Origin and History of the Giant Schnauzer


The Giant Schnauzer is the largest of the three Schnauzer breeds which originated in Germany and have been recognized by the American Kennel Club for about 50 years.

In the English edition of German Dogs in Word and Picture, written in 1928 for the Deutsches Kartel fur Hundwesen, E. von Otto identifies the Giant's progenitor as the "bear Schnauzer" of Munich, which had long shaggy hair and was related to the Old German shaggy shepherd dog. When this type came to the attention of fanciers of the wire-haired Pinschers and early (medium size) Schnauzers, "to make his hair shorter and his body larger and black, the breed was crossed with the black Great Dane, by which it gained in power... and acquired above all the discretion of the protecting dog." Despite the Riesenschnauzer's different ancestry, it was also noted by von Otto that "in his general appearance and wonderful nature he bears a very strong resemblance to the Bouvier des Flandres," another breed first developed to drive cattle, but one whose intelligence, strength and versatility have been put to many uses since then.

This is one of the more or less official accounts of the breed's origins, which was published at about the time Giants were first imported into the USA for breeding purposes. In Germany the Riesenschnauzer had already gained some recognition at the shows well before 1921, when the fanciers of several related breeds amalgamated their separate clubs to form the present Pinscher-Schnauzer Klub. The PSK still keeps the stud books and oversees breeding and registration, as well as the various forms of competition, for the breeds under its jurisdiction, including three sizes of Schnauzer. The original PSK Standard for the Giant (which was translated into English and served as the AKC Standard for this breed for nearly 30 years) has been revised several times as German fanciers worked to define and fix the type desired in this distinctive working dog. In 1971 the Giant Schnauzer Club of America wrote and the AKC approved a revised Standard which agrees in all important respects with the current PSK Standard, including desired size and coat. It appears, however, that there may be considerable differences in the way these very similar Standards are interpreted here and abroad, and in the extent to which various faults are penalized in the show ring or considered important in the choice of breeding stock.

Throughout Europe the Giant is still considered and bred primarily as a companion and useful working dog rather than as a "fancy" breed. With his sturdy and powerful but agile body and keen nose, quick intelligence and responsive disposition, the Giant is amenable to many kinds of training and enjoys a fine reputation as a police or army service dog and as a devoted guardian of home and family. From the PSK columns in the German all-breed magazine Unser Rassehurrd, it is apparent that in Europe many more Giants and their owners are involved in the Schutzhund trials than in beauty competitions similar to our AKC shows. Indeed, in Germany and several other countries, a Giant must attain at least a Sch. I working certificate or its equivalent to qualify for the regional or national Sieger conformation classes and titles which distinguish the most typical and outstanding representatives of the breed.

During the 1930s some of the best Giants in Germany were imported as foundation stock by American breeders, but they arrived here when the German Shepherd was at its first peak of popularity, and did not catch the public fancy as did that breed. In view of the "boom & bust" cycles and careless breeding practices which seem to plague any breed which becomes very popular here, the few who knew and bred Giants then and for the next 25 years thought it just as well to concentrate on selective breeding with available stock and made little or no effort to publicize and promote the Giant Schnauzer.

Until the 1960s this was truly a rare and little known breed in the USA, registering fewer than 50 individuals a year. Giants were seldom seen at shows, except for the very few events each year for which the widely scattered owners and breeders cooperated to get together up to a dozen entries. Yet in many ways those were good days for the Giant, for the judging of this breed was usually assigned to the most experienced all-grounders or Schnauzer breeders, many of whom had judged abroad or throughout the USA and had known most of the Giants shown or bred during a long period. Most breeders were also friends or acquaintances and knew a lot about each other's Giants, and mutual help and encouragements (even informal exchanges or generous loans of breeding stock) were more usual than they are today when needed bloodlines are more available but rivalry is much more intense. And despite the small number of Giants bred and shown then, outstanding individuals could and did make their mark. Imported Carlo v Saldern was the 2nd Giant to win an AKC Champion title in the early 1930s, and sired the first American-bred Ch. prior to World War II. Shortly after the war Ch. Black Boy of Imperial and Ch. Benno v. Basmatteli had Group placings despite negligible Giant entries at the shows. At the same time, Alaric of the Rhine Crossing, UDT, and his son Glenolden's Danish Saxo Scout, UD, showed the way for Giants in the still-new field of obedience trial competition, and were followed by at least a dozen CD or CDX Giants in the following decade.

With the founding of the GSCA in 1962 and the importation of a number of grown dogs and puppies from Europe's most successful breeders during the last 20 years, both interest in the breed and the number of Giants shown and bred have increased tremendously, so that it is hard to estimate the total number of Giant Schnauzers in the USA today. Starting with the famous Terry v. Krayenrain, there have bean at least a dozen imports from that kennel alone added to US show and breeding stocks. Other noteworthy imported lines include those of the v. Burgholzle, v. Donnerhall, v. Griefensee, v. Reussenberg, v. Widderhof (pepper/salt), and de la Steingasse suffixes. At least a dozen of these imports and their descendants have placed quite frequently in Group competition and there have been numerous Best in Show winners. After a period of interest primarily in conformation showing, the number of Giants competing successfully in obedience is again on the rise; and there is now an American-bred Schutzhund III titleholder, as well as professionally trained and handled Giants on the police forces of several cities.

As the Giant has become better known, through the show success of a few superior individuals which have been widely campaigned, public interest has increased and people who yesterday had never heard of a Giant Schnauzer now are sure they want to own one and of course want it right now! Unfortunately, too many owners of mediocre Giants are only too ready to try to exploit the demand for puppies by breeding anything to anything.

As a result of this popularity AKC registration figures have risen steadily and alarmingly: from just 23 in 1962, 386 in 1974, over 800 in 1984, and nearly 1000 in 1987. Such a rate of increase has become a source of concern, for the average quality of this breed, (which improved markedly over the past 20 years as some excellent imported breeding stock became available) cannot be expected to keep up with this accelerating breeding rate. Thoughtless promotion of the breed will do the same damage which has hurt other breeds.

At this critical time in the history of the breed, it is important that thoughtful, careful buyers join with experienced and conscientious breeders to guard jealously the Giant Schnauzer's reputation as an exceptionally handsome, intelligent and versatile working dog. All breeds are what their breeders make them, but the buyer has a responsibility too. Given a sound and typical puppy from a well-bred line, few dogs are so much what their owners' care and training (or lack of these) make them, as the Giant Schnauzer.

By Catherine Brown

Reprinted from What You Should Know About The Giant Schnauzer, 5th Edition ©1988