Thursday, October 27, 2011


Most of us are sick and tired of the term “Wiener Dog” supported by that American cartoonist version of the dachshund: a long, fat couch potato watching diet programs on TV. The Wiener Dog has little in common with the German ideal of the Teckel as an agile, all-day hunting dog. Unfortunately the cartoonist version of the dachshund still has much more influence in North America today than the alternative ideal of the Germans and the North American Teckel Club. When I used to tell uninformed hunters that I track wounded deer and bear with dachshunds, they could barely suppress a laugh.    “Dachshunds?”
The gene mutation that produces short-legged dogs in various breeds has been around for thousands of years. In our dining room hangs a print of a 16th century painting by Pieter Breugel, the elder showing hunters returning from a successful fox hunt in what is today Belgium. Following the hunters is a small pack of three distinct types of dogs: long-eared scent hounds, sight hounds looking like shaggy greyhounds, and some smaller, short-legged dogs used to bolt the fox if he went to ground. One of the small dogs shows a long ear that is not a terrier’s ear. All the dogs look tired as if they had done good work.
Painting (1565) by Pieter Breugel, the elder, showing the return of successful fox hunters..Small, short-legged den dogs along with scent hounds and sight hounds follow the hunters home.
Short-legged types of dogs had been used in Europe for centuries, but the dachshund did not become established as a “breed” until the 1800s. In Germany they were first developed as foresters’ dogs, who followed their masters in their rounds of inspection. If a badger (Dachs) or a fox were preying on small game, the little dog located the den and bayed the source of the trouble. If the critter didn’t bolt, it was time for digging. When it came time for big game hunting they were useful as a slower dog to drive game to the gun. If a deer or a wild boar were wounded, the small dachshund was one of the breeds that might be brought in to track it.

Dachshunds began to be registered by a German breed club in 1888, but their development as a handy, versatile little hunting dog had been going on well before this. They were not thought of as a pack hound, but rather as individual workers more responsive to their handler than most hounds. It was their small size and their responsiveness that soon made them very popular as family pets for town and city dwellers. By the beginning of the 20th century tensions were developing between the hunters, who were interested in agile dachshunds and wanted good leg length, and show/pet breeders who wanted their dachshunds longer and lower. None-the-less the German Dachshund Club from the beginning considered them to be, first of all, a hunting dog. Hunters, not show people, were the leaders of the DTK (Deutscher Teckelklub). Dachshunds also became popular in England at this time, but unlike the case in Germany, there was no real interest in hunting them there.

Long before a national breed registry was established three distinct coat varieties had emerged. The smooth coats came first and from these wire and long haired coats were developed by out-crossing to terriers, in the case of wires, and to spaniel types, in the case of longs. Today the wire-coated dachshunds are the most popular in Europe, and the wire coats are even more dominant among the dachshunds used for hunting. The details of coat standardization don’t concern us here, but it’s useful to realize that the European dachshund today is usually not a smooth, slick dog. Roughly 2/3 of the German registry is today made up of wires, and the smooths are a distant third behind longhaired dachshunds.

The early 20th century German magazines and studbooks show a wide variation of dachshund physical types. Some dogs seem very low and heavy-bodied, but one sees other more athletic looking types with longer legs capable of serious work above and below ground. A few German show judges were complaining that too many of the dachshunds they were observed were excessively long legged. Rather than try to select a “representative” photo of the dachshunds of the era, it is more useful to present the “ideal” smooth coated dachshund as it was officially presented in the Teckel-Klub studbook of 1909.
The ideal hunting dachshund as pictured in the 1909 studbook of the German Teckel Club. Note the leg length.
The first dachshunds brought to the United States from Germany in the 20thcentury were smooth coated dogs similar physically to their German parents. These dogs ranged toward the heavier, shorter-legged type that was being criticized by German hunters. The buyers were usually well-to-do Americans, who relished the idea that their dachshunds came out of a hunting tradition. However, they seldom attempted to use these dogs for hunting in their new environment. For these Americans, who bought German breddachshunds, theirnew dog “sport “ was not concerned withhunting, but instead was focused upon pleasing judges and winning at dog shows.
American show champion Helmar von Flottenberg, a German dachshund imported into the United States in the 1930s by Mr. and Mrs.Herbert Bertrand. This dog is longer and lower than the German ideal of 1909.

It must be said that both American thinking and our conditions were very different from that of Germany. It was not so obvious that dachshunds could have a place in the American hunting world. First our foxes were smaller than the same species in Europe, and they did not spend as much time underground. A 20 pound dachshund was too big to work foxes underground here, although he could do so in Europe. As for tracking wounded deer, no one worried that much about wounded deer in America. If some wounded deer could not be found by eye-tracking, well that was part of hunting.

In the show ring the tendency to exaggerate the features of the breed took over, just as had been happening in England. Since a dachshund was a rather long low dog, show judges concluded it would be even more of a dachshund if it were even longer and lower. To be sure the judges believed that form should follow function, but their idea of function had little to do with the original function of the dachshund.They wanted a dachshund put together so that despite its physical handicap of being extremely long and low, it could still flow smoothly over level surfaces. This “lawn cruiser” was beautiful in its own way, but this had nothing to do with a dog that had to work in natural underground dens or in rough wooded terrain.
Back in the dachshund homeland of Germany tensions had been developing for a long time between the non-hunters, mostly city folk, who had recently acquired dachshunds, and those who wanted to maintain the dachshund for its original role as an underground hunting dog, game flusher and wounded game tracker. This is an involved and bitter history of hunting dachshund clubs forming and temporarily splitting off from the main German Dachshund Club. But in Germany, unlike the case of the United States, it was the vision of the dachshund as a hunting dog that prevailed over the wishes of the “long and low” extremists.
The real triumph of the hunter’s vision of the dachshund, as an agile hunting dog came to Germany in the 1930s. The split between the newer German dachshunds and the American conception of the dachshund then became very obvious. In his conversations with me in the 1970s, an American show judge, George Wanner, explained that my own imports from Germany were “Nazi dachshunds”, because they were of the hunting type that approached the German standard as it had been reinterpreted in the 1930s. George Wanner had been a G.I. in World War II; his bitterness had not subsided.

As the hunter’s version of the dachshund conformation became more dominant in Germany, changes also took place in coat preferences. Smooth-coated dachshunds, which had been by far the most widely owned early in the 20th century, began to lose in popularity. In breed registrations they were first overtaken by the long coated dachshunds, and then ultimately by the wires. In 1987, a year before the 100th anniversary of the DTK German Dachshund Club) there were 10,388 new wires registered, 3,037 longs registered and 592 smooths. Only 4.2 % of the dachshunds registered in that year were smooths. Times had changed!Partly this was a shift in fashion among pet owners. Certainly not all of the puppies registered in that year were destined to become hunting dogs. But the dominance of wires also reflected a conclusion that a good wire coat was especially well-suited for hunting in rough cover and tough weather. The predominance of wires entered in hunting tests was even greater than in the general DTK registry.

Wirehaired German hunting champion of 1950, GS.Knast von Seevetal, shows how Germans had shifted by that time to a lighter, more athletic hunting dachshund
What does all this mean for practical North American hunters? Particularly in the Northeast, Midwest and in Quebec it is increasingly recognized that the hunting dachshund, as distinct from the Wiener Dog, is filling a niche long vacant. The dachshund has a remarkable ability to track wounded big game, even when there is no blood trail. He follows the scent line tirelessly through dense cover, swims cold creeks and climbs rocky ledges. A smaller version of the dachshund is proving to be an excellent falconers’ dog.
Ch. Daydreamer Sun Hunter, a good example of the American smooth show champion as it had been developed by 1998
The term “Wiener Dog was rightly or wrongly applied to the type of dachshund that was imported into the United States before World War II; these dogs were thenexaggerated though the influence of American show judges. Today virtually all of the dachshund stock used for tracking wounded big game in the United States and in Quebec comes from Germany or other parts of Europe in an era long after the Wiener Dogs were brought here in the first part of the last century. The dachshunds now tracking wounded big game are profoundly different from the type of dachshunds that are winning at AKC dog shows, or living as companions in so many American households.
 Tom vom Linteler-Forst, imported from Germany in 2008 and used for blood tracking in New York. Tom is a good example of the dachshunds used here for tracking in the 21at century.