From Farm Dogs to Show Dogs

Bernese Mountain Dogs pulling a cart in drafting work dog sport

This series is a discussion about the natural tension that exists between how we view show dogs, field/working dogs and dual-purpose (show and work/field) dogs. The dog grouping last discussed was the Spitz members of the Working Group. This month, we will explore those questions for other functional groupings within the AKC Working Group. How does the evolved morphological form relate to past and/or current function? How and why is it that some breeds have developed different types for field/work and show? What are the actual or perceived similarities and differences between the purebred show dog and field/work dog? What have breeders done to breed dogs that can do the job for which they were intended, if it still exists, and if not, what simulations exist that are as close to the original intent as possible?

Before standards were written for the Working Group breeds we recognize today, dogs were already being used and selectively bred to perform certain work. Multiple factors impacted the development of these breeds and their continued evolution, including geography, climate and terrain, culture and customs, as well as type of work to be performed. Within this Group, we find breeds that serve as flock/livestock guardians, human/property guardians, farm dog/draft dog/watchdog, sled dogs, and other purposefully evolved dog breeds working in various jobs via snow, water, or big game hunting. In so many cases, the original purpose of the breed has been supplanted by technology and machinery, enabling man to do the dogs’ work faster and more efficiently at times. Still, there are dedicated breeders who continue to breed quality specimens that demonstrate the individual breed’s working abilities where the actual work, or a simulation, exists.

The Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) has divided this grouping of dogs—all found in the AKC Working Group—mainly into two distinct groups: Spitz (FCI Group 5); and Molossian (FCI Group 2). Two of the breeds, Komondor and Kuvasz, fall into FCI Group 1 (Herding, Sheepdogs). The Portuguese Water Dog falls into FCI Group 8 (Retrievers, Flushing, Water Dogs). Neither the Chinook nor the Boerboel are classified or recognized by the FCI. Five of these breeds (Cane Corso, Doberman Pinscher, Giant Schnauzer, Rottweiler, and Boxer) are subject to working trials. For these breeds, their working ability is commonly demonstrated via IPO/Schutzhund. Internationale Prüfungs-Ordnung (IPO) is the FCI name for sport Schutzhund titles. Within the Working Group, the Black Russian Terrier, not named in FCI as subject to working trials, also participates in IPO/Schutzhund. The purpose of Schutzhund is to identify dogs that have or do not have the character traits required for these demanding jobs. Some of those traits are a strong desire to work, courage, intelligence, trainability, a strong bond with the handler, perseverance, protective instinct, and a good sense of smell. The various levels of Schutzhund working trials encompass tracking, obedience, and protection. There are various Schutzhund associations within the United States, some focusing on one or multiple eligible breeds.

In this installment of the series, the all-around farm/watch/draft and rescue type dogs of the AKC Working Group (Bernese Mountain Dog, St. Bernard, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Leonberger, Giant Schnauzer, and Standard Schnauzer) will be explored. Of this group, only the Giant Schnauzer has a working certification requirement in its native country.

Three of the six breeds mentioned above have Swiss development (Bernese Mountain Dog, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, and Saint Bernard), with two of the three found in FCI’s Group 2, Section 3: Swiss Mountain and Cattledogs. The Saint Bernard is in Section 2.2 Mountain sub-type, as is the Leonberger. The remaining two (Giant Schnauzer and Standard Schnauzer) are classified in FCI Group 2, but in Section 1, Pinscher and Schnauzer, and further in the Schnauzer sub-type.

In addition to the Bernese and Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs noted above, there are two others which fall into FCI Group 2, Section 3. These are the Entlebucher Mountain Dog and the Appenzeller Mountain Dog. They are remarkably similar in coloration and color patterning and, to some extent, body type. However, the Entlebucher is categorized in AKC Group 7, Herding Dogs, whereas the Appenzeller is still in the AKC Foundation Stock Service, but is also, historically, a herding dog. These four Swiss breeds are collectively known as Sennenhunds, with Senne meaning alpine pasture and hund meaning dog. These dogs of the Senn people accompanied the dairymen and herders in the Swiss Alps. It is reported that dogs of this general type existed over 2,000 years ago as descendants of the Mastiff-type and guard-type dogs brought by the Romans.

The Bernese Mountain Dog was known in some areas in the canton (state) of Bern, Switzerland, as the Dürrbachler or Dürrbachhunde, after the small town of Dürrbach where they were frequently found. It was an all-purpose farm dog, guarding property, driving dairy cattle long distances from the farm to the alpine pastures, and transporting farmers’ carts of milk and cheese. These carting dogs were known by the locals as “Cheese Dogs.” By the late 1800s, dwindling numbers due to mechanization provided a strong impetus for selective redevelopment in the first decade of the 20th century. Today, the parent club offers drafting and carting tests for the breed and they are eligible to compete in AKC Herding Events as well. The parent club’s drafting and carting tests include titling at the Novice and Open levels either as singles or braces. These include tests of maneuverability and half-mile distance freight hauling, either on or off leash. Advanced titling is available through the Master level, single or brace.

The breed has retained many of its early 1900s ancestral characteristics; however, with a pronounced drift toward a heavier-boned and more luxuriously-coated dog. This is the same whether in the US or Switzerland. Carting and drafting are also done through the Swiss Sennenhund club, as mechanization and motor transport have eliminated the need for the Bernese Mountain Dog’s use as a draft animal and cattle guardian. There does not appear to be a difference between the dogs engaged in drafting or carting and those being exhibited, as many are found in both endeavors.

With a development that tracked similarly to the Bernese, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog (GSMD) was the result of local dogs breeding with Mastiff-type dogs. However, this particular track resulted in a short-haired dog, but with similar coloration and patterning. Rediscovered in the early 1900s after almost becoming extinct due to work done by machines and other breeds, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog was an all-around farm dog used in drafting, as well as guarding and moving dairy cattle. During World War II, the GSMD was used as a draft dog by the Swiss Army. It is considered the oldest and largest of the four Sennenhund breeds, and it’s likely that it had influence in the development of the St. Bernard.

The GSMD is found in very low numbers in the US and throughout the world; however, their appearance today very closely resembles the make and shape of dogs from the first and second decades of the 20th century when the breed was reintroduced. The parent club maintains a well-curated small archive of photos from that time period that depicts the breed standing, as well as working as a draft dog in singles or braces. It also conducts drafting tests that are very similar in content to those of the Bernese Mountain Dog, including novice and open levels, either singles or in braces. Although the parent club does not maintain a testing program for herding, it does encourage the demonstration of herding instinct and ability via tests offered by testing/trialing bodies. Given the GSMD’s low numerical population, a substantial number of this breed have achieved drafting and herding titles, including dogs that are also show champions.

With its origins in the mid-17th century, the breed we know today as the St. Bernard had its formative years in the western Alps between Italy and Switzerland; more specifically, in the area of the Great St. Bernard Pass on the Italo-Swiss border at a traveler’s hospice established by the Italian monk, Bernard of Menthon. Paintings from the last decade of the 1600s depict short-haired dogs used at the hospice and monastery. Its roots from the progenitor Alpine Mastiff are clearly evident.

The dogs originally working at the St. Bernard traveler’s hospice were significantly smaller than the St. Bernard of today, being about the size of a German Shepherd Dog. Severe winters in the time period of 1815 to 1818 caused a larger number of avalanches, killing many of the dogs during their rescue work. Remaining dogs were reportedly crossed with Newfoundland-like dogs. However, the heavier, longer coats were a detriment; freezing and weighing them down as they tried to work. Following World War II, attempts to preserve the breed with its remaining numbers found them being crossed with various Molossoid breeds, including the Newfoundland, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Pyrenees, and English Mastiff. In fact, it is suspected that these breeds were used to redevelop each other following their decimation in that war. This likely explains the type of St. Bernard we see today.

With the last recorded instance of an Alpine rescue by a St. Bernard being in 1955, the breed is no longer used in that manner. Even into the first decade of the 21st century, the Great St. Bernard Hospice retained a small number of dogs out of tradition. In 2004, the Barry Foundation started breeding kennels for St. Bernards in the town of Martigny, 40 km away, and obtained the remaining dogs from the Hospice. Due to the efforts of the Foundation, St. Bernards can still be seen at the Hospice during the touristy
summer months.

The parent club indicates a working draft test at the novice and open levels, either as singles or braces, much the same as the tests for Bernese Mountain Dogs and Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs. The question judges and breeders must ask themselves is, “Could the St. Bernard we see in show rings today perform the work it was intended to do as a rescue dog today?” (There appears to be a significant departure from the working dogs of the early 1800s.) Has the emphasis on size, substance, and head properties been detrimental to its preservation as a rescue dog? Depending on with whom one talks, opinions differ widely.

Although the first three breeds discussed above all have Alpine/eastern Swiss developmental origins, the next three have distinctly German origins. One is classified by the FCI as a mountain type Molossoid (Leonberger), whereas the other two classify as Schnauzers (Giant and Standard).

Formerly known as the Wire-Haired Pinscher, the original Schnauzer was approximately the same size as today’s Standard Schnauzer. The breed was developed as a rat-catcher, guard dog, and stable dog for the home and farm. Both the Miniature Schnauzer and Giant Schnauzer were developed from the Standard Schnauzer using outcrosses to other breeds, though each retains characteristics needed to serve its original purpose. The FCI characterizes all three Schnauzer breeds within its Schnauzer section under Group 2, with no relation to the Terrier breeds of the U.K. The term “schnauzer” refers to its moustached and bearded muzzle
(German: schnauze).

The Standard Schnauzer, also known as Mittelschnauzer (medium schnauzer), was developed in the southern regions of Germany, primarily Bavaria and Wurttemberg, from working and herding breeds. The breed has a common ancestry with the
German Pinscher. The Schnauzer appears as a rough-coated variation of the Pinscher, possibly through crosses with the black German Poodle (Pudel) and the gray Wolf Spitz, influencing its black coat, and pepper and salt coat. The breed served as an all-around stable and home guardian, as well as an efficient rodent and rat-catcher (rattler). A 19th century statue in Stuttgart, The Night Watchman (Nachtwächerterbrunnen) by Adolf Fremd, depicts a dog by the watchman’s side with strong Schnauzer characteristics.

The breed exhibits strong herding instincts, when given the opportunity, and participates in AKC Herding Tests and American Herding Breeds Association tests where it is a strong and titled competitor. The parent club has offered herding tests in the past at its National Specialty shows and maintains an award system for Standard Schnauzers that have achieved various levels in the herding test system. A number of Standard Schnauzers are both show champions and herding titled, as well as Barn Hunt titled.

An 1880 version1 of the German breed standard describes a Standard Schnauzer head with a conspicuous stop, round, middle-sized eyes, and a sharp expression. Today’s US standard, however, describes a slight stop, oval-shaped eyes, and an alert expression. The 1880 version calls for a body with a back that is moderately arched, whereas today’s US standard calls for a topline that is straight and slightly descending from withers to a faintly curved croup. The older version described a coat as hard as possible, in rough, uneven tufts over the whole outline of the body. Colors described allowed for significant variability at that time; a rust-yellow or gray-yellow with head, feet, and undercarriage being lighter in color or an iron-gray, silver-gray, or blackish coloration with light yellow or light brown markings over the eyes (pips) on the muzzle and the legs. In addition, that early standard also allowed for a one-tone flaxen blond and a dull, grayish white with black spots. Today’s US standard describes the coat as “Tight, hard, wiry and as thick as possible, composed of a soft, close undercoat and a harsh outer coat which, when seen against the grain, stands up off the back, lying neither smooth nor flat.”2 Allowable colors are pepper and salt, and black. Though the current FCI Standard Schnauzer standard closely parallels the AKC standard, it does specify that distinct, light markings on the head, chest, and legs are undesirable.

During the last two decades of the 19th century, three Schnauzer breeders in Germany had significant impact on the coat, coloration, and heads that became what is seen in show rings today. Still, within the two allowable colors, there is a difference in coat texture between the blacks and the pepper and salts. The less numerically popular blacks tend to have softer hair that curls as it grows, and sparser furnishings, particularly on the hind legs.

Aside from the variations in coat, head, and color that developed over time, the breed remains remarkably true to its developed body style. That its working ability is being successfully tested in the various domains that it was originally bred to work is a testament to the dedication of breeders over the years.

The Giant Schnauzer (Riesenschnauzer) was also used in the southern areas of Germany and was developed to guard farms and to drive cattle to market. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, dedicated breeders saw that the breed had particularly strong character traits and working capabilities, and by World War I, the breed was being utilized as a military and police dog. Several breeds contributed to its development and stature, among them the black Great Dane, which not only introduced greater size, it also introduced the black color.

The AKC breed standard for the Giant Schnauzer closely tracks the FCI standard (as well as the US and FCI breed standards for the Standard Schnauzer, with the obvious exception being height). The allowable colors and textures are the same as for the Standard Schnauzer. Interestingly, while there is a predominance of the pepper and salt color in the Standard Schnauzer, the opposite is the case with the Giant Schnauzer where black predominates. The FCI standard describes the tail as “natural.” It states in bold print for emphasis, that “a sabre or sickle carriage is sought after.”3

Giant Schnauzers have a reputation as devoted guardians of home and family, as well as being police and military dogs to this day. In Germany and other European countries, the breed must attain at least a Schutzhund I level certification, or equivalent, to qualify for regional or national Sieger (Winner/Victor/Champion) conformation classes and titling. Apparently, the Giant Schnauzer has a much larger following in Schutzhund/IPO sports in the EU than in the US.

This versatile breed has gone through changes, from the turn of the 20th century until now, in much the same way as the Standard Schnauzer. The exception is that working emphasis has been placed on the Giant’s military/police dog abilities rather than its previous job as a cattle drover and guardian, at least in the EU. In the US, the breed successfully participates in herding tests as well as the popular Nose Work discretionary scenting competitions, and a few have achieved Farm Dog certifications.

The Leonberger derives its name from the city of Leonberg, near Stutgart, in the southern area of Germany known as Baden-Württemburg. Presumably bred to mimic the look of the lion in the Leonberg town coat of arms, the then mayor of Leonberg, Heinrich Essig, claimed to have created the breed in the 1830s by crossing a female Landseer Newfoundland with a St. Bernard-like dog (described as a “barry”5 male) from the Great St. Bernard Monastery and Hospice. According to Essig, he later crossed in a Pyrenean Mountain Dog (what we know today as the Great Pyrenees). First registered as Leonbergers in 1846, they were kept as farm dogs and watchdogs, as well as used for pulling carts in the
Bavarian villages.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Canadian government brought in the breed to be used as water rescue and lifesaving dogs. The breed can still be found in that capacity today, along with Newfoundlands, Labrador and Golden Retrievers. Along these same lines, they are used at the Scuola Italiana Cani Salvataggio (Italian School of Canine Lifeguards). Additionally, they have been used as flock guardian dogs.

The AKC and FCI standards are almost identical, including the disqualifying faults. The dogs found globally today are uniform in appearance and character. The parent club in the US conducts drafting/carting tests at its National Specialty, with novice and open levels offered for single and brace entries. These tests follow the same format as those of the breeds previously mentioned here. The parent club also recognizes drafting titles earned through the draft/carting programs of other AKC drafting breeds. Utilizing the Newfoundland Club of America official water test requirements, the parent club began conducting a water work program in 2019 with titling at three levels, each with progressive difficulty.

It should be noted that the Leonberger Club of America maintains a Breeding Acceptability Checklist that is an “educational experience comparing (your) Leonberger to the Breed Standard with an experienced and knowledgeable evaluator.”4 This more formalized evaluation by breed experts is reminiscent of breed evaluations conducted in Germany, but not to the extent that they are required for breed registration.

I’ll look forward to your commentary and questions on this article, as well as the ones that follow in this series. Feel free to leave your comments below or email me at

1 Burt and Ellen Yamada, The Standard Schnauzer History

2 AKC Breed Standard of the Standard Schnauzer

3 FCI Breed Standard of the Giant Schnauzer

4 Leonberger Club of America Breeding Acceptability Check List,

5 At the time, “barry” was a term used to describe the St. Bernard, after the rescue dog named “Barry.”

  • Celeste M. Gonzalez is a graduate of the University of Florida, majoring in Animal Science and is also a Registered Quality Assurance Professional - Good Clinical Practices, Certified Clinical Research Professional, and a Certified Veterinary Technician. She works in the medical device field in clinical research and development after a long period of service in animal health, both in clinic and research. Celeste began showing dogs in 1975, while still in college, with the purchase of her first Basset Hound and began coursing and showing sight hounds with the purchase of her first Saluki the same year. She finished her first champion, a Saluki, in 1976. Participation in lure field coursing during the infancy and development of ASFA garnered her Salukis their ASFA FCh. One of her owner-trained-handled Salukis also obtained a C.D. in obedience. Salukis remained a part of her life until 1989 and she continues to be active in Basset Hounds to this day as an owner, breeder, and exhibitor. She continued to show her Bassets through her college career and began to breed in 1980. Her Jolly Time Hounds kennel has produced numerous Basset champions from a very small breeding program, including Best In Show dogs. Celeste has dabbled in tracking and field work with her Bassets and is proud of the accomplishments of her dogs that have gone to hunting and field trial homes. She is also very involved in Basset Hound health and her dogs are genetically tested for hereditary familial thrombopathia, MPS1, and primary open angle glaucoma. Celeste has judged Basset Hound and other Hound and Terrier breed specialties across the United States, including the BHCA National Specialty, and judged the Basset Hound Club of Spain national specialty in 2009. She is approved to judge the Hound and Terrier Groups.

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