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.
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.