History Of The Canaan Dog

DugmaThe Canaan Dog in Israel

The Canaan Dog is a natural pariah or wild living dog from the Middle East and it is the only dog indigenous to the ‘Land of Canaan’ now modern day Israel. Drawings similar to today’s dogs have been found dating from 2200-2000 BC in excavations at Beni-Hassan, situated on the east bank of the Nile, roughly 23 kilometres north of Minya, Egypt.

Since those early times the wild dogs have roamed the harsh environments without the interference of man in their breeding selection and therefore it is likely that they are little changed today from those dogs seen in biblical times. For centuries the nomadic and semi nomadic tribes of Bedouin and Druse peoples have taken and utilised the dogs natural instincts as watch dogs for their flocks and camps and they are still in use today.

In 1934 Professor Rudolphina Menzel – a noted expert on dog behaviour and training – moved with her husband Dr Rudolph Menzel from their home in Vienna to an area of Palestine that later became Israel. She was then approached by the Haganah (The then Jewish Defence Force prior to the establishment of the state of Israel) to supply dogs to work alongside them. Professor Menzel soon realised that the breeds usually associated with this task were less able to cope with the environment and began to investigate the wild dogs that were in the area.

She began by luring adult dogs into the camp and also taking litters of puppies. She found that they were surprisingly adaptable to their new environment. Her first successful adult took 6 months to capture but then within weeks was able to take him into town and on buses as well. She called him Dugma (meaning example).

She looked for a specific type within the pariah dogs and after many studies began the process of producing the breed standard. The writings on this subject were put into a book and translated as ‘the Pariah Hund’ which is still used today for examples and reference. Professor Menzel named the dogs Canaan dogs after the land that they inhabited.

The Canaan Dog in the UK

The first Canaan Dog reported in the UK was Shebaba. She had been called Sheba and was taken as a puppy from Damascus in 1964 and brought to the UK. When the owner was no longer able to keep her she changed owners to Mrs. Connie Higgins. Connie already owned a GSD called Sheba hence the name change. As Connie became more and more interested in the breed her research took her to Israel and Prof Menzel. They corresponded frequently and despite support from Prof Menzel Connie was unable to register Shebaba with The Kennel Club here in the UK. Prof Menzel sent Connie a dog for Shebaba and Tiron a black and white male arrived.

Eventually The Kennel Club recognised the Canaan Dog and registered both Tiron and Shebaba at the end of 1970. The first litter they produced was prior to this and therefore not recognised but the second litter they had in July of 1971 was registered.

Interest in the breed was slow and sadly due to ill health Connie was unable to continue her work. The 1986 there was new blood from Israel introduced into the UK when Ruth Corner returned home with a Canaan in whelp. This litter was born in quarantine and the mother returned to Israel, later she repeated this with another bitch from Israel. Both these came from the now world renowned ‘Shaar Hagai’ Kennels where Ruth had worked during her stay in Israel. ‘Shaar Hagai’ is still today the world leader in Canaan Dogs and a bench mark for many breeders. It is now owned and run by Myrna Shiboleth who took over the work from Professor Menzel on her retirement. Myrna is still able to take puppies from the wild and register them in Israel after the relevant tests thus ensuring the continuation of a varied (although small) gene pool.

We are delighted that many of the dogs we have today are from the wild born lines and although the progress is still slow the Canaan Dog is making new friends in our modern world. It is still registered as a Rare Breed with The Kennel Club in the UK, this allows for Canaan’s to compete at all levels but are not given Champion status here or able to be entered in the Stud Book.