The Giant Schnauzer was certainly the last of the Schnauzer breeds to be standardized, although it was likely developed several decades before the Miniature Schnauzer. The earliest reports of dogs being described as Giant Schnauzers come from 1832 near the areas of Bavaria and Württemberg. It is unclear whether these dogs were a separate breed or just a population of very large Standard Schnauzers. These early large Schnauzers were also known as Oberlanders or Muncheners. Some say that these dogs were descendants of a breed known as the Bear Schnauzer. This may have been a distinct breed but is more likely to have been a Bavarian variant of the Old German Shepherd Dog, which was found in many local varieties throughout southern Germany before standardization.
It is most likely that the Bear Schnauzer (the alleged ancestor of the Giant Schnauzer) was a cross between the Old German Shepherd Dog (Altdeutsche Schäferhunde) and the Standard Schnauzer. Whatever their true nature, these dogs were used as cattle drovers in much the same fashion as the Rottweiler. In the late 1800’s, there was a movement across Germany to both standardize existing dog breeds and to create new ones as well. The Oberlander was likely crossed with the Bouvier des Flandres and black Great Danes to add size, solid black coloration, and herding ability. During this time, large Standard Schnauzers were bred to existing lines in order to accentuate traditional Schnauzer characteristics. For a while, these dogs were known as the Russian Bear Schnauzer, but the name Giant Schnauzer stuck.
By the turn of the century, the Giant Schnauzer was common throughout Bavaria, and Munich in particular. This breed had at that time become a highly regarded police dog. Many German authorities considered the breed superior to any other at the task, quite impressive considering the other major German police dogs were the German Shepherd Dog, Doberman Pinscher, and Boxer. Whether used as a drover, guard dog, or police dog, the Giant Schnauzer was bred almost exclusively for working ability. World War I was devastating to Giant Schnauzer numbers, but the breed gained a great deal of acclaim both within Germany and in foreign nations due to its service in the war as a guard and police dog. Breeders worked to restore populations after the war and created the first written standard in 1923.
The first Giant Schnauzers to arrive in the United States did so in the 1920’s, although the breed was not established in that country until the 1930’s. The American Kennel Club (AKC) granted the breed recognition in 1930 followed by the United Kennel Club (UKC) in 1948. While populations of the Miniature Schnauzer began to skyrocket, as did those of other German breeds such as the Doberman Pinscher, Rottweiler, and German Shepherd Dog, the Giant Schnauzer remained quite rare in the United States. There was no official breed club in America until 1962 when the Giant Schnauzer Club of America (GSCA) was founded to promote and protect the breed. Until the 1960’s, fewer than 50 Giant Schnauzers were registered with the AKC every year. Gradually the breed continued to gain popularity until the early 2000’s, when the breed peaked in popularity in the United States. Over the last decade, the Giant Schnauzer has suffered a slight decline in popularity, although the breed is considerably more common than it was in the 1960’s. In 2010, the Giant Schnauzer ranked 94th out of 167 breeds in registrations that year.
Although a number of Giant Schnauzers are primarily companion animals, not many dog owners are able to do so as the breed has relatively high exercise and other care requirements, as well as a dominant temperament. A much higher percentage of Giant Schnauzers are working dogs than is the case with most other breeds. In America, the Giant Schnauzer is primarily used as a guard dog, a task for which the breed is well-suited. A number of Giant Schnauzers have competed at the highest levels of agility and obedience competitions, and the breed is one of the most, if not the second most after the German Shepherd Dog, highly regarded Schutzhund competitors. In Germany, a number of Giant Schnauzers remain police and military dogs.
At one point, the Standard Schnauzer may have looked like either a German Shepherd Dog or a German Shepherd Dog/Schnauzer mix. However, breeders worked to make the breed appear as much like a Standard Schnauzer as possible. This breed is now essentially a larger and more powerful Standard Schnauzer. The Giant Schnauzer is a massive animal. Both males and females typically stand between 23½ and 27½ inches tall at the shoulder, although most males are slightly taller than most females. Healthy breed members weigh between 75 and 100 pounds, with males tending to be slightly heavier. Giant Schnauzers tend to have backs and back legs which slope slightly less than those of the average Standard Schnauzer. Additionally, this breed tends to have a slightly longer face and proportionally taller legs. The only other major difference between the two breeds is in the predominant color. Although both the Standard Schnauzer and the Giant Schnauzer are found exclusive in solid black and salt and pepper, American Standard Schnauzers are usually salt and pepper and rarely solid black while American Giant Schnauzers are usually solid black and rarely salt and pepper.
The temperament of the Standard Schnauzer is generally similar to that of the Standard Schnauzer, but there are a few primary differences. Most of these differences are the result of this breed having been selectively bred as a guard dog and police dog for over a century. Giant Schnauzers have a strong protective instinct and almost all of them make excellent guard dogs. This breed tends to have a fairly hard temperament and can be challenging to train. If this breed recognizes a firm and fair master who is dominant, they can and will learn almost any task which a dog is capable of learning. This is also a very dominant breed.
Owners absolutely must make it clear to the Giant Schnauzer that they are in complete control at all times, otherwise these dogs will take complete control. There are plenty of stories of Giant Schnauzers completely dominating an entire family. As a result of these dominance issues and the breed’s penchant for rough play make them considerably less well-suited to being around young children than the Standard Schnauzer. The Giant Schnauzer is one of the worst breeds for inexperienced dog owners because of dominance issues. If you are unsure of your ability to successfully and calmly dominate a dog, it is probably unwise to acquire a Giant Schnauzer.
Perhaps the greatest difference between the Giant Schnauzer and the Standard Schnauzer is the breeds’ respective exercise requirements. The Giant Schnauzer has an incredibly high exercise requirement. This breed needs at least an hour of vigorous exercise every day, preferably a jog or accompanying a bicycle ride. Most breed members should not go to dog parks due to their dog aggression issues. This is a breed which enjoys a job, and will gladly participate in agility and obedience trials. This breed is a skilled schutzhund competitor, and many Giant Schnauzers and their owners get great satisfaction from this sport. If Giant Schnauzers are not vigorously exercised every day, they have a tendency to become destructive. As the Giant Schnauzer is one of the most powerful, athletic, and intelligent of all dog breeds, they have the capacity for being immensely destructive.
The Giant Schnauzer has the same general grooming requirements as the Standard Schnauzer except that this breed should be stripped or clipped no fewer than four times a year instead of no fewer than twice a year.
The Giant Schnauzer is a long-lived breed for a dog of its size. This breed has a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years, which is an exceptionally long time for a dog this large. However, a number of very serious health problems are very common in the Giant Schnauzer. This has led a number of veterinary experts to describe the Giant Schnauzer as an unhealthy breed. In particular, hip dysplasia has been described as rampant in this breed, and the breed suffers from epilepsy at very high rates.
The Giant Schnauzer is more likely to suffer from cancer than most other breeds of dog. Giant Schnauzers are extremely likely to suffer from a form of cancer known as Squamous Cell Carcinoma. This is a form of cancer which affects the toes, particularly those of large dark haired dogs. Squamous Cell Carcinoma is one of the leading, if not the leading, cause of Giant Schnauzer death. Early detection is key, and the removal of a toe or toes can greatly increase the odds of survival.
Because hip dysplasia is so common in the Giant Schnauzer, OFA testing is necessary for any Giant Schnauzer that is to be responsibly bred. Although eye problems are of lesser concern than other health problems in the Giant Schnauzer, they do occur, so CERF testing is also available.
Health problems which have been reported in Giant Schnauzers include: