159 – Dana Cline: 2018 Judge of the Year



AKC judge and Great Dane breeder, Dana Cline, was voted by the purebred dog fancy as Judge of the Year in the Dog News/Purina awards announced Feb. 10, 2018.


Cline fell in love with his breed as a child “when the Great Dane was taller than I was.”

As a young boy, gardening and fishing were his past times and he wasn’t sure dogs were something he wanted in his life. Then his step dad took him to see a litter of Great Danes.

“These two incredible creatures came trotting out of this back yard,” Cline said. “My life changed in that moment.

“We brought home a puppy. It wasn’t necessarily a show dog but I pretended like he was. I did 4-H with him. We practiced and I got better dogs. I was probably 11 or 12 years old. I’ve loved them ever since.

“4-H was so important as a young boy. (It) gave me the confidence to think I could go out and do something with this dog.”

Cline credits Ray Cataldi of Rojon Great Danes with having the most influence on him as a boy. Edd Bivin, Michelle Billings and Frank Sabella form the powerful trifecta that encouraged, mentored and supported Cline’s dreams of “having fabulous Great Danes.”

His passion for the beauty of his breed and the purebred dog world drove him early on to success handling Great Danes and eventually all-breeds for about 20 years.



Cline feels that one of the most important lessons from his mentors is that “type is essential.”

“(In Great Danes) a dog has to be beautiful. It has to stimulate your senses. Otherwise I don’t find value in them,” Cline opined. “I feel that the artistic expression and technical merit is where you begin to judge. A Great Dane, without a proper head, will never achieve greatness.

Movement is only a tie breaker. I absolutely want them to be beautiful in motion, but it doesn’t define them. The Great Dane must fill your senses and must stimulate you in its beauty. Its purpose is absolutely in its beauty. That’s just what I’m committed to.”

He also acknowledges that this same standard applies differently in different breeds.

“(For example) the Brittany is different. The standard describes a medium sized dog and fancy is not encouraged. Each breed needs to be judged on its standard,” Cline said.


Judging dogs, for Cline, extends this understanding of looking for the “hallmarks of the breed.”

“A judge has to open themselves to accept the limitations and expectations of the breed specific things,” Cline said. “(I use examples of) the Doberman and Great Dane. (Some) judges have expectations of a Great Dane that aren’t realistic. They don’t always stop square and perfect. A Doberman is watchful and aware of its surroundings. You should expect that from them. (You have to be) willing to accept that performances are not all the same based upon the nature of the breed. I can’t expect a Tibetan Mastiff to stand there and use his ears for a piece of liver. It’s not what the breed does. You cannot add showmanship as bonus (to a dog in the ring) unless they have the other elements to go with it.

“I tolerate misbehavior. They’re dogs. If the dog gives an adequate performance for you to judge it, for me, it still can be the winner. One of the lesson Mrs. Billings always taught me was to ‘make the best dog win, within reason.’”


On the question of level playing fields and the OH vs PH debate, Cline is very emphatic.

“There’s a clear path for (owner handlers) to be successful,” Cline said. “You have to want it enough. Hang in there. Keep the bar high. I came up through the ranks, not a real wealthy young man who had to spend every dime he had to be successful. I’m one of those stories that those folks should look at and say he did it. It can be done. I’m living proof.

“You don’t achieve high levels of success in anything without determined effort. I truly believe that it’s possible for anybody. It may not happen as often for one as another. But that does not exclude a person that works really hard and does it right. Especially in our sport. Everything is possible.

“There aren’t many sports that allow a 12 year old child to compete directly with a 35 year old professional in the sport. That alone is an opportunity to hobnob with those people all day long. There’s not a better opportunity if you are willing to learn. There are always people to learn from. You have to be willing to take advantage of it. That doesn’t mean go home after you lose your class of two dogs. Politics plays a very small part.


“I think the owner handler should reach for the top. Never think they can’t get there. Every person that walks in the door at 8 a.m. should be able to dream that they could be a Best In Show winner today. If anything interferes with that dream, there is something wrong with the dog show. My dream was always to go Best In Show, but I’m ok if I win my class.”

“The sport has certainly changed,” Cline noted. “There are those of us that lived in a time when the sport was greatness. Big kennels, big breeders, the opportunities were just endless. We have to try and share that with people. It’s not the same as living it, but something to bring forward.”

“It’s how important it is to you and much you’re willing to give, how much you’re willing to put into it. I can’t think of anything else that would drive anyone to do this crazy sport. Just a whole lot of passion.”

“That (passion) is what drove me from the very minute I stepped out of the car and saw those dogs (as a kid).”



Allison Foley of Leading Edge Academy is back with tips on what to watch for, and how to care properly for your dog’s feet in hot and cold conditions.


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1 Comment

  1. John Marsman, Marsport Brittanys on 01/20/2019 at 8:44 AM

    His comment about Brittanys being beautiful… that statement came from a judge about 40 years ago and her reason was “Idon’t want them to be beautiful so they don’t become too popular”.

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