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Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Hovawart Family Tree

During the mini-quest to track down Kenzo's ancestors on his father's and his mother's side, I discovered a lot that fascinated me. It all started for the fun of it in the Facebook group Hovawart's family, sharing "old photo's", and in my case, got a little out of hand. Here is what I observed and learned so far, in an attempt to write something down, before this exercise ends in me writing a multiple volume book about Hovawarts and genealogy.

TIME STOOD STILL

First of all, and maybe quite obvious, the modern Hovawart still looks almost identical to his ancestors of old. And that is quite an accomplishment of all the breeders involved. Somehow the fashion to breed on extremes, like we have seen with so many other dog breeds, to an effect in which the modern generations and their ancestors almost seem to have little in common, has not affected nearly a century of breeding Hovawarts.

Of course the experts will now shake their heads, and point at all kinds of differences. So best is to have a look for yourself. The photo on top is from around 1930. On the right in the photo you'll see Castor Meyer-Busch, one of Kenzo's ancestors, and in the middle Castor's daughter Herma König II. I don't know the dog on the left. They show the three colors we know today: Black, Blond and Black-and-tan.

And then a more recent breed display:
I do notice an improvement in their ability to pose in front of the camera, other than that, do you see any substantial differences? I am not. Most definitely not if you compare that to the "evolution" of the English Bulldog, the German Shepherd and others.

COLORS

The Hovawart is a breed created by man. I knew they used Newfoundland, German Shepherd Dogs, Kuvasz and a number of "farm dogs" from unknown origin. And during the mini-quest I could track Kenzo's roots to each of these breeds. To put an actual name on his Newfoundland roots, with Markus, and his Kuvasz roots with Herma König I, was a great prize of this mini-quest. I couldn't find an actual name on a German Shepherd Dog, just a record for, that the breed was present in Kenzo's ancestry. And of course the "farm dogs", but it will always remain a mystery how they must have looked like, and were they came from.

I did hope to find a Leonberger as well as I was guessing Kenzo's blond color must come from somewhere, but was not successful. That opened again for the speculations in my mind, there is still a missing piece in the puzzle. As I wrote before, Kurt F. König, the leader of the group of breeders trying to recreate the "Hofe wart", was the mastermind behind the blond colored Hovawart. As he worked on this during the years 1934-1945, and was later accused of "neo-darwinistic" views, we can make a good guess of where he found his inspiration for a blond Hovawart.

The reason why König left the group and started new breeding attempts on his own, was his inability to keep good records of what dogs he used for breeding according to the other breeders like Alwin Busch. Maybe in his attempts to make a blond Hovawart for the "Reich", he tried to cover up some of the breeds he has used for the other breeders?

It is a speculation from my side completely. Although the origin around the "Blue" Hovawart could give an indication. König and the other breeders supposedly wanted to cull any blue puppy, in an attempt to cover up the use of an actual wolf in breeding. The wolf was used in an attempt to give the breed some more "independent and wild" characteristics.

As König kept little records, his secrets died with him in 1975, so we probably will never know. They were never able to eradicate the "blue" Hovawart by the way, and puppies still show up today. The photo on the right shows such a recent "Blue" - they have a blue-ish/gray-ish shine over their coat.

DATABASES

I was actually amazed I could track Kenzo's ancestry that far back. Some years ago I gave it a first try, in the online database of the Danish Kennel Club. A lot of data was missing and most lines were a dead end. Especially with the dogs that originated from abroad Denmark. Which most Hovawarts do.

It is up to the dedicated breeder and Hovawart enthusiasts to fill in the missing links, that tend to extend over the national database borders. And my luck was, people like Min Inches, Torunn Kollberg and many more, who are exactly in the business of closing that gap with private databases, came to the rescue. And even feed a lot of their information back into the working-dog.eu database, which is publicly accessible.

And of course my main luck was, that the breeders from the start in 1922, apart from König, kept good records of their breeding activities. So next to keeping the breed mostly the same, another big kudos to all those Hovawart breeders through the years to keep such good records.

INBREEDING

Because the lack of depth in the Danish Kennel Club's database I never thought much of the shining "0% inbreed coefficient" listed behind Kenzo's name.

Going manually through all the pedigrees I found now, I could see that Kenzo's great-...x7-grandfather on his mother's side, Ajax vom Rosenberg, 1964, was also the son of Kenzo's great-...x8-grandfather on his father's side, Sören vom Trollhof, 1957. This was the earliest sign of any inbreeding I could find. It doesn't have a lot effect on Kenzo's inbreeding coefficient though, which still ends up to be just 0,0001 %.

Up to the early fifties inbreeding was quite common though. And especially the first "re-creation" attempts involved a lot of it. One of Kenzo's ancestors, Castor Meyer-Busch, is sort of a bottleneck in the whole family tree of the Hovawart. He had 33 litters, unseen in Hovawart circles, and mated with daughters and grand-daughters, leading to a staggering high level of inbreeding. Add to that most Hovawart's died at the fronts during World War II, and only the already inbred dogs used for the re-creation attempts were given passes to avoid the military draft - see a copy of such a pass on the right.

It made me wonder, how Kenzo could end up with an inbreeding coefficient of only 0,0001%. Somehow, what Castor achieved on all his escapades in the past should have its effect. I got this extended family tree of Kenzo's father from Min Inches, and it confirms that all lines originate to just a handful of individuals.


It gives a good idea of how narrow the gene pool of the Hovawart actually is. I found out you could actually calculate that too with a so-called "mean kinship" indicator, which gives a numerical value to how closely related each dog is to the population. So far I haven't been able to find that value yet, neither do I have the tools or the data. And that makes it a good time to stop this mini-quest, can you see how this otherwise would keep growing and going on forever? I might come back and bore you with a post or two in the future though.
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3 comments

  1. I love how you were able to trace Kenzo's ancestors on ONE database. I don't think I could go that far back with Jersey and Dexter, but I should give it a try someday.

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  2. Great article, I also love the previous ones about the Kenzo ancestors. Some time ago, when I was setting Hebans (Herkules Even Hov) data on working-dog I also did the 'tour' on his family tree and end up on Castor. :)

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