Friday, January 13, 2017

When is a Canaan not a Canaan?

Perhaps the first of a number of factors that needs to be understood is just what a dog is and this is well described by Coppinger and Coppinger in their latest book “What is a dog” and so I will not expand here other than to point out that the Coppingers estimate on best available figures that a mere 15% of dogs live under human control, even fewer of these being “pure”, with some 850 million living free world wide with varying levels of human contact.

What is a breed? Modern Breeds have only existed for the last couple of centuries as a result of human interference in nature to bend dogs to human uses or for a particular look. Regardless of where they originated they are mostly found in isolated homes
 of the worlds richer people in north America, Europe and other “developed” countries. This in all cases leads to a genetic bottleneck in registered breeds. Strictly speaking, far from being the “ancient” breed claimed for Canaan dogs the “pure pedigree” Canaan is one of the most recently registered breeds, as the stock they came from were never selectively bred. All modern breeds at some point came from natural stock or by mixing already selected “breeds” that, if we go back far enough, come from such landraces.  It is wrong to suggest now that these landraces are mixes of modern breeds. The reality is quite the opposite.

Dogs do not know boundaries drawn up by people, mostly very recently in the middle-east. Evidence in recently re-discovered rock carvings at Shuwaymus in Saudi Arabia, believed to be Neolithic shows 2 dog type – sighthounds and typical Canaan like dogs.  They are seen with people hunting Aurochs, lion and other animals.  Dogs spread around the world with people and were clearly in this whole region long before the time of Moses, who some claim introduced these dogs to Israel. There may have been dogs that accompanied his group as they wandered about for 40 years but by definition they would then be Egyptian dogs. Looking backwards where do todays Canaan breed come from? Simply by capturing a small number of the landrace of pariah dogs found living free in the whole region today, even if the ones captured were only from Israel and Jordan.  Menzel who initially established them as a breed recognised 3 different appearances in the dogs she saw and selected the ones she preferred. Therefore there is no reason at all that all the free living dogs should look identical.

There have been and still are many introduced modern breeds in Israel whereas in Saudi Arabia away from the major cities of Riyadh and Jeddah very few if any such dogs exist. Those that do are generally owned by expats and live in fenced compounds and are taken out of the  country again when the  expat leaves, so if anything the free living dogs are less likely to have any genetic feedback from modern breeds. They are likely to have most of the genetic material found in modern breeds simply because these real natural dogs are the stock modern breeds are derived from.  Breeds do not create new genes  but rather eliminate some. Apart from Saluki like sighthounds, that are less common, these dogs are NOT “mixed with breeds” since as I said such breeds are rare and don’t survive well  free in these areas. Sadly many people from the “developed” countries see things through eyes used only to seeing “breeds” and make the same mistake, thinking free living dogs derive from “breeds” when the opposite is in fact true.

To say that “the terrian over there (Saudi) is not the same like israel/jorden (Jordan)/sinai. Much harsher in saudi.” shows lack of knowledge of Saudi. It is a large area with anything from sand dune in the “empty quarter” to fertile farming areas. The biggest single dairy farm in the world is in Saudi.  None so blind as those who will not see.

Commercial genetic tests used to determine breeds in dogs of unknown mix are of little value other than to make money for the one company doing this. They are sold under various brand names but all are under control of MARS. Other companies were sued out of business under copyright laws and MARS refuses to publish any data to show the effectiveness of breed identification. There have been many examples published of impossible results, including totally different ones from the same dog tested twice.  Copied from the companies own site “It is not designed to validate the purity of a purebred dog, and test results should not be relied upon as official certification of your dog's genetic make-up”.   They DO claim Canaans on their list but my advice to anyone would be save your money or give it to a dog rescue group.  STR markers have been looked at on a number of these dogs of the Arabian countries by a top Veterinary university in the USA and further work is ongoing at another institute and it is planned to select some for a full genome study. This is NOT aimed at identifying their ”breed” since “breeds” are in sense a modern anomaly.  As would be expected there were markers present that are found in modern “breeds” – not because those breeds have mixed with these dogs but because those markers in modern breeds came from the worlds natural dogs. In establishing breeds genetic material is lost not created. Some markers found were not on the data base at this veterinary university. There was NO evidence of wolf hybridisation.  Hybridisation is of concern in efforts to preserve the rare wolf population in Saudi but to date no dog DNA has been found in wolves studied. (Unpublished data from personal correspondence with a past director of the wildlife department.)  

Are Canaans introduced to the “pure” breed in Israel only from remote areas? May be so but Just look at a map of the size of Israel to see how remote such areas are in that country  compared to many areas in Saudi.

After seeing many photos and videos and my description of the behaviour of the dogs I had in Saudi Myrna Shiboleth told me that if she had seen them in a ring she would have considered them to be at least “very good” examples of Canaans. At a talk she gave in Israel on Canaans she included this photo of one of my dogs from the Asir region in Saudi and commented that they may exist in Saudi. They do and in large numbers and are widespread.

 Another dog I posted, without details, that originated in the Eastern province of Saudi, but now lives in Hawaii, drew comments from breeders asking who she was as they would like to breed with her.

Yet another male dog in Oman attracted people interested in breeding with him.

So far as “baludi” or to use the more common spelling, baladi is Egyptian Arabic and used in relation to dogs, describes common or general (not breed) dogs. Quite possible the same ancient stock again but with a greater chance of being mixed than those in Saudi. Ruth Corner who spent time working with Myrna and played a major role in introducing Canaan dogs to the UK  before living in Egypt, so was as capable as any at recognising a Canaan was convinced these were the same dogs in Egypt.

It seems strange to me that people walking down a street in the “developed” countries are able to point out dogs of certain appearance and call them, for example, a Border collie or German shepherd etc. and no one would tell them they are not, even if the dog had no pedigree papers, yet the same people cannot accept the dogs in Saudi as being referred to as Canaan yet no one I know of claims to have a pedigree record or wants to have them judged in a ring against breeders dog. I for one prefer it that way.

These dogs may be rare among breeders who wish to keep it that way as it adds to their potential value but they are far from rare in surrounding countries.


  1. Loved reading your blog. Very informative. I recently adopted what we believe is a Caanan m/besengi pup. He was found in the streets with his mom and 7 sibling in the United Arab Emirates and brought to the US.

  2. We adopted a deaf puppy out fear for its ultimate fate. It’s Breed was unknown at the time of adoption. After a year we decided to do a DNA test and the hope gaining some insight to behavior and traits I’ve never seen in any other dog breed.

    The test came back saying she was a Cannan dog . We had never heard of such a dog and picked up a couple of books on the breed. The book gave us the insight we were looking for and completely explained her behaviors and personality traits.

    We modified her schedule to better meet the needs of the breed as explained in the book and she became the dog we had hoped she’d be.

    Its the best dog I’ve ever had in my life. Extremely fast learner, smart loyal, agility beyond believe, huge personality very affectionate, in your face affectionate.

    She knows 33 hand signals and lives a completely normal and happy life.

    Don’t hesitate to adopt a deaf dog.