Israel Nature Reserves and National Parks Authority

Report on the Canaan Dog

By Dr. Tamar Ron, October 1999

How did it begin?

In 1934 Dr. Rudolphina Menzel immigrated to Israel, already recognized in her former home Austria as an expert on canines and a researcher of animal behavior. She was requested by the Defense Department to establish a system for working dogs. When she discovered that European breeds were not suited to the conditions in the country, she began to look for a local breed. She began to collect dogs of a specific type. These were, according to her, the local pariah dogs that had developed and lived in the country, some living with man and some on the fringes of the settlements and in the open areas, for hundreds of years. Most of the dogs she collected were strays, both adults and puppies, in particular on the fringes of Bedouin encampments and also in settlements and open areas, throughout the country and in particular in desert areas. During this period it was comparatively easy to find true pariahs, which still had not mixed with the imported purebred dogs of other breeds. She and her husband collected and bred these dogs and developed them as the breed known today as the "Canaan Dog". Some of the dogs were trained as guard dogs and some even to detect mines or as guide dogs for the blind. In 1966 the breed gained official international recognition (of the Fédération Cynologique Internationale) and in the 60's she began also to export Canaan Dogs to the US and Europe. In 1970 she supplied stock to Shaar Hagai Kennels which continued in the breeding of the Canaan Dog. After her death, in 1973, Shaar Hagai continued the breeding program according to her instructions. In addition, a controlled collection of dogs of the original type was continued, primarily from the Bedouin of the Negev.

What is happening today?

Due to the difficulty of finding dogs of the original type, collection of Canaans {from the wild} has almost ceased. The last two dogs that were collected in the Negev were six years ago and two years ago. Most of the Canaans that lived in the open were destroyed in the framework of the fight against rabies, or became mixed with other breeds; even the majority of Bedouin dogs today are mixed with other breeds imported into the country. It is possible that there are still original Canaans among Bedouin tribes that still live the traditionla nomadic life, and perhaps also in Egypt. The Canaan Dog is the only breed recognized as an official Israeli breed.

The Canaan Dog - Description

Menzel describes the Canaan as shy, wild and independent, adapted to the conditions of the country, resistant to disease, adapted to the desert climate, noruished from garbage dumps and food remains on the outskirts of settlements, but also ready to form a relationship with man and easy to train. According to the official standard this is a breed that is light and agile, of medium build, square, medium sized (shoulder height 50-60 cm. and weight 29-25 kilogram) broad skull and wedge shaped head, short prick ears set wide and obliquely, tail curled over the back, medium coat in a variety of shades with an undercoat.

What Do We Know About its Family?

The Canaan belongs to one of the most ancient families - the spitz. All the pariahs in the world belong to this family, from North America, through Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, north and east Africa and to Iran, south-east Asia and Australia. Some of these breeds have been officially recognized and are being preserved as primitive regional breeds, as the Carolinas Dog, the Dingo, and the Indian pariah. Pariahs are considered ancient breeds, although it is not clear if these are the descendents of domesticated dogs that returned to the wild, or descendents of primitive breeds from the original domestication of the wolf, which continued to live over the years as semi-wild wanderers on the fringes of man's habitations. The dingo, for example, was domesticated, apparently, as early as the later stone age and traveled with man to Australia. In Australia, the dingo went wild and lives as a wild animal in all respects. All the pariah dogs have retained their common primitive characteristics for hundreds and even thousands of years. There are those that view the pariah as a representative of an original line of wild dog that is not yet completely domesticated or one of the "missing links" in the unknown stages of the transformation from wolf to domestic dog.

According to Menzel, the Canaan is the local form of the pariah. Although there is not enough to verify this beyond any doubt, it seems apparent that this is the oldest breed of dog to be found in this area today.

What is there in common between a Phoenician graveyard in Ashkelon and Shaar Hagai Kennels?

The caves of Einan and Hayonim are the sites in which the oldest remains of dogs have been found, from more than 10,000 years ago. In the Bible there are a number of references to roaming dogs and dogs in the service of man. Dogs appear in cave drawings from various era. In mid Sinai a rock carving, from the first to third century CE, has been found that depicts a dog that in size and shape appears to be a Canaan type dog.

In ancient Ashkelon a dog graveyard has been discovered containing 700(!) dogs that were buried carefully and precisely, all in the same position. This graveyard is apparently Phoenician, from the middle of the fifth century BCE. All these dogs were of medium size and build. Some of the researchers found a similarity between them and "Bedouin pariah dogs", or - the Canaan Dog. In Sidon was found a sarcophagus, from the end of the fourth century BCE, on which is painted Alexander the Great and the King of Sidon hunting a lion with the help of a hunting dog, similar in build to the dogs in Ashkelon and similar in appearance to the Canaan Dog.

In any case, this is a domesticated animal, not a wild animal, right?

Correct!

Then why does it have to be preserved?

On the recommendation of the world nature preservation authority, the IUCN, there is importance in the preservation of primitive strains of domestic animals. In this framework, for instance, the Nature Reserves Authority preserves a herd of primitive cattle in the Huleh Reserve. For this reason, there are also plans for the preservation of pariah dogs in other parts of the world, as the pariah in Carolina and the dingo in Australia, which are considered natural treasures.


In short, what is to be done?

In accordance with the recommendations of the IUCN, to preserve primitive strains of domestic animals, and as there are facts testifying to the Canaan Dog being the local pariah dog and the dog originating in this area which is the most ancient, my recommendation is to continue with the preservation of this breed.


Thanks to Victor Kaftal.