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
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
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
AND THE DIRECTION
OF THE BREED: