The Canaan Dog (also known as Kalef K’naani) is the national dog of Israel. It is a medium size breed of pariah dog that has existed for millennia in its native land in the Middle East. An average Canaan dog weighs in between 18 and 25 kg and can have a height between 45 cm and 60 cm depending on the sex, with males being heavier and taller than females. The Canaan Dog is classified under the Utility type of the Kennel Club. It is an agile, alert, and a highly intelligent breed. The dog has a wedge-shaped head that appears broader because of its low set ears. It has a black nose, almond shaped dark eyes with black eye rims, erect ears with rounded tip, and jaws that form regular and complete scissor bite. The body of the Canaan dog is square (height equals length) with highly erect forequarters, short loin region, level topline, a deep chest, well tucked-up belly, and less angular hindquarters. The tail is highly set covered in thick brush and carried curled over the back when the dog is in action. The double coat is made of close and profuse undercoat with a dense, harsh and straight outer coat that comes in sand to red-brown colour, white, black, or spotted with or without a proportioned black mask.
The Canaan Dog is an ancient breed that originated in ancient Canaan, where the breed was aptly named from. Archaeologists excavating ancient settlements in Ashkelon, Israel in 1991 unearthed what is known as the largest dog cemetery of any kind in the ancient world, dating back to the 5th century B.C. This cemetery contained 700 partial or complete dog carcasses whose features resemble that of the modern Canaan dog – approximately 50 cm in height and weighed a little more than 18 kilos.
During the 1930s, British cynologist Dr. Rudolphina Menzel was commissioned by the Haganah (a Jewish paramilitary organization in the British Mandate of Palestine) to help set up a dog section which can be used by the military for guarding, tracking and other tasks. In 1934, she began re-domesticating pariah dogs living in the wild deserts with the Bedouin and other settlements and initiated a selective breeding program that resulted in a highly adaptable breed known today as the Canaan dog. She founded the Institute for Orientation and Mobility for the Blind in 1949 where Canaan dogs were trained as guide dogs for the blind. This is also where “B’nei Habitachon” was established, where she bred kennel-based Canaan dogs. She exported some of these to the US and Germany in 1965. She also sent a male Canaan dog to Mrs. Connie Higgins in the United Kingdom, who already had a female puppy she acquired from Damascus a year before. The first known Canaan Dog litter born in the UK came from these two dogs. Menzel wrote the breed standard in 1966 which was accepted by the FCI in the same year.
The Canaan dog is highly adaptable and a survivor. It is alert, watchful, inquisitive, and aloof towards strangers which makes for an excellent watchdog and guard dog. Any stranger will be met with prompt (and sometimes excessive) barking. The Canaan dog is an athletic breed, light-footed and can turn with ease. It is an excellent herder but also excels in agility and tracking. It works well in a pack but can likewise think independently. Although typically reserved, it is not an aggressive breed and will only fight back when threatened. It is typically active outside but it can be very much a couch dog when inside the house.
The Canaan dog is an intelligent breed and as Dr. Menzel proved during the 1930s, it is an easy dog to train. However, this clever dog also has an independent streak so training needs to come from a gentle but firm handler who can teach the dog proper training and socialisation. Experience dog owners will find the Canaan Dog easy to train but it is not recommended for first-time pet owners. This breed should be socialised early and extensively to help curve its strong territorial instinct and dominance issue. If not properly trained, it has a tendency to become wilful and will not listen or follow any command.
Although the Canaan Dog has a double coat, it does not require as much grooming as other dogs with long coats. A quick brush several times a week will keep the coat in pristine condition. The coat sheds twice a year, usually during seasonal change. During this time, the dog needs daily brushing using a rake brush to help remove dead hairs which will quickly promote the growth of new ones. Use a pin brush and a slicker brush to groom the body coat. Check and trim nails when necessary.
This hardy breed, although generally healthy is affected by a few minor health issues. These include:
This hardy breed will take as much exercise as the owner can offer. It is an adaptable dog and can live in an apartment, in a suburban home or in the countryside – as long as it gets enough exercise. Usually, the Canaan Dog will be content with short daily walks but it can readily accept as much as the owner can give it. It likes to walk and investigate things so it must always be kept on leash when it is being walked.
The Canaan dog is naturally reserved towards strangers but a good training and early socialisation can curve this temperament. When properly socialised and trained, it is an excellent companion with children especially if it is raised with them from puppyhood. Socialisation also helps counteracts the dog’s tendency to become aggressive towards other dogs.