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Get to Know the Canaan Dog: From Feral Dog to Companion

He's the only AKC breed purposefully bred from feral dogs -- it was an experiment that worked!

Caroline Coile  |  Jan 11th 2016


The Canaan Dog has one of the most unusual histories of any AKC breed. No other breed was purposefully bred from feral dogs. But why?

Canaan Dog by Shutterstock.

Canaan Dog by Shutterstock.

Interesting things about the Canaan Dog

  • When the Romans made the Israelites leave their homeland 2,000 years ago, Israeli dogs were left behind to fend for themselves in the Sebulon Coastal Plain and Negev Desert. Over the centuries, Bedouins captured puppies to use as livestock guards, but the dogs were mostly feral.
  • Canaan Dogs were originally called Kelev Kanani (Dog of Canaan).
  • In the 1930s, the Israeli Defense Force began to use service dogs in preparation for war, but they found the traditional European breeds couldn’t withstand the heat.
  • One woman, Dr. Rudolphina Menzel, noticed the hardy Bedouin dogs. She arranged to capture several and embarked on a breeding and training program. The dogs not only handled the heat well, but proved adept at many jobs and served in World War II as sentry dogs, mine detectors, messengers, and even locators of the wounded. After the war, they served as guide dogs, but were too independent to really excel at this job.
  • The first Canaan Dog came to America in 1965. The AKC recognized the breed in 1997. It is a member of the Herding group.
  • In other countries it is classified in other groups. In the United Kingdom it is in the Utility group. The Fédération Cynologique Internationale, which controls breeds in many countries, classifies it in the Spitz and Primitive Dog group.
Canaan Dog by Shutterstock.

Canaan Dog by Shutterstock.

  • The Canaan Dog is often just considered a type of pariah dog, a name given to feral dogs found throughout the world who tend to share the body shape, size, and general look of the Canaan.
  • It is the national dog breed of Israel.
  • The native population has been depleted in recent years owing to wide-scale eradication in an effort to fight rabies, mixing with other breeds of dogs, and human encroachment. A few dedicated breeders scour the countryside for good specimens to integrate into the gene pool.
  • The Canaan Dog has competed in the Westminster dog show since 1998, with only a single group placement so far.
  • This is an extremely rare breed, ranked 170th in ALC popularity. It was the 156th most popular AKC breed five years ago. Breeds ranked this low are in danger of becoming extinct. This is a shame, as it is a smart, biddable, loyal dog.
Canaan Dog profile by Shutterstock.

Canaan Dog profile by Shutterstock.

  • The Canaan Dog may be confused with the Border Collie, but he is taller, always has erect ears, is often predominately white or a solid lighter color, usually has shorter hair, and has a more upright posture.
  • He may also be confused with a Smooth Collie, but the Canaan Dog has a wider, shorter head, with totally erect ears; he also tends to carry his tail higher.
  • Owners include John F. Kennedy, Jr., although most people thought his dog was a mix breed.

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier