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Judging the Canaan Dog


For many years, whenever there was a good opportunity, I have gone down to the desert to the areas where the Bedouin live, in the hopes of finding good dogs there.  The Canaan Dog, that still today lives wild in remote desert areas, is valued by the Bedouin as a guard dog, and is kept for this purpose in their camps and with their herds.  As this is one of the few breeds in existence today where there is still a wild or semi wild population that is unrelated to the domesticated stock we have been basing our breeding on for a number of generations, it is invaluable to be able to continue adding to the gene pool.


But now we were faced with a special challenge.  A film production company that was preparing a film for National Geographic television contacted me.  This film was a study of the origins of the dog a subject that is attracting more and more interest as a result of genetic research done in the last few years.  The film was to include a quest for the most ancient breeds of dog, those that were the closest to the original ancestor of the dog, that were still the most natural and the least changed by the influences of man.  The breeds included were the Carolina Dog, the Indian pariah, the Dingo, the New Guinea Singing Dog and the Canaan Dog of Israel.


The producers were interested in as much footage as possible of dogs in a more natural environment which in this case was the dogs that lived in and around Bedouin camps.  Filming actual wild dogs would have been virtually impossible considering the limited amount of time that was available for filming this portion of the program.  But the dogs that lived around the Bedouin camps were close to being wild, hunting and scavenging to feed themselves, unapproachable and uncared for.  Even the dogs that belonged to the Bedouin were for the most part dogs that had been born in the wild and caught as puppies, tied up in the camp until they became accustomed to it, and then released to live in the camp as guardians and to accompany the grazing herds as their protectors.  These dogs could rarely be touched or caught by anyone but the children Bedouin children, as is true of children everywhere, have a special relationship with animals and especially with dogs.


Filming in Bedouin camps was not something that could be done without a lot of planning and prior arrangement, and this was the task that I and my friend Yigal Pardo, a stills photographer who is especially known for his great animal photography, were entrusted with.  We already had developed an excellent relationship with one group of Bedouins.  A year and a half earlier, they had been willing to let me take one of the dogs from their camp this dog, Bayud, adjusted very well to civilization, and had, in the year following, sired several excellent litters.  The old sheikh, father of the family, had passed away about six months earlier, and the camp was being run by one of the younger sons, a very friendly and outgoing fellow named Salame, who spoke excellent Hebrew and was quite modern.  Yigal had been in touch with him regularly over the year, and so when we called to ask if he would be willing to let us come with a film photographer, he agreed without hesitation.


We soon found out that the Israeli producer who was working with the U.S. based production company also had an excellent Bedouin contact.  This was Mahmud, who had for many years worked for Israeli production companies, providing various livestock and extras for the films.  He was from a completely different area, knew everyone, and everyone respected him after all, he provided them with work at times.  The only problem was that Mahmud didnt really know what sort of dogs we were looking for he had never paid much attention to dogs before.


I was thrilled to have this opportunity to make an organized trip to Bedouin camps, some of which I had never visited before.  I had great hopes of finding new stock that we could either obtain from the Bedouins, either adults or puppies that could bring new bloodlines into the gene pool, or to locate dogs that we could possibly breed to in the future.


The Israel Canaan Dog is fairly unique in that it is still considered by the Federation Cynologique Internationale to be a breed in development a breed that has a pure population living in natural surroundings that has not yet been entered in a studbook.  Dogs from this population can be entered in the stud book appendix of the Israel Kennel Club if they fulfill certain requirements they must come from a suitable and remote area where it is very unlikely that any mixing with other dog populations has occurred, they must be judged by an expert judge of the breed to be typical of the breed at a minimum of nine months of age, and then they must be test bred to a Canaan Dog with a full pedigree that has already produced puppies, and the offspring must be judged at a minimum of nine months of age.  After three generations, the results can be fully registered in the regular studbook; the earlier generations are registered in the studbook annex.


As one of the few breeds that still has such a population existing, we have been making great efforts in the last few years to obtain new stock while it still exists. Due to the encroachment of civilization on what were formerly isolated and barren areas, and the pressure on the Bedouin to settle in towns and abandon their nomadic life style, the niche that the Canaan Dog has inhabited for generations is rapidly disappearing and so, therefore, are the wild and feral dogs.


As we were planning the details of the trip, we had another great piece of luck.  About a week and a half before we were due to go down to the desert, one of my Canaan bitches, Israel Ch. Timnath Sarah, came into season.  She would just be ready at the time we were going down, and we might have an opportunity to do a breeding in the desert.  This was great!  We called Salame, and he was willing for us to bring the bitch and try to breed her to one of the camp dogs.


The planned day of the trip, we set off for the desert the local producer, Eitan, the photographer, Lloyd, Yigal, me and Timmie.  Timmie was not really enthusiastic she has not spent a lot of time in cars, and like most Canaans, prefers to stay at home in her own territory.  But she settled in on the back seat of the SUV between Yigal and me, and soon began to feel quite comfortable.


The first location to be visited was in the vicinity of Tel Arad, where the camp of Salames family was located.  After a bit of searching for the track that led to the camp the tracks through the desert, once you get off the paved roads, are not easy to follow if you are not a Bedouin we found our way to the camp.  Salame and his family were waiting to greet us.


Those who have never been in the desert tend to have a very romanticized notion of what life there is like, influenced perhaps by Laurence of Arabia and similar epics.  The Bedouin life is not noble and glamorous; it is very difficult and rather squalid.  What is referred to here as desert is not an area of picturesque sand dunes, but barren, hard hills where little grows except rocks.  Everything is in shades of grey.  Even the limited plant life that does grow is a dull greyish green.  Most of the time it is very hot during the day, with little protection from the burning sun, and at night it can be very cold. There are strong winds, especially in the late afternoon when the sun is setting and the land is cooling.  There is no running water; the only water is from wells, or what is brought from town in small tankers.  Even in the winter, when there is rain, most of it runs off in flash floods and little soaks into the cement-hard ground.


The Bedouin life is very harsh, not one of flowing white robes and prancing Arabian stallions.  They have very few possessions, as their traditional life is built on the ability to be mobile to pack all their belongings on a camel or a donkey and follow the herds to wherever there might be grazing.  They do not have furniture in a Bedouin tent, you sit on carpets on the floor with cushions to support you if you are a welcome guest.  This is the same way that the Bedouin sleep. But although they do not have many personal possessions, the Bedouin are a very practical people, and so they collect things.  Anything that has been thrown out by someone else might be found in a Bedouin camp, stacked around in piles on the chance that it might be of use some time for something old pieces of tin roofing, old wooden pallets, barrels, old fencing, boards And what they really value are the things they need to survive, and these needs have changed nowadays they have pick up trucks in places of donkeys, and tractors in place of camels, and many of them have cell phones and generators, which they turn on in the evening to watch TV.




What is important to the Bedouin is their tradition and their honor, and one of the most important traditions is that of welcoming guests. So we were warmly welcomed, ushered into the guest tent, and offered thick, bitter Turkish coffee, and then sweet herb tea.


Obviously, manners dictated that first we must sit around and accept the Bedouin hospitality and discuss all manner of topics, before we could get down to the subject of dogs.  Everything was open to discussion, from which sort of pick-up truck was the most practical for them (the Bedouin are particularly partial to the Toyota these days), to politics, to the rights of Bedouin women (they do have a choice as to whether to agree to marry a certain man or not). And finally, we got around to the dogs.


Salame had caught one male and tied him, so that we could photograph him and possibly use him to breed to Timmie.  There were quite a number of dogs around the camp, quite typical Canaans, but all stayed well out of reach.  There was one particularly nice young red and white male, that, according to Salame, could be approached by no one, not even the children.  A number of the dogs were out with the sheep and would return with the flocks in the evening.


The dog that had been tied was a young white male, that Salame called Bayud the same as the dog I had taken the year before.  According to Salame, all white dogs were called Bayud which referred to their color, and all red dogs were called Foxie.  We got a collapsible crate out of the car and set it up, as part of what we wanted to film was how I transported home the dogs I got from the desert.  Bayuds chain was pulled through the mesh of the crate and he was pulled inside.


Although many dogs of the more domesticated breeds who were not accustomed to being crated would, no doubt, have done everything in their power to escape the confinement, from crying and screaming to trying to tear apart the crate with their teeth, Bayud, showing the intelligence and adaptability of the Canaan, a breed that has had to be able to adapt rapidly in order to survive, did not act up.  He turned around in the crate a few times, saw that he was confined, and then lay down and waited to see what would happen.  I was able to put my hand in to him he sniffed it but did not try anything else. After a few minutes, I was even able to lift his lip to check his teeth he appeared to be between one and one and a half years old.  This dog had never been tied or handled before, other than perhaps being fed by the children, but although wary, was ready to withhold judgment until he saw what was happening. 


After photographing him in the crate and being loaded into the car, we let him out and tied him back in the spot he had been in originally.  Now was the time to attempt the breeding.


When I took Timmie out of the car, the Bedouins were fascinated to see that she really was the same as their dogs!  I slowly approached with Timmie, not sure how Bayud would react.  Would he attack a strange dog in his territory, without being interested in the fact that she was a bitch in season? 


Bayud immediately realized that this was a bitch in season, and to my surprise, was interested enough to ignore me a total stranger in his territory and to start courting Timmie.  Timmie was happy to sniff him and start to play with him, but when he started to attempt to mount her, she objected.  Ive never seen this male before and you expect that just like that I will let him have me???? You must be joking!!! was Timmies reaction.  I could see that this would all take time.


Canaans are dogs that tend to be devoted to their one mate permanently, if they have a chance, and are certainly not ready to accept just anyone for breeding.  It is known for a Canaan bitch running free to refuse all other males until a Canaan dog comes along.  Even when dog and bitch are acquainted, they like to go through an entire play ceremony before they will consider breeding.  So Timmie and Bayud played, and Lloyd, who was fascinated, filmed all of it.  At one point, Timmie tried to show dominance by mounting Bayud, and although he had been extremely tolerant of her to this point, this was not acceptable he flipped her over and pinned her to the ground with a fierce snarl, to show her who was the boss here.  I was careful not to interfere, even though I wasnt entirely sure of how far this would go but I had confidence that the ritual would not result in injury to either of the dogs.


Finally, I decided that there had been enough play Bayud was getting tired and Timmie was still acting coy, though I could see that she had decided that he was acceptable.  I decided to hold her to see if we could finally get a breeding.  I was not sure how Bayud would react to having me standing there holding his bitch some dogs can get quite aggressive to protect a bitch from perceived rivals.  But he totally accepted me and got about his business, and soon we had an accomplished breeding.  I was even able to touch him lightly on the head and body while this was going on.


After the breeding, we released Bayud from the chain. I was sure that he would take off for the edge of the camp. Not at all!  He started walking around the camp, marking everything in sight now he was a man, and he was showing the others!  He followed after us as we went towards Salames tent for another round of coffee and tea after all, maybe these interesting strangers had another bitch for him in their car.


There was also a litter of puppies in the camp.  The bitch had dug a deep den in a hillside, behind piles of rubble and trash getting near was really difficult. The seven pups were about ten days old and were fat, healthy and shiny, and all of them were red or red and white.  We decided we would have to come back again in another month or so to see how they had developed.


It is important to keep in mind that, although all the dogs looked in good condition, not underweight for the most part and with coats that looked healthy, and the puppies were obviously well fed by their mother, most of this was the result of the dogs hunting and scavenging for themselves.  The Bedouin told us that they fed the dogs they threw them all the scraps and leftover, they said.  But anyone familiar with Bedouin life knows that scraps and leftovers are few and hard to come by nothing is wasted in their harsh lifestyle.  The dogs scavenged around the camp and in the garbage dumps of any towns within a reasonable distance, and hunted for themselves, mostly catching small rodents and insects.


The rest of the day was spent in driving around the area and photographing some of the flocks with their shepherds (mostly young boys) and the dogs.  Many of the dogs were Canaans, though some of them were dogs that had been picked up in town and brought back.  None of the shepherd boys spoke Hebrew, but they didnt object to being photographed with their animals.


That night we stayed over in a hotel in Beersheba.  Timmie, throughout the day, had refused to urinate, though I had taken her out of the car several times this was not her territory!  Even though I walked her for a long time that night, she refused, and was content to sleep in my room at the hotel.  She behaved with perfect manners, though it was the first time she had ever been in such surroundings.


The next morning we left to meet Mahmud and to explore a new area.  Timmie was very happy to get back into her car she had decided that this was her property, and she was feeling very comfortable.  Unquestionably, she had been more comfortable all day than we were while we were sitting on the hard ground drinking tea, she was curled up on the plush car seat with the air-conditioning onThe Bedouin found it very hard to understand why we would leave the car engine on so that a dog could have air-conditioning.For the rest of the day, Timmie simply refused to get out of the car at all it was hot outside, and anyway, who knew if we wouldnt decide to introduce her to another strange male!  When I tried to get her to come out of the car to relieve herself, she set her feet against the seat and simply refused to move.


The new area, which was between Arad, Massada, and the Dead Sea, was much more remote than Tel Arad, and the Bedouin there were much more isolated and traditional and less social.  Had we not come with Mahmud, who was known and respected in this area, we would not have been allowed in the camps.  We were warned in each camp that we visited that we were welcome to photograph dogs, but we must stay away from the tents and not photograph in the direction of the tents, as the women were there.  The tents were closed to keep us from seeing the women.


However we were welcomed with typical Bedouin hospitality.  We were also told that it was hard these days to find the real Bedouin dogs the dogs were disappearing.  Once there had been many, but now there were few and they were becoming very hard to find, because in many places dogs were being brought from town that were mixing with the good dogs.  However, the Bedouin had no idea or plans of selective breeding to try to preserve these dogs that were so useful to them.


We visited a number of camps in the area, and in all of them we found excellent dogs.  Most of the dogs were hidden on the hillsides around the camp, and until we started walking around, you would never have noticed that they were there.  They blended in perfectly with their surroundings and never moved or made a sound until we crossed the line into what they considered their territory and then they jumped up and started to bark. It was possible to walk right past a dog that was a few feet away, lying in the rocks, or under a tractor or a pile of rubble, and not to see it at all.  But should we turn in the direction of what the dog considered his territory, he would leap to his feet, barking and circling and very efficiently guarding. It was rare that a dog would exhibit real aggression towards us, though.  The task of these dogs was to warn the Bedouin that something was happening that required their attention, not to attack.  The only dogs that were aggressive were those few that we found tied in their camps these dogs, unable to move away to protect themselves, took the only alternative and were ready to bite.


The dogs here were mostly cream or gold or reddish in color, and there were many I would have been pleased to take home with me.  But these dogs were unapproachable. The Bedouin themselves were not always sure how many dogs were attached to the camp or where they were we had to go climbing up the surrounding hills to look for them.  And then they stayed well away from us.


In a few camps we saw bitches that were obviously nursing puppies.  For the most part, the puppies were so well hidden that the Bedouin didnt even know where they were. One litter was in a place that the Bedouins knew about, but hidden so deep under a pile of huge bales of hay that there was no chance of getting near the pups.  In one camp, there were two pups of about five or six weeks of age that were hidden under some barrels in the center of the camp.  We were told that we could take them if we wanted.  The parents were nice typey dogs both father and mother were in the camp.  They pulled the pups out for us though litter brothers, one was very small, half the size of the second.  But both looked well fed and healthy.  I accepted the gift of the two pups, knowing that if I took only the bigger and better developed one, the small one would certainly be killed now that he had been caught they had a number of dogs in this camp and didnt need any more.


The two pups were terrified when I put them in the car at my feet, and Timmie was not enthusiastic either.  How could I even consider putting those Bedouin dogs in HER car?!!!!  She turned her back and ignored their existence.


It was now dusk and time to head for home.  It had been an amazingly successful trip we had seen many dogs, most of them excellent Canaans, and found areas that we hadnt been in before.  The filming had gone very well, and much material had been gathered for the film I couldnt wait to see what came out of this.  We had achieved a breeding and brought home two puppies, and developed some excellent contacts for the future.  Tired and happy, we got back to Shaar Hagai.  Timmie, though reluctant to leave her car, looked out, saw that she was home, heaved a sigh of relief, climbed out, squatted and peed.  Her territory!