Breed History

The Canaan Dog is an ancient breed and they, like the other pariah dogs of the Middle East, are thought to have originated with the Indian Wolf. However there is another theory that the pariah dog descends from a southern species of canine distinct from the wolf, though closely related to it. (For a more in-depth look at this theory request a reprint of THE INDIAN WOLF, THE AUSTRALIAN DINGO AND THE INDIAN "PARIAH DOG" by Gautam Das as appears in the January 1999 issue of THE CANAAN DOG NEWS and originally printed in the January 1998 issue of MERIGAL.) Drawings have been found on the tombs at Beni-Hassan (see above) dating 2200-2000 BC depicting dogs that show unmistakable resemblance to the Canaan Dog of today. The breed belongs to one of the oldest families of dogs, the Spitz family, whose members exist all over the world. As the Canaan Dog often follows the Bedouins, dogs of similar type appear throughout the Middle East, though the specific type of the Canaan Dog is found primarily in Israel.

The Canaan Dog is said to have been the guard and herd dog of the ancient Israelites. They were plentiful in the land of Canaan (from which they get their name) until the dispersion of the Israelites. The dogs then too dispersed, the majority ending up in the Negev Desert that harboured much Israeli wildlife. Basically a wild dog that has evolved through natural selection, only the strongest, most fit and most intelligent specimens survived the demanding conditions of the harsh Israeli environment. Some of the dogs did retain a form of domesticity by living with the Bedouin and earning their keep by guarding the herds and camps.

In 1934 Dr Rudolphina Menzel, a noted authority on dogs, immigrated to Palestine—the future state of Israel. She was recruited by the Haganah, Israel's first defence force, to develop a service dog organisation for guarding the isolated Hebrew settlements and fighting the War of Independence. Finding that the breeds traditionally used for war tasks suffered impaired efficiency from the adverse climactic conditions, Dr Menzel turned her attention to the pariah dogs (semi-wild dogs) she found living in the area. She concluded that this was a true native breed of dog ideally adapted to the conditions of this difficult land. She was the one who named the breed the "Canaan Dog" for the land in which it was found.

Dr Menzel began working first with wild and semi-wild adult dogs near her home by luring them with food. She also captured litters of puppies, which she raised and found very adaptable to domestication. She then began her own breeding program and introduced the Canaan as a working dog. The Canaan Dog was used extensively during and after World War II for patrol, tracking and guard work. One of the first dogs trained to detect mines effectively was a Canaan Dog.

Today the Canaan Dog can still be found guarding the Bedouin camps and flocks. The Israeli public has also come to value the qualities of its native breed and use the Canaan Dog as home guard dogs. The Israeli army continues to rely almost exclusively on Canaan Dogs for guard and patrol work. Although Canaan Dogs still exist in the wild their numbers are dwindling due to the encroachment of civilisation. The breed has established worldwide recognition with populations firmly established in Israel, England, Western Europe and the USA.

The Canaan Dog in the United Kingdom

Due to the efforts of Mrs Connie Higgins, the Canaan Dog was recognised in England on 31st December 1970. Connie had adopted a bitch that was wild-born in Syria and brought to this country by another person who found she could not get along with the dog. Connie had extensive correspondence with Dr Menzel, sending her photographs, hair clippings and nail cuttings from "Shebaba" and Dr Menzel rated her "very good" and of the "collie-type". Dr Menzel asked Connie to breed Shebaba and sent her a black and white male name "Tiron" (meaning "recruit") with which to do a test breeding. The Kennel Club accepted Tiron and Shebaba and said Shebaba would be the last dog of unknown heritage to be registered by them. Just after the recognition of the Canaan Dog TKC changed the criteria for breed recognition. The Canaans would still today not have enough numbers to be recognised had they not got in when they did. Thank you Connie! Mrs Higgins bred Shebaba twice, but due to a serious illness that put Connie in a wheelchair she had to give up breeding and showing her Canaans and a number of years lapsed before anyone stepped into her shoes.

The next wave of interest in and activity with the breed came about when Ruth Corner took up the gauntlet. Ruth writes: " In 1979 I went to Israel and joined Myrna Shiboleth and Dvora Ben Shaul, who were running Havat Sha'ar Hagai and breeding Canaan Dogs. I stayed four years, working with Myrna and running the kennels. I had worked with dogs before, running kennels in the UK, but the reason I stayed so long at Sha'ar Hagai was that I had never met such fascinating dogs as these Canaans before. Some of the dogs in kennel then were very close to the wild, having had wild parents or grandparents. Most of the Canaans lived in kennels but some were house dogs. One lived loose on the farm and some were on lines strategically placed around the farm where they did an excellent job of watching and protecting our homes and farm stock.

We bred, showed and trained the dogs and sold some on to homes in Israel, USA, Europe, and South Africa. In these very early days the Canaan was not well known, even in Israel and at Sha'ar Hagai it was always a struggle to make ends meet. We could not have done so by dogs alone so the farm also had an organic garden, a goat herd, fowl, pigs and a riding stable. At times we also had a camel and a hyena.

I started my day by feeding the dogs a breakfast of porridge (usually made with organic whey from the goat herd) or bread and gravy or whey. After breakfast I cleaned the kennels. That was my favourite job. The days were hot and I used lots of water to keep myself and the dogs cool and get the kennels clean. There was a lunchtime puppy feed and run around, more cleaning, and in the afternoons and evenings there was grooming, training, socialising and cooking up the next day's porridge. The evening feed was usually a complete dog food. Every day was different, there were shows, vet visits, boarding dogs, cats and horses coming and going, visitors to show around and I also enjoyed horse riding in the mountains around the farm. I often had a Canaan accompanying me on my rides.

I left Israel at the end of 1981 and returned to the UK. At that time there were no known Canaans in Britain. I arranged with Myrna to import two litters of puppies in 1986 by bringing two pregnant Canaan bitches into quarantine. This was successful and when the puppies were weaned they came out of quarantine and their mums went back home to Israel. I sold or gave away to good homes all but four of the puppies. They were two very good litters and the dogs that were shown did well. I personally showed my four dogs in England, Wales and Scotland for two years at most major shows including Crufts. Mary MacPhail, Gina Pointing and David and Marjorie Cording bought dogs from me and worked extremely hard showing and promoting the breed. In 1986 I had two articles in The Field magazine about the Sha'ar Hagai Canaans and my importing some to Britain. This publicity helped greatly with the promotion of the breed in the early days.

I had the pleasure of meeting Connie Higgins and showing her my Canaans. It was delightful to hear her stories and to share experiences of Canaans with her. I am very grateful to her for establishing the breed with the UK Kennel Club and making it easy for us to get registered. When I first tried to register I had no affix, so the Kennel Club assigned me 'Kensix' . My first litter had that affix but my second litter carried my own 'Ba'aretz' ( In the land / country). "

Ruth showed, bred and promoted Canaans vigorously writing articles, breed notes for the dog papers and advertising. Sadly in 1994 she lost her home and business through divorce and had to give up her dogs. Ruth was also diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy. She has regained her health and now has a job organising holidays in the Sinai.

The third wave of Canaan Dog promotion and growth began when Richard Minto, who had been gifted by the Bedouins with a wild-born Canaan, Minto's Libyan Jewel, and a breeder from the US, Ellen Klein, met at the first International Canaan Dog Show in Israel in 1993. Through a series of events they eventually got together and the Canaan Dogs of Anacan hit the show scene. It wasn't long before Ellen, who had taken on the job of CDC newsletter editor was asked to stand for club Secretary and Richard was asked to stand for club Chairman. They were elected to these positions in 1996. Through their tireless efforts, along with several others, the CDC membership started to grow and the Canaan Dog began to gain more respect and credibility. Some enthusiastic new members have become a part of the scene over the last few years and through the combined efforts of all, the Canaan Dog shall grow from strength-to-strength in the UK.

See also Canaan Dog - Progenitor Breed

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Last Updated on the 24th May 2021