The Bavarian Farmer's Dog
The Germanic people have been particularly good at developing new dog breeds for various purposes. When they needed a certain type of dog to do a certain job and none existed that could do that job to their satisfaction, they simply invented one.
Cases in point? Louis Dobermann created the Doberman Pinscher to help keep his own hide intact when he was doing his job as a tax collector.
Teutonic hunters in the mid-1800s developed the German Shorthaired Pointer to effectively hunt all types of game in all of their country’s different terrain. Nineteeth-century farmers in southern Germany who needed a utilitarian farm dog gave us the German Pinscher. And, of course, Max Emil Friedrich Von Stephanitz create the ultimate herding dog in his German Shepherd Dog.
Need another example? How about the farmers in the Bavarian Alps along about the 17th Century who needed a multi-purpose dog, big enough to drive cattle to market and formidable enough to guard their property?
Ergo, the Giant Schnauzer.
Once railroads made cattle drives a thing of the past, the Giant Schnauzer found a new job in police and military work. Still, its background as a breed both gentle enough to safely herd livestock and tough enough to defend a farmer’s property have made the modern Giant Schnauzer a very versatile breed, with Giants earning titles in virtually every dog sport for which the breed is eligible.
“Frankie” (Ch OTCH Magna’s Can’t take My Eyes Off of You UDX2 OM5) is an accomplished obedience performer.
“During their early history, they were the perfect all-purpose farm dog. They did herding, guarding, carting, droving and were intensely loyal to their humans,” says Chris Lietzau, vice president of the Giant Schnauzer Club of America. “Essentially, they did a little bit of everything. Our breed standard mentions temperament – combining spirit and alertness with intelligence and reliability – first, even before coat and build.”
Lietzau says that unshakeable character is what makes the Giant Schnauzer one of the most useful, powerful and enduring breeds, ideally suited for any dog sport where the dog needs what she calls an “on and off switch.”
“Giants that are bred or cultivated for work are very commanding and threatening when aroused, but still must be perfectly under control of their handler,” continues Lietzau, whose dogs are “Cash” (Am/Can Ch Momentumm Strategic Command AD IGP1,) “River” (Ch Momentumm AuSable V. Iro SchH3 AD) and “Starr” (Am/Can Ch U-Ch Momentumm V.I.P. IPO3 CDX TD FX NW3). “When the work is done, they have to be able to turn that off and be a pet dog.”
Above left: “Cash” (Am/Can Ch Momentumm Strategic Command AD IGP1), one of Lietzau’s Giants, loves to do IGP (formerly Schutzhund) work. Above right: “River” (Ch Momentumm AuSable V. Iro SchH3 AD), another of Lietzau’s Giants, holds a “bad guy” at an IGP event.
Marina Raukhverger, whose dog is “Rumba” (RATCH GCh Firezone’s Special Blend BH UD NW3 NW3-1 NW3-E NW3-V L1l L1C SWA SCE HDN GN CA BCAT DM DSA HDS AMX3 RA CGC TT CA8B), saw her first Giant Schnauzer when she was a kid. The magnificent, very serious dog with a truly commanding figure mesmerized her.
“I’ve always loved tough, independent, driven dogs that keep you on your toes. Giant Schnauzers have a strong temperament, drive, brilliant brains and a sense of humor,” she says. “While they aren’t as biddable as some breeds, they are extremely intelligent, and they really like to have a job to do. So when they have the right genetics combined with the right training, they can be very talented working dogs.”
“Rumba” (RATCH GCh Firezone’s Special Blend BH UD NW3 NW3-1 NW3-E NW3-V L1l L1C SWA SCE HDN GN CA BCAT DM DSA HDS AMX3 RA CGC TT CA8B), Marina Raukhverger’s Giant Schnauzer, loves to hunt rodents.
Raukhverger notes that the breed was developed to be an all-around farm dog without physical exaggerations that would make it better at one job than another, so the dogs are physically able to do just about anything.
“Their exceptional physique requires a brain to match with the enthusiasm and intelligence to handle any task,” she explains. “They drove cattle to market and then guarded the proceeds of the sale on the way home. I think traditionally the breed was meant to be a very versatile worker, which means they can excel in many different dog sports.”
Giants, however, are not a follow-along, no-questions-asked breed. “They have amazing brains and are extremely fast learners, but they are also very independent thinkers and will always try to find their own way to do things,” Raukhverger reminds. “Then they insist theirs is the better way. You’ve got to love and appreciate this breed’s sense of humor!”
Rumba’s fun job is dock diving.
Eric Riley, whose dog is “Xili” (RACH2 ALCH Fanta C’s Xili CD PCD BN RM9 RAE14 FCD NAP OIP CAX BCAT SWAE SWE SCME SEEE SBEE SEM SBM RATO CGCA CGCU TKP ATT), notes that this breed definitely needs something to do.
“The Giant Schnauzer is a large, athletic working dog that thrives on vigorous activities,” Riley says. “The breed is a perfect harmonization of intelligence and athleticism. Their sound and reliable temperament combined with the breed’s natural desire to work prepares them for unlimited dog sport disciplines.”
Riley notes that tracking is a sport that caters to the Giant’s natural prey drive, as do fun activities like fastCAT. “Sports such as obedience and agility are well suited for the ‘job requirements’ that every Giant needs,” he continues. “Their temperament and high trainability, partnered with a strong work ethic, make them an ideal companion for anyone who is willing to devote the time to develop a partnership with their dog.”
Eric Riley’s “Xili” (RACH2 ALCH Fanta C’s Xili CD PCD BN RM9 RAE14 FCD NAP OIP CAX BCAT SWAE SWE SCME SEEE SBEE SEM SBM RATO CGCA CGCU TKP ATT), personifies the “all around farm dog” that is the Giant Schnauzer.
Howard Postovit and his wife Bonnie became Giant Schnauzer people when they began searching for a breed that had natural drive, a desire to work and that could accompany them as they conducted wildlife studies as consultants for mining and oil/gas developments.
“Also, they are an imposing-looking breed and that made Bonnie feel safe when she traveled alone to remote locations or to big cities,” Howard Postovit says. “If there were shady characters around, the presence of a Giant makes them think twice about messing with the car the dog is protecting. They are true working dogs that really wants to please and be part of a team.”
That said, the very loyal Giant needs to be taught and treated fairly. “They aren’t like Labs or Goldens and need variety in their work,” he explains. “Endless repetitions of the same things are not something Giants find interesting or stimulating. They need variety because they have active minds and great curiosity about anything new, including new activities or sports.”
Riley's Xili thinks scent work is lots of fun, too.
Bridgette Tuerler’s dogs past and present include “Arn” (Intl Ch Krypto Knight Radinae IPO2 IGP3 TD RA OAP OJP NFP TKP CGC BH), “Sasha” (TC [Ch HC MACH] Intl ch Galilee Ingebars Inspriration K1 TD VCD2 UD AE HSAs HXC MXS MJS MXP MJP XF OFP TDI CGC BH), “Xena” (HC Ingebars Invincible Xena CDX RE HSAs HXC NA NAJ OAP FN FNP TDI CGC,) “Drake” (Intl Ch Tuerler’s Raindrop Drake VCD2 RD RE PT AXJ AXP MJP CGC TDI BH,) “Duchess” (Intl Ch Duchess Denali Tuerler VCD3 TDX UDX MX MXP MJP CGC TDI FH BH) and the newest addition to the pack, “Hermione” (Hermione Radinie TKP), who is just getting started in herding.
Sasha (TC [Ch HC MACH] Intl ch Galilee Ingebars Inspriration K1 TD VCD2 UD AE HSAs HXC MXS MJS MXP MJP XF OFP TDI CGC BH), owned by Tuerler, is still the only triple champion in the breed.
All have competed in multiple sports and in conformation, with Sasha the most accomplished and is still the only Giant Schnauzer triple champion. But outside of training and trials, Tuerler has had some interesting experiences with her Giants, including the time her husband Bernue and Arn surprised a neighborhood burglar when he exited the nearby woods.
“Unfortunately, the suspected burglar didn’t have a sleeve, so Arn was disappointed and the burglar never got to experience his active aggression,” Tuerler recalls. “Still, just the sight of the Bernie and Arn must have been intimidating as there have been no more burglaries in the neighborhood.”
There have been some occasions, however, when the breed’s intelligence has not been put to its intended use.
Tuerler’s first Giant, Duchess, was taught to jump over multiple objects. So when she had a sleepover at a neighbor’s house while the Tuerlers were out of town, she jumped the fence looking for them. The neighbor ended up having to leash her when she went outside. These days, the Tuerlers make sure the dogs only jump over agility, obedience and IGP jumps.
“On another occasion, I had a dentist appointment and came home from work earlier than normal,” Tuerler remembers. “As I drove past our neighbor’s house, I noticed that they had a new black dog. Wait a minute – that was Drake. And when she saw me, she raced back home.” It turns out Drake had been visiting the neighbor for a week, but she was always back on the front porch when Tuerler returned from work. The neighbors liked her visits, so they said nothing. “Now, we check the fence lines after storms.”
An unrepentent fence jumper, "Drake" (Intl Ch Tuerler’s Raindrop Drake VCD2 RD RE PT AXJ AXP MJP CGC TDI BH), owned by Tuerler, found carting to be something she liked.
Mary Dick has done serious obedience work with her conformation champion Giants, as her current dog, “Frankie” (Ch OTCH Magna’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You UDX2 OM5), is an obedience trial champion, and her two previous Giants have earned their Utility dog titles. But she has started doing carting with two of her dogs and discovered it is something both she and the dogs enjoy.
“I have a dorsal shaft sulky and a team of Giants,” explains Dick, who began driving her dogs three years ago. “The dorsal shaft lifts the dog when it is balanced with my weight so there’s no weight bearing on their backs. There’s no way to force them to go, but they go because they have learned to love movement and have a great work ethic.”
“Frankie” (Ch OTCH Magna’s Can’t take My Eyes Off of You UDX2 OM5) and driving teammate “Quest” (Magna’s Special Rhea-Quest) are Mary Dick’s driving team.
While there are driving titles available, Dick chooses to just have fun with it, and notes driving is a great stress release for the dogs.
“They get to move at a brisk pace and they never seem to feel the need to stop and visit people, other dogs, squirrels or whatever else we may run into,” she says. “Well, we did have one very exciting experience with a squirrel but since then they have learned to look and keep moving. They look forward to our rides as much as I do. I love to train and competing comes second to training for me.”
That said, Dick acknowledges that her Giants have made her a better trainer.
“I’ve learned to read their body language and determine whether or not they truly understand what I’ve asked of them,” she says. “Giants are not considered mature until they’re about three, so this gives me lots of time to teach them all the basics.”
“Xena” (HC Ingebars Invincible Xena CDX RE HSAs HXC NA NAJ OAP FN FNP TDI CGC,) another of Tuerler’s Giants, demonstrates the breed’s original herding skills.
Tuerler reminds that this breed loves to work, and performance sports provide enrichment for her, her husband and their dogs.
“Herding and bite work, which is part of IGP, are so rewarding that these activities are the game and the reward,” she says. “Tracking is a close second, as seeking is self-rewarding although I still use food to influence their tracking style and article indication performance. As Giants thrive when they can interact with their owners, obedience, rally, agility and trick dog games also become rewarding for our dogs over time as they master the games, although I still include rewards to keep the behaviors needed for these sports strong and polished.
“We have had several dogs certified as therapy dogs, and the satisfaction in seeing the joy our dogs bring to patients who for various reasons cannot have dogs is priceless.”
Currently, Tuerler has been having a great deal of fun introducing people to bite work. “People are either unfamiliar with this work or think the dogs are dangerous,” she says. Her husband Bernie plays helper/bad guy, while she’s the good guy and narrator, and Arn does the dog work.
“We run through the IGP3 bite routine with me talking about the bad guy and how he tries to escape or challenges us or the dog. I point out that the dog isn’t allowed to bite the bad guy unless he’s being challenged or I’ve left him to guard and the bad guy tries to escape. Sharing our dogs’ skills with others outside of performance sport friends has been a fun activity that we were able to do because of training and participating in dog sports.”
For Lietzau, the most difficult part of getting titles on her dogs has been finding trainers that understood that the Giant Schnauzer was actually able to perform their sport. “The second issue was that the usual training methods were not always suited to the way Giant learns best or that they needed to be modified in order for us to be successful.”
Giants, she adds, are also usually not good kennel dogs. “They are happiest when they share all facets of their owners’ lives,” Lietzau says. “That was a combination that not all trainers or coaches were willing to take on.” When competing in IGP for many years, Lietzau had to drive 10 hours each way every weekend to find a trainer/coach who knew how to work with a Giant Schnauzer successfully and fairly. “An inexperienced trainer can ruin a Giant if they don’t understand the breed. I have seen many Giants become fearful and/or too aggressive especially in IGP. As with a lot of things, it’s all a matter of balance, balance, balance.”
Duchess (Intl Ch Duchess Denali Tuerler VCD3 TDX UDX MX MXP MJP CGC TDI FH BH), another Tuerler Giant, loved tracking.
Lietzau adds that one of the biggest challenges for a Giant Schnauzer breeder is finding the right kind of home for puppies.
“Giants need a job to do. Otherwise, you won’t be happy with what they choose to do,” she says. “Boredom and inactivity are why we have so many Giants in rescue situations. So many people are just not willing or are unable to put in the work necessary to keep a Giant happy. They need both exercise and structure.”
Lietzau stresses that permissiveness should never be part of an owner’s vocabulary with a Giant – otherwise, the dog will soon run the household or need to be rehomed. Another issue facing the breed is the number of small breeders has sharply increased as a result of the pandemic. Most are first-time owners who come with little breed knowledge or understanding of the correct temperament and coat. And in many cases, health testing is ignored or not completed.
“So, education of new breeders has become a priority,” Lietzau concludes, “if we want the breed to survive in the form created by its founders.”