In December 2021, a Giant Schnauzer named Bayou made breed history by being the first to win the AKC National Championship. But even in the ring, Bayou’s instincts came through.
The dog’s handler, Alfonso Escobedo, took note of the dog’s behavior. The giant canine kept his eyes on the same location in the ring, to the confusion of both Escobedo and the owners. Escobedo asked owner Holly Reed to move away from the ring, thinking maybe Alfonso was distracted by her presence.
But even after Reed stepped away, the Giant Schnauzer persisted. He was clearly concerned about something.
That’s when both Escobedo and Reed heard a baby crying in the distance. Ah! The Giant’s instincts were kicking in. Bayou, who lives with a young child, was worried his tiny housemate was in danger.
To an onlooker, the cause of Bayou’s behavior may not be so obvious. Was he distracted? Behaving poorly? Being over-protective? But to those who truly know and love the Giant Schnauzer, the answers to those questions are obvious.
Bred to Guard
The Giant Schnauzer was bred to be protective, starting with their very beginnings in Germany’s Bavarian Alps in the mid-10th century. In fact, all Schnauzers had their origin in the neighboring kingdoms of Württemberg and Bavaria. These are agricultural regions where the raising of sheep, cattle, and other livestock has been a major occupation for years. Although these dogs were developed to drive cattle from farm to market, German farmers also used them to guard the farms they lived on.
“Because of this natural guarding tendency, they were noticed by the butchers and tavern owners they came in contact with,” explains Steve Fox, former president of the Giant Schnauzer Club of America (GSCA). “Because Giants had to serve as both drovers and protectors of the herds as well as protectors of the farmers’ homes and families, the guarding instinct was very strong … Butcher shops were end-users of the farmer’s goods. Taverns were encountered along the path to markets. Both of these businesses generated a good deal of money and were often targeted by thieves.” The result? Giants found work safe-guarding butcheries and taverns as well as farms.
Several earlier breeds helped to create this protective paragon. “It has been suggested that Bouviers make up part of the Giant’s heritage, but there is no one consensus on this,” says Fox, who lives in Boston, Kentucky. “The most widely accepted components are the Standard Schnauzer, the German Mastiff, Great Dane, and some smooth-coated drover dog, such as the Rottweiler.”
Not a Giant Mini
Few nations have been more prolific in their development of a new breed than the people of Germany. Not only have they evinced rare patience in tracing ancestries, but they have also proven their ability to fix type. One of the most notable examples of their breeding skills is the Schnauzer, for here is a dog not only brought to splendid physical conformation and keen mental development but reproduced in three distinct sizes.
The Giant is known as the Riesenschnauzer in German. Despite their names, it’s important to realize that the Miniature, Standard, and Giant Schnauzers are three separate and distinct breeds. Of the three, the Standard Schnauzer is without a doubt the oldest.
It is known that when Bavarian cattlemen went to Stuttgart, they came across the medium-sized Schnauzer. Here was a dog to catch anyone’s attention, for even then it was sound, while it showed power throughout its trim lines. The Bavarians liked the dog, but they were not satisfied with its size. The sheepmen could use this size of dog, but the drovers needed a larger specimen for cattle.
The first attempts to produce a drover’s dog on terrier lines, with a wiry coat, were no doubt by crossings between the medium-sized Schnauzer and some of the smooth-coated driving and dairymen’s dogs then in existence. Later there were crossings with the rough-haired sheepdogs, and much later, with the black Great Dane. There is also reason to believe that the Giant Schnauzer is closely related to the Bouvier des Flandres, which was the driving dog of Flanders.
For many years the Giant Schnauzer was called the Münchener, and it was widely known as a great cattle and driving dog. Von Stephanitz places its origin as Swabia, in the south of Bavaria, and it was found in a state of perfection in the region between Munich and Augsburg.
Giants in the U.S.
The Giant Schnauzer was practically unknown outside of Bavaria until nearly the end of the first decade of this century. Cattle driving was then a thing of the past, but the breed was still found in the hands of butchers, at stockyards, and at breweries. The breweries maintained the dogs as guards, at which duty they were
Not until just before World War I did the Giant Schnauzer begin to come to nationwide attention in Germany as a suitable subject to receive police training at the schools in Berlin and other principal cities. They proved such an intelligent pupil that police work has been their main occupation since that time.
About 80 years after Giant Schnauzers became part of German society, they began showing up in the United States. There, though, technological progress rendered at least one of the Giant’s traditional jobs obsolete. “By the time they wound up in the U.S., railroads negated their usefulness as drovers,” Fox explains. Of course, railroads were also becoming a fact of life in Germany and the rest of Europe, which meant that Giants everywhere had to change careers.
Europeans found them ideal police and military dogs. Even today, says Catherine Brown’s pamphlet “What You Should Know About the Giant Schnauzer,” a Giant in Europe must obtain a Schutzhund I certificate before they can qualify for Conformation classes and titles.
In the United States, the doors to military service and law enforcement didn’t open very widely for Giants, mainly due to the lower-maintenance grooming needs of their canine competition, German Shepherd Dogs and the
Belgian breeds. “The German Shepherds and Belgian breeds have fur, whereas the Giants have hair that must be
trimmed occasionally,” notes Fox.
The GSD’s popularity limited the Giant’s opportunity not only to demonstrate their prowess in law enforcement but also as a companion. And those in the United States who did breed Giants initially showed little inclination to promote or publicize their breed.
Climbing in Popularity?
But by the late 1940s, such attitudes had begun to change. “Ch. Alaric of the Rhine Crossing, UDT, was a Westminster breed winner in 1947 and led Giants into the then-new field of obedience,” says Fox. “And a handful
of Giants placed in the Working Group.”
Then in the 1960s, a giant among Giants – Ch. Terry V Krayenrain – “won multiple Best in
Show awards and several others followed suit,” notes Fox.
In 1962, U.S. enthusiasts established the Giant Schnauzer Club of America, and the breed’s popularity began to rise.