Dog trains man

Saturday, May 24, 2014

König The Hovawart Founder Revisited: The Myth Of The Hoffwart

During the dark ages, dog breeds as we know them today, weren't established yet. Dogs were kept and bred mainly for their function. And in Germany during that time, one of those types was the "Hoffwart", the farm guard. The alleged predecessor of todays Hovawart.

Only the medieval Schwabenspiegel law text mentions the Hoffwart, and what penalty should be paid, if such a dog would be harmed. The text also mentions other dog types, like herding- and hunting dogs. And if the author of the Schwabenspiegel not himself would have valued them so much, as the story goes he himself was rescued by a Hoffwart dog, the Hoffwart might never have been mentioned in the first place.

Unlike their esteemed family, who frequently posed on paintings beside royalty and landowners, the Hoffwart was more a poor man's dog. They didn't hunt or herd, were kept on small farms, keeping their families save and protected them from wolves and other wild-life. The only illustration ever found that could depict a Hoffwart, is therefore this painting - to the left - from Benno Adams, from 1869, "Hundefamilien mit altem Gaul".

Over the centuries, with the decline of rural life, industrialization and the disappearance of the wolf in the 19th century, they became less useful and went more or less extinct.

The interest for the Hoffwart returned to Germany when dog breeding, blown over from England, became popular in the 19th century. The renewed interest didn't so much concerned the Hoffwart itself at first, they were more or less believed to be extinct at the time, but they could be used to validate the existence of a "German" dog breed. The German Shepherd was born.

Max von Stephanitz, a cavalry captain and dog breeder, argued that the German Shepherd was a specific type of shepherd dog, and pointed at the Hoffwart as proof. The Hoffwart should be the main ancestor of the German Shepherd dog, unlike the other shepherd type dogs, which according to Von Stephanitz descend directly from Bronze Age dogs or from "Rüde", another dog type mentioned in the "Schwabenspiegel" as lifestock guardians. The image on the right shows Von Stephanitz's genealogical tree from his book "The German Shepherd dog in Word and Picture".

Von Stephanitz found a dog that resembled his ideal of a typical German Shepherd dog in 1899. He bought him, named him Horand von Grafrath, and erected the breed club "Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde". His main goal was to standardize the shepherd into one breed, but unlike his English colleagues, valued function over looks. In his book published in 1923, the German Shepherd in Word and Picture, von Stephanitz writes almost in horror what the English try to do with "his" breed:
"The English breeder - who is too subservient to the latest craze - has always emasculated the working races, because he has never bred in a sound and intelligent direction, and cannot keep his eye off external features, which are merely incidental or which are even peculiarities. Something so unnatural and therefore grotesque as a bull dog, for example, could only have been bred in England. Those cold-calculating hard-headed business men cannot understand the soul of the shepherd dog. That our dog is now going over there under the name of "Alsatian wolf dog", is most probably but a transitory result of the War."

This idea of function over looks, is an inspiration for many German dog breeders, and it will also influence the inventors of the Hovawart later in 1922, among them Kurt F. König. Although, like Max von Stephanitz, his interest in the Hoffwart was probably as well to further a completely different agenda - more about that next time.

There is no doubt König studied Von Stephanitz work methodically and an important clue might lie in the use of "African wild dogs" by König, in his attempts to re-create the Hoffwart. Von Stephanitz uses the first 200-pages of his book to describe the history of the German Shepherd. And although the Hoffwart is presented as the key in it's history, very little is actually mentioned, let alone shown, about them.

He did mention though, with illustration, an Algerian watch dog "Chien de Douars". This dog must have puzzled Von Stephanitz, as the dog resembled his shepherds so much, but how could a Hoffwart descendant wind up in Africa? According to Von Stephanitz, he must have come along with the Vandals, the old German tribes, via France and Spain, to North-Africa.

It would explain König's interest, as he was convinced in order to re-create the Hoffwart, he would need the genes from all it's offspring. To be continued.


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