Frederik VII of Denmark and his mistress, Duchess Danner, with “Tyrk.” A great aficionado of his country’s native breed, Frederik, who ruled from 1848 to 1863, named all his Broholmers Turk; the duchess’ dogs were always called “Holger.”
In the mid-1800s, in an effort to cement the Broholmer into the national culture, Count Niels Frederik Bernhard Sehested, a royal gamekeeper and archaeologist, started an ambitious breeding program. Acquiring the best examples of the breed he could find, he placed their progeny around the country with the stipulation that they be bred. Around the same time, Denmark’s King Frederik VII kept Broholmers, and reportedly one of them would go into his quarters each night before bedtime to drive away any evil spirits. (When the dog died, he was taxidermied and placed in the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen.) Between 1859 and 1929, the Copenhagen Zoo bred Broholmers, with some 200 fawn puppies whelped in that period.
Given all this interest and activity, by the end of the 19th Century the Broholmer was a common sight throughout Denmark, both in city streets and country lanes. And in a nod to Count Sehested’s instrumental role, the breed was named after his Broholm estate on the Danish isle of Funen.
More than a hundred years later, the newly minted Society for Reconstruction of the Broholmer Breed found itself retracing Count Sehested’s steps as its members scoured the country for breeding stock. Since the Danish Kennel Club had registered its last Broholmer in 1910, the Danish fanciers had to settle for “Broholmer look-alikes,” as all demonstrably purebred Broholmers had long since disappeared, a casualty of World War II.
Eventually, two suitable males were found: Bjørn, who was fawn, and Manne, who was black and had a typey fawn grandson named C. Bastian. (Danish royalty had favorite the lighter-colored dogs, but historical research turned up the presence of dark dogs, which were used to guard Copenhagen’s famous Tivoli Gardens amusement park at the turn of the last century.) The search for bitches with presumptive Broholmer ancestry, however, turned up nothing. So the group sought out crossbred bitches that had the right temperament, color and size. The first of these, Muffe, was bred to C. Bastian, producing the ground-zero litter for the re-establishment of the breed.
Black Broholmers are not as numerous as their fawn-colored brethren. Photo: Denise Flaim
“After five years of very controlled and hard selection under the supervision of the Danish Kennel Club, we managed to establish a solid and typical strain, which we then cross-bred with an English-Spanish mastiff mix,” recalls Merete Elmedal, who with her husband Torben is one of Denmark’s active Broholmer breeders.
Asgaardboern Rimke, at nine years old. While she was not a showdog, she is the dam of 35 puppies in a breed where a paucity of breeding stock is a chronic concern. Photo: Torben Elmedal
For the next decade, Broholmer breeding in Denmark became a community effort, with all puppies placed with the understanding that they needed to be made available for breeding, since the breed was still so genetically limited. Not all the owners cooperated, but the Broholmer faithful persisted, and by 1982, the breed was recognized by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI). The breed standard was officially published in 2000, identical to the original standard of 1886, with the exception of black dogs being acceptable.
Today there are some 1,200 Broholmers in the world, with only about 250 of those outside Denmark in continental Europe. In Denmark, breedings must be approved by the Broholmer society, which requires dogs to attain certain scores on a club-administered breed evaluation and hip and elbow screenings and, as well as pass a temperament test. The society’s breeding committee approves all breedings, and, to avoid “matadors,” or over-used sires, dogs are restricted to how many puppies that can produce. Finally, puppy buyers must prepay for testing fees and deposits in advance, in addition to the cost of the puppy itself.
The Broholmer peaked in popularity at the turn of the last century. But infectious diseases like distemper and the hardships of World War I came close to dealing it a death blow.
Not surprising given the rigorous control it exerts over Broholmer breeding, Denmark is still home to the lion’s share of breeders – about 40 – who are understandably very careful about where they place their breeding stock. Only 10 or so breeders outside of Denmark are breeding these noble and giant-hearted dogs. German and Swedish breeders work closely with their respective kennel clubs when it comes to breeding decisions; Finnish breeders have more latitude.
Maintaining correct Broholmer type is still a big challenge, says Elmedal, as is improving soundness and health. The FCI standard says that males must have a head that is “rather big and wide, with a heavy appearance,” and she notes that breeding masculine heads is still an area of focus for breeders.
At present, the Danish Kennel Club is working on a plan to loosen restrictions on Broholmer breeding, though Elmedal thinks that move is a premature one. “The genetic variation is too narrow – and we still have some matters concerning type, health and mentality to solve,” she says. Despite being so closely held, in recent years the Broholmer has landed on American shores. Kathy Kimmeth of Appleton, Wisconsin, is the founder of the Broholmer Club of the USA; she is also its only breeder, having produced the first American-bred Broholmer litter in 2013.
Six-year-old Elmedals Bjoern, a World Winner and Danish and International champion. Photo: Torben Elmedal
Kimmeth’s original breed was Swiss Mountain Dogs, and in the Broholmer, she found a breed that she thinks is healthier and handier.
“I was drawn to the size, the temperament, and the fact that they don’t drool,” she says. “They’re majestic, they’re sweet, and they make awesome family companions. They’re in the guardian group, but they’re not that guardy. And they’re very devoted – they really love their owners.”
Broholmer puppies are impossibly cute. Photo: Sanna Sodergren
Broholmers are larger than the Swissies, she adds, but they are a much more natural breed, able to breed on their own and free-whelp. “They’re big, but they’re beautiful, and easy to take care of,” she says. “They want to please you, because they love you so much. And they have these eyes that just look into your soul.” Kimmeth, who breeds under the Blackamber prefix, acquired her foundation stock from Finland, and, having kept a puppy from her first litter, she now has three. She says it wasn’t difficult to find buyers for this unusual and basically unknown breed: “I think most of them were people who came looking for Swissies. Then they saw my web site and saw the Broholmers.”
Most puppy buyers were only interested in a pet, and that’s fine as far as Kimmeth is concerned. While she wants to stoke interest in the breed – she just had her second litter this summer – and eventually see it recognized in the U.S., for now she is content to leave things at a slow simmer.
“They’re a magnificent breed,” she says, “and I don’t care how long it takes.”