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Super loyal when it comes to their families, Canaan dogs take their best friend duties seriously. These medium-sized dogs are highly intelligent, love being part of a family, and do well in a home with children but mostly prefer to be the only pet in a household. Experts agree that the Canaan dog breed tends to be a good match for experienced dog owners.
"Canaan dogs are your devout protector," Suzee Camilleri, DVM, veterinarian advisor to Kabo, a fresh dog food delivery company. "For the owner, they are loving, loyal and will defend you and your family members."
Highly agile and smart, some of them are mistaken for German shepherds due to their similar body type and intelligence, Camilleri says. But this breed that remains somewhat rare in the United States is one of a kind.
Canaans are wild-looking dogs with wedge-shaped heads, cat-like feet, erect ears, and extra-bushy tails, according to the Canaan Dog Club of America (CDCA) breed standard. They possess an alert, watchful, and inquisitive expression and their eyes are dark and almond-shaped. Occasionally, they're mistaken for German shepherds, but Canaans are smaller in size and some have spotted coats.
Athletic dogs that are medium in size, male Canaans are 20–24 inches in height and weigh between 45–55 pounds, while female dogs are 19–23 inches and weigh 35–45 pounds.
These dogs have double coats with an outer coat that's straight, harsh, and flat-lying. Meanwhile, the undercoat is soft and short. Coat colors include black, cream, gold, red, tan, and white. Canaan patterns can vary and can be predominantly white with patches of color or large spots or solid colored, sometimes with a white trim. On a solid brown or tan dog, there are often shadings of black.
Canaan dogs have a shedding season at least once a year, and, during this time, need to be regularly brushed. But for the most part, they don't have an involved grooming routine.
A Canaan dog's temperament can be described as alert, vigilant, devoted, and docile when around their family members. But with strangers, this breed tends to be reserved and aloof.
"Canaan dogs are sensitive and affectionate with their family, but they can be wary of strangers or new things, making proper socialization essential for this breed," says Annette Louviere, DVM, veterinary technical support manager at Wisdom Panel.
Because of their alert nature, Canaans can be very vocal and persistent barkers. But as highly intelligent dogs, Canaan dogs make for great training students, according to the CDCA.
By nature, Camilleri says herding dogs are loving to their owners and look up to them for guidance and love. "In return, they are incredibly loyal creatures that will watch over their family, show lots of affection, and are very eager to please," she says.
And while well-trained Canaan dogs can be great with children, having one in a home with other pets can be tricky. They are best suited in a one-dog household, but, if socialized during puppyhood, Camilleri says they can get along well with another dog. Cats, however, may not be the best four-legged friends to have around given Canaan's herding nature.
Canaan dogs are active pups that need lots of space, preferably a large fenced yard to run about in.
"They also may have a loud bark, making them more conducive to homes that have a larger yard for them to exercise in and show off their deep, booming voice," Camilleri says. "Suburban to rural environments are ideal versus small urban settings."
Also, due to their watchful nature, Canaan dogs fare better in calmer environments where they don't feel constantly on guard, Camilleri says. (Think of all the foot traffic outside of an apartment complex!)
With moderate to high energy levels, this breed does need a lot of mental and physical stimulation. Otherwise, Camilleri says they may become bored and look for vices, like chewing on furniture.
When it comes to grooming, a Canaan dog is fairly low maintenance, says Corinne Wigfall, DVM, BVS, BVM, consulting veterinarian with SpiritDog Training. Canaans have a double coat with a harsh overcoat and shorter, softer undercoat. Brushing on a weekly basis will help remove loose hairs and dirt.
When Canaans are shedding, which happens once or twice a year depending on the climate you live in, you'll need to brush your dog on a daily basis, Wigfall says.
Also, a weekly nail trim is recommended to prevent overgrowing, and pup parents should brush their dog's teeth on a daily (or every-other-day) basis to keep those pearly whites healthy.
Training should be easy with these intelligent, docile dogs. Canaans are devout dogs eager to please, so bring on the treats and head pats as you lead short and productive training sessions. You may even want to add some brain-engaging puzzle toys into the mix because Canaans enjoy mental stimulation, too.
Canaans require moderate daily exercise. While exercise needs can vary by dog, Canaans enjoy two walks a day, according to the CDCA.
"While daily walks or runs can keep them happy, they also do well with dog sports like agility and herding," Louviere says. But, due to their herding instincts, it's a good idea to keep this breed either on leash or within a secured, fenced-in area when exercising.
Canaans are relatively healthy dogs that can live long and healthy lives with lifespans of 12–15 years. However, there are some unique health problems that this rare dog breed faces.
Canaans are prone to hypothyroidism, meaning they do not make enough thyroid hormone, Camilleri says. However, hypothyroidism can be detected early and managed with a medication that replaces the hormone and monitored with annual testing, she says.
Canaan dogs are also susceptible to an inherited eye disease called progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) that can lead to blindness, Camilleri says. Early signs such as night blindness or dilated pupils can start around three to five years of age. A genetic test is available for this condition.
There are a number of different musculoskeletal Canaan's can get, including: hip dysplasia, displaced patella (kneecap), and degenerative myelopathy (which causes weakness in the hind limbs). Each condition can be diagnosed, treated, and monitored.
"Being observant at home and knowing about the diseases can help you pick up signs early, get to the veterinarian, and help mitigate disease progression," Camilleri says.
Canaan dogs are an ancient breed named for the territory that is today Israel, Lebanon, and parts of bordering countries. The Middle Eastern Pariah dog was the feral forefather of Canaan dogs, dating back to pre-biblical times and originating in the "Land of Canaan," according to the CDCA.
The Pariah dog was the guard and herd dog of ancient Israelites, guarding their flocks and camps. When the Hebrew population dispersed, the majority of the dogs sought refuge in the Negev Desert where they remained mostly wild, according to breed historians. However, some lived with the Bedouin and helped guard herds. They lived mostly on their own up until the 20th century.
During World War II, Dr. Rudolphina Menzel proposed using the highly intelligent and easily trainable breed to serve as sentry dogs, messengers, Red Cross helpers, and land mine locators. Menzel trained more than 400 of the dogs for Middle East Forces during the war.
After the war, Menzel founded The Institute for Orientation and Mobility of the Blind with Canaan dogs working as guide dogs. The Canaan dog was recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club in 1997.
- Drawings found on the tombs at Beni-Hasan, an ancient Egyptian cemetery, that date back to 2200–2000 BC depict dogs that resemble Canaan dogs, according to the CDCA.
- Canaans are known as biblical dogs, according to an article in The Washington Post, that points out archaeological evidence from 1st-century rock carvings in Sinai to the skeletons of 700 dogs from 5th century BC south of Tel Aviv.
- Today, Canaan dogs rank 179 in breed popularity, according to the AKC.