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The Canaan dog is an outcast dog that has survived in the desert region of Israel for thousands of years. It is believed to be the breed of dog that the Hebrews used in biblical times to herd and guard their flocks and camps, and some are still used by the Bedouin and Druze for this purpose today. Although these are purebred dogs, you may find them in the care of shelters or rescue groups. Remember to adopt. Don’t buy if you want to take a dog home. In Europe and North America, Canaan Dogs are companions and compete in dog sports such as conformation, agility and obedience. They are very adaptable and can even adapt to apartment living, as long as humans can meet the breed’s exercise needs. However, being an old-fashioned pack breed, they need firm leadership and constant training. Although they are intelligent, they can also be stubborn. Use positive reinforcement and you will have a dog that is willing to please.
The Canaan dog is not the best choice for first time dog owners. Canaans are a primitive breed and are more concerned with pack order than other breeds. They will try to wrest leadership of the “pack” from a passive owner. They need extensive and continuous socialization throughout their lives to help them recognize what is a threat and what is not. Canaan breed dogs can be dog aggressive. Some cannot live with a dog of the same sex, and some extend aggression to any dog they meet. Canaan Dogs are aloof with strangers. Canaan Dogs bark when there is something new or different in their territory. They can become nuisance barkers if they are not taught when to stop or if they are often left alone for too long. They do not make good watchdogs, as their distrust of new people and things can make them indiscriminate about who and what is a threat. Canaan breed dogs need a well-fenced yard. They love to dig and can turn their well-manicured lawn into a plot that resembles the surface of the moon. Their intelligence makes them very trainable, but their independent nature and difficulty motivating themselves can make it questionable whether they will choose to listen to you. When it comes to training, they have a “what’s in it for me?” attitude. They shed profusely twice a year and shed smaller amounts during the rest of the year. Canaan Dogs are a rare breed, with only about 1,600 in the world. If you want a Canaan Dog puppy, expect to spend time on a waiting list. To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests their breeding dogs to make sure they have no genetic diseases they can pass on to puppies and that they have a healthy temperament.
In the Bible, the book of Exodus calls Canaan – ancient Palestine and Phoenicia from around 3,000 BC – a good and spacious land, flowing with milk and honey. Flocks of sheep and goats thrived there, and where there are flocks, there are dogs. The dogs of these ancient Middle Eastern communities were known as Kelef Kanani, Hebrew words meaning dog of Canaan. It is likely that the Kelef Kanani differed little from its present-day descendant, the Canaan Dog. Drawings in the tombs of Beni Hassan in Egypt, dating from 2200-2000 BC, show dogs with smooth coats, pointed ears and bushy tails curled over their backs. They undoubtedly had the same alert, vigilant and inquisitive expression that characterises today’s Canaan Dog, a breed that may well be a living portrait of the first domesticated dogs. Middle Eastern herding dogs kept their animals from straying, protected them from predators or thieves, and sounded the alarm when danger approached. But as the centuries passed, with the invasion of the Roman conquerors and the dispersion of the land’s inhabitants to the far corners of the earth, the dog of Canaan became unemployed. He retreated into the mountainous wilderness of southern Israel, leading a feral lifestyle that depended on his wits and fitness. At times he continued his nomadic life, eking out a living with the Bedouins of the desert, or serving as a guard for the Druze, religious communities of highlanders who made their home on Mount Carmel and other areas of what is now Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. Sculpted by this harsh lifestyle, the dog became a cunning athlete, perfectly adapted to his environment. For centuries, the Canaan dog continued its unrestricted life in the desert, but in 1935, world events conspired to bring it back into the human community. Not only was World War II brewing, but an independent Jewish state was in the making. Isolated Jewish settlements in Palestine needed guard dogs that could withstand the desert conditions, and the armed forces in the area were looking for a desert-resistant patrol and guard dog. Rudolphina Menzel, a professor of animal and comparative psychology at Tel Aviv University, was asked to develop a dog that would meet these needs. Her original plan was to work with established breeds, but in her mind she kept picturing the Canaan Dogs she had seen in the desert. They had survival skills, and that was what was needed. Dr. Menzel and her husband acquired several of the desert dogs and began breeding them, recording and refining their bloodlines. They trained their new breed for sentry work, landmine detection and message delivery, and were active with Middle Eastern forces during World War II. After the war, some of the dogs embarked on a second career as guide dogs. By 1948, the Palestine Kennel Club had registered 150 of them. In 1965, Ursula Berkowitz of Oxnard, California, imported four Canaan Dogs. In the same year, the Canaan Dog Club of America was formed. The United Kennel Club recognised the breed in 1992 and the American Kennel Club in 1997. The breed entered the national spotlight in 1998, when Ch. Catalina’s Felix to the Max became the first Canaan Dog to compete in the Herding Group at the Westminster Kennel Club show. It remains a rare breed, ranking 150th out of 155 breeds and varieties registered by the AKC.
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