I have spent my entire life avoiding dogs. They make me sneeze, wheeze and itch, and please, don’t start with the hypoallergenic dog argument; I’m indiscriminately allergic to all of them. Also, when I was five years old, the dog next door — a gigantic, snarling, barking, brown fuzzy beast — chased me halfway around our yard, leaving me with an intense, irrational fear of all canines that took me longer to get over than I’d like to admit. And so it was against my better judgment that I decided to tune into the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Annual All-Breed Dog Show. Suddenly. Everything. Changed.
Last night, the Westminster Dog Show kicked off its two-day competition a mere 2.5 miles from my couch in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Over 2,700 dogs in 187 breeds are set to compete for best in show, and OM-FREAKING-G have you ever seen anything cuter than a Chow Chow? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not into dogs that look more put together than I do (ahem, little Maltese and little Lhasa Apso) but I would happily fill my entire home with ten of these faces. (Assuming they don’t shed. DO THEY?)
Amidst the perfectly pathetic Basset Hound and the ridiculously manicured Standard Poodle, I almost missed a somewhat unremarkable, medium-sized, square-bodied, white and brown pooch strutting across the stage during the Herding group competition — until the announcer introduced him as the Canaan Dog, Israel’s only native dog.
Named for the ancient land of Canaan, Canaan dogs, also known as Kelev K’naani, were herding and guardian dogs for the ancient Israelites. (According to the Canaan Dog Club of America, there are 4,000-year-old Middle-Eastern drawings of dogs that look very similar today’s modern Cannan dog.) When the Romans invaded and destroyed early Israel, the dogs fled to the desert, where they lived generally untamed for over 2,000 years — until the 1930s (take that feral dingoes!), when the Canaan dog was re-domesticated by Drs. Rudolphina and Rudolph Menzel. As the CDCA explains:
The parents of the modern breed were Drs. Rudolphina and Rudolph Menzel. In the 1930’s, they cultivated wild and semi-wild pariah dogs to create a highly trainable breed of dog with the pariah’s hardiness, adaptability, acute senses and intelligence.
Canaan Dogs played key roles as guards, messengers and mine detectors during World War II and the Israeli War of Independence. They also worked with the Red Cross and helped the blind. Today there are approximately 1,000 Canaan dogs in the U.S., 400 in Israel and 200 in other countries, according to the CDCA. And each year, Canaan dog breeders in the U.S. breed 15 to 20 litters, each with around four puppies. The dogs are characteristically loyal, loving, inquisitive and highly attuned to the moods of their owners, making them ideal family pets.
The Canaan dog first joined the Herding Group of the American Kennel Club on August 12, 1997, and first entered the Westminster Dog Show in 1998. The Canaan dog competing in this year’s Best of Group for the herding dogs was an 8-year-old named Magnum. Bred by Donna Dodson and owned by Pamela Stacey Rosman, Magnum has won his breed for four years in a row. Still, he wasn’t able to pull out a win; that honor went to Swagger, a 20-month-old male Old English Sheepdog. Still, Magnum took fourth place, behind the Puli and the Beauceron, marking the first time a Canaan Dog has ever placed in the Group in Westminster’s history.
Magnum may not have grabbed my attention at first — it’s hard to stand out next to the Standard Poodle’s pompom-style anklets and the Chow Chow’s adorably smushed face — but I won’t discount him. The Canaan dog has been around for 3,000 years; who knows where he’ll go next.