The Broholmer is a Mastiff-type dog breed native to Denmark. Once one of the most popular breeds in its homeland, the two World Wars almost drove the Broholmer to extinction. The breed is now in the process of recovery thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group of Danish fanciers, although it remains very rare. The Broholmer is known for its gentle yet protective nature, along with its large size and regal bearing. The Broholmer is also known as the Danish Broholmer, Danish Mastiff, Gammel Dansk Hund, Old Danish Dog, and the Dog of Frederick VII.
The Broholmer was first developed centuries before written records were kept of dog breeding, and as a result it is impossible to anything about its origins with much certainty. However, the general history of the breed is known, if usually not the specifics. The Broholmer is a member of the Molosser family, also known as the Mastiffs, Matins, Alaunts, and Dogues. Although each breed is different, most family members are large to massive in size, possess immense strength and power, exhibit strong to very strong protective instincts, have a brachycephalic (pushed-in) face, and are native to Europe or the Near East. Some of the most famous members of the Molosser family include the English Mastiff, Great Dane, Saint Bernard, and American Bulldog.
The Broholmer can trace its ancestry back to three groups of dogs. The first are native Danish dogs. Denmark has been home to domestic dogs for many thousands of years. The region’s earliest human inhabitants used their dogs for hunting, sled pulling, property protection, and livestock herding. Most of these native dogs were of the Spitz-type, meaning that they had long, thick double-coats, curled tails, and a generally wolf-like appearance. However, not all Danish dogs were Spitzen, the Danish-Swedish Farmdog being one of the best known examples. The second group is composed of dogs brought back to Denmark by the Vikings. The infamous Vikings traveled the ancient seas, raiding, pillaging, and trading from Greenland in the West to Persia in the East. Many Vikings acquired foreign dogs while in foreign lands. These men first encountered the massive and protective Mastiffs at this time, and many brought them back to Denmark with them. In Denmark, these foreign Mastiffs were mated with local Danish dogs. The final group is Germanic Mastiffs. The German tribes that invaded the Roman Empire acquired their own Mastiffs from the civilized lands to the South and West. These dogs became very popular with the German nobility and eventually spread to Denmark as well. Although it is impossible to say exactly what breeds went into the development of the Broholmer, the English Mastiff, Dogue de Bordeaux, Great Dane, and the now-extinct Bullenbeiser almost certainly played a role.
The Mastiff breeds that went into the development of the Broholmer were used for very different purposes. English Mastiffs were primarily used for war, property protection, and bull-catching. French Mastiffs were primarily used for hunting. German Mastiffs were primarily used for hunting and bull-catching. The Broholmer acquired the ability to perform all of these tasks. The Danish nobility employed the Broholmer as a personal and estate guardian. Some breed members roamed large properties at night while others stayed in the close company of their masters. The nobility also used the Broholmer to hunt large and dangerous game, primarily boar but also bear, wolf, and deer. Danish farmers also used the breed to catch and hold recalcitrant livestock such as pigs and bulls. This versatility made the Broholmer (though it was not yet known by that name) a very popular dog, one of the most popular in Denmark. At this time the breed was known as the Gammel Dansk Hund, which loosely translates to “Old Danish Dog.”
Throughout history, the Danish nobility maintained close relationships with the nobility of other European countries. It was relatively common for the nobility to exchange dogs as gifts or for them to accompany participants of dynastic marriages. This meant that the Broholmer was regularly crossed with a number of other breeds throughout its history, primarily the English Mastiff, Great Dane, and Bullenbeiser.
As the centuries wore on, the Broholmer became increasingly identified with the Danish monarchy. As early as the 1500’s, King Frederick II was portrayed in paintings with a Broholmer. This relationship reached its peak in the 1700’s with King Frederick VII. Frederick VII was so fond of his Broholmers that it was said that he kept at least one of these dogs with him at all times. He was so associated with the breed that the Broholmer became known as the Dog of Frederick VII. Frederick VII was apparently very fond of the name Tyrk, because that is what he named all of his Broholmers. The most famous painting of King Frederick VII includes one of the many Tyrks, as well as the King’s beloved daughter Grevinde Danner.
The 19th Century brought a great deal of social change to Denmark. The Industrial Revolution increased population size and development, meaning that there was less land for the Broholmer to hunt on. At the same time, political developments cost the Danish nobility much of the wealth and power that they had previously enjoyed. This meant that fewer of them could afford to keep Broholmers. Breed numbers began to decline precipitously and the Broholmer may have gone entirely extinct if not for the work of one man, the Danish nobleman Niels Frederick Sehested. Niels Frederick bred a large number of these dogs at his residence, the Broholm Castle, and inspired a number of other breeders to get involved as well. In honor of Niels Frederick’s contributions, the breed became known as the Broholmer. From 1859 until 1929, Broholmers were a constant part of the collection at the Copenhagen Zoo. The large and gentle breed was used as a surrogate parent for wild animals that had been abandoned by their mothers, including wolves, lions, and tigers.
In 1886, the Dansk Kennel Club (DKK) held one of its first shows at the Rosemberg Gardens. This event provided a number of Broholmer fanciers and breeders, including Niels Frederick Sehested himself, to meet in person. These fanciers, most of whom were of noble blood, drew up the first written standard for the Broholmer, and the breed was registered with the DKK at this time.
The Broholmer was making a recovery in Denmark when the First World War broke out. Although Denmark did not officially enter the conflict, German submarine warfare crippled the Danish economy which was heavily dependent on Maritime Trade. Combined with the Great Depression which followed World War I, this economic decline made it so very few Danes could afford to keep such a large and expensive breed. Broholmer numbers once again began to fall. Although Denmark attempted to remain neutral in World War II, the country still found itself occupied by Nazis. Nazi occupation and the armed resistance movement designed to fight it caused even more damage to Denmark and its economy, and the Broholmer became even scarcer. Many dogs were killed in the fighting and many others were abandoned when their owners could no longer care for them. By the end of World War II, the Broholmer was on the very brink of extinction.
In 1974, the DKK determined that it was unacceptable to lose such an important piece of Danish history, and a full scale effort was made to revive the breed. The Society for the Reconstruction of the Broholmer Breed was founded at this time and received substantial support from the DKK> Unfortunately, at that time there was only one pedigreed Broholmer was still alive anywhere in the world, and that example was too old to breed. The entire nation of Denmark was scoured to find dogs that were not pedigreed but that clearly met the Broholmer standard. Fanciers were successful in finding a small number of dogs that closely matched. Some of these dogs may have been pure Broholmers that just did not possess pedigrees, but most were probably Broholmer mixes. Although the original Broholmer standards did not allow for black coloration, many of the discovered dogs possessed it. Research was conducted by Broholmer fanciers and it was discovered that when the Broholmer standards were written, litters regularly contained black dogs. In fact, these black Broholmers were used by the security forces at the Tivoli Gardens, one of the oldest, most famous, and most visited amusement parks in the world. In order to ensure the breeding pool was as large as possible, black coloration was officially written into the Broholmer standard and these black dogs officially entered the breeding pool. In 1982, the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) granted official recognition to the Broholmer.
The DKK has decided that although it wants to increase the Broholmer population, it only wants to do so if the dogs are healthy. As a result, the club has put very substantial breeding restrictions on these dogs. Each parent must be temperament tested to ensure that it possesses the ideal Broholmer character. Each potential parent must also be given tests for a number of medical conditions, especially those that involve the hips and elbows. The puppies of dogs that do not pass these tests cannot be registered.
Since the 1970’s, the Broholmer breed has made a substantial recovery. Different sources give different estimates of the current Broholmer population, but most place it at around 800 dogs. The vast majority of the Broholmer population currently resides in Denmark, and no breed members were exported from that country until 1999. In that year, the first examples were exported to the Netherlands, which has subsequently become home to the largest Broholmer population outside of Denmark, estimated at around 20 animals. In recent years, breed members have been exported to other countries as well, especially Italy and the United Kingdom. It is not clear if any Broholmers have made their way to the United States, but if any have it is a very small number of individual dogs. In 2006, the United Kennel Club (UKC) granted official recognition to the Broholmer as a member of the Guardian Dog Group, becoming the first major English language kennel club to do so. Although once a dedicated property guardian, hunting dog, and farm worker, the modern Broholmer is almost exclusively kept as a companion animal and/or show dog. Thanks to the efforts of the DKK and other Broholmer fanciers the Broholmer is on a solid path to recovery. However, this breed remains very rare and its future will probably not be secure until its population increases and it can become established in more countries.
The Broholmer is very similar in appearance to other Mastiff-type dogs, but this breed appears much less bulky and brachycephalic than most. The Broholmer is considerably smaller than many other Mastiff breeds, but is still a very large to massive dog. The average height for a male Broholmer is about 29 ½ inches tall at the shoulder, and the average height for a female is about 27½ inches. It is not uncommon for individual dogs to vary from this average by up to four inches in either direction. The average male Broholmer weighs between 110 and 130 pounds, while the average female weighs between 85 and 130 pounds. This breed is very powerfully built, with thick legs and a deep chest. However, the Broholmer possesses a much more athletic performance than most Molossers, and has a body that looks more like that of a Rottweiler than an English Mastiff. The musculature of this breed is very well developed, although the somewhat loose skin often partially obscures it. The tail of the Broholmer is long, low-set, and very thick. The tail is usually held low when the dog is at rest and should never be carried over the back.
The head of the Broholmer is large and powerful, though it is not disproportionately large for the size of the dog. The skull should be broad and flat. The muzzle is definitely distinct from the head, but the two blend in much more smoothly than is the case with most Mastiffs. Unlike most Mastiffs, the Broholmer is not a brachycephalic breed, meaning that it does not have a short, pushed in muzzle. The muzzle is massive in size, and although it appears shorter than the skull it is actually about the same length. The top of the muzzle should parallel the top of the head, and the bite of the Broholmer should never be under or over shot. The lips of the Broholmer are definitely pendulous, but never to the extent where they would be described as jowly. The nose of the Broholmer should be large and black, regardless of the dog’s coat color. The ears of the Broholmer are medium in size and drop down closely to the cheeks. The eyes of this breed are round, not particularly large, and range in color from light to dark amber. The expression of most breed members is calm and very confident.
The Broholmer is a double coated breed, which means that it has a distinct outer coat and undercoat. The outer coat is short and close lying, while the undercoat is shorter, softer, and very thick. The Broholmer is found in three acceptable colors: yellow with a black mask, golden red, and black. In practice, the majority of Broholmers are golden red, and very few breed members are black. White markings on the chest, feet, and tip of the tail are perfectly acceptable and common in all three colors. Occasionally a Broholmer will be born in an alternate color such as brindle. Such dogs are penalized in the show ring and should not be bred but otherwise make just as excellent companions as other breed members.
The Broholmer has a temperament similar to other Mastiff-type dogs, although this breed is somewhat more active and athletic than most. This breed is well-known for its calm and steady temperament, and the Broholmer is said to be extremely confident without being aggressive. The Broholmer is a very devoted and loyal breed that will form very close attachments to its family. This breed wants to be in the constant company of those it loves and can suffer from severe separation anxiety when not in their presence. When properly trained and socialized, the Broholmer is usually very gentle with children. Many breed members seem to be very fond of children, and form close friendships with them. A Broholmer puppy may not be the best choice for a family with very young children as they may accidentally knock over toddlers in an attempt to play.
Although this breed is generally somewhat less protective and suspicious than most other Mastiffs, the Broholmer is still very naturally protective. Proper socialization is very important for this breed so that it is able to properly determine the difference between what is and what is not a threat. Once proper socialization has occurred, most Broholmers are very polite and tolerant, although they usually remain moderately aloof and reserved. The Broholmer is very alert and makes an excellent watch dog that will deter most potential intruders with its booming bark alone. Most Broholmers make excellent guard dogs, although some individuals do not possess enough aggression.
Breeders of Broholmers have consistently worked to eliminate aggression from this breed. When properly trained and socialized, most breed members are quite tolerant of other dogs. Some breed members do develop territorial, dominance, and possessiveness issues, but many males, especially unneutered ones, develop fairly severe same-sex aggression issues. As a result, male Broholmers do best in a single dog home, or at least one where it will be the only male. Broholmers exhibit considerably lower levels of aggression towards non-canine animals than most similar breeds, and will usually get along very well with those that they have been socialized with. As is the case with all breeds, a Broholmer that has not been exposed to other creatures will probably pursue and attempt to attack them. Owners do have to be aware that even the smallest levels of animal aggression from a Broholmer are very serious as this breed is powerful enough to seriously injure or kill anything smaller than a deer with little effort.
The Broholmer is considered somewhat challenging to train. While considerably less dominant and challenging than most similar breeds, the Broholmer still has a strong-willed mind of its own. While most Broholmers are not extraordinarily stubborn, this is definitely not a dog that lives to please. Training a Broholmer takes extra time and patience and requires owners to maintain a firm but fair position of dominance. While this breed takes to socialization, manners, and basic obedience rather easily, it would probably not be an ideal competitor in sports such as competitive obedience or agility.
Although this breed is definitely not an excessively active breed, it is considerably more energetic than many Mastiffs. While the Broholmer certainly does not need a huge amount of exercise, it does require at least 30 to 45 minutes of vigorous physical activity every day. The Broholmer is a breed that prefers to take its exercise at a walking pace, but these dogs will eagerly take an opportunity to run around off leash in a safely enclosed area. While this breed will likely develop behavioral problems such as destructiveness, hyperactivity, over excitability, excessive barking, and aggression if not provided the proper amount of exercise, the average committed family will probably be able to meet its needs without being overly burdened. Because of its size and activity level, the Broholmer adapts poorly to apartment life but does very well in homes with an average-sized yard. Even though the Broholmer does not have a high exercise requirement, this is among the most physically capable of all Mastiffs, and these dogs are very capable of going on rigorous adventures such as long hikes in the mountains.
The Broholmer has very low grooming requirements. This breed should never require professional grooming, only a regular and thorough brushing. Broholmers do shed, and many of them shed quite heavily. This breed is normally a constant shedder, but not an excessive one. A few times a year when the seasons change, the Broholmer replaces its undercoat. During these times the breed becomes an incredibly heavy shedder that will cover carpets, furniture, and clothing with fur. It is extremely advisable to expose Broholmer puppies to routine maintenance procedures such as nail clipping and bathing from as young an age and as carefully as possible. It is much easier to clean the ears of a curious and eager 30 pound puppy than those of a frightened and recalcitrant 150 pound adult.
It does not appear as though any health studies have been conducted on the Broholmer, which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements about the breed’s health. However, Broholmer breeders and fanciers have been keeping their own data about the breed’s health since the beginning of its revival. Broholmer fanciers are keenly aware of the many health problems that are rampant in other large purebred dogs and have worked very hard to reduce them from their own breed. The DKK has put very stringent health and temperament testing requirements on all Broholmers used for breeding and will not register puppies of parents who have not passed them. Such tactics have succeeded in keeping the Broholmer considerably healthier than most large breeds, but definitely have not eliminated them. The Broholmer usually lives longer than most breeds of similar size, 10 -11 years on average, but many examples have considerably shorter lives and only survive until 6 or 7. Of those problems that have been identified in Broholmers, those that seem to be of greatest concern to breeders are hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and defective backs.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in this breed it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
Based on what is known about the Broholmer and closely related breeds, the following health conditions may be of concern to Broholmer owners: