Canaan Dog breed: the ancient survivor

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2023. September 19 - Photos: Canaan Dogs of River Rock/ Facebook

The national dog of Israel has looked after itself for two millennia, so it's no wonder that its independent nature challenges even the most experienced owners.


The Canaan Dog has been present in and around what is now the State of Israel for thousands of years. This ancient breed of dog has strong instincts and needs a very consistent and experienced owner, but it is not an impossible task to train it to be an excellent companion, as it has all the necessary skills. He is a docile, intelligent and versatile breed who, in the right environment, will not only be an excellent watchdog but will also become a member of the family.


Canaan is an ancient term, in a broader sense (beyond its Biblical interpretation) referring to the territory of modern Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, western Syria and the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. The name of the dog breed derives from this meaning, because they were the helpers, herders and protectors of the shepherds in these areas. Some monuments suggest that dogs of this type were found as early as 4000 years ago, but the exact origins are not known and are unfortunately lost to history.

Despite its ancient history, the breed was officially recognised in 1979.

Life of the breed changed in 70 AD: the Roman Empire destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and most Israelites left the area, leaving behind, among others, these shepherds, who, proving their hardiness, survived the following centuries in the Negev desert, more or less wild, without owners.

In the 20th century, the State of Israel was founded in 1948. In the few years before that, the need for guard dogs arose among the residents of Jewish settlements in the area and the nascent Israeli army. Rudolphina Menzel, a well-known Austrian kinesiologist who was living in Palestine at the time, recommended dogs from the Nagev desert, as hardy and fearless dogs were needed. She assumed that there was nothing better than a population of dogs that survived the harsh desert conditions without help. The dogs surpassed expectations, proving easily ‘re-homed’ because of their intelligence and learning ability. In wartime, they were used in guarding, messenger, service and mine detection roles, and in civilian life they helped people as assistance dogs and guide dogs.

Breed standard

The Canaan Dog is a strongly built breed, medium sized, with a body weight of about 18-25 kg and a height of 50-60 cm. It has a short, coarse coat, with a white undercoat and black or reddish brown patches. The tail is typically upturned and the tip is tapering. The straight back and deep chest further enhance the hardy appearance. Belly tucked up, limbs parallel and straight. Head elongated, tapering towards the end of the nose, eyes large, dark brown. The ears are triangular, spreading up and down. FCI classification places him in the fifth category, Spitzs and Ancient type dogs.

Canaan Dog breed standard.


Canaan Dogs are highly intelligent, have strong instincts and high self-confidence, but are also very protective of their territory. They are indefatigable and with relatively high energy levels, they can be the perfect companion for active owners. It is important to establish rules early and follow a consistent training routine, as they are independent characters and can easily take the lead. Given that they have been mostly self-reliant for over a millennium, they cannot be blamed for this, but it is a contingency to be prepared for.

In fact, any dog sport will work for them, because of their history and instincts. The important thing is that both the dog and the owner enjoy the sport and that the time spent together builds the relationship, not just satisfies physical and mental needs.

They need a strong hand, but with them (as with many other dogs) punishment-based training is not the way forward. This is not to say that they don’t need to learn the consequences. But it is important when training to keep a positive tone to the occasion and to keep them motivated. Early socialisation is key in their case because their past makes them reticent and distrustful of strangers and new situations.

Ideal environment

They are adaptable up to a certain level, if they are sufficiently tired in everyday life, they could even be kept in an apartment…but they are noisy dogs. They bark a lot and they make a lot of noise. This should be taken into account when you are interested in this breed of dog. They may be suitable as a family dog otherwise, it’s a matter of getting used to them, but because of their strong instincts, you have to be careful when they interact with children. Due to his territorial nature, it is important that he is introduced to other dogs in a controlled environment.


Basically, they have an easy grooming routine, they rarely need to be bathed or groomed. Because of their double-layered coat, daily grooming is highly recommended during the moulting period. Outside this period it is also worthwhile to brush their coat at least once a week.

Common health problems

They are generally in good health, thanks in large part to the fact that breeders are very attentive to the breed and work with each other rather than against each other. In order to maintain the health of the breed, the following tests are carried out:

  • examination of the kneecap
  • hip examination
  • elbow examination
  • thyroid test
  • ophthalmic examination

(Literature: János Szinák – István Veress: Dogs of the World II.)

active dog ancient dog ancient variety breeds dog breed national dog sports

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