Our "Typical" Giant

by Cathi Tower

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


There are several books which try to describe all AKC breeds with categories for obedience, intelligence, trainability, guarding instinct, compatability with children, etc. The Giant Schnauzer is referred to as "a dog that learns vary quickly, is an alert watch‑dog, a guard‑dog by nature, reserved with strangers, quarrelsome with strange dogs, stubborn, bold, a handsome breed with spirited but usually stable personality, too rough and ready for small children or for many adults unless properly trained. If properly trained, fine housepet, devoted, protective, fun loving, highly adaptable. Coat needs lots of attention and dog needs lots of exercise to curb its restlessness. Should be acquired and socialized while a young pup". Written by John Howe, in his book "Choosing the Right Dog", this is about the most accurate description of the GS that have read.


Every individual Giant Schnauzer fancier has his/her own peculiar way of describing overall "typical" behavior, sometimes based on previously owned GS or ones they are personally acquainted with, rather than strictly objectively. In the 12 years that have been involved with the breed I have looked for a detailed description, hopefully done by someone who is only borderline prejudiced! I find that most knowledgeable fanciers don't find it easy to generalize our breed as the dogs may react differently in different situations with different human influences. I contacted many GS owners/trainers/breeders/lovers of Giants, coming up with a good sampling of knowledgeable people, with the average ownership/club membership being 10 years. There were certainly differences of opinion, but most of these were minor, and quite a good number of areas of strong agreement:

1. Few breeds are so much what their owner makes  of them.

2. The GS is instinctively protective of home and family.

3. The GS needs strong leadership from a young age while bonding with people and learning acceptable social skills.


Due to space limitations the fanciers' input has been condensed, except for the comments of two individuals who made very strong points on the importance of making new and prospective GS owners aware of the need to research the breed prior to commitment and the absolutely necessary socializing that the GS needs.


Joan Anselm: We do not have a breed that is immediately and positively responsive to everyone, though there are individual dogs which are predictable in their reactions to people/environment. The adult GS should accept almost any situation, particularly if encouraged by its owner, though realistically knowledgeable owners understand that each dog is an individual with occasional "quirks" and must try to anticipate an unexpected reaction to certain external stimuli.


We have to determine as breeders and owners what is acceptable behavior in our animals; a very subjective matter. I would consider any animal who trusts in its owner/family and responds accordingly in a reliable manner to be acceptable. The communication between man and dog must be established early in the critical period of the pup's life (3‑12 weeks) and must continue every day of its life. Every human imposes a different set of rules, and characteristically the GS has inherited tendencies which can be polished or discouraged, but it is impossible to create or negate a trait/personality.This is an intelligent, stubborn, excitable, affectionate, aggressive, complicated being. It is our responsibility as breeders to place our puppies only with those owners that have been carefully screened; owners that are willing to develop the GS to its potential. Today's owners are tomorrow's breeders/diplomats for the breed. I believe that the GS personality should contain some of the following qualities;

• An aloofness with strangers, displeasure of aggressive person (one who grabs or pushes the dog).

• A devotion to master/family members which is  readily redirected if the dog changes homes.

• Non‑acceptance of stranger when behind a barrier, behavior agitated, very excitable when protecting property.


Catherine Brown: The GS, while very much a "people dog" in the sense he likes to be with you and is extremely interested in what you are doing, is still an independent, think‑for‑himself dog. At the same time the GS is sensitive and hence easily spoiled, or his energies easily misdirected by the lack of or wrong kind of training. If not given something constructive to do the GS is likely to think up something on his own and it's likely to be destructive. Unsupervised, any dog may become hard to handle, and that goes doubly for the male GS. The main problem with most GS is boredom, unused energy and intelligence. In dogs, as in children, it may be the bright and sensitive ones that are easily spoiled and come to grief. If one is not inclined and able to alter normal schedule or lifestyle as may seem necessary for some months, or even a year or two, to properly introduce a GS to your way of life, a less demanding breed should be considered.


The other respondents offered multiple descriptions of the GS. Many mentioned adaptability to new situations, affection, alertness, dominance to other dogs (particularly of the same sex), family orientation, instinctive protectiveness and territorralism, impatience with repetitive/dependent work due to intelligent and independent inclinations and a sense of humor. Single comments varied: assertive, bold, enthusiastic about life in general, happiest with a job, loyal, not for most people, ready for action, slow to warm up to strangers, strong-willed, versatile, watchful.


After digesting this wide and varied collection of thoughts on the GS I found myself reconsidering what I personally expected of my own dogs. What behavior do I consider "typical" when new people come to my house, when a stranger approaches my car with intent of reaching in to pet my dog, when I am out walking at night and become apprehensive when approached by a questionable stranger? I find myself accepting different responses from each dog, as no single response is correct. I find myself reverting to comparing a new GS to the very stable behavior of my first GS, as many of usdo. He was a good judge of character, seemed inately to know the best way to act in any given situation, he was one of a kind to me. He never backed down or away from any situation, had never made me uneasy when new people were in the house, could be depended on to always make reasonable and liveable decisions when away from home and faced with questionable situations. Most humans can’t handle things that sensibly!! I admire that dog's common sense, sense of self, and ability to distinguish between real threats and neutral situations. This is not something that can be simply taught, it is an inherited and cultivated temperament, and we must do our best to both breed for and nurture young GS with these traits. If we expect the GS to retain so many of these positive characteristics we must pay close attention to the genetic influence on temperament.


I am also coming to the realization that not every GS can (or should have to) tolerate persistent approaches and touching by total strangers. I can accept a GS who does not want to be touched by unknown people, if the dog can remain in the immediate area to watch until the situation is assessed.) I can understand the GS who does not want to be hugged and climbed on by strange children. We don't demand that our children tolerate fondling by strangers, why expect more of our dogs, and what really is the point, anyway? I am NOT advocating the excuse of fearful behavior or unwarranted aggression in our GS, but rather suggesting that we recognize that our dogs have comfort zones which should be respected. I agree that our GS are supposed to be wise and discriminating, but it is not fair to expect them to be omniscient!!!


The desirable traits I like to see in the GS are:

1. Aloofness, self assurance while maintaining distance from strangers (does not "solicit" attention).

2. Hardness, courage in protecting its family, or in obedience work, showing the ability to forgive, determined.

3. Intensity, involved and persistent at what it is  doing.

4. Self Confidence, recovers quickly from startling  occurrences

5. Sociability, enjoys being with its people.

6 Stability, reliable, constancy of character in changing situations.

7. Willingness, to initiate or interact in fun with the  family and to be handled by the family.


I see as undesirable in the GS.

1. Softess; unable to cope with small interferences (sounds, movements), not self‑confident or independent, sometimes combined with low pain tolerance.

2. Suspicion, distrustful, anxious, fearful, alarmed, shy.


There are not many overly‑aggressive GS, contrary to their owner's beliefs, as most of these dogs are primarily lacking in self confidence. Most of these "sharp" dogs are overreacting out of fear to the approach of neutral strangers, lacking in composure. We must keep in mind that we are breeding the future guardians and companions of many individuals and families. The dog must above all else be able to cope with the strains of everyday life as it is. That is never to advocate the milque‑toast, fawning, subservient GS, but rather the aloof and discriminating and loving dog we all admire, placed very thoughtfully into homes of carefully selected caretakers who will appreciate and protect and utillze the characteristics that separate this great breed from all others.


(My personal thanks to all of those who shared their knowledge and insight on the Giant Schnauzer breed, they made this article possible! ‑Sue Ailsby, Joan Anselm, Gloria Balius, Ellen Buchholz, Catherine Brown, Doris Redmann, Cathy Robins, Yvonne Shilla, Sally Ellis, Jody K'Burg, Sharon Thompson, Jayne Campbell, Lucile Riggs, Carol Thordsen, Sylvia Hammarstrom, and Carol Wehrman.)


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