DANELINKS.COM                                                                                                                               11.1.05 



Type and Soundness:
An Artificial Distinction

Adam Protos


Soundness, type, function; these are terms which people are more comfortable using in conversation than actually contemplating. They pepper any discussion about the breed or even a specific dog. They are integral to the language of “talking dogs”, yet most people could hardly agree on their meanings, let alone on their relative importance.

What do these things mean and how are they interrelated to each other? First we must define soundness and type individually. We can then discuss how they are related to one another and their role in the function of the breed. Their relative importance can then be examined and debated.

Soundness is comprised of traits which enable a dog to function in its desired capacity. Many breeds share common or similar functions, so soundness can encompasses elements which are common to many breeds. Good layback of shoulder, a short loin, well proportioned reach and drive, and a nicely sprung rib cage are examples of this.

For example, the Standard in both Dobermans and Great Danes specifies a 90 degree angle formed by the shoulder blade and upper arm. Likewise they both call for ribs well sprung from the spine. These are attributes of general soundness.

By no means is this concept of soundness limited to only pure breeds. To the contrary, depending on their function, many mixed breeds have soundness in spades.

Type on the other hand is what differentiates one breed of dog from another. It is the nuances of these general soundness traits that distinguish the Great Dane from the Doberman, the sound purebred from the sound mutt. Type is all about distinguishing features.

Type and soundness are an outgrowth of function. So, what exactly is the function of the Great Dane as we know him today? Further, how should this play into conformation events?

When I was out to dinner the other night with some friends of mine who are in dogs, the conversation turned to just that. We were discussing particular dogs and someone said, “Yes, but could he catch the boar?” referring to the purpose for which the first Danes were presumably bred. After some thought, I’ve decided that it’s an irrelevant point.

No Great Dane has actually hunted boar in at least a hundred years and no aspect of the fancy is devoted to this endeavor. Old photographs of dogs who were much more closely related to these actual boar hunters, paint a picture of an animal which would hardly be considered desirable by today’s Standard.

These dogs embody such traits as thick necks, course bodies, broad skulls, and short muzzles. All of these are traits were probably desirable to people aspiring to breed better, more effective boar hounds, but are explicitly faulted in our modern conformation animals. Temperament is another matter all together, with many of these early animals being excused from conformation shows because of their aggressive dispositions. This is not exactly sought after in a modern context.

It then follows that the function of the Dane has changed dramatically. His function is one of presenting an embodiment of grace and artistic balance, while excelling as a companion and guardian. He is the ultimate in the personification of canine nobility and aesthetic drama; the Apollo of Dogs. These are the things which define the identity of the Great Dane today, not his distant ancestors’ aptitude for hunting boar. The Standard seems to underscore this focus. We can now discuss how soundness and type interrelate to achieve this ideal.

As stated earlier, soundness is comprised of traits which enable a dog to carry out his function, which in this case is the pinnacle of grace, nobility, and distinction. Thus, a sound Dane is a distinct and striking one. A well built Dane has the mechanical structure to portray the grace and elegance for which he was bred. This also includes movement. Soundness provides the scaffolding on which type is built, giving that scaffolding strength, form, and substance. They are interwoven and implicitly linked in the correct dog.

Often there is a tendency to make soundness and type mutually exclusive. Many go even further, equating type with head and soundness with everything else, especially movement. Worse still, soundness is often used as a justification for a dog lacking distinctiveness.

This would be a grave and illogical oversimplification. In the context of function, a Dane lacking in head is just as unsound as one lacking in movement. We need to strive for the complete package, for remarkable dogs.

Head type is one of the most essential aspects of making a Great Dane distinct, but this does not mean everything else should be overlooked. Essentially, type goes far beyond the head, but cannot exist without it. Poor head type should never be excused.

This is especially true if the rest of the dog lacks distinction. There is a huge difference between faultlessness and distinction, between commonplace and striking. The Dane’s identity is hinged on the fact that he is vastly different from his purebred brethren. This may not be true in other breeds where distinction is of minimal importance. However, this is not the case in Danes, and that must never be trivialized.

Consequently, generic dogs must be avoided at all costs, as they undermine the breed at its very core. However, there are no perfect dogs, so priorities must be set and goals defined. Linebreeding must be used to set and preserve traits of distinction, or virtues. Rare and intelligent outcrossings can be utilized to correct faults in a particular line, but never at the expense of the virtues already in place. This maintains a forward momentum in a bloodline. Don’t rob Peter to pay Paul.

Also, make no mistake; there are other things to be considered. It goes without saying that health, temperament, and steadiness are vital considerations. However, since I am limiting the realm of this essay to conformation, they are beyond our scope here.

During the same dinner at which the “boar question” was posed, someone else said, “If you can tell it’s a Great Dane, it has enough type”. This reasoning is dangerous at best, as it runs completely counter to what it means to be a Great Dane. It lowers the bar to which we aspire to breed better dogs and places a seal of approval on mediocrity. This thought process endorses generic dogs so long as they are “sound”.

The Great Dane is a type oriented breed, its identity embossed by its striking presence. This type cannot come about without soundness, and vice versa.  On a critical level, soundness and type become one in the same. In the Great Dane, the distinction between the two is artificial and the argument about the importance of one over the other becomes moot.

Thus, it is far more fruitful to discuss a dog in specific terms of his virtues and their overall contribution to aesthetic value, rather than to get bogged down in the type vs. soundness debate. Essentially, what does the dog or bitch bring to the table in terms of distinctiveness? If the answer is half-hearted, move on.

In summary, traits which distinguish a dog as a Great Dane must be given primary consideration. They underscore his very existence. If you don’t agree, do yourself a favor: save yourself a lot of time, money, and effort, and give a “sound” mixed breed from your local animal shelter a good home.

A previous DANELINKS article by Adam Protos:

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