by Dana Cline



When one looks at all of the trials and events now offered our animals, it might be interesting to investigate the changing roll of conformation events and how function might indeed be redefined.

The American Kennel Club now offers, aside from conformation, an array of events open to purebred dogs such as obedience, agility, rally, field trial and herding events to name a few. These are all great events and certainly an ultimate test of intelligence, how high, how fast and how strong.

As a judge, on many occasions I have been asked if I might share my insights on how I came to a decision on my placements for the day. On one such day a group of women exhibiting whippets posed this question to me, “ How did I think the dogs I had chosen for the day could run in a field trial or lure coursing event?” I found this to be a very interesting question, however, I didn’t believe my job as a conformation events judge necessarily afforded me either the knowledge or to bear the burden of providing an explanation. It was a surprisingly informative exchange, perhaps more so for these women than they had expected. After some brief and rapid consideration, I asked these women to stand in my shoes for a moment and explain to me how they as judges, with only a standard in hand, could assess the running abilities of a sight hound within the somewhat strict limitations of the conformation event? I asked them what physical attributes cause a running hound to excel? What faults may cause them handicap? Can dogs with lesser conformation qualities actually be better running hounds than those with perfect conformation? How does one go about assessing those qualities in a galloping hound in a ring that only facilitates observation at a trot? After exchanging ideas and information they were surprised that they had truly not only asked a question that was impossible to answer, but also not a question, within my range of knowledge, that I should be required to answer. To that end, one must take a serious look at the role of “function” or perhaps it’s definition as it applies to our dogs in conformation.

Automatically, when we refer to function most would imagine an action, referring to moving parts and how they allow a dog to perform some particular task? I say that function in many cases, especially so in Great Danes refers to nothing of the sort. We all toss words around such as soundness and type, what do they really mean, can we really define soundness and if so what are we referring to? Are we referring to mind, body or both? How important is it to be “sound”? Is soundness as we know it more important than type? Does a dog's soundness play a role in defining it as an individual or does a dogs type define it? In many, many cases I believe that a dogs function is directly related if not entirely dependent upon it’s physical beauty and artistic value.

Let’s just say for example, you were asked to assemble a team of animals to compete in a varied number of skilled competitions. These competitions would involve the exact skills required in all the events I have mentioned in a previous paragraph. If you were truly serious as a competitor how many Great Danes would you include on your obedience team? How many on your agility team, your field trial events team, your weight pulling team and so on? Now, if you were asked to assemble a selection of animals to compete solely based on their physical beauty and artistic contributions, how many Great Danes might you choose? I think it’s pretty easy to see, those other events are not designed for, nor do Great Danes often excel at skilled events, however, when you call upon a breed for their artistic balance and symmetry, you would call upon a Great Dane.

I would like to make it very clear that I feel everyone, including myself, aspires to breed healthy, good moving dogs; we all appreciate them. When it comes to conformation events, can we really assess the ability for any breed aside from perhaps toy dogs, to do the job they were originally meant to do? If we truly believe that the Great Dane was originally a boar hunter, what virtue makes him so? Why would he be better suited for that then a German Shepherd or a Rottweiler? Would any of us who love the sweet and gentle giant feel secure with an animal displaying this tendency, to share space with your family or children? What do we see in a conformation event that so clearly separates a superb herder or guardian? I believe that there are more specific events to test any individuals ability to perform it’s task, whatever it may be, but it is not the conformation event that accomplishes this.

Conformation events, in my opinion, are tests to evaluate primarily beauty and certainly agility of motion. It has never been proven that a dog who can run in a straighter line or “fly” from the side makes a more functional hunter or guardian. Movement as it is observed in a conformation event, has merely minor differences based on the same theme. It only assesses a dog’s degree of agility or lack of clumsiness, all directly attributing to his overall poise and physical attractiveness. I think it is truly a sight to behold when a dog, especially a Great Dane is fluid in his movement and beautiful in his stature. Most of us who have ever lived with a beautiful Great Dane would more than likely never trade that experience for anything, yes including good movement. What makes a Great Dane excel beyond his beauty in those other events, is called presence of heart and nothing else. It is the exception to the rule that the Great Dane should ever excel at those events, it has little or nothing to do with his physical stature. If anyone would disagree, consider the victory of Sea Biscuit over the great War Admiral, a horse short and crooked at the leg defeating the great and undeniable warrior!

In closing, I might ask that illusive question, one that we may never truly ever agree upon ”What is the true function of the Great Dane”? As our breed has evolved over the last century or so, I believe the true function of the Great Dane is as an estate dog and a dog of pleasure. The true function of the Dane is found in his physical beauty and artistic value, which stimulates our visual senses. His breed type and only that defines him and separates him as an individual among other members of his species. His refinement and beauty are so unique and remarkable that he can never be confused with another.

We are truly fortunate to belong to such an elite class among dog owners!

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