Conducted by Adam Protos
Loves Park, Illinois
March 3, 2006





AP…Where did you grow up?
DC…I grew up in a large family in a very small town called Mt. Morris, Illinois.  It’s only about twenty five miles from where I live now.

AP…Growing up as a boy, did your family have dogs?
DC…Not as a young boy, we didn’t get a dog as a family pet until I was about seven years old.  It was a Bassett Hound.

AP…Did you show the Bassett?
DC…No, actually the Bassett was just a pet.  It was sometime later that I got my first show dog as a 4-H project.  It was a black Great Dane, and mixed-color bred at that.  I participated in 4H showmanship and animal husbandry and things like that.

AP…Did you use that dog for breeding?
DC…No, as I began to learn more and gain some experience around the dog show, I realized that there were dogs of a whole different caliber than mine.  While my first Dane was a good introduction into the world of competitive dogs, it became obvious that it was not consistent with the direction that I wanted to be going in.  I also started to be interested in breeds other than Great Danes.  You have to remember that, in the beginning, I wasn’t “in” any one breed and the dog show offered a huge amount of possibilities.

AP….So then, what other breeds did you become involved with?
DC…Well, over the years I have handled almost all of the breeds at one time or another.  However, as far as breeding is concerned, I’ve also bred Beagles, Mini-Bull Terriers, Borzoi and German Wirehaired Pointers aside from Danes. 

AP…Do you think that this involvement over a large cross section of breeds was enriching to your formative years in dogs?
DC… Oh, absolutely.  Working with a large number of different breeds within all the different groups enables you to bring more to the table.  Often, the most effective way to learn a given trait such as breed type, is to observe it in the different contexts of various breeds.  It allows you to have a depth of perspective that would otherwise be impossible to attain.

AP…At this point it is pretty obvious that your passion for dogs was deepening, how did you translate that into the direction of becoming a professional handler?
DC…Well, I had this natural interest in dogs, and was a competitive person. When you combined this with my love of animals, the pursuit of a career as a professional handler just seemed logical. 

AP…About when was this?
DC…I started handling at about sixteen and then became a professional handler at twenty-two years old.

AP…You became quite a successful professional handler.  What would you say are the responsibilities of a handler?
DC…In a perfect world, the responsibilities of a breeder, owner and the handler would all coincide.  However, in many cases today, the handler must be able to determine the level of quality of the exhibit because the owners cannot do it themselves.  Determining when a dog’s quality is that of a champion, a special, or a top special.  Is the dog an excellent example of its breed or is the dog merely finishable? 

AP…You’re saying that honesty as to the quality of the dog and the resulting aspirations are paramount in the handler-client relationship?
DC…That’s right, the good handler must be straight-forward and honest from the beginning.  Without a doubt, honesty with clients will help in the long-term relationship.  That way, everybody’s on the same page and has realistic expectations which are in-line with the quality of the dog.  Of course it’s nice if the handler can really believe in and be inspired by the dog at the end of his lead.  Unfortunately, this is happening less and less often because of the increasing numbers of sub-par dogs being produced.  Instead the handler is now all too frequently having to justify and “push through” dogs of inferior quality.  This is somewhat of a vicious cycle; the handler has to take on these dogs to survive, but in doing so they enable dogs of inferior quality. Although, there are several other parts to this equation which are deficient, such as the judging and breeding.
Today, the sport seems to have become more commercialized and now it seems many breeders just want numbers of champions.  Often there is more value put on the win than on the quality of the dog.

AP…Are there any other subtleties which you feel contribute to one becoming a great handler, rather than merely a good one?
DC…The truly excellent handler has more than just the desire.  There’s a lot more to do with it than that.  First, there’s the tremendous amount of hard work that goes into it, apart from the enormous task of being responsible for other people’s dogs.  Then there is that elusive ability to be able to get inside a dog’s head and make him the best he can be.  The importance of this, especially with a top dog, cannot be overestimated.

AP… You reached a high level with many of your client’s dogs and then transitioned from your career as a handler to your present position as a judge.  When and how did that come about?
DC…Well, I’ve been a judge for seven and a half years now.  Again it was a natural progression to become a judge, to give back to the sport, getting to a point where your experience can become a real asset to the sport.  This is where my career as a handler came into play.  It enabled me to be involved with many breeds and people at the high level, helping me to grasp the “big picture” of dog showing and how individual breeds contributed to it.  Currently, I am approved for Best in Show, the Sporting and Hound Groups, as well as twenty-five other breeds. 

AP…So your primary motivation to become a judge rested on the desire to educate others?
DC…My only interest was to educate and promote something I really loved and cared about.  And……it’s a real challenge to be a credible judge.  Being a professional handler can help one to become a good judge but judging is actually an artistic expression.  If one has an aptitude for it, only then can he learn to enhance it.  In other words, there is a certain God-given knack for this, just as with handling.  Now, that is not to say that this raw talent cannot be refined and developed, to the contrary, it absolutely should be.  However, it cannot be created if it’s not there.

AP…In your opinion, is good judging lacking in the sport?
DC…Yes, the ability to access artistic value is definitely lacking; somewhat because the percentage of good dogs is lacking.  The actual focus now on what is important with the AKC has changed the opportunity for people to become good judges. 
I think the focus has completely shifted. Before, it was mostly about the breeder.  Now, good breeding is barely a consideration.  Now the dog and breeder are lost and dogs are identified by their handlers.

AP…And as we talked about before, one reinforces the other.  Loss of focus on good breeding necessitates an increase on the focus on handling, which further de-emphasizes breeding, and on and on.
DC…That’s right, and I’m not quite exactly sure how this trend took hold.  It’s like that old saying, “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”, but it is a trend that is definitely there. The sad part is that many judges have just become apathetic because there aren’t many inspiring dogs out there to pick from.  I think some new judges and promising breeders are the sport’s best bet.  For this whole thing to be worthwhile there has to be good dogs being produced, that’s the foundation of the entire thing. 

AP…You’ve already said you think that there is a real lack of quality judging in the sport, how do you think this relates to judges’ education?
DC…It really all goes back to the loss of focus on breeding and the effect it has had on the way we all learn dogs.  All of us: owners, handlers, and judges.  I was a handler, but I learned from breeders.  When I was young, I always visited kennels where you could see families of dogs; you could talk and discuss families of dogs.  It’s hard to conceive of now, but it really was all about “talking dogs” and seeing the subtle nuances of structure and patterns.  It was focused on the art of breeding dogs and the show ring was a necessary outgrowth of that, but not the primary objective. 

AP…There was importance placed on the development and progression of a bloodline?
DC…Exactly, Adam, many breeders used to have a certain line of success.  Whether you liked their dogs or not, they had to breed a group of related good dogs to be thought of as successful.  That was the standard by which you were judged.  People were active in breeding and showing many of their own dogs.  Today’s style of exhibiting is also creating a group of weak judges.  The people active today are often not multi-functional show people.  Especially the excellent breeder and breeding is missing.  Traditionally dog shows were for exhibiting good breeding stock.  That’s what they were designed for.  Now so many winning dogs are never even found in any successful breeding programs; that tells you something right there.

AP…What is the most challenging part of being a judge?
DC…First of all, it’s not a glamorous job.  To be good at it takes a lot of hard work and dedication.  Being disciplined is vital to being a responsible judge.  Also, it really helps to understand how hard it is to get good dogs to show.  Those who did not do this cannot bring the same judging attributes to the table, nor are they able to defend their decisions with the same conviction.

AP…Is the political aspect challenging?
DC…As a handler, I was not a promoter of dogs.  Showing a dog as a professional and promoting it are two very different things.  This is where the honesty that we talked about earlier is a big help.  Frankly, Best In Show or Group promotion never interested me.  This was a foreign concept and never really interested me.  It just wasn’t that necessary. Politics is definitely out there, but it still doesn’t much pertain to me.

AP…In that same vein, is it hard to face your friends being the judge?
DC…Certainly.  Yes, it crosses your mind.  I hope when my friends come into my ring, if they are my friends that they will be my friends after they leave, regardless what happens.  Friends should know when a dog is good enough to bring to me and when its not.  I will give my best opinion and that’s it; I’ll stand firm and be committed in what I am going to do.  You don’t become successful by compromise. If you care about your work, from breeding dogs to handling dogs to judging dogs, you must maintain your ability to stand by your conviction………………no compromise.

AP…Does the quality of the judge have a direct influence on the quality of the entry?
DC…Yes, the exhibitor usually knows the style of dog to show to a particular judge.  A positive thing for judges is when exhibitors learn that a dog has to be of a certain level in order to be competitive in that judge’s ring.  I don’t ever get shaken-up by a smaller entry.  Once they realize what style of dogs a judge likes, it is a benefit to that judge.  This is an example of knowing when to stay and when to go away.  There are difficult moments when judging dogs, but again, being convicted is really important.  In the end, your true success is being able to stand by your convictions…………..not compromising.

AP…Having this conviction, as you put it, seems to rest heavily on knowing what your responsibilities are and taking them seriously.  As a judge, how would you describe your most serious obligation?
DC…My singular job is to select the best dog.  When you are judging breeding stock, which is what conformation is based on, it is necessary to minimize the ability of the handler, to always make sure the best dog wins in the end and to not reward the dreads of the breed under any circumstances.  I always do my best to bring the best dog forward and to not promote characteristics that are bad for the breed, and certainly not just the best performance.  You can not make a dog good by a good performance; a good dog is always good, period.

AP…We’ve touched on the issue of the lack of quality dogs before.  Why do you think there are so many poor specimens being shown, and furthermore, why are they winning?
DC…I think it has evolved to the point where nearly all value is put on winning and not on the quality of the dog.  Each dog has to be considered in the confines of its purpose.  The Great Dane’s sole purpose is its appearance.  The Great Dane breed should be at a higher level of quality than it is; actually I think our breed is in serous trouble.  Unfortunately, I’m not alone in this assessment.  Most of my colleagues, many of whom are high level judges, regard the breed as little more than an afterthought.

AP…This might tie in with the lack of inspiring dogs being bred?
DC…Yes, there has been a huge erosion of quality.   I think the focus has been taken off show dogs and has been spread across too many venues, and even what’s left in the conformation arena is misguided.  It’s fine to have other events and side goals for fun, but this is creating a huge distraction and people are pretending to be successful for reasons that have nothing to do with the breeding of show dogs. 

AP…Do you feel that a recent emphasis on breeding for performance is compounding this problem?
DC…To be honest, Adam, how high a Great Dane can jump is of no consequence or value.  People who place value on these non-breed specific attributes are really missing the point.  The beauty of any breed should be accessed to the degree of how they satisfy their purpose.  A Great Dane’s distinction rests completely on his appearance.  There is no other breed even remotely similar, which stands in sharp contrast to other groups of dogs such as Spaniels and Setters.  Some breeds’ identity lies in other specific characteristics such as performance or gait.  This is not so with the Dane, his distinctiveness lies in the ability of his appearance to be striking, as outlined by the Standard.  To attempt to change this purpose is nothing more than people trying to accommodate their own inferior dogs and that is a disservice to the breed.

AP…The Standard certainly is pretty explicit in its priorities. 
DC…There’s actually not a lot of gray area as far as the direction of the Standard goes.  People create that for their own agendas.  The Great Dane should stimulate you visually, that’s how the standard directs you.  The Brittany Standard instructs you to value its performance.  The Great Dane Standard instructs you to value a visual stimulation.

AP…What would you say to people who say the emphasis on aesthetic value has come at the expense of soundness?
DC…I would say that soundness has to be evaluated within the context of purpose, and a Dane’s solitary purpose, according to the Standard is to be striking.  For instance, a toy breed is made to be carried in the sleeve of a woman.  That is not to say that it shouldn’t be able to walk.  In fact, in the early days of Toy conformation, they were not even required to gait for the judge.

AP…Speaking of gait, how does it apply to your assessment of the Dane in relation to the Standard?
DC…The Great Dane Standard only requires the Great Dane to demonstrate a generic gait.  It requires no breed-specific traits whatsoever regarding gait.  According to the Standard, you should not make major decisions about Great Danes based on gait, but rather about how they look.  Things like type and gait are not weighted equally in different breeds.  If gait was a crucial consideration for all working breeds, the Siberian would always win and the Mastiff never would. 

AP…Things like type and movement must be weighted relative to the breed.
DC…It is definitely relative.  Type is the only thing that sets Great Danes apart.  As much value as one puts on a Sporting dog’s ability to do its duty, one should put the same value on the Great Dane’s appearance.  A Great Dane’s appearance is his value.  So, it is impossible for a Great Dane to do its job without being beautiful.  There may be many things you wish them to be- but there’s only one thing they must be….beautiful.  It is a guardian dog who protects his family by his appearance and presence, by his intimidating, imposing self.

AP…Well said.
DC…Thanks, but I would like to make the point that I didn’t just make this stuff up.  It is the culmination of years of involvement with dogs and others at the high level that were successful.  This includes breeders, judges, and handlers not only in Danes, but across the entire realm of dogs.  This allowed me to discern what yields results and what doesn’t.  It’s about what fosters the creation and recognition of outstanding dogs according to their standard.

AP…You’ve also had experience judging dog shows abroad.  In which other countries have you judged and what are some differences?
DC…I’ve judged in Japan and Australia, among others.  In those countries it seems that much more emphasis is put on breed level competition.  Because in the U.S. it seems people are always looking beyond the breed, I think they put false credibility and false criteria while not sticking to the fundamentals of the breeds.

AP…But wouldn’t you say that Danes are best here in the United States?  I mean they are coveted by people all over the world. 
DC…Great Danes are the best here, but breeders in some other countries seem to have a truer sense of value and investment in the quality of the dogs. The attitude of the breeders is in better shape.  By comparison and contrast, in this country we have advantages such as lack of isolation and greater numbers of dogs. Consequently, particularly in recent times, we should be doing better in Danes than we are. This is especially true considering the advantages we enjoy. 

AP…People have become complacent about quality because of the fundamental good work of our predecessors.
DC…Exactly, from where the breed started, our Danes are in worse shape than the other countries’ Danes are from where they started.  Even with all the disadvantages they have.  Our Great Danes should be better by leaps and bounds, and as of late that margin has been narrowing.  If we adopted and adapted some of the attitudes of our predecessors, with all the recourses provided to us, we would be making much better decisions regarding this breed.  The focus has been taken off the serious breeder; the role of the serious breeder in dog shows has been diminished throughout the whole sport by the AKC and parent breed clubs alike.

AP…I’m glad you brought that up, the Parent Club, that is.  The Great Dane Club of America (GDCA) takes great pride in the hosting of our National Specialty; how do you feel about the state of the National?
DC…The National can be a wonderful resource for people to get together, learn, and improve their dogs.  Unfortunately, I feel our National’s scope has become too broad and it’s harder and harder for people to do just that.  Now there is nearly as much attention given to all the parades and non-breed specific activities as there is given to conformation.  Its fine to have fun with those things, but the focus should be on conformation.  Conformation is the way that better individuals of a breed are created because it’s about the evaluation of breeding stock.  This is what a National should be about, the progression to better Great Danes.  A lot of those other things are enjoyable, but their focus is simply not on breeding stock.

AP…So, you think this shift in focus has hurt the quality of the entry?
DC…Yes, it’s come to the point where it’s hardly even about serious conformation anymore.  It doesn’t seem to be directed at having or bringing good Danes to it.  As a consequence it is not for the betterment of the breed.  To the contrary, it’s become an excuse for people to bring every dog they have in their house, it’s become a Great Dane vacation.  Of course, this is further enflamed when the judging is poor.  Then the entry only gets worse and the whole thing becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, feeding off itself.  It will take some really outstanding leadership which puts the focus back on breeding to break that cycle.  

AP…Dana, if you had a great dog of your own to show at the National, what judges would you like to have officiating?
DC….Ok, let me think a minute……three; I would like the panel to consist of Carolyn Thomas, Nancy Carroll-Draper, and Hazel Gregory.

AP…Why them?  I mean, how do they fit the criteria you have in your mind of an ideal judge?
DC…A judge should be straight, dedicated to the breed, and without any predisposed objectives.  I think all of those people excel in those areas.  They also have a tremendous amount of experience in the breeding, raising, and showing of Danes.  They’ve excelled in several different areas of the sport and, consequently, bring an in-depth perspective of Great Danes to the ring.

AP…I understand that you have made some significant contributions in the realm of judges’ education.  Tell me about that along with any other ideas you have for how it could be improved.
DC… First I would have to mention that each and every parent club should be the guardian of the “mainstay” or traditions that are sacred to each breed. As for the GDCA, I believe the relaxation of the color code sent a strong, clear message to the general sport that we were negligent and a club divided on some very basic requirements of our standard and breed. As for education, like all else, one must be dedicated to educate individuals free from predisposed ideas.  This means promoting the facts that favor only the breed and those wishing to learn about it. It is true that the details of the Standard are open to some interpretation and are somewhat subjective, hence different styles.  However, we must strive to focus on the true purpose of the Great Dane and preserve the direction of the breed as outlined by the Standard.  We must promote it as the true estate and pleasure dog that the Standard demands.   This will not only serve to set the correct tone for new judges to better understand how to approach judging our breed, but will also give them the knowledge and confidence they need to stand by their choices. 

AP…It will give them the courage of their convictions, so to speak?
DC…Right, they can stand by their decisions because they were educated correctly about the true function and purpose of our beautiful breed. Our breed should never be created or taught from a one dimensional standpoint. An educator must always strive to find that unspoken communication with his pupils that best describes the true essence of Great Danes. While one must go beyond the written confines of the Standard if this is to be achieved, it must always serve as our guide and be afforded the respect it deserves.  When someone truly becomes a master breeder, they are able take the theme of our Standard well beyond the minimums prescribed by its written boundaries.  This is what I was referring to when I made mention of different styles. The hallmark of this is the development of a bloodline.  There is just so much to be said about our breed that is really hard to put into words. We must always focus our education from the beginning, or breeding, of the animal; from how the animal was established. Remember, most standards are a guideline for breeders to breed from, not simply for judges to judge from. This makes it a tricky, and certainly a controversial task to educate judges.  Consequently, it takes someone with a sound understanding and commitment; someone who will not only stand by our breed, but also by our standard.

AP…We’ve talked a lot about the pitfalls of judging today.  In your estimation, why does it sometimes look so hard for so many judges to find the best dog?
DC…It should be easier to find the best dog in a lot of bad ones than the best dog in a lot of good ones.  But sometimes, especially judges inexperienced in Danes can be thrown off kilter by the extreme low quality we are seeing in a lot of the entries.  They end up thinking the bad ones are correct because there are so many more of them.

AP…These poor quality dogs are obviously being produced by people who think they’re breeders.  Most of them probably think they’re doing a good job.
DC…That’s just it.  They’re not intending to produce inferior dogs, but there is just no good place for people to learn from credible sources.  There is this notion now that everyone’s opinion has equal value and it’s simply not the case, especially when one is referring to an art form such as purebred dogs.  Any art form must be studied and learned from the masters in that craft.  It must be learned from those with experience, expertise, and credentials if it is to survive and maintain its forward momentum.

AP…How could the breeders producing these sub-par dogs be doing a better job?
DC…One of the biggest problems today is that they breed for individuals but what you really need to do is to create an excellent family.  When breeding, you need to gain some knowledge and to be your own strongest critic.  You know, if you ever become satisfied, it’s time to quit.  Your new dog must always be at least as good as your last one.

AP…In the last 35 years or so there seems to be an intensifying emphasis on campaigning for number one.  How has this influenced the direction of the breed?
DC…Winning a Best In Show is fun, winning a Best Of Breed is important.  Everything after BOB should be determined by that first step.  And it is this first step that should be the most important.  An over emphasis on winning a group or BIS is a misplaced priority.  When there is a concentration at the breed level, successes at the higher levels will naturally follow.  If Great Danes are to excel at the highest levels of competition, they should not try and mimic the qualities of other breeds, but instead they must excel at what it is that makes them distinctive as Great Danes.  This is why it is really important to win at the Specialties.  Participation at Specialty shows consistently stimulates you to raise your goals. If you lag, the next person will pass you by.  People cannot stay competitive unless they stay focused in their breeding.  And the focus in conformation should be on the breed level.

AP…And you feel that emphasis on campaigning a dog is undermining this?
DC…Not always, but many people campaigning top dogs today are not necessarily interested in seeking out keen competition.  Often the least consideration is the quality of the dogs.  Sometimes if the dog simply has the characteristic to stand up to the rigorous schedule of the dog show, they will take it out to see who they can fool.  Frequently, it’s more a test of endurance than an evaluation of breeding quality.  The focus has turned from strategy in breeding to strategy in winning.  Unfortunately, the desire of the good breeders who have managed to hang on has been completely squashed by bad judging. This is because those with good dogs and good breeding have been discouraged and replaced by the rewarding of inferior dogs.  Of course, no one enjoys taking their excellent dog to a poor judge and having it disregarded in favor of a dog of blatantly lesser quality.

AP…What is going wrong?
DC…I think the people in the position to educate do not remain true to the Standard.  Many of those people can not themselves rise to the quality of the Standard; they cannot or have not bred excellent dogs.  This cannot be underestimated.  The educating has turned from meeting the Standard to distorting the Standard for one’s own purposes, actually drawing attention away from the Hallmarks of our breed.  If you can’t create it, try to minimize its importance.  They are trying to justify their own lack of ability.  And they do it with determination and passion.

AP….How can we make improvements on some of these situations?
DC…The biggest crime committed by parent clubs, especially the GDCA, is that they seem to ignore the mainstay people in Great Danes.  The most likely people to help improve the situation have removed themselves from the GDCA.  You leave because you could not possibly prescribe to that way of thinking.  The leadership has nothing to do with supporting the creation of better dogs.  Even when they say they’d love to have your input at meetings, the reality is they have no interest in it.  It is more revealing to see who is not active in the GDCA than who is.  I was a member for approximately twenty five years.  You really have to stop and ask yourself what’s gone wrong when a person like myself and others in similar positions have relinquished their membership.  Sadly, it is meaningless and does not promote the creation of good dogs.  So many people of integrity and ability simply can not identify with the direction or interests of the GDCA today.  Often those doing the serious work in the breed don’t have as much time as the ones doing the least.  Instead those doing the least have time to spend seeking out positions of power for themselves.  That is their craft I suppose; but does it even relate to the important issues of the breed? All their insecurities relate to the threat posed to their own winning.  If they can’t compete on a level playing field with good dogs, they try to change the focus to issues of lesser importance. In essence, they are always trying to take a short-cut for a win

AP…Dana, turning to a lighter side, what would you say are some of your best moments in dogs?
DC…I would have to say that judging the Hound group at the Garden was a pretty awing experience.  I also was honored to judge at our National Specialty several years ago.


AP…On a more personal note, let’s find out a little about you outside of dogs:
Any hobbies?
DC…----Gardening, I really love to work in my water garden, as you can see from the pictures, it really relaxes me.

 Favorite sports----Basketball, I’m always going to games to cheer on my nieces and nephews.

 Favorite movie----Elizabeth tied with Brokeback Mountain

 Favorite play---- Le Miserables

 Favorite actor----Clive Owen

Favorite actress----Glenn Close, she is such a great actress; anything with her in it is almost always excellent.

Favorite books----Classical Fiction

Favorite music----Soft rock

Favorite type of food----Italian

Favorite public figure---- Barak Obama, he’s positive and inspiring, with so much promise.

APDana, sorry to throw this in at the last minute, but one last dog question:  who do you feel are three truly excellent multiple breed judges?
DC…Hum, let me think...OK, Edd Bivin, Michelle Billings and Peggy Beisel-McIlwaine.

AP…Dana thanks for taking the time to do this, I really learned a lot. 
DC…No problem, Adam.  I’m always glad to share what I know.

Previous DANELINKS articles  by Dana Cline:



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For the past seven years, Dana Cline has been achieving success and premier status as an AKC judge at an astonishing rate.  He is already licensed to judge Best In Show, the Hound and Sporting Groups, as well as twenty five additional breeds, many in the Working Group.

Although Dana's roots are in Great Danes, he has produced many champions including Specialty, Group and Best In Show winners in other breeds.

He was an all-breed professional handler for many years and has handled dogs from various groups to Best In Shows.  He has already had the distinct honor to judge at the GDCA National, assignments at the prestigious Westminster KC, including the Hound Group in 2005.  Dana has also handled or judged in England, Japan and Australia.

First and foremost Dana loves his original breed and seizes the opportunity to be a true ambassador for excellent Great Danes whenever the occasion presents itself.