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What is a Hovawart?

The Hovawart is a very old German working dog breed.

The name's origin stems from Middle High German (an old form of German); Hova (Hof) means yard or farm and wart (Wachter) means watchman. The Hovawart is the watchman of the yard or farm.

They make excellent family dogs as they are totally devoted to their family. However, since they are a working dog breed, they do require a consistent and loving yet strict training and meaningful activity throughout their lives.

As proud owner of three Hovawarts, and also as co-editor of the Hovawart Newsletter, I often get this question. People are fascinated by the beauty and intelligence of this old breed and want to know more about it. By now the Hovawart is quite well-known in Europe, but it has only recently been introduced in the U.S. and in American Dog Magazines.

Hovawart is German and means "guardian of the property". It is one of the oldest breeds that still exists today, and has its origins in the so-called Bronze-Age Dog. It was first mentioned in Germany in the 13th century, when a writer of that era told how a "Hovewart" had saved his life when he was a baby. The dog had carried him to safety when his family's castle was under siege. The "Hovewarts" were considered as very valuable and stealing one meant strict punishment.

During the centuries the Hovawarts were used by the German farmers as guardians of home as well as of livestock. However, other breeds became more in fashion, and by the end of the last century, the Hovawarts were almost extinct. During the 1920's a group of enthusiasts started to revive the breed with a strict breeding program and in 1937 the Hovawart was officially recognized as a breed in Germany.

The Hovawart comes in three colors: blond, black, and black and tan. Its coat is long and thick, slightly wavy and double. The shoulder-height for males is 24-28 inches and for females 22-26 inches. The females are smaller and much more elegant in their appearance. Males are robust and powerful-looking but not heavy. The eyes are amber and the ears are flat. The tail is long and is carried low except when the dog is excited. The hair on the tail and on the legs is long and feathery.

It is a hardy and weather-proof dog, that is alert and faithful, trustworthy and extremely intelligent. Although very willing to please its owner, it can take up to two years before the Hovawart puppy matures enough for serious obedience training. At that age, though, he will learn very quickly, and with his outstanding sense of protection he makes a very good prospect for obedience and schutzhund training. They have an excellent sense of smell and are also very suitable for search and tracking. Although the Hovawart is an excellent family dog, it is important that he be trained from an early age to the fact that his owner is the "pack leader", or he will soon take over that role.

The Hovawart likes to have a "job" to do, and if the owner does not give him one, he may use his infinite creativity to find one. All Hovawarts love children and never get tired of playing. Our male Brunello can think of nothing better than spending hours in the backyard playing ball with our son. Noticeable is, that even in the midst of play, he is very aware of what goes on around the house, and will immediately let us know if something out of the ordinary is happening.

This attentiveness is not restricted to strangers approaching the house. Anything out of the ordinary catches the attention of the Hovawart. One day I had forgotten a bowl of milk that was cooking in the microwave oven. When it boiled over, Brunello started to bark and came to "tell me" that something was wrong in the oven. Since that day he has taken it upon himself to "guard" anything that is cooking in my microwave.

When training a Hovawart, one must be aware of the fact that these dogs do not respond well to the traditional, harsh, leash-jerking training methods. They are too intelligent for that approach. It is much better to use creativity, common sense and praise instead. An occasional treat makes all the difference when training a fun-loving, strong-willed and sometimes stubborn Hovawart. When trying to teach Brunello to retrieve, I had struggled for weeks to get him to hold the dumbbell in his mouth. He just refused, probably thinking that it was a stupid thing to do. On the advice of my father, who has trained dogs for 30 years, I tried to bribe him with a piece of salami. Most Hovawarts will do anything for even the smallest piece of food. Brunello learned to retrieve beautifully in 10 minutes!

On the whole, a Hovawart is a perfect family dog and protector. His extraordinary intelligence makes him an excellent watchdog, but also has its drawbacks. Because he is so smart, a Hovawart needs an owner who is willing to spend a lot of time and training on his dog.

(c) 1995, 1998 Inga-Lill Westblom

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