The Canaan Dog is an ancient breed dating back to 2200 to 2000 B.C. It was the sentry and herd dog of the Israelites, performing similar functions in encampments of nomadic Bedouins. Canaan Dogs were plentiful until the Romans drove the Israelites out of the Holy Land almost 2000 years ago. During that war, the Canaan Dog survived extinction by seeking shelter in the Negev Desert, which was a natural reservoir of wildlife, where they procreated and remained mostly undomesticated for centuries. In 1934, Dr. Rudolph Menzel and his wife, Dr. Rudolphina Menzel, a well-known Israeli canine authority, moved from Europe to what was then Palestine and were asked by a Jewish defense organization (called the Haganah) to develop a sentry or watch dog for isolated Jewish settlements that could also be used as a war service dog. She remembered the tough, feral desert dogs and knew that only the toughest, smartest and most versatile specimens could have survived the harsh conditions in which they lived. She began to round up both adults and puppies for re-domestication. Over time, these highly intelligent and easily trainable animals became messengers, sentries, service dogs for the Red Cross, flock guardians and watch dogs.
During World War II, Dr. Menzel gathered, trained and selectively bred more than 400 Canaan Dogs to serve as mine detectors for the Middle East forces, where they outperformed any mechanical mine detection devices. After the war, Dr. Menzel redirected her energy to working with the blind. In 1949, she founded the only organization in the Middle East devoted to the welfare of the blind, called the Institute for Orientation and Mobility of the Blind. The Canaan Dog breeding program quickly became a focus of this Institute, developed under the kennel name of B’nei Habitatchon. In addition to their military and guide dog work, Canaan Dogs were also used for police work, search-and-rescue, and sentry dogs for private owners. The Palestine Kennel Club ultimately recognized the breed and, by 1948, approximately 150 Canaan Dogs were registered in its studbook. The Israel Kennel Club was founded in 1953 and developed a breed standard in 1973. The Kennel Club of London recognized the breed in 1971.
The breed first came to the United States in 1965, when Ursula Berkowitz of Oxnard, California, imported four Canaan Dogs in hopes of establishing the breed in this country. The Canaan Dog Club of America was formed in 1965, and the breed ultimately was fully recognized by the American Kennel Club as a member of its Herding Group in 1997.
The average life span of the Canaan Dog is 12 to 15 years. There are no reported breed-specific health concerns.