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The Dane Debate

Some Great Dane fanciers decry the ‘mastiffication’ of the breed


Dane or Mastino? At first glance, it's not quite clear -- and that, say some Great Dane fanciers, is a big problem.


Dane or Mastino? At first glance, it’s not quite clear — and that, say some Great Dane fanciers, threatens the very existence of the breed.

By Denise Flaim

The more, the merrier … Well, except when it comes to being called a Molosser.

The Fédération Cynologique Internationale categorizes almost three dozen breeds as Molossers in its Group 2, Section 2. But that doesn’t mean all of them willingly accept the M-word. The Boxer, Bulldog, Rottweiler, Newfoundland and Great Pyrenees may be Molossers taxonomically – according to the FCI, at least – but not culturally, which is why you don’t see them in Modern Molosser: Though we made attempts over the years to cover them, those who own and breed them simply don’t think of them as Molossers – and, in most cases, don’t want them to be. (Leonberger lovers in particular are horrified at the association: The breed, which predates the formal dog fancy, was envisioned by its founder Herr Essig as a large-sized, long-haired companion dog for the well-to-do, and so philosophically has more in common with a Cavalier than a Corso.)

Perhaps the breed that has been the most vocal about shaking off the Molosser label has been the Great Dane. This August, an open letter to FCI president Rafael de Santiago began circulating on social media, asking the cynological organization to convene a special commission to help reverse the breed’s trend toward what the document called “a dysfunctional, extreme Mastino look-alike.” Arguing that Europe’s kennel clubs and breed clubs are complicit in this “breed assassination,” the letter argued that only a top-down reform – such as temporary veterinary exams similar to those that caused such a furor in the UK several years ago – will rescue the Great Dane from hypertype resulting excessive mass and eye anomalies such as entropion and ectropion (the latter of which are disqualifications in the FC standard). It also asks that the FCI remove the Great Dane from the “mastiff type” subsection of the Group 2.

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