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Pariah dogs: 9 ancient and wild dog breeds

By: Jaymi Heimbuch on June 26, 2014, 12:55 p.m.
Canaan dog

Photo: Matilda Holger/Wikipedia

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Canaan dog

The Canaan dog ranks with the others in this gallery as one of the oldest domestic dog breeds, and is honored as Israel’s national breed. They have been part of the Middle Eastern landscape for thousands of years, even appearing in a rock carving dating back to the third century A.D. Drawings from the tombs at Beni-Hassan, which date back to 2200-2000 B.C., also depict dogs that resemble today’s Canaan dog. They were used as herding and guard dogs by ancient Israelites before the Romans invaded. After that point, the Canaan dog was largely left to live a wild or semi-wild existence, with some living as herding dogs for Bedouin tribes, and largely allowing natural selection to decide on the breed’s characteristics. Humans began once again to directly influence the breeding of Canaan dogs starting in the 1930s, when Dr. Rudolphina Menzel began a breeding program for guard dogs for isolated Israeli settlements. She chose the Canaan dog for the program because it was clear they were extremely hardy animals. She captured a select group of semi-wild individuals, tamed, trained and bred them, and from this stock the modern Canaan dog breed was reformed. Thus, like the Indian pariah dog, this is not a mixed-breed feral dog that qualifies as a Canaan dog because it lives in a certain area, but rather it is a specific pure breed with a certain genetic heritage, and it is also quite rare. Many of the Canaan dogs still living semi-wild lives were killed by the Israeli government in a push against the spread of rabies, and as more humans moved into isolated areas with their pet dogs, the number of pure Canaan dogs dwindled further. Only around 2,000-3,000 pure Canaan dogs are around today, with most of them living not in the Middle East but in North America and Europe.