Giant Schnauzer – Working class heroes

Breed facts: working group

David Cavill puts the spotlight on the Giant Schnauzer – the ultimate family pet and protector, but one that’s definitely not for the faint-hearted!

When Kevin and Sadie Cullen’s Giant Schnauzer Ch [Champion] Jafrak Philippe Olivier hopped on the winner’s rostrum at Crufts 2008 to take the coveted Best in Show trophy, this tall, dark and handsome ‘stranger’ made an impact all over the world. He stood proud and steady and took all the shouts of congratulations and flashes from a thousand cameras totally in his stride, but many people watching on TV had never even heard of – or seen – this type of dog before. The reason this breed is not that well known outside of the professional dog world is that there are not that many of them about; only 313 puppies were registered with the UK’s Kennel Club in 2007 and it has not been established in Great Britain for that long.

Giant Schnauzer
Giant Schnauzer

Breed history
The Giant Schnauzer has a strength, grace and style matched by few big dogs, despite that fact that it is not a smooth-coated breed. Once seen is never forgotten! Schnauzers were originally bred in Germany, where the breed is known as the Riesenschnauzer, and the word ‘schnauzer’ itself comes from the German word for ‘snout’ because of the dog’s distinctly furry muzzle. A common name for a Schnauzer in Scandinavia, where they are extremely popular and successful, is Björki.
From what was once a medium-sized dog, breeders have developed two alternative and distinct types: the Miniature and the Giant. As a result, kennel clubs generally subdivide these dogs into three breeds by size comprising the Miniature Schnauzer (less than 15ins tall at the shoulder), the Schnauzer (often referred to as the Standard Schnauzer; females 17-19ins, males 18-20ins) and the Giant Schnauzer (23½ – 27½ ins). The Miniature is the result of crossing the Standard Schnauzer with Affenpinschers and Poodles, while breeders used the Great Dane and the Bouvier des Flandres in creating the Giant. So, the three sizes of Schnauzers each have a very different background even though they look rather similar at first glance. All share some common features though: they are intelligent and alert, have an exceptional nose, so can be excellent trackers, and are extremely loyal to their family. In the early 1960s, the first Giant Schnauzers came to the UK, to join the Miniature Schnauzer and the Standard Schnauzer (whose registrations remain very low), although it was not until the mid-1970s, after much hard work and determination by the pioneers of the breed, that the Giant began to make an impact.

All three Schnauzer varieties come in salt and pepper and black, while the Miniature Schnauzers also come in silver. The American and Canadian Kennel Clubs only recognise salt and pepper, black and silver for Miniature Schnauzers but in Europe white is now recognised as well. As with so many breeds, a simple description of colour is not enough: in the case of the Giant Schnauzer the colour must be ‘pure black’ and as far as the pepper and salt is concerned, shades range from ‘dark iron grey’ to ‘light grey’, ‘hairs banded black/light/black’ and ‘a dark facial mask is essential, which must harmonise with the corresponding body colour’. On both black and salt and pepper dogs, white markings on the head, chest and legs are undesirable while ‘good pigmentation is essential’.
Height-wise, males can be usually expected to grow from 65-70 cms (25½-27½ ins) while females are between 60-65cms (23½-25½ins), although there is a wide variation and some have been known to be well outside the Kennel Club’s breed standard preferred sizes. Make no mistake, Giant Schnauzers are big, solid dogs: the average weight for the Giant male can be 47kg (103lb) provided that he has the correct rearing and upbringing.

Giant Schnauzers are easily trained and love to learn so they excel in obedience and agility, while their natural ability to guard and protect their home and people makes them a valuable asset to their family – as long as they are part of the family. The Giant is not a breed which can be left to its own devices. A Giant likes, and needs, to be involved with whatever his family are doing, even if this is just sitting watching the television. If left alone, they become bored, unresponsive and unruly. They do have a stubborn streak but this is usually easily kept under control if the dog is happy and occupied.
If you decide you would like to own a Giant Schnauzer, you must be prepared to give him lots of quality time throughout his life: plenty of exercise will be essential to keep him fit and you’ll need to provide him with games and toys to occupy his mind so he does not become ‘self-employed’. All in all, the Giant Schnauzer is a versatile, bold, composed, reliable and good-natured dog that, with its dense, weatherresistant, wiry coat, is easy to own and care for. It is not surprising, therefore, that they are being used for police work, as search and rescue dogs, and as sniffer dogs as well as Pets as Therapy (PAT) dogs.

5 Giant Schnauzer facts
Grooming Even though the Giant Schnauzer does shed its coat, they have to be brushed every day with what is known as a ‘slicker’ brush (the only brush that can really get deep into its coat), while the beard and the longer hairs on the legs will need to be combed out. Your Schnauzer must be stripped or clipped about every eight to 10 weeks to keep him looking smart, otherwise he’ll turn into a woolly bear! If you want to learn how to groom/strip/clip your dog for showing purposes, the Schauzer Club of Great Britain (see ‘Useful contacts’) hold regular training sessions. A word of warning, once your Giant Schnauzer has established his fully grown beard, expect it to be soaked every time he visits the water bowl!
Feeding They are easy to feed and not faddy in any sense. However, if you feed primarily a soft food diet then you will need to ensure the teeth are kept clean. Large, meaty bones are excellent because they occupy dogs as well as keeping their teeth sparkling but it is important for an early age to get them used to bones (and toys, too) being taken away when ever you decide you want to. Like many breeds, if they begin to guard anything it can lead to problems of control and the Giant is a big dog.
Health The Giant Schnauzer is a generally healthy breed but puppies should be eye tested to ensure they are clear from hereditary eye cataracts. There are also reported incidences of hip dysplasia, epilepsy and auto-immune conditions, but making sure you go to a good breeder will ensure you are unlikely to be troubled by them. Agility Although the ‘Giant’ in Giant Schnauzer is used in the name of the breed this does not mean that the dog has to be big and cumbersome: on the contrary the breed must be built like an athlete – muscular, fit and agile.
Lifespan Generally healthy dogs, Giant Schnauzers can live up to 15 years, sometimes older.

Getting a pup
The Giant Schnauzer Club (GSC) holds a list of puppies currently available and bred by its current members who have agreed to abide by the club’s code of ethics. Breeders of puppies can only be included on this list if the GSC secretary has been sent up-to-date eye test certificates for both parents and an undertaking that the litter will be eye tested before leaving for their new homes with the certificate being forwarded to the secretary. The list is available to anyone who contacts the GSC secretary and can be supplied in writing via email, post or by phone (see ‘Useful contacts’).
The Schnauzer Club of Great Britain (SCGB) do not publish a list of puppies for sale, but will put you in touch with a breeder in your area if you contact them (see ‘Useful contacts’). Expect to pay in the region of £850 for a puppy. You may have to wait for a few months before one becomes available from a reputable breeder. If you want an older dog, then it’s worth contacting the clubs in ‘Useful contacts’ to see if they know of any that are looking for new homes.

Useful contacts & book
Giant Schnauzer Club: 01524 411220; email;; Mrs Karen Carroll (GSC secretary), 248 Oxcliffe Road, Morecambe, Lancashire LA3 3EH. Karen also coordinates the Giant Schnauzer Rescue.
Schnauzer Club of Great Britain: 01235 851952 (Mrs C Browse, secretary);
Giant Schnauzer by Barbara J Andrews (Interpet Publishing, 2000; ISBN 1-902389-01-8). Order from the Dogs Monthly bookshop on page 62, £15.49 including UK postage.

About the author
Show judge, author, writer, broadcaster and founder of the Animal Care College, David Cavill is an advisor to manufacturers, breeders, retailers, conference and exhibition organisers and show managements. With his wife, Angela, he owns one of the UK’s most successful breeding prefixes for Finnish Spitz.