is advisable. The constant mating of harlequins has the tendency to make the black patches disappear, and the union with a good black Great Dane will prevent the loss of colour.