The Canaan Dog is a Pariah Dog of Israel. Nobody really knows the exact truth about their origins. Some say that he is an originally domesticated dog turned feral, while others believe they are in fact a separate species to the wolf and the domestic breeds of today. The reality is that currently there is no evidence to prove, or disprove, either theory.
It is understood that the Canaan Dog is an ancient breed. Pre-biblical drawings and carvings depicting dogs very similar to the Canaan Dog we know today. There is a rock carving from the first to third century BC mid Sinai that depicts a dog which is very like a Canaan type dog. In ancient Ashkelon, a graveyard was discovered, which is believed to be Phoenician from the middle of the fifth century BC. It contained 700 dogs, all carefully buried in the same position, on their sides with legs flexed and tail tucked in around the hind legs. According to the archaeologists, there was a strong similarity between these dogs and the “Bedouin pariah dogs”, in other words, the Canaan Dog. A sarcophagus dated from the end of the fourth century BC, was found in Sidon, on which Alexander the Great and the King of Sidon are painted hunting a lion with the help of a hunting dog which is similar in build to the dogs of Ashkelon and similar in appearance to the Canaan Dog.
Bedouins and Druse people have used, and indeed still use, Pariah Dogs of the Canaan Dog type as guard dogs for a very long time. However, they have never bred them, but merely take males from the free-living and semi-free litters.
Professor Rudolphina Menzel, a Viennese a psychologist and dog trainer, was well known as one of the world’s foremost authorities on dogs. As a scientist, Professor Menzel had a great interest in pariah dogs, although her first love was Boxers, which she bred. Being a Zionist, she had a particular interest in the dog which developed in the area that is today Israel.
It was in the early nineteen-thirties when Menzel, together with her husband Dr Rudolph Menzel, emigrated from Vienna to Israel, then known as Palestine. Upon their arrival, Professor Menzel was approached by the Haganah (Jewish Defence Forces) for help in setting up a dog section. After finding that the usual breeds used for guarding, tracking and other tasks were unable to cope with the climate or harsh terrain, Menzel soon turned her attention to the local pariah dog. Here she found a dog with all the traits that would make them a good service dog — an alert and agile dog, being territorial and with highly developed senses.
Menzel began working with semi-free and free-living dogs of a specific type, luring them into her camp and gaining their trust. She also captured litters of puppies, finding them remarkably adaptable to domestication. The first successful adult she called Dugma (meaning example). It took her about 6 months to finally capture him, and yet within a few weeks she found she could take him into town and on buses!
It was in 1934 when Menzel initiated the first domestic breeding programme for Canaan Dogs, which she had named after the Land of Canaan. She had great success in training them as service dogs for the Haganah, where they excelled in guard work and proved highly successful in patrol and tracking work. They were also to be one of the first dogs trained to detect land mines.
In 1953, Menzel became involved in preparing guide dogs to assist blind Israelis to become more independent and lead as normal a life as possible. Working with an extremely low budget, Menzel trained several Canaan Dogs to fulfil the tasks. Although she had reasonable success, it was found that the Canaan Dog was not the ideal breed, being too independent in their nature. They were also found to be a bit too small and those trained were mainly used by children.
Menzel’s interest in the Canaan Dog was in its preservation. Her breeding programme reflected her aim to retain the natural traits of the breed, and she incorporated free-living stock into her programme whenever possible. In the nineteen-sixties Menzel began to export dogs to the USA and Europe.
At this stage, Menzel required the widest possible genepool, and this was reflected in the variety of type used for breeding, showing a difference in size, shape, tail carriage and coat type.
The Canaan Dog was first recognised by the Israel Kennel Club in 1953 and by the FCI (Federation Cynologique Internationale) in 1966. The first accepted a standard was written by Menzel. In the UK, The Kennel Club here in the UK first recognised the Canaan Dog in 1970.
Today the Canaan is regarded as a natural treasure, and the Israel Nature Reserves Authority recommends its preservation, although this has not yet been taken up.
The aim of breeders today around the world should be those same aims of Professor Menzel — that to preserve the breed and its original natural traits