I conducted my in-depth interview with Hazel Gregory over
Labor Day weekend 2006. For a newcomer like me, I felt like
sitting down with Hazel was a golden opportunity. She is one of
the breed's great influences and guiding forces.
Along with her husband Bob, she began Von
Riesenhof Great Danes, a contributing bloodline, in 1947 and
subsequently they became the breeders of scores of champions, as well
as becoming talented handlers, judges, and Great Dane Club of America
board members. Her commitment is underscored by the
thoughtfulness she put into her responses.
As Hazel answered, a colorful list of characters emerged, many
of whom were driving forces in the shaping of our breed. I have
owned and studied Great Danes since I've been eight years old,
so to hear a first hand account of the many people, dogs, and
stories I had only seen in books was a memorable and insightful
experience. Hopefully, we can all take something away from it.
I found Hazel to be passionate, driven, and moving when
recounting her time in Great Danes. What follows is the story
of a body of work; of a lifetime in the art of dogs.
AP…..Were you happy
with the results of that first litter?
HG.....Well, we had been studying different bloodlines by then and learned
that there was better out there. We knew places like Brae Tarn had supplied
many of the top breeders of the day, and they were very successful. So it
was natural that we recognized them. In any event we sold all of those
brindle puppies and managed to save a little of the money. Then one day
George told us about a well bred bitch, a fawn owned by a preacher on the
Southside of Chicago. So we went there. They had chickens, ducks and this
After we got all the way there, the preacher changed his mind, said he
wouldn’t sell us the dog. It was quite an experience.
I remember they were having some sort of
church service; the sister was playing the piano. All of a sudden the
preacher said, “The good Lord has spoken and said you should have the dog.”
We all prayed, we paid the money and she was ours.
AP…..What was her
HG…..That was Doris Of Kalish, call name Janie. She was really our first
well bred bitch and really had a foundation you could build from.
We ended up keeping our first Danes we had started with, but decided not to
breed them anymore. And we moved to a bigger place in the country.
Janie immediately bonded to me. I had never had this before. We were a
young couple, now we had three Great Danes and the girls.
We started to show Janie. Right away things were different and we started
winning with her. Greg handled her and she got a major right away. And we
joined the Lake Shore GDC at its start. Greg became treasurer. Hildy Dilner
(later Hildy Compton) was there. The club started having matches. We started
to go to more shows. We liked it, it was fun, and we were meeting new
Meanwhile, I really became attached to Janie, and really learned how someone
could have a deep attachment with an animal.
AP…..Was Janie your first champion?
HG…..We wanted to breed her, but we wanted her to be a champion first, so we
got Larry Downey to handle her for the remaining required points. She
finished quickly. She was a good dog. In the meantime, we were learning more
about Danes from George at the bar. We were having fun and going to dog
shows with Walt and Jackie Chmiel. We became dog show people. Back then
there were just as many people posing as experts that really didn’t know
anything at all, just like today. But we recognized the people who had
sustained success in breeding and showing and wanted to learn from them.
This is how you learn dogs, inch by inch. You have to live it. We really
wanted to do this thing right. That seems so long ago.
We began to study pedigrees and bred Janie. We bred her to Valiant Viser
owned by Lil Owens and Al Jensen in Ohio. As we struggled along, we decided
we didn’t want to call the puppies “Gregory’s” and wanted to come up with a
name. Greg worked with a German man and they came up with the name Von
It means “the house of giants”. There were other names, like Brae Tarn and
Marydane and we wanted to make a kennel name, building a hallmark; to have a
name that had quality dogs.
AP…..By this time you are really making a concerted
effort to study and learn Great Danes. How was Janie’s first litter?
HG…..Well, like I said, Janie was pregnant and a terrible thing
happened. I was out in the yard hanging clothes on the line and Janie, very
much in whelp, was out there with me. I turned around and saw this small dog
that had come into our yard and Janie saw it too. Before I knew it, she was
chasing this dog out of our yard and I was running after her, calling and
calling her name. She ran into the street and there was this delivery truck
there that was blocking my view of what was coming on the other side. I kept
calling her and she started to come back to me, then this car came around
the truck and hit her. Right there in front of my eyes the car hit her, and
she flew over to the side of the road. I ran to her, and when I got there
she looked up at me. We just looked at each other for one last time and then
she laid down and she died. Lord, it was one of the most awful things.
After that, I wasn’t sure if I could be in Danes any longer. But then when I
healed, I missed her and I wanted to have another Great Dane. It was then
that I learned there was a daughter of Janie’s at that same preacher’s and I
went back there and got her daughter, Raulta.
AP…..Did Greg show Raulta to her championship?
HG…..Yes, we finished Raulta. The Lake Shore Great Dane Club
had their first specialty, I think Lina Basquette was the
judge and Greg won with Raulta (Lina fancied Greg). She was
Lina Gilmore then.
(Handlers judged Specialties then)
In the meantime, I started handling too. Larry Downey was
more or less my mentor as a handler. I taught myself to
handle by watching him. That’s what you do, go to the people
who are successful and pattern after them.
Anyway, we bred Raulta to Ch. Beau’s Vandal. From that we got Ch. Golden
Girl Von Riesenhof. We had also taken Raulta to New York and bred to Ch.
Dinro’s Aslan. Even though I wasn’t crazy for the dog, he was a bit small
and was also a bit skully in the head when you looked at him straight on, we
had noticed that he was producing “the look” in get like Ch. Lucky Adolph of
Marydane. From the Aslan X Raulta breeding we got Prince Valiant Von
Riesenhof. We then bred Prince and the Golden Girl together.
AP…..That was a half brother to half sister breeding. How did
you arrive at that strategy?
HG…..We had gotten to the point that we liked the dogs on the pedigree
and what they represented and we wanted to concentrate those good traits. We
wanted to maximize our percentages of good traits on both sides of the
pedigree. Breeding is all about maximizing percentages. This is the point of
line-breeding and in-breeding.
From that half brother to half sister breeding we got Ch. Geordon Von
Riesenhof and Ch. Hansel Von Riesenhof. Luckily, around this time we had
come across another Doris of Kalish daughter, out of Ch. Lancer of Cheramy,
and that was Ch. Long’s Gretchen Von Riesenhof. Greg handled and finished
Gretchen for her owner.
Back then we were just like everybody else, just going along, trying to
learn but we were very serious about breeding, while being coached by George Kalish and Fred Evanger.
Along the way we had also bred a good bitch out of the same lineage called
Ch. Tina Von Riesenhof. We had met Gloria Keppen and she whelped a litter
for us from Tina. This is how Gloria got her good bitch, Ch. Vanda Von
AP…..Did you breed
Gretchen, the other Doris daughter?
HG…..Yes, then we took Gretchen to NY to breed her to Ch. Dinro Aslan.
I had already met Rosemarie Robert at the International KC show here in
Chicago. I had seen pictures of Dinro dogs and was attracted to them. From
the breeding of Gretchen to Aslan we got Ch. Miss Erikke Von Riesenhof.
We had read about the Brae Tarn bloodline who came over to the US and
produced Ch. Dinro Aslan and some of the Marydanes. He was a wealthy man
named Stevens, who brought these Brae Tarn dogs here from Germany. All those
good dogs that Dinro and Marydane were getting were from Brae Tarn. And then
we bred Gretchen to Aslan and got three champions, Miss Erikke, Sir Marlowe
and Sir Marcus. Miss Erikke had a really long neck and a great rear and was
really up. The Larsen’s owned her. Greg handled her. She was a great show
When I went to breed to Aslan, I had already learned that Dinro and Marydane
were the best out there. Also when I went to breed to Aslan I first met
Nancy Draper. She had Dinro Aelric, again all based on Brae Tarn. We began
to realize the continuity of the bloodline, how great bloodlines of the past
provided the genetic foundation for the great bloodlines of the present. A
bloodline is really a concentrated collection of genes capable of
reproducing itself. And so this is how we began to become interested in a
bloodline and wanted to build a Brae Tarn only it would be Von Riesenhof.
The whole emphasis then was on really knowing your dogs. Others had built
something of substance that had become successful and we wanted to do that.
AP……Speaking of knowing your dogs, I take it you’re
becoming more involved in the dog show while all this is going on and
eventually started judging Sweepstakes?
HG…..That’s right, as time went on both Greg and I decided we would
like to judge, it was just the natural progression of things. I got the
judging assignment to do the Sweeps before the National. Gloria Keppen had
to stay at our house to take care of the girls and the dogs so I could go to
judge at the National. This whole thing always was a lot of work.
When I judged there, I put up Dinro Taboo as a puppy. He had this long neck
and this great sound solid body. Later, Rose got on the train-The Pullman to
Chicago. I picked her and Ch. Dinro Taboo up from the station and they went
to the International KC and won BOB.
Eventually, we bred him to Ch. Geordon’s Golden Girl, “Suzie”. She was out
of Ch. Geordon Von Riesenhof and Ch. Hansel Von Riesenhof, who I’ve already
mentioned. The Ryans owned Geordon and she became the dam of Ch. Deacon’s
Golden Fury v Geordon, who was owned by the Denios. Suzie was the product of
a full brother sister breeding, which let us really stamp in type, as we had
already been linebreeding half brothers and sisters.
We also kept Hansel, and then he went to live with Jean Mc Gilicutty (later
became Jean Fowler who owned The Boss). In the meantime we had decided to
move to Texas.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back to Suzie for a minute. From
the brother/sister breeding we got Suzie and I drove all the way from Texas
to NY and we bred her to Ch. Dinro Taboo. I really wanted to incorporate
some of his neck and leg length. We got Ch. Taboo Von Riesenhof and
Ch. Taro Von Riesenhof. We really stamped in that TYPE.
AP…..I’ve seen pictures of Ch. Taboo Von Riesenhof,
what a striking dog. Talk about presence and breed type.
HG…..He was a dog that made you stop and look. I decided to take my young
Taboo to show in NY at the National. I stopped at Milwaukee where he was
reserve winners dog. When he stepped out of the car people wondered who that
beautiful dog was. He had a regal presence. Al Jensen was judging. Back then,
if you had a major, you could not show in the GDCA Sweeps and I was on my
way to NY to show.
From there I drove him to NY, showed him and he took reserve winners dog at
the National in the 60’s. I handled him myself. Then I drove him to
California and won BEST OF BREED from the Bred-By class at the GDC
AP…..You were fast becoming a muti-functional dog
person, breeding, showing, and handling. How would you characterize the
dogs' type in that era?
HG…..There were good dogs but somewhat different types. Hansel was more like
our dogs today. We had been learning along the way. We basically learned as
we went. You begin to make comparisons. You begin to decipher why one is
different from the others. You have to begin to dissect. There are different
types of dogs even when they have similar pedigrees. Aslan, Gerhardt, Lucky
Adolph Of Marydane. We pulled it out by breeding to Dinro Aslan and Dinro
Taboo. They all came from Brae Tarn-- Dinro, Marydane, Mountdania, the
Eastern breeders. Anna Mary bred from that same bloodline but with her
bitches went a little different way.
We all got a huge boost from Brae Tarn.
In the meantime, Lina came up with this accidental breeding and got this
good fawn dog named Ch. Honey Hollow Stormi Rudio. She had an accidental
fawn/black breeding and then she sold a dog as a pet to Kay Clark. Then she
saw him at two and started showing him and did well at The Garden. She got
famous. Even Greg put the dog up.
AP.....So instead of knocking successful places like
Dinro or Marydane, you decided you had better get into the car and get it
HG.....So that’s what we did. Those pictures of Gerhardt and Lucky Adolph
touched us. We wanted to get that and bring it to Chicago. We decided we had
to go there to get “the look” that stops you and takes your breath away for
Today Doris would be common, but she was solid physically and mentally.
I had a new baby, and Doris guarded her.
Kalish was from Brae Tarn too. We linebred on Brae Tarn when we went to
Dinro. All the time we were linebreeding on Brae Tarn.
AP…..I know we’ve talked about your study of pedigrees
and structure, but how did you actually go about learning dogs?
HG…..I learned from comparison. Back then the judges and the handlers knew
their dogs, and you could learn from them. We learned that we want a long
rib-cage and not a long loin. We learned that we want a smooth, full, flat front and not a
protruding pigeon breast. We learned that a dog should have a short hock and
angle at the stifle from the long bones of the first and second thigh so it
doesn’t have to swing the leg from the hip. If the thigh bones aren’t long
enough the only way to make up the distance to the ground is for the bones
to fall in a straight line from the hip. There is no bone length there to
create the angulation at the stifle joint and give good bend of stifle. If
there’s no bend of stifle, the distance from the stifle to the hock joint is
too short and you wind up with high hocks to cover the distance to the
ground. Angulation is what gives them the drive and extension. Most high
hocked, under angulated dogs have no drive or extension. The tail is
genetically such an important part of many many breeds. The tail is a
breed-specific trait. As a breeder, you must stay away from bad tail
carriage. Many would have you believe that tail carriage is trivial, but it
completely influences the outline of the dog.
AP…..Are some traits harder to select for or get rid
HG…..Some things are harder to get rid of. Doris was so good in
conformation, but didn’t have that elegance and beauty so I went to get it.
In the pedigrees, it’s a matter of percentages. You want to build your
numbers. This takes generations.
After I drove all that way to breed to Aslan, when I got there, I didn’t
like the dog at all. But he had the pedigree and would increase our
percentages. Linebreeding helps build up percentages.
Like I said at the beginning of the interview, little things mean a lot.
Such as in the expression, in the eye.
You can’t constantly dilute virtues. You must increase virtue percentages.
Out-crossing never does this.
You send a child to school to learn to read and to write. You learn dogs the
same way. You have to find someone to teach you these things. This is an
art. Breed type is a subtlety. You learn these things from people who have
the respect because they honestly had success. There are a lot of people in
dogs who think they know- and they don’t. When you see a judge putting up
blatantly inferior dogs over good ones, that judge doesn’t know.
AP…..What is the value of a bloodline?
HG…..The value of a bloodline is PREDICTABILITY. You can’t get all things in
one generation; you must keep building up your percentages. A bloodline is a
concentration of qualities in a breed with an ability to genetically
reproduce them. It’s increasing the percentages of getting a certain head-type,
a certain front, a certain neck, a certain croup.
Dogs with many different variables (outcrossing) are not what you’re after
when breeding a bloodline. When you outcross, although you get Great Danes,
all the details will be totally variable.
To be able to predict a particular look takes a long commitment and
strategy. You have to plan it.
AP…..Do you think anyone is trying to build a
HG…..I have a hard time trying to figure out if there are any bloodlines
being bred today. Who out there is trying to build a bloodline? For one,
they start out by being in love with their own dog whoever it may be….even
when it’s not good enough. Big mistake. It takes time. This is why when we
really decided to breed Great Danes, we learned and sought out a well bred
bitch like Janie.
Also, years ago there weren’t that many purebred dogs. Most of the people
who bred Great Danes could afford them. Now a lot of people have purebred
dogs. It’s mainstream. And they breed them, because they want puppies and
they are Great Danes. And they decide to like what they breed. Because they
don’t know the details of the breed, they select for the easiest thing to
AP…..Absolutely, before you can really build anything
you have to take the time to learn structure.
HG…..When breeding, you’ve got to know the qualities, good and bad of the
parts of the individuals. Although they should, people don’t think in terms
of pedigrees, only that they are Great Danes. They just breed them and they
take what they get and the ring ends up with a conglomeration of faults.
It’s all diluted now.
A breeder breeding a real bloodline uses just a handful of individuals.
People have to remember that the only thing in life that has the potential
to be immortal are genes.
With cross-color breeding the variables just go way up and out of control.
Huge variables based on just color are completely destructive for the breed.
Temperaments have to be selected for as well, but temperaments also have a
large environmental component. I think temperaments are better today than
AP…..There is so much information now, especially with
the Internet. For instance, this will be put on the Internet. How do you
root out the credible information?
HG…..You have to look for the good information and to learn how to analyze
it. You have to connect with people who know and can make comparisons. You
have to learn how to make comparisons. The first clue to someone who is
serious, they should talk about what’s good about a dog, not what they don’t
like. Judging dogs is about proportion, breeding dogs is about percentages.
I try to educate people by starting with the “Terrible Ts”, teeth, tail,
topline, temperament. That’s what I’ve tried to do with the games I’ve
created and my
Developing a Bloodline video. You have to look at the parts
and see if all the little things are correct as well as proportionate. How
the parts play on each other.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: You have to live it. Breed-type lies
in the details. The same is true of soundness. Movement is about how they
use themselves. Does the dog pick up and drive with his back leg or merely
swing it from the hip?
AP…..I know both you and Greg have been judges for
many years. Do you have a philosophy in the way you approach judging?
HG…..The dog who has the most good parts that fit together properly should
win. Balance in faults is not an asset.
AP…..How would you define breed type?
HG…..A Great Dane must have a Great Dane head. The standard describes that.
Things that are vital to being a Great Dane are: head is first, size and
how the dog fits together.
All things matter but all are not weighed the same. Good feet are a
positive but they are not weighted equal to a good head. The head defines
the breed and all the other parts have to fit together well to make a unit
according to the standard.
AP…..What is the Great Dane’s purpose?
HG…..It depends on the times. Basically they are a family dog who is big,
beautiful, friendly, gentle and loyal while being manageable, intimidating
and naturally protective. They shouldn’t be demanding but must always
be dignified, stable and solid, never pushy, never silly nor flighty.
AP…..How would you describe your ideal Great Dane?
What are some good ones, both Von Riesenhof and non-Von Riesenhof, which you
feel are exemplary of the breed?
HG…..Golly, my ideal Great Dane? I would say a beautiful head, neck is
almost as important as head, good size within the standard, structurally
sound, mentally sound with good conformation with balance. Danes must be
impressive, regal looking dogs with a presence about them that’s part of
their being, telling who and what they are inside. As far as individuals go,
I would include:
Ch. Taboo Von Riesenhof
Ch. Miss Erikke Von Riesenhof
Ch. Gerhardt Of Marydane
Ch.Reggen’s Madas’L Of Marydane
Ch. Lost Creek’s Joseph Dane Lane
AP…..How would you rate the current state of judging?
HG…..I will say that it is very disconcerting to have invested the time,
effort and hard work to produce good dogs just to go to a show and be beaten
by poor quality dogs. The whole thing deserves to be taken seriously.
parent club is doing nothing positive to improve judging, and education
hasn’t been their strong suit for a while. A perfect example is the
Illustrated Standard, it does not do a decent job of illustrating the dog
described by the written Standard. It’s inadequate and is not in line with
most long time breeder’s interpretations.
AP…..Are dog shows
and breeding connected anymore?
HG.....Well, they’re supposed to be. The dog show is about the evaluation of
breeding stock. Good dogs don’t appear out of the sky, people have to learn
how to breed them and the dog show is supposed to work toward this end. You
should be able to learn something about Great Danes by going to the dog
show, by watching the judge.
Unfortunately, like anything else, all judges are not created equal. Now
when I look at a Great Dane I see what it is. If it’s a good one, I
see it so fast, almost instantly. That’s what years of comparative learning
The Dog show is fun, challenging, you interact with the dogs as well as the
people who are there, even going to dinner and talking. But it is always
about breeding stock. It is to get information so when it comes time to
breed, you can choose wisely.
AP…...I want to do something a little different now.
Hazel, you’ve seen a lot of people come and go through the years, so I’m
going read a list of names I’ve assembled of people who I consider
influential in the development of the contemporary Great Dane. In no way is
this a complete list. After I say each name, please give me the first couple
words that come to mind. I think this will give an interesting perspective
on the different personalities involved in shaping the breed as we know it.
After all, you actually "knew" these people.
AP…..Alright, here goes.
Gerry & Mary Johnston?
HG…..Good breeders, dedicated Great Danes Exhibitors, loved dog shows, very
serious about winning with good dogs. Competitive!
Anna Mary Kauffman?
Sincere nice Lady. Loved Great Danes and had good ones.
Had good dogs and she knew it. Tough, strong personality. Absolutely
knew her dogs.
Has done very well to learn what a good dog is and presents them well. He
has been a strong asset to the breed because of his knowledge and character.
Same thing…knew and supported the breed. Made his life about Great Danes.
She was dedicated to the breed, had good dogs and knew her dogs.
A dedicated BREEDER, same way. Breeding and handling.
Dedicated her life to breeding good harlequins.
Was a unique personality and a handler who promoted herself with Great
She has dedicated her life to Great Danes and has done well with what she
had to work with.
Excellent handler- very dedicated to the sport. Excellent with all
I taught myself to handle by watching him.
Her life was raising harlequin Great Danes.
Dedicated lover of Great Danes. Supported and backed the breed in every way
A breeder/handler who was very well known and very successful.
Harlequin breeder, very successful breeder of a bloodline.
Jackie White and Kathleen Twaits?
Again, a couple that owned, showed and supported Great Danes. Serious and
dedicated to the breed.
Dedicated, had good dogs and supported the breed.
Still a dedicated supporter of the breed and she still has and shows them.
Some people are life-long Great Dane people to the end. Others are still
around but have stopped being in Great Danes.
AP…..Thanks, Hazel. It’s refreshing to hear a first
hand impression of so many historic and familiar names.
HG…..Lordy, that reminds me just how long I’ve been at this.
AP…..I also wanted to ask you how the Great Dane fits
into the world of purebred dogs and how he relates to his ancestery?
HG…..Well, first off, you have to get that in no way is a Great Dane a light
Great Danes are completely different from Mastiffs. A Mastiff could be used as
a cart dog, this is not the elegant, statuesque Great Dane.
Great Danes also have a trait that hounds have—they work together. The Great
Dane should absolutely be in the Hound Group. They are far more hound than
they are Mastiff. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Mastiffs. I actually had a
Mastiff who I took to the Mastiff National and won BEST OF WINNERS with her.
So I like Mastiffs, but a Great Dane is not a Mastiff, it’s a Hound.
AP…..Hazel, I want to thank you for taking the time to
fly here do this interview. It really was educational to sit down with
someone who has your knowledge, credibility, and body of work.
AP…..When and how
did you get your first Great Dane?
HG…..After Greg came home from the war (WWII), because he had always wanted
a Great Dane as a child, we decided to buy a Great Dane.
We went to see a dog at a neighbor’s friend’s house. The dog was a 10 month
old from Fred Evanger’s stock. His name was Tong and he was a nice looking
dog but he was undershot. Of course, I didn’t think that mattered.
We bought him for $350.00, a lot of money at that time (1944). I couldn’t
believe we were doing that.
AP…..Did you show Tong?
HG…..Well, then we went to a Specialty show at Navy Pier (Chicago) but
didn’t bring Tong. When we saw the other Great Danes, we thought Tong was
better. So we entered him at the GDC Milwaukee. The judge put him to the
front of the line, looked at his mouth and then didn’t place him. Like I
say, this is how we found out that little things mean a lot.
We went along blindly; I had never had a dog, not even as a child. So I was
learning how to have one.
We already had two daughters, one baby and the other about 2 or 3 years old.
After Milwaukee, we continued to go to shows; we won second a lot and
sometimes went reserve but could get no farther because of his teeth.
We became friends with Walt and Jackie Chmiel (Dr. Walter Chmiel- later
he became a judge).
AP…..So, by this time, you had decided that you
enjoyed being involved with Great Danes. How did you progress to breeding?
Did you want to breed Tong?
HG…..Well, a man in Wisconsin had bred his bitch to Tong and we kept a puppy
called Taro. He was a nice dog, but had some real faults. He was cow-hocked
in the rear and east west in the front and we weren’t getting anywhere with
him at the dog show. So through these experiences we were really learning
that structure did matter. It was about this time that we decided we wanted
a female. Eventually we leased a dark brindle bitch from George Kalish and
bred her to Tong. Of course, the whole time we were talking to George and
trying to learn and wanted to see if we could take on this whole ordeal of
having a litter.
AP…..Would you say that George Kalish was a mentoring
figure early in your dog life?
HG…..George owned a bar and liquor store in Chicago. Greg and I and Walt and
Jackie used to go there on Friday nights to have fun talking dogs. Anyway,
when we bred the brindle bitch to Tong and we got a huge litter (9 or 10)
all dark brindles. I remember when George came to look at them, he told us
to worm them and I was horrified! They came out like spaghetti. We just
learned as we went, plugging along.
Gregory & Adam Protos
relaxing after recording the Interview
Fowler (Ch. Von Riesenhof's The Boss)
Janet Busch ( Hazel's niece)
Gloria Keppen ( Ch. Vanda Von Riesenhof)
Hazel, Adam, Ray, Paula Heller, Steve Cochran
of old friends after the Interview,
Ray Cataldi, Jean Fowler, Hazel Gregory,
Gloria Keppen, Jan Bush, Steve Cochran