Dog trains man

Sunday, May 25, 2014

König The Hovawart Founder Revisited: From Mice and Hovawart, to Heimwart

As you could read yesterday, in König The Hovawart Founder Revisited: The Myth Of The Hoffwart, it was the conviction of Max von Stephanitz, to favor function over looks in the breeding of German Shepherd dogs, what appealed to Kurt F. König. König was a diligent breeder of German Shepherd dogs and became a very active member in the local branch of the "Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde" founded by Max von Stephanitz, in Thale, Germany.

Another Benno Adams painting, "Two Friends", a Hovawart?
The young König studied zoology and medicine, never graduated, but called himself a zoologist nonetheless. Already as a youngster he was fascinated how genetic material seemed almost dormant in living creatures, and he experimented with 3 pairs of mice, which he over the course of 90 generations bred into 48 different species of mice. Genetic material, "which you could bring forward again if you knew which key to press, on his - König's - Mouse Piano", like he always loved to tell everybody.

The relationship with König and other German Shepherd breeders soon became tensed. As the other breeders trained their German Shepherd dogs to pass certain working dog tests, this made no sense to König. According to him, everything should already be present in the genetic material, as a result of thousands of years of selection by our ancestors and nature, of who was the best hunting dog, shepherd dog, etc. To train them to do other things and select on that, would eventually, like favoring looks or traits, deteriorate the German Shepherd as a breed. In an interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel, König later gave in 1955, he said: "They are murdering the dog's soul".

König left the "Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde" in 1922 and set out with others to re-create the Hovawart. He hadn't forgotten the myth launched by Max von Stephanitz - Mr. German Shepherd himself - who declared the Hovawart as the ancestor of the German Shepherd dog. König would attempt to re-create this ancient forefather. It would be the ultimate "Germanic" dog. Even more German than the German Shepherd dog itself.

In an attempt to play his "Mouse Piano", König, together with a couple of other breeders, collected all the dogs they needed that could hold some kind of genetic material that could have originated from the Hovawart. Including Wolfs, Saluki's, African wild dogs, but foremost dogs found at farms that still could resemble the Hoffwart, and also German Shepherd dogs, Kuvacsz, Newfoundland, Leonberger and most likely Setters as well. (*)

Ten years of breeding and selection finally led to Castor Meyer-Busch in 1932, a dog König & co. thought resembled the Hovawart best, not because of his looks of course, but for his independent character and will to defend his master while keeping a non-aggressive nature and being friendly to his family. And then they - excuséz le mot - inbred the hell out of him and claimed him and his offspring to be Hovawarts.

König with Hovawart, maybe Perchta?
For König, history started to repeat itself, as soon as breed clubs were erected around the Hovawart. They started to seek acceptance for the breed as "Schutzhund" just before the second world war. Like with the German Shepherd dogs, König resented the idea of training dogs tricks and old discussions flared up. During the years after the war, König founded his "ZooTech Station" and made one more attempt to re-create the Hovawart, now almost forgotten, but eventually gave up as other breeders, and breed clubs, took over.

König was far from finished though, convinced that the way we classify dog breeds is far too narrow - we have hundreds of breeds today - and it all comes down to just 6 or 7 dog types, according to König. Maybe they didn't look a lot like each other within the type, but they had been bred and selected for the purpose they served, and that was their legacy, which took thousands of years to build, said König.

He took another dog type mentioned in the medieval Schwabenspiegel law text, which besides the Hovawart (Hoffwart), also named a "Wachtel hund". König believed it to be descendant not from Wolves, but from Jackals, and created a new breed, the "Heimwart", German for "home guardians". These dogs became renowned trackers, and even served in German border patrols sniffing out smuggled goods in the sixties.

"Heimwart" named Wacker, courtesy of Der Spiegel
He also created the "Kobold-Maskott", more of a lapdog type, but very intelligent, which could learn things just by studying and observing the intentions of it's owner.

In an interview for Zeit, in 1955, König said "I construct animals".  His belief was that everything about a dog's function was written in genes, and training was useless, if you would just breed them correctly. His dogs, König claimed, didn't do what they did because they learned to do so, but because they were wired to do so.

In the end, his unscientific approach, the lack of documentation to back up his claims, catched up with König and his ventures, either in mice, Hovawarts, or Heimwarts. They always ended the same, either he gave up, or others took over. König died in 1975.


(*) I argued for the use of these breeds and species used in re-creating the Hovawart before, in other posts with the label History of the Hovawart, where you'll find more reasoning for it.

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