Canaan dogs and desert pariahs



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Should free living desert dogs be rescued and aided.

Posted by duncanschroeter on March 25, 2014 at 11:30 PM Comments comments (2)

Should free living dogs be “rescued”

When free living dogs are seen, often the first reaction of dog lovers is to want to help or rescue them. Others say they are “wild” and should be left strictly alone in the world of nature. There are a number of factors that should be kept in mind when making a decision on this.

Archaeological evidence shows the presence of dogs in the Middle East for thousands of years and of dogs resembling today’s desert pariahs and sight hounds on the Arabian peninsula are to be seen in rock carvings probably dating back 5 thousand years, before the time of the biblical Abraham. Sight hounds have been considered the dog of the ruling class so are even today better known and sought after, while the desert dogs of today have largely lived free or in association with Bedouin, used to give early warning of intruders to the goat or sheep herds and camps. While these dogs are often seen moving with a herd, the Bedouin do not use them to herd and move the sheep in response to commands. They have not been selectively bred by the Bedouin and owe their alert and wary behaviour to survival in the harsh conditions relying on themselves to survive. They are predominantly scavengers rather than full time hunters. There has not been any long term scientific study done on them as they tend to be overlooked as unimportant and “just our wild dogs” by the general population and are seen as a potential threat by wildlife organisations trying to preserve other threatened species. However the few wolf carcases that have been checked in Saudi Arabia did not show evidence of dog hybridisation. Because of this lack of formal studies we have no solid knowledge of average litter size or survival rate to adulthood, nor of the average age these dogs my reach in their free living state, or indeed much else.

What we do know is that they have survived unaided by man for far longer than any modern, man selected breed has existed. So should we intervene now by rescuing or feeding them? Undoubtedly they deserve being preserved.

Rapid growth in cities has resulted in many desert dogs finding themselves in situations where they have to contend with multi-lane busy highways and situations and conditions where it is probably far more difficult for them to survive without help and they can find themselves heavily infested with ticks that literally suck the life out of them. With local populations that often do not understand and even fear dogs, civil authorities and individuals may sometimes resort to attempting to solve what is perceived as a problem by shooting dogs to remove the perceived problem, not infrequently using a number of shots to kill the unfortunate animal as it tries to escape. Food scraps may be harder to find as mans rubbish is carted away by modern disposal units. Areas where water may have previously accumulated may be covered over during human development programs, resulting in severe dehydration in the extreme summertime temperatures.

In addition modern breeds of dogs including some such as Huskies, totally unsuited to the climate, have been imported to the large cities have become sought after status symbols and therefore deliberately bred. Unfortunately expats all too often do not plan ahead for their departure or may have to depart earlier than planned and when they find out the cost involved either abandon their best friend to the streets or place them in “rescue” kennels some of which, due to pressures, end up killing the dogs when they are not quickly re-homed. Those abandoned on the streets probably find it harder to survive than the desert dogs do, but may also join up with desert dogs resulting in cross breeds if they had not been de-sexed.

There is an increasing awareness in the middle east of the need for animal welfare and progress is being made at variable rates in different areas but in all areas, as in most countries worldwide, finding sufficient good homes for the number of dogs is a never ending and difficult problem. Many people in the developed countries of the world probably do not fully appreciate just how rapid growth of cities has been in the oil producing countries of the middle-east so tend to compare situations of dogs in the city with what they are familiar with in long established cities.

In the less developed areas and where dogs seem to be healthy and not causing any problem, there may be an argument for leaving them alone unless an assured good home is known to exist for them, rather than to actively seek them out and take them into a shelter and then be unable to home them.

However in the rapidly growing areas where only a few years ago there was open desert but now there are skyscrapers, industrial sites and continuing building projects as well as surrounding areas affected by these human activities, there are only two options for these dogs. We can sit back and do nothing and allow them to suffer and die or try and help them in whatever way we can. We can only hope to take care of them by taking them into shelters or supplying food and water and health care such as parasite treatment for them in conjunction with trap neuter and release (TNR) programs to prevent further breeding in this environment that is foreign to what they have lived in for the past thousands of years. And yes of course in conjunction with this breeding for sale in pet shops and markets etc. needs to be discouraged and carefully controlled if not banned. TNR on its own has limited use if the dogs are then going to be left to starve and has to aim at desexing a high proportion of free living city dogs if number are eventually to be reduced. Once rescued of course all the dogs deserve to be homed but it is also unfortunately often even more difficult to home desert dogs than those recognised by potential adopters who are drawn to the types of dogs they recognise and are familiar with. Desert dogs are seen as mongrels or mutts without a realisation of what a unique long term history they indeed have and of the unique and special opportunity these ones in shelters offer for expats to take home with them when the time comes to go home. There is no one size fits all solution. Every dog needs to be seen as an individual in its own individual circumstance and assessed accordingly on the spot.


Canaan dogs versus desert dogs

Posted by duncanschroeter on March 1, 2013 at 1:55 AM Comments comments (0)

There is much evidence that dogs with the appearance of todays “desert dogs” as well as sight-hounds have lived in the middle-east and North Africa for thousands of years. This makes them one of the oldest dog types in the world. One of the differences between wolves and dogs is dogs preference for scavenging from mans’ leftovers rather than hunting as do other truly wild canine including wolves. Indeed it may be that this difference was a major factor in initial domestication of today’s sub-species we call dogs.


Canaan dogs were established as a registered breed by the work of Dr. Menzel who selected out certain desert dogs, with characteristics she fancied, from populations in areas she could access. This is the time honored method that has led to the many breeds we have today and indeed cross breeding to create new breeds continues today. The description of Canaan dogs used by most kennel clubs today is based on Dr. Menzel's work though not are all identical and some modifications have been controversial. Observations by any individual or group of individuals may by nature be biased from a purely scientific point of view. This may be true of black and tan coloured Canaan dogs – is it truly an indication of impurity or is it simply uncommon in the original desert stock. Perhaps it does not matter since any pure breed by definition is also bent to conform to mans’ desires.

Among the many breeds many non-pedigree dogs are referred to loosely, based on appearance, as a particular breed. For example we would not mistake a fox terrier with no pedigree as a German shepherd. Recently there has been some move towards taking into account the negative effects that excessive breeding for certain characteristics has had on the health of some dogs. These may include breathing problems in dog breeds with short snouts or the crippling effect seen in some German shepherds.

As an increased awareness of the Canaan breed builds among dog lovers, in countries where dog shows have not been of much importance, so more Canaan like desert dogs are being recognized. They are seen from Yemen throughout the Arabian peninsular to Jordan and possibly Afghanistan. These desert dogs of the Bedouin are the stock registered Canaan dogs have been drawn from.

Genetic testing to differentiate or identify an unknown dogs’ breed makeup is offered commercially but sometimes leads to glaring mistakes. Much work is still needed in this area. In humans we may be able to distinguish various racial trends and confirm parentage but could not determine a random individual’s family name. So it is with dogs.

While they may not be easily registered in any kennel club, if at all, we should not see these dogs as in anyway inferior to those drawn from a relatively small group and as with the examples above. I see no reason not to refer to them as unregistered Canaan dogs. They are after all the very basis of this important breed and dogs to be proud of.


Dogs in ancient Egypt

Posted by duncanschroeter on April 15, 2012 at 5:45 AM Comments comments (108)

Dogs have lived in Egypt for thousands of years and there are many artistic depictions of them. These include both carvings and paintings. Thousands of mummified dogs were placed in one tomb that has been known for some time but only recently properly studied. Many of these dogs may have been killed as part of a ritual but some had received better and more careful treatment and were likely to have been loved pets.

A number of distinctly different breeds were recognised. Rosellini attempted to put together a collection of the various dog types found and produced the following 2 plates. Most modern popular breeds have existed for a mere few hundred years but many people try to link them to Egyptian dogs for prestigeuos reasons but without factual proof. Todays Pharoah hound for example has been proven to be a modern mix designed to resemble the original. Africas Basenji is more likely to have descended from Egyptian types. Sighthounds were reserved for the elite people and their descendents have continued until today. Todays Baladi in Egypt is another likely survivor from Egyptian times and is probably related to the desert pariah found throughout the middle-east and which has probably followed Bedouin where ever they moved, throughout the Arabian peninsular and perhaps the ancient fertile crescent where man settled and grew crops. These desert dogs have survived in harsh conditions often without help from man and are the natural stock of today’s Canaan breed selected from these pariahs. The popular and intelligent (one has been shown to know over a thousand words) border collie, with known origins in the English/Scottish border area has also been claimed by some to have desert pariah connections.






Desert pariah dogs of Arabia

Posted by duncanschroeter on January 1, 2012 at 5:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Dogs are believed to be  the first domesticated animal. It has long been thought that this domestication occured in the fertile crescent of the middle-east where man first learnt to cultivate crops and settled in permanent non-nomadic life style. In fact it is probably wolves that first lived with man and that this association led to the changes in wolf morphology resulting in what we now call dogs. This place of origin is based on archeological evidence but recent genetic studies by Savoleinen point to an area south of the Yangtse river in China as being more likely. This is based on dogs in this area having a greater genetic diversity than elsewhwere and points to 51 female wolves and probably  a few hundred males. Lack of archeological evidence does not rule out ancient dogs in any area but merely means it has not been found or may have been destroyed. This change from pure wolf (Canis lupus) to the dog sub-species (Canis lupus familiaris) probably occured about 15000 years ago. There is evidence of wolves living close to man before this.

Work done in Russia with foxes, where they were selectively bred for "friendlyness" towards humans, resulted in unexpected morphology and colour changes in a few generations.

Most dogs kept as pets today have recent origins due to mans selectively  breeding for traits man requires. Around the world however there are still to be found dogs that have had little interference or selection from man. While there are differences between them they also share the common Long Term Pariah Morphotype (LTPM) and are classed in the spitz or "primitive" group. They include Australias Dingo and the New Guinea singing dog, Americas Carolina, Africas Basenji and others in Asia and India. Some do not bark but use other vocalisations and some have distinct behaviour characteristics such as the Basenjis cat like cleaning.

In the above photograph courtesy Lars Bjurstrom, rock carvings recently discovered in Saudi Arabia and thought to be predate the exodus of Moses from Egypt, dogs of the typical LTPM appearance are seen with a hunter. Other carvings in the area show pariah dogs on leads held by a man, while others seem to depict sighthounds. Sighthounds of the Saluki, Sloughi or Arabian greyhound are better know and were, in ancient Egypt, considered the dog of the pharaohs and princes.

The LTPM dogs are still found throughout the Arabian peninsula and surrounding countries, They live free on the outskirts of towns and cities and anywhere they can scavenge for food. They also are found loosely associated with Bedouin acting as watchdogs and looking after goat and sheep herds.

In the above a "desert dog" is leading the way with this Bedouin herd in Saudi Arabia - enlarged below.

These dogs are characterisically very alert and wary of strangers or objects they are not familiar with. This has enabled them to survive in harsh conditions with little or no help from man. Historically they have probably moved around the Arabian peninsular, eastern mediterranean and north african countries following Bedouin and camel trains used for trade in the past.

They are probably the same dogs mentioned in religious writings and were likey used by the Druze and some likely accompanied Moses on the exodus from Egypt.

Recently an Austrian and her husband, Dr Menzel, recognised this type of dog as being more suited to local conditions than imported European recent breeds. She found them adaptable to domestication and trained them for a variety of work including search and rescue, and explosive detection. She eventually gained international recognition of them as Canaan dogs drawing predominantly from dogs in the area she lived in, though some early dogs accepted into official records also originated in Syria, Jordan and Libya.