Giant Steps Education Column

by Maryann Bisceglia

Giant Steps © ‑ May/June 2000

This has certainly been an exciting time for our breed and a great time to be involved. Every weekend at the shows Giant Schnauzers seem to be placing in the group, and we have had top representatives in the breed garnering many B.I.S. awards all over the US and abroad. In agility, obedience and the area of schutzhund Giants are certainly making their mark. It seems we are experiencing the rise of the golden age of Giant Schnauzers.

Our education committee has been hard at work developing a multi‑faceted program in conjunction with the Education program developed by the A.K.C., focused on these three areas: judge's education, public education and breeder's education. Our committee members are Steve Fox, Olga Gagne, Deb Zygula and myself, a strong committee with many year's of active experience and a lifetime dedication to our breed and the sport of purebred dogs. Since June of 1999, we have conducted three breed seminars attended by over 50 A.K.C. judges. The most often asked questions and the subject of much confusion is the issue of coat. We have been working on a more comprehensive definition of what makes a correct Giant Schnauzer coat. If you have any comments or input, please feel free to contact any member of the committee. We will be glad to hear from you.

It is important to remember in evaluating Giants that they are composed of many parts, coat being just one of them. An animal of sound body and temperament that can do the jobs they were originally bred for is of utmost importance. The animal as a whole is to be judged; coat alone should not be the only reason to penalize an exhibit if the dog meets other criteria of proper type and virtue, especially when judged against inferior animals that excel only in coat. 


(Quoted from the General Description in our breed standard)

"The sound, reliable temperament, rugged build and' dense weather resistant wiry coat make for one of the most useful, powerful and enduring working breeds."

Coat‑"Hard, wiry, very dense, composed of a soft undercoat and a harsh outer coat which, when seen against the grain, stands slightly up off the back, lying neither smooth nor flat. Coarse hair on top of head, harsh beard and eyebrows, the Schnauzer hallmark"

Remember, “Dense weather resistant wiry coat”!! The ideal double coat with proper texture and undercoat is relatively easy to care for, requiring grooming that can easily be taught to novice owners. This type of coat is excellent for outdoor work and activities. It should be very dense with a hard wiry top coat comprised of thick “fat” hairs and a distinctly separate softer undercoat, both components straight as possible, extending down the legs all the way to the feet. A good shake after exposure to water will remove a great deal of moisture. Most mud and dirt will fall away as the coat dries and a good brushing will remove the remainder.

When in proper show trim, the body coat of proper length is normally between 3/4" to 2". Generally the longer in length, the more easily texture can be determined. The hair on eyebrows, beard and that of the legs is longer than the body coat. These “furnishings” are shaped and trimmed in a traditional Schnauzer style with scissors or stripping (plucking). The underline and forechest have enough fringe to simply accentuate and emphasize the natural outline of the dog. These furnishings should ideally be a slightly longer and fuller continuation of the body coat and also be of harsh texture. They should not be so profuse to detract from the neat appearance or natural lines of the dog. They should not be silky, flopping and swaying during movement, or be obviously hanging near the ground.

(On a more personal note I take no exception to neatly trimmed fuller leg furnishings on a Giant. I can think of other faults that I feel more seriously affects the dog's ability to perform the work they were bred to do, such as poor temperament, unsound front and rear assemblies, bad bites, etc. When I see giants being presented with excessive leg hair, like an Afghan or Cocker Spaniel, I feel that it takes away from the classic, neatly balanced Schnauzer look).

When it comes to defining proper coat, we should note that our breed standard is not as descriptive as that of the Standard Schnauzer. The issue of furnishings is more comprehensive than that of our standard. As quoted from page 19 of the Standard Schnauzer Club of Americas illustrated standard.

“On the muzzle and over the eyes the coat lengthens to form beard and eyebrows; the hair on the legs is longer than that on the body. These ‘furnishings’ should be of harsh texture and should not be so profuse as to detract from the neat appearance of working capabilities of the dog. FAULTS‑Soft, smooth, curly, waxy or shaggy; too long or too short; too sparse or lacking undercoat; excessive furnishings; lack of furnishings.”

The aforementioned is a description of the ideal Giant Schnauzer coat. However, in evaluating coats you will see such a variety of coat types that it is often quite confusing. Variance in coat type has always been an issue in our breed; knowing our history and continuing evolution can help to better understand why we still see so many differing types of coats in the ring today.

At the Bavarian Schnauzer Club's first specialty show in Munich on October 17, 1909, 27 male Reisenchnauzers (Giant Schnauzers) and two bitches were shown. Except for one all were from Munich. Even at this show the judge was confronted with two different types of coat. Those with long, smooth hair were local (Munich) called “Russerls” or “Bear Schnauzers”. However, the standard called for a harsh coat; a coarsely haired black male, Burn von Weinberg, was recognized as the best representative of the breed. 

We know from our breed's history that the Standard Schnauzer has been recognized as the foundation stock of the Giant Schnauzer. There is still some confusion about the other breeds used to develop the Giant because many of the most important early German breeders were very secretive about their breeding programs. We assume that many of the rough or other shaggy haired herding and working farm dogs from the area contributed a role in the development. Obviously from the history of this show we see the harder coated dogs as the correct preferred type, but clearly the softer more profusely coated dogs were already part of the genetic pool.

Here in the United States the Giant was given recognition by the AKC in 1930. During this time there were few active American breeders and one of their major concerns was that the breed not become commercialized and therefore ruined.

During the 1970's the popularity of the Giant Schnauzer began to rise. During that period the fashions of the American dog show scene began to affect the style and presentation of many breeds, including the Giant, dramatically changing the look that was more commonly seen prior to that time. This has been a common occurrence in many breeds here in this country where fads and fashions have derailed the progress of even the most dedicated breeders committed to breeding for correct type.

Because of the new grooming fashions from this time, many fanciers and breeders became quite taken with this new style and started to breed for more fancy and elegant dogs with profuse furnishings; consequently these dogs began to excel in structure and conformation. Unfortunately, in so doing, they adversely affected the overall quality of the coats produced. The softer, more profusely furnished dogs became more popular and less of the correct harder coated dogs were presented in the ring. Many judges were also so taken by this style that many times harder coated dogs lost (often to inferior animals) and were not considered simply because of lack of fancy furnishings. Clearly the message was being sent “More coat is better”. While this type of coat is admittedly more glamorous and looks spectacular, it is not correct Schnauzer type. This look is simply high maintenance, has no practical function and requires maximum upkeep. It is a challenge to even the most skilled master groomers. Often, because of the softness and lack of texture, the topcoat is indistinguishable from the overly dense and profuse undercoat. This is especially not practical outdoors in inclement weather and becomes worse with exposure to water. It absorbs and holds moisture like a sponge and carries ice in freezing weather. The topcoat lacks water repellency, allowing moisture to reach the skin and cause chilling. It dries slowly and is difficult to keep clean, carrying water, debris and dirt indoors.

Fortunately, with the introduction of many new imported European dogs during the 90's, we are seeing positive overall improvements in the Giant Schnauzer coat. By combining these softer coated dogs with the imports, we are creating new bloodlines that produce good hard topcoats and furnishings that can either be stripped into the classic European style on the legs or grown out and scissored into the fancier American presentation. Most serious and conscientious breeders have become more aware of correct coats and their efforts are focused in that direction.

Please remember that the Giant Schnauzer is still a relatively rare and young breed and we are still in the process of developing a more internationally consistent and correct breed type. We have not had the advantages (nor some of the disadvantages, thankfully) that several more popular breeds such as the Doberman or German Shepherd have had. Due to their popularity they have had the collective experience of many more active concerned breeders and are therefore much further along in their development. When you watch a large class of Giants from outside the ring (particularly at a specialty) you cannot help but notice the major differences in heads, body type, proportions, balance and coat.

It is important to remember that our judges can only judge what we bring to them. If we continue to present them with these scissored in silhouettes that come in every shape and form imaginable, how will they ever come to understand what is right? How can we stand by and call them bad judges when for years we have been teaching them, by our presentations, to “do wrong right”? So, are they really bad judges or have we been bad breeders? We have to take responsibility for the misconceptions we have created. If we expect them to judge according to the standard, should we not be breeding to the standard? If we are ever to achieve greater uniformity and consistency we, as breeders, need to focus on correct Giant Schnauzer type which is clearly and simply defined in our breed standard “as nearly as possible a larger and more powerful version of the Standard Schnauzer”.

Giant Regards, Maryann Bisceglia

Copyright © The Giant Schnauzer Club of America, Inc. All Rights Reserved. MNT Publishing