Q. Are hovawarts good for first-time dog owners?
A. We do not usually recommend them for first-time owners because of their strong-willed personality, their guarding instincts and their intelligence. Owning a hovawart can be quite a challenge, and they require significant time and attention from their owners. However, for an owner who is willing to expend the effort to teach their dog appropriate behaviors in different situations, the reward is a faithful companion.
Q. Who is an ideal owner of a hovawart?
A. The ideal hovawart owner is someone who is willing and able to invest the time and effort to educate properly. He/She would be someone who wants a loyal companion and who is ready to participate in activities with the dog. Additionally, they should be physically capable of owning a strong-willed, large dog.
Q. How much room does a hovawart need?
A. Hovawarts can be as large as 28 inches at the shoulder and weigh as much as 100 pounds or more. Therefore, the more running room they have, the happier they will be. It is preferable to have a large fenced yard, but substitute exercises such as hiking, trips to a dog park, etc. can make up for some lack in this area. Apartments are not typically large enough, or have room enough, for the desired activities.
Q. What are the characteristics of a hovawart? What makes them different?
A. Physically, they are large, heavy-boned dogs that have been bred to be intelligent guardians of home and livestock. They come in three colors: blond, black and tan, and black. The standard size for males is approximately 25 to 28 inches at the withers (the top points of the dog’s shoulder blades). For females the height range is approximately 23 to 26 inches. They are alert, faithful, trustworthy, extremely intelligent, fun loving, and stubborn. A hovawart likes to have a job to do, or he will use his creative nature to find one. They take approximately two years to mature. Currently, hovawarts in North America are participating in search and rescue organizations, therapy dog activities, obedience trials, agility trials, flyball and service dog training.
Q. Are they good with children?
A. Hovawarts, like all dogs, can be good with children if properly socialized. However, no child should be left unsupervised with any dog. Young dogs and young children are both in a state of learning and may not interact appropriately. Because of the size of a hovawart, small children may be knocked down by a playful act, or an unintentional collision. Because of their size and strength they may be difficult for a child to control. Care should always be taken to ensure the safety of both dog and child.
Q. Do hovawarts make good family dogs?
A. In German, the word hovawart is accepted to mean “guardian of the hearth” or “guardian of the farm.” In either case, the breed was developed to protect and guard the German farmsteads and; consequently, the dogs were designed to bond very closely with their families. This makes them exceptionally good companions even when there is no need to guard. However, the owner should always be aware that the guarding instinct is there and will show up whenever the dog perceives there to be a threat.
Q. Do hovawarts have any health problems?
A. Hovawarts are quite healthy and live to a ripe old age. One can expect an average lifespan in the 10 to 14-year range and owners should be prepared to dedicate this amount of time to their care. There are no known issues of breed-specific diseases and hip dysplasia rates have been calculated at less than 5%. For a large breed dog, this is an exceptionally low rate. For example, the Golden Retriever has hip dysplasia rates more than 20%. (20.5% according to the statistics kept by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals between 1974 and 2003)
Q. Do hovawarts make good guard dogs?
A. As mentioned above, they were bred to be intelligent guardians of home and livestock. While they do have the instinct to guard, it is done from a defensive posture as opposed to an aggressive method. When mentioning guard dogs in today’s environment, one instantly calls to mind the stereotypical “junk-yard dog.” We, in the Hovawart Club of America, do not encourage any attempt to use hovawarts in this fashion. Instead, we encourage the use of the hovawart as an individual companion and recommend that owners properly train their dogs to avoid the unwanted aggressive behavior. The hovawart’s guarding instincts are best controlled by socialization and exposure to different situations and stimuli. This will allow the dog to understand how each situation should be approached and utilizes the dog’s intelligence to assure a measured response. Absent directions, the hovawart will make his decision, and it may not match what you want him to do. We emphasize the need for training, so the dog understands how you want it to make decisions and not rely on its instincts. Appropriate guarding instincts are a learned process, and the dogs need to be educated by exposing them to these situations. As part of our criteria for determining eligibility to breed, each dog is required to pass a temperament test. We only recommend breeding of defensive, not aggressive, dogs. We are very protective of the reputation of the hovawart and will not condone any attempt to transform them into an aggressive guard dog.
Q. Should I be concerned about their guarding instincts?
A. Not overly so. As can be seen from the history of the hovawart, their innate guarding instincts are predisposed toward defensive methods. Additionally, our breeding tests are designed to propagate defensive guarding behavior without resorting to attacking methods. However, because hovawarts are guarding dogs, caution should be exercised in allowing them to rely solely on their decision-making abilities. This means not to let them have the run of the property to guard as they choose. While they are extremely intelligent, and will almost always make a good decision, the occasional occurrence where they make a less than desirable decision can result in consequences. For instance, it is best to greet a friend at the door and not allow them to walk in and surprise a hovawart.
Q. How can I identify a quality breeder?
A. Ask many questions. A quality breeder will always answer truthfully and in a straightforward manner. Be wary of a breeder who is evasive about the lineage of their dogs, or who tries to avoid answering your questions. By the way, quality breeders will never sell to pet stores, nor are they likely to advertise in local newspapers. Quality breeders will also have the results of numerous medical tests. For example, to obtain breeding status within our club, a breeder must show their dog in at least two conformation shows and receive evaluations of Very Good or Excellent in each show. Additionally, their dog must pass a temperament test after the age of 20 months, have their hips x-rayed after their 2nd birthday and be evaluated by the OFFA as Good or Excellent in regards to hip dysplasia (there is no Very Good rating). The dog must also have a CERF eye evaluation within a year of breeding and have a full thyroid panel before breeding. And, finally, each specific breeding must be authorized by the club’s Breeding Director to ensure genetic diversity. A quality breeder will also provide you with a contract that specifies your rights and outlines their expectations of you in owning one of their puppies.
Q. Where do I get a hovawart?
A. Litters in North America are increasing but are still rather infrequent. However, when a litter is available, information is posted on our website. Additionally, we have a rescue page on this site, and occasionally we will have an adult needing a new home. If you want to be a hovawart owner, please be cautious of non-authorized breeders. In the past, we have had very unpleasant experiences with breeders that have not paid sufficient attention to ensuring that they have healthy, well-adjusted dogs. Because a hovawart is a large dog, you will want to make sure it does not suffer from unwanted physical, or attitudinal, characteristics. If you want a U.S. born hovawart, you will need to place yourself on a waiting list. An alternative option is to import a hovawart from Europe. Our Breeding Director can help, in either case.