Description of the Canaan Dog

Explanation of the The Kennel Club’s Breed standard


The shape of the head should remind one most of the head-form of a Collie, but differing from it by a somewhat shorter muzzle, wider forehead and the prick ears set low and far apart. The head should be well proportioned and noble, in no way heavy or clumsy, but also not too light. Blunt and wedge shaped, it is of moderate length, the forehead not too wide although appearing somewhat wider because of the low set ears. The length from muzzle to stop should be equal to the length of stop to occiput, and any deviation should be in favour of the muzzle length. The skull should not be domed or as flat as a greyhound-type dog, and the stop, whilst defined, should be as slight as possible. The jaw is strong, not too long and of corresponding width, never cube-shaped nor greyhound-like. Whilst the scissor bite is seen more frequently, a level bite is as acceptable.

The nose should be as dark as possible, the lips tight and well pigmented. Snow and butterfly noses, although they can occasionally occur in light coloured dogs, are a fault and should be treated as such in the show ring. Lack of pigment in an animal that developed to live in the harsh terrain and blazing sun of the desert would be a distinct disadvantage. The eyes are almond shaped, closely placed and set somewhat diagonally, and should be as dark as possible. Menzel described the ears as short, relatively wide prick and set low, so that it stands pointed outwards somewhat diagonally (not set on high and long, as that of a German Shepherd).

Above we show the four different types of pariah heads from Menzel’s Pariahunde. Types II and III are the middle type of pariah, in other words Canaan Dogs, with the type III being Menzel’s preferred type.


Professor Menzel talks about the neck being “noble” and withers as well-developed. TKC standard describes it to be clean, well arched and of medium length. A dog’s neck is of great importance to the overall appearance of the animal. The neck should be of sufficient length to impart a look of quality and should display a well-set head with a proud carriage. Two factors give style to the correct Canaan Dog’s neck. First, the neck must taper slightly from the shoulders up to the head, creating a slight arch to the back line of the neck. Second, the neck must be set into well-laid back shoulders. A nicely proportioned neck will flow into well-laid sloping shoulders and should be strong, well muscled, flexible, allowing maximum mobility. Males often have pronounced manes that can deceive the eye, making the neck look shorter and heavier than it is, therefore hands-on to determine the true shape and length of a neck is often necessary.

A short, thick stuffy, neck detracts from the balance and outline, and often accompanies upright shoulders or poor front. But an overlong, thin neck is equally incorrect and not in keeping with the build required. An ewe-neck is arched so that the top line of the neck is concave and the bottom is convex and the circumference is usually the same from top to bottom. A dog with an ewe-neck can have his nose brought up and back past 1 o’clock, and is comfortable holding his head further back towards the body and above the forechest.


Surprisingly, The Kennel Club standard doesn’t mention angulation at all, However the FCI standard does call for moderate angulation.

Many judges estimate the layback of shoulder by placing their fingertips at the top of the shoulder blade and at the point of shoulder, then from the point of shoulder to the elbow. Measured this way the angle should be approximately 30º off a vertical line. Another way is to measure the actual shoulder blades, along the spine of the scapula and to the lowest end of the humerus. This measurement can differ by up to about 10º, depending upon where you take the top of blade.

Rear angulation should be assessed with the dog standing so his rear pasterns are vertical, any other position will of course alter the angulation. When the rear pastern is straight, the front tip of the paw should be under, or almost under, the rearmost point of the pelvis. If the toes are further back then the angulation is excessive and the dog will have sickle hocks.

Angulation should be balanced — that is, the angulation at the shoulder and hip joints should be roughly equal. This will provide the same amount of reach in the forelegs as in the rear. A dog may be better off with poor angulation in both the front and the rear and thus balanced, than to be unbalanced and have one end having to compensate for faults in the other. A common fault in an unbalanced dog with excessive rear angulation is that the dog does not move in a straight line (crabbing or side-winding), and the line of the spine does not point in the direction of travel when viewed coming or going.

A dog with good, well-balanced angulation should have a smooth, ground-covering stride, the flexible joints providing a strong, smooth thrust from the rear and a spring to the forehand, the swing and extension of the forelegs coordinating with that of the rear so there is no interference, thus allowing him to move in a straight line. Straighter angulation will shorten the stride too much, and the swing of the shoulder construction is restricted, as is the bend and thrust at the rear, movement is more bouncy than smooth. Excessive angulation would be detrimental to joint support and endurance.


Whilst a level back is called for in the standard, this does not mean a completely straight topline as in, say, a Dobermann. There will be a slight dip behind well-developed withers, where the vertebrae change direction, with it rising very slightly over the loin, making the overall topline level. A poor topline is rarely caused by the spine and is usually symptomatic of compensating for a problem elsewhere. For instance, being too long in the loin can produce a sway back because there will not be enough support between the last rib and the pelvis; or a soft top-line can be indicative of straight shoulders; a roach back is more often than not caused by poor rear assembly.

The tail-set is high and there should be no slope down to the croup. There has always been great controversy over the tail carriage. The KC standard calls for it to be curled over the back when trotting or excited, whilst in Menzel’s Pariahunde states “carried curled over back when excited”, I am not quite sure why our standard added, “when trotting”. Needless to say that, due to the Canaan’s wary attitude, many dogs will not carry their tail over their back in the show ring, although of course it would be preferred if they did!


The KC standard calls for a square body, in other words measuring from the ground to the withers should be equal to the measurement from the point of shoulder to the end of the pelvis, with a height between 20 and 24 inches at the withers. A short-coupled, square build is the most efficient for trotting and agility, which is fundamental to survival in the wild. Being too long in the body will produce a loping stride, like the GSD, which is not desirable in the Canaan, which has a short, quick and agile trot. A strong, medium-sized body is called for, neither too heavy nor too fine. A dog that is too heavy will not be so agile and require more food to survive, which is scarce in their harsh natural environment. Too fine and the dog would not be able to defend themselves against the likes of jackals, wolves or hyenas. It goes without saying that they shouldn’t be overweight!

The chest is moderate, not too wide nor too narrow, and should be constructed in such a way that two extra legs could be placed between the legs. If too wide this can result in narrow movement of the hindquarters, while a narrow chest could be indicative of a straight upper arm/shoulder. The chest should be deep and reach the elbow, the ribcage must allow for enough for heart and lung room. This is why it is essential the sternum be horizontal to the 9th rib, and not elevate before as in Whippets and Greyhounds. The ribcage plays a vital role in the breathing process and should be well-sprung to allow greater endurance. A barrel shaped ribcage will result in loss of flexibility and the ribs are unable to optimally expand or deflate during respiration. But one that is too flat has less room for the heart and lungs, resulting in a lower than normal intake of oxygen.

The withers should be well developed, and this often coincides with correct shoulder placement. If they are too level, then we can almost certainly say we will also see a straight shoulder blade, short neck and long back. The loin is short, arched (as discussed under topline) and well muscled with belly well drawn up.


The feet should be tight, with well-arched toes and hard pads that are heat resistant to endure walking on the hot surface of the desert during the day. Their natural habitat is not just a desert of sand as some may imagine, but of large open prairies and rocky wastelands, so their feet must be capable of gripping all different kinds of surfaces. I have shown my Canaans in an indoor sports hall with no mats and a slippery floor -they didn’t slip but actually splayed their feet in order not to. Nails can tend to grow quickly and be very tough, and some of my dogs, even with plenty of regular roadwork, need their nails trimmed more regularly than some other breeds to prevent the feet from splaying. There is no excuse for nails that are too long.

Pasterns are, of course, the shock absorbers during movement, and should have a good spring to ensure that movement does not jar the dog’s structure. The ideal position is a slight angle forwards. A straight pastern will cause an abrupt movement, lacking suppleness, while one that is too angulated will be weak.


The KC Standard doesn’t really say over-much about the coat, and has no mention at all of the desired mane, feathering or bushy tail. This is disappointing as the correct coat is essential to survival in the desert and protection against the harsh elements.

Only one type of coat is acceptable. Pariahunde describes it as “stock hair”, which is recognised by the straight stiff guard hair of medium length (4-5cm or 1½-2 inches long) and a profuse, dense undercoat. The buttocks should be well feathered and the tail as bushy as possible. A pronounced mane with males is desired and this acts as protection against their enemies. The texture of the guard hairs is harsh, while the undercoat is downy.

The condition of the undercoat corresponds to the season. It is amazing how different a dog can look when wearing his “summer” coat as opposed to his “winter” one. They give the appearance of being far more slender and even leggier than when they are wearing their full “winter coat”, Judges should perhaps remember this when presented with dogs of various stages of winter or summer coat.

Pariahunde goes on to quote Haucke: “If the guard hairs are 3-4cm long, then it is called a short double-coat, if they are 5-10cm long, then the hair is referred to as a long double-coat. The long form of stock hair will hang straight down or stand out stiff and straight, as does the hair of the Spitz. Long hair occurs when the undercoat has almost completely disappeared and the guard hair is soft and thin. The short hair, or smooth coat, occurs after the undercoat has disappeared and the guard hairs, bristles, have shortened.” These types are not desirable in the Canaan Dog.

Our breed is certainly colourful, having various shades of sand, from the palest cream through to reddish brown, black and even white. Extensive white markings are allowed on all of the colours, and Irish Spotting is frequently found, often with ticking. A white or black mask, either merely suggested or pronounced, is also permissible, and it is preferred that this is symmetrical. Undesirable colours are black and tan, tri-colour (black and tan modified with white), grey and brindle.


Once again The KC standard seems to be a bit lacking in detail, merely describing an “energetic and natural trot”, while the previous standard stated “Short, fast trot”. So, how can we expand on that? Well the FCI tells us a bit more with, “quick, light and energetic trot. Should demonstrate marked agility and stamina. Correct movement is essential”.

A Canaan Dog should have a smooth, ground-covering stride, with flexible joints providing a strong, smooth thrust from the rear and a spring to the forehand, the swing and extension of the forelegs coordinating with that of the rear so there is no interference, thus allowing him to move in a straight line.

Turning once again to Pariahunde, Menzel describes, “The gait of both middle types is a characteristic brisk trot which covers a surprising amount of territory. It is especially good to observe the wild-living specimens. Without falling into a canter, these animals disappear into the distance in an incredibly short time, as soon as a human being steps into their flight distance. On the basis of their footprints in the sand we often observed their natural trot. According to Schaeme, the hind paw steps into the print of the front paw.” The standard within Pariahunde states that a short but brisk “natural” trot is desired.

This short, quick, agile gait enables the dog to change direction instantly, leap effortlessly, move over rough terrain, or just trot for hours without tiring. A dog with an exaggerated or “flashy” movement will not be so agile and will quickly tire.


Type is the essence of a breed — it is everything that makes one breed recognisable from another. But it must be remembered that, because no dog is identical there is always variation, even between dogs of the same type.

It has been said that the Canaan Dog should look like it has the potential to survive in the harsh conditions of the desert, and many people rely very heavily on this to help describe what the breed should look like. But the pariahs throughout the world are similar. They are actually more similar than different – basic structure, shape, head shape, ear set, tail carriage, etc., are quite similar whether it is an Australian dingo, an Asian pariah, a Carolinas dog, or a Canaan. This is because the basic requirements of survival dictate certain parameters. It is clear that dogs ranging from relatively large and heavy bodied, to small and light bodied, and various types of double-coat, are all capable of survival in these harsh conditions.

Being a Zionist, Menzel had a particular interest in the medium type pariah dog that developed in the area that is today Israel, and as such named them the Canaan Dog, after the Land of Canaan. Menzel then split this medium type into two further types — type II, heavy medium type (dingo-like) and type III, light medium type (collie-like). Menzel was quite specific about points she felt were desirable and undesirable in the Canaan. Just because a medium type pariah is found in the deserts of Israel, or indeed documented as a Canaan Dog, does not automatically mean it is of good, or desirable, type.

In order to retain a large genetic pool, Menzel used both types II and III in her breeding programme, however, she was never known to place a type II Canaan Dog in the show ring, and in an interview back in 1972, stated that she thought breeders should now concentrate on the more favourable ‘collie’ type. It was in 1972 that Menzel stated, “I think that we need to do more for the type of Canaan we are looking for and less with the many Canaans that are of a less favourable type.”

The variation between the two types is gradual, and no distinct line can really be drawn between them. Type II tends to be heavier built than the preferred type III, often being shorter in the leg, sometimes with a slightly more rectangle body than square, with the belly not so well tucked up. The head is more pear shaped, being broader in the skull than the muzzle, the muzzle often being shorter, and a more defined stop.

Menzel described type III as being the “aristocratic form of type II”. Describing the shape of the skull to be very similar to the Collie (meaning the original Collie back in the 1930s). Whilst being more refined than the type II, they must be substantial enough to ensure survival in the harsh climate and terrain of the desert, and be able to stand up to jackals, hyenas and wolves when necessary. They should be of a compact build, whilst giving the impression of strength and agility.

Because there is never a definite clear line between types, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish specific type, and there has been much discussion over type II and type III. Myrna Shiboleth, of Shaar Hagai kennels in Israel, is just one of the people who worked closely with Professor Menzel for some years. Indeed, Myrna took her breeding stock to Menzel, that which was not obtained from Menzel herself, to be analysed and rated by her standard of perfection. Menzel would carefully explain the qualities and the faults of each dog and how it related to her ideal vision of the breed. Myrna has said that Prof. Menzel was an excellent teacher, happy to spend time explaining, and spoke excellent Hebrew, so there was no language problem.

One important thing we do know, is that Menzel was very proud of Laish me Bnei HaBitachon, considering him to be a fine example of what the breed should be. Laish (pet name Simi) became the foundation stud of Shaar Hagai Kennels, and the first Israel Champion of the breed. Many breeders around the world today, use Laish as their role model.


In order to summarise, we look to Myrna Shiboleth and her Guidelines to Judging the Israel Canaan Dog, and quote from her section on the general appearance.

“The overall first impression we should get of the Canaan Dog is of a dog that is totally natural and as close as possible to the original ancestor of our modern dogs. It is a medium sized, medium boned, square, compact, and very well balanced dog, agile and muscular, that looks as if it could cover ground all day without tiring. Nothing about the Canaan should be exaggerated; everything must be in balance and harmony and give the appearance of pure functionality.

Let’s consider function. The Canaan, or any pariah for that matter, lives on the fringes of civilization, usually in areas where means of survival are scarce. These dogs have to be capable of living on the bare minimum – and they usually are fit and healthy and in quite good physical condition despite this. These dogs are capable of hunting for themselves, usually small game such as hares, mice, lizards, and such, though they have been known to bring down full-grown gazelles as well. They are scavengers, able to silently and stealthily penetrate the perimeters of Bedouin camps or settlements to steal or scrounge in the garbage dumps. They can live with a bare minimum of water, sometimes drinking only once every few days. They also have to be capable of coping with natural enemies, which means the ability to either effectively flee danger or to be able to stand and fight if necessary.

Anything that interferes with this functionality is undesirable. A dog that is too heavy in structure will require too much food and water for the conditions, and will not be as effective a hunter and scavenger or in fleeing his natural enemies, which may include man. Heavier types of pariah, as are found in Turkey and Syria, are less suitable to the desert environment. On the other hand, a dog that is too fine and light boned will find it more difficult to compete with the other small predators and scavengers. The Canaan in nature and in his task as a Bedouin guard dog has to be capable of standing up to jackals, wolves, and even hyenas – and this does mean standing up to them to them to protect his flock. The Canaan has also proven himself capable of taking down an adult gazelle. These things would be impossible if he is too small and fine. Structure that is exaggerated in any way – including characteristics such as excessive length of body and over-angulation – will also make him less effective, less able to manoeuvre, and less suited to the terrain. The wrong coat type will seriously damage his ability to withstand the climatic extremes of his natural environment.

Strong distinction between the sexes is desired as in most breeds. This is also related to functionality as it helps a dog that is highly territorial to identify at a distance an animal that is a potential mate rather than an enemy or intruder into his territory.”

Being a scientist, Menzel was particularly interested in the comparison of skull shapes, and wrote quite extensively on the shape of the head, which she considered important. When Menzel describes the type III to be “Collie-like”, she is comparing the head, not the body structure.