Thirty years later, I have a family (pack, as far as the dogs are concerned) consisting of myself, my wife Lilach and two Israeli Canaan dogs—Jiru and Seraph.
Seraph, Itzik and Jiru (from left to right)
Of course, things are not quite as I imagined them when I was a kid….
To put things in context, let me tell you a bit about the fascinating Israeli Canaan dog; I’ll provide links in case you will be interested in more details. I’ll then share with you my own experience with Jiru and Seraph.
The Israeli Canaan Dog
Around 70 years ago, before the Israeli state was even established, the Jewish defense forces (Haganah) were looking for a type of dog that they could use for work/guarding purposes. German shepherds did not cope well with the hot climate in the Israeli deserts. So they assigned the task of finding a suitable breed of dogs to Professor Rudolphina Manzel, who was a known authority on dogs. She found wild packs of dogs in the deserts (southern part of Israel), studied their behavior and characteristics, and found them suitable. She trained and domesticated them. She named the breed Canaan Dog after the biblical ancient name of Israel—Canaan. In Hebrew we pronounce the name of the breed Kelev (dog) Cna'ani (of Canaan). These dogs are native to the land of Israel since pre-biblical times, and as such are well adapted to the extreme temperatures and harsh climate of the deserts. Interestingly, as was later found, they are highly adaptive to different types of climates and environments. Canaan dogs nowadays are being bred around the world even in countries like Canada and Finland.
For several decades now, Myrna Shiboleth continues Professor Manzel’s work, breeding and promoting the Israeli Canaan dog throughout the world from her kennels in Shaar Hagai near Jerusalem.
The characteristics of the breed are a result of its wild nature and the environment in which it evolved. The dog has a wolf-like look, and when mature, weighs about 60 pounds. It is very healthy and highly resilient to most diseases. With dogs in general, the bigger the dog, the fewer years they live. Canaan dogs have a longer lifespan than other breeds of similar size, and are known to live till the age of 15-17 and even more, still alert and in excellent physical condition.
Canaan dogs are very territorial. They have excellent natural guarding instincts. While other guarding dogs usually have the mindset of guarding the property of their owner, Canaan dogs think of the property as their own—it’s theirs, and they intuitively want to protect it. The Canaan is very alert and suspicious of strangers and unusual things.
Since Canaan dogs were domesticated only recently, they still have wild senses. When growing up as part of a family, they feel like they’re in a pack.
The Ben-Gan Pack
They love and protect the members of the family, especially the kids. Outside of the house, the Canaan can be aggressive, especially to other dogs. With unfamiliar people, the Canaan is very suspicious. It’s important not to let the dog assume the pack leader role; otherwise this can spell trouble for the family. This means that it’s important to train and discipline the dog, and make it realize its place in the pack.
The Canaan dog is very loyal, but it is also very independent and highly intelligent; it is not the kind of dog who would blindly follow its owner’s requests. In a lecture Myrna once gave, she tried to illustrate this point by comparing the Canaan dog to a German shepherd. The German shepherd, she said, if its owner would take it to a high cliff and tell it “Jump” – it will jump. The Canaan, on the other, would look at its owner and say: “You first”. ;-) I already embarrassed myself many times trying to throw a ball or a piece of wood to my dogs, expecting them to bring it back. All I get back from them is a look questioning my odd behavior. When they want to play, they play; they choose the time, the toy, and the game. Also, the Canaan would sometimes need its own time and space, and would avoid the company of the family; though it would still always be aware of where his owner is.
If you’re interested in more details about the Israeli Canaan dog, you can find them in the following book, which I also used as a reference for the information described here:
The Israel Canaan Dog by Myrna Shiboleth (Alpine Publications), ISBN 0-931866-71-5
And here are links to sections on Myrna’s website with a lot of interesting information and pictures:
Dogs of the Desert: http://myrnash0.tripod.com/shaarhagai-canaandogs/id64.html
Canaan Dog Temperament: http://myrnash0.tripod.com/shaarhagai-canaandogs/id30.html
The Ben-Gan Pack
Once my wife and I moved to our own house, we got our first Canaan male—Jiru from Shaar Hagai (Myrna’s kennels).
Jiru was the nickname of a very skilled martial artist in the Okinawan GoJu Ryu karate stream, who died in the Second World War. As a puppy, Jiru was very energetic and was wearing us out. He was a brat, and always tested our limits. We didn’t discipline him well early enough and paid for this in the form of his troublemaking. First kid... ;-) Later on, we acknowledged the importance of discipline, and things are better now in this sense. Although, with Canaan dogs in general, there’s a limit to the level of obedience you should expect from them. Today, Jiru is almost four.
When Jiru was about six months old, I started traveling intensively in the pursuit of SQL, with my wife joining me most of the time. Knowing we would need to leave Jiru in a kennel when away, we wanted him to have a companion/brother....
One day, after teaching a class in the south of Israel, I sat in the train station waiting for the train. Suddenly, to my surprise, a wild Canaan female who looked as if she recently gave birth, was wandering around the station looking for scraps of food. I followed her, and found a whole pack of wild Canaan dogs, with two litters. It’s an amazing sight; the mother digs a hole in the hillside and puts the puppies inside. Fortunately, I had my camera with me....
Canaan Puppies in a Cave
I talked with my wife and we decided to take one of the male puppies home, and we named him Seraph (guardian angel). Mind you, it wasn’t a simple task. When I got near the pack they all gathered and started barking. I moved very slowly, and with the help of my irresponsibility and some salami, I got to the puppies. Making the decision to take a wild puppy from its family was also not simple. However, wild packs in Israel nowadays cannot sustain themselves in the wilderness since it’s scarce. Some packs have to live in the outskirts of cities looking for scraps of food where they are exposed to various hazards like traffic, rabies control, and so on. We figured that Seraph would have a better (and longer) life with us. So, on a rainy December evening, 2003, I took Seraph with me on the train ride to his new home....
Seraph and Itzik on the Train
Today Seraph is three and a half years old, and looks much different than when he was a puppy.
Since then, the two were never separated. Our only consolation when we are away from home is that Jiru and Seraph have each other.
Jiru and Seraph
Although our dogs are pretty spoiled—a result of our guilty conscience for being away for long periods—they are not allowed inside the house. They have the whole yard for themselves. The house is located in the middle of the property, so often you see them racing after each other in circles around the house. They tend to sleep in the shed, although in the summer they prefer the cooler nights outside.
Oh, and I forgot to mention a pretty annoying behavior that is common to Canaans—they like digging holes in the garden, sometimes one or two feet deep. So if you’re like me, being fond of gardening, you need to be prepared for some heartbreaking scenes in the garden.
Jiru and Seraph play and fight like most brothers do. Reminds me of my childhood days with my twin brother—we couldn’t be separated, but we did also almost kill each other. :-)
Jiru and Seraph Fighting