DANELINKS.COM                             4/1/05







by Dana Cline




After having read Ray Cataldi's March editorial on Danelinks, I thought his statement referring to our breed having "past the point of no return," sadly, could not be more correct.

It seems these days a dog's superior virtues are somehow inarguably proven and justified simply by the amount of ribbons it has amassed.  Let me state that no one could argue that the best dogs do not always win and I am sure the reader has witnessed unbelievable mistakes in the ring. It is obvious that there is confusion about the characteristics which are essential and important in evaluating correct type.


Where might we find the reason for this? Is it in our mentoring and education process, which seems to be little more than salesmanship of a currently campaigned specials dog, or is it simply the overall state of diluting of type in our breed to the point of extreme diversity?  The sad reality today is that our Danes compete in a race among themselves for top breed rankings and struggle for higher recognition in the group ring.  It seems we have all but taken our breed completely out of the All Breed level of competition. We have produced less than a handful of multiple Best in Show winners in the last decade. While I personally feel the peer level of competition is still the most credible, this steady decline at the highest level of competition only serves to weaken the status of the Great Dane, evidently only rarely considered as being viable, true contenders by many of today's judges.  Some action must be taken to preserve and clearly identify the classic breed type and reverse this unfortunate trend.  It has taken years for the breed to regress and it will take time, patience, and serious effort to correct this situation. Lets consider some of the players in this effort.


Backers in our sport are a necessary entity, however, in far too many cases they know very little about breed specifics and find themselves being "sold a bill of goods" instead of being educated to recognize the correct dogs. This is an unfortunate circumstance that will only change if credible and dedicated breeders provide the right type of unbiased mentoring.  Imagine if we could properly educate and then channel these individuals to expend their resources in advocating the very best specimens.  This alone would have a long term, positive effect on our breed.  Do I believe that finances are the key ingredient to a successful career?  Not solely, but resources and breed knowledge would be the ideal and would strengthen our backers as well as our breeds image.


Breeders and exhibitors will be very important in this effort too, but only if we broaden our perspectives about our purposes and obligations.  In the sport of purebred dogs, I feel true greatness is only achieved by individuals who are completely well rounded. I don't feel it is necessary for me to describe in detail what I mean when I refer to well rounded, except to say that a stack of show ribbons may or may not pertain to a truly great, well rounded dog.  A complexity of the sport of dogs is the assessment of the physical appearance of its contestants as well as valuing an ability to reproduce these virtues.  We compete in a sport where too much admiration for success in the ring has come at a very high price to its most essential aspect, breeding good dogs carefully and consistently.  As a comparison, consider that a celebrated baseball player might be an all-star pitcher who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with a bat, yet his merits as a talented thrower alone earn him heroic status.  Too much emphasis has been given to a summer of show wins as opposed to a lifetime of really important success as a quality specimen with a proven ability to produce quality progeny.  This kind of Great Dane is more valuable than one which is promoted and touted as a great specimen based on its show record alone. Breeders and exhibitors need to care enough to understand and acknowledge this fact.

Good, honest mentors will be essential for reviving the breed's status as well. Anyone claiming to be a mentor must consider well the following: when an individual accepts the responsibility of mentorship, it must be free from bias and must not be prejudiced by current, active participation on a competitive level. That is not to say that an active exhibitor should not mentor a novice, as newcomers are the future of our sport, but to serve as a mentor to judges while one has a top ranked dog, might be considered more along the line of selling than mentoring. Mentors should be individuals who have nothing to gain except the satisfaction of knowing they are steering someone in a positive direction. Unfortunately, it seems that truly dedicated mentors must rely upon educating their students from quality stock we have had in the past, finding the higher percentage of our current exhibits quite below the quality level of the dogs from days gone by. Please forgive my candor, but for those who might think our breed is in any other state aside from the obvious dire straits, excuse me for a moment while I remove your heads from the sand.  The future of the Great Dane is not served as long as any “mentor” seeks to promote their own current show dog as an example of quality or greatness in an educational experience.


Our sport is clearly divided into 2 major categories, the breeders and a variety of participants which are non-breeders. There are very few in the middle.  I realize this may seem vague but the breeders are the heart and soul of the sport.  They are the beginning, middle and end of all great dogs.  As a general rule, once a breeder, always that, and once the other always that. It's rare to find these opposing factions agreeing on much, as they view dogs from differing perspectives.  Breeders generally feel that the all breed portion of the competition is merely icing on the cake, where handlers and financiers find that portion to be the real test of success. There are some of us, myself included, who are somewhere along the median line between the two, having bred a number of quality dogs which I handled to a certain level of success, and also a witness to a few really great dogs which managed to obtain top show wins.  I have handled for others too, aware of varying degrees of quality.  I believe a person with a true desire to understand a standard and an ability to look at dogs objectively can undertake a quality study of any breed. These are most generally the individuals that become multiple breed and multiple group judges. Aside from a few individuals that only wish to "fill in the required box," there are a great number of us who genuinely wish for proper guidance and a fighting chance to do right by the breeds they currently judge as well as the breeds they aspire to judge. These are the people who deserve the right to an unbiased, legitimate, source of mentoring. These are the true quality students of our sport! We must help and encourage them.


It is not always wise to use as examples the top ranked show dogs when referring to standards of excellence, in fact I find it one of the major failings of our sport.  Our breed is in serious need of redirection, before it indeed reaches the point of no return.  Having spent the majority of my life loving this breed, as many of us have, as ambassadors of the breed, are we left with any other choice?


It may seem that I have painted a somewhat grim picture of our breed and its current status, perhaps I have, but I don't feel that it is in any way distorted. As a whole, our breed has continued to decline in almost every facet of competition. When was the last time anyone at a group ring was concerned about which Great Dane may appear on the scene?  Why is it that most of the best breeders have no desire to take part in judging breeding stock from inside the ring?  None of these occurrences are mere coincidence. It's essential now more than ever for all of us to strive to breed better dogs, to educate judges and newcomers justly, to evaluate our dogs with an unclouded eye, and above all, to consider our beloved breed first.

Other articles by Dana Cline:


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