Of the three Schnauzers, Miniature, Standard, and Giant, all of which are bred and registered as distinct breeds, the medium, or Standard, is the prototype. At 17 to 20 inches tall and weighing between 35 and 50 pounds, it is truly the “standard” Schnauzer. All schnauzers share several hallmarks: a wiry, tight-fitting coat of pure black or “pepper and salt”; a robust, square-built frame; and an elongated head furnished with arched eyebrows and bristly whiskers, accentuating dark brown eyes that gleam with a keen intelligence. Their sporty look is a canine classic.
As with most breeds, the precise origin of the Standard Schnauzer is lost in time. We know that medium-sized, rough-coated dogs were widespread in Europe in the Middle Ages, as they were often depicted in art of the period, as seen in this 15th century woodcut by Albrecht Dürer above. The Schnauzer’s ancestor was large enough to protect the home and farm, take livestock to market, and dispatch vermin, but not so large as to consume scarce resources.
For hundreds of years, these hardy dogs were bred only for their utility to man. No one paid particular attention to their exact size or conformation as long as they could do their job. They were tough, wiry, hardy, biddable dogs tending to a medium size. Although a distinctive “type,” they were not yet a “breed” and were not purebred in the modern sense of the word.
At first the European leisure class had little interest in a rough, utilitarian dog of the countryside. But by the mid-1800s they attracted the notice of German dog fanciers and became more systematically bred. Dogs of that era were initially quite variable in appearance, with rough and smooth coats in the same litter, a wide range of height and weight and a variety of colors. In the late 1870s, with the establishment of the German national kennel club, the two coat types were officially separated into wire and smooth pinschers and the first breed standards written. Color began to be stabilized to the distinctive pepper/salt and black colors seen in today's Schnauzers.
Wire-haired Pinschers were first exhibited at a Hamburg dog show in 1879. A breed standard was published in 1880 and the breed made rapid progress as a show dog. The first specialty show was held at Stuttgart in 1890 with the remarkable entry of 93 dogs.
The Pinscher Club was founded at Cologne in 1895 and the Bavarian Schnauzer Club at Munich in 1907. In 1918, the Pinscher and Schnauzer Clubs united to become the official representative of the breed in Germany -- the Pinscher-Schnauzer Klub. The earliest PSK breed standard describes a dog much like today’s Standard.
By the turn of the century, the breed had become almost universally known as Schnauzer; either a reference to its hallmark – a muzzle (German: "schnauze") sporting a bristly beard and mustache -- or to an early show winner of that name. Although recognizable as Schnauzers, they differed significantly in structure and appearance from what we would consider ideal today.
Grooming was of the “rough and ready” sort, and coats ranged from very tight and hard to loose and tousled. But with more organized breeding, over the next several decades the Standard Schnauzer evolved into the handsome and sound dog we see today. Dogs from the 1920s look old-fashioned, but by the 1930s, more modern type began to appear.
The first importations of Standard Schnauzers to the United States occurred around 1900, but only after World War I did the breed reach this country in any significant number. Schnauzers (standard and miniature were then considered varieties) were first shown in the Working Group and quickly amassed enviable show records. AKC moved them into the Terrier Group in 1926. This was unfortunate, since Schnauzers are not related to the British terriers, and have a very different structure and personality. Twenty years later Standards (but not Miniatures) returned to the Working Group, their proper place.
In the United States, the parent club for the breed is the Standard Schnauzer Club of America. Originally founded as the Schnauzer Club of America, when the Standard and Miniature became separate breeds, the organization split into the SSCA and the American Miniature Schnauzer Club.