The Hovawart is a German dog breed that has a long and storied history. In centuries past, the Hovawart was considered one of the “Five Noble Breeds,” and was celebrated for its ability to guard homesteads. While the breed never gained worldwide popularity like other German breeds (like the German Shepherd or the Great Dane), the breed still remains common throughout Germany and other parts of Europe.
But what exactly is a Hovawart? And what makes them such great pets and guard dogs? Let’s take a look at where the Hovawart breed came from, their traits, and their official recognition as a breed to get a better understanding of what makes them such a loyal companion and steadfast guard dog.
What is a Hovawart?
The Hovawart is a medium-sized dog breed. It generally has a long, thick coat that can be gold, black, or a combination of the two. The Hovawart was originally bred to be a guard dog for farmers in Germany. In fact, the name “Hovawart” actually comes from the German words “Hova” and “Wart,” which together mean “farm watcher.”
Though it originated in Germany, the Hovawart has since spread to other parts of Europe and beyond. Today, the breed is a popular house pet due to its beauty, medium size, and positive behavioral traits.
History of the Hovawart Breed
The history of the Hovawart breed has been a tumultuous one. No one knows exactly when the breed came about, but it has been mentioned in documents dating back to the early 15th century. While the breed was held in high esteem in the medieval era, it nearly went extinct by the 20th century. Due to interbreeding with similar German breeds, the Hovawarts of today are slightly different (in appearance and behavior) than their original ancestors. But where exactly did the Hovawart come from?
Where Did the Hovawart Breed Originate?
Originally, the Hovawart breed was celebrated for its ability to ward off robbers, wolves, and other intruders on farms throughout the German countryside. It was a highly respected breed in Medieval times, and integral to the agricultural economy. Since it was mentioned in medieval German law and was already famous enough to be described as one of the “Five Noble Breeds” in 1473, it is safe to say that the Hovawart had been around in Germany even farther back than the 1400s.
However, as the centuries passed, the Hovawart was replaced on many European farms with new breeds, like the German Shepherd. By the late 19th century, the Hovawart had nearly gone extinct, as it no longer served the purpose for which it was bred. Thankfully, some breeders and Hovawart enthusiasts tracked down some of the few remaining Hovawarts in Germany’s Black Forest.
Several attempts to breed the Hovawart with other German breeds helped save them from extinction. Their numbers and popularity in western Europe grew throughout the 1910s and 1920s. However, by the time World War II struck Europe, the number of Hovawarts began to decline again. Hovawarts were used as part of the German war effort, with many dying by the war’s end.
Fortunately, the breed’s popularity had grown enough that multiple breeding efforts took place following the war. The number of Hovawarts in Germany grew rapidly. By the mid-1960s, the Hovawart gained further recognition and international attention. Today, it remains a popular albeit lesser-known breed in many parts of the world.
Is the Hovawart a Recognized Breed?
Even though the Hovawart has been in existence for centuries, its small numbers delayed its recognition by any Kennel Club for many years. However, in 1964, the German Kennel Club finally recognized the Hovawart as an official breed. Since then, it has been a favorite in many dog shows and competitions. But what exactly are the criteria that must be met to be considered a standardized breed?
Standardized Breed Criteria
Breed standards are set by the Kennel Club, and are subject to change from time to time. Generally, breed standards are simply descriptions, and are therefore somewhat open to interpretation. This is why dog shows are so popular, as they allow judges to decide how well individual dogs meet the criteria for their given group or category.
The Hovawart is a recognized breed in the “Working Group.” The American Kennel Club, defines and describes the group as: “Quick to learn, dogs of the Working Group are intelligent, strong, watchful, and alert. Bred to assist man, they excel at jobs such as guarding property, pulling sleds and performing water rescues … they make wonderful companions but because they are large, and naturally protective, prospective owners need to know how to properly train and socialize a dog. Some breeds in the Working Group may not be for the first-time dog owner.”
What Are the Physical Characteristics of the Hovawart Breed?
The Hovawart is a mid-sized dog, with both males and females averaging a standing height of two to two and a half feet There are larger variations with weight, though this also depends on the activity level of the dog. Domestic pets will likely weigh more than working dogs. However, the majority of Hovawarts in existence today are not guard dogs like their ancestors. Regardless of the dog’s lifestyle, the sverage Hovawart usually weighs somewhere between 60 to 100 pounds.
In terms of color, there is not very much variation among Hovawarts. Most Hovawarts are black, or black with a gold undercoat. Some Hovawarts are completely gold with little or no black coloration, though this is less common. This breed generally has medium-length, silky fur.
In addition to their sturdy, muscular build, this breed has relatively short limbs. Hovawarts have naturally long, thick tails, which are almost never cropped. Their ears can be either triangular or oval-shaped, and like their tails, the ears should remain uncropped.
What Are the Behavioral Characteristics of the Hovawart Breed?
Hovawarts have the same traits as any good guard dog: alertness, intelligence, loyalty, and wariness toward strangers. When they’re not protecting the homestead, these dogs love to play and burn off excess energy with their owners. The Hovawart generally responds very well to training, and is eager to learn new commands. They are also friendly and generally safe for families and children, but they are also very protective of their family, which means that they usually don’t respond well to strangers.
Like many dog breeds, Hovawarts are very loyal to their owners. If you wish to have a Hovawart as a pet, it is recommended that you socialize them with other animals early, so that they don’t become defensive or aggressive in response to animals later in life.
As previously mentioned, Hovawarts are untrusting of strangers, which is why they work so well as guard dogs. While some friendlier breeds will want to play with strangers, Hovawarts are more likely to bark (to alert the family) or become aggressive when encountering a stranger. Hovawarts are a relatively calm breed, but if they sense danger or a threat to their family, they will not hesitate to use their intimidating bark.
Hovawarts require a lot of work to care for. They need regular activity and exercise, otherwise they may become overweight or even depressed. They also require regular grooming of the fur and nails.
As a result, Hovawarts are not recommended for those who cannot maintain an active lifestyle. While the breed can make great long-term companions, due to the fact that they need frequent exercise they are not recommended for the elderly.
Though guarding farmhouses is not as common nowadays as it was during the breed’s heyday, the Hovawart has found a new purpose for its speed, energy, and agility. Many Hovawart owners are putting their pets in sports competitions to take advantage of the breed’s natural abilities. However, like any dog breed, Hovawarts can only participate in competitions at a relatively young age, as older dogs may run into issues with hip dysplasia and arthritis.
What Are Some Common Health Problems for the Hovawart Breed?
Like any dog, the Hovawart needs a well-balanced diet to meet its nutritional needs and ensure a long and healthy life. Since it is an active breed, this type of dog may need to eat a diet that is relatively high in calories compared to some other breeds. Dry foods that are made specifically for high-energy dogs are best, but it’s also important to choose a dog food that fits your dogs age, size, and lifestyle.
For the most part, Hovawarts are very healthy dogs. In fact, they do not have any known hereditary ailments. Due to their ancestral roots as guard dogs, the breed is inherently strong and resistant to the elements. However, like any breed, they can still run into certain health issues.
One of the most common health problems among Hovawarts (and many other breeds) is hip dysplasia, or an abnormal formation of the hip socket. This is likely due to excessive running and a generally active lifestyle. With age, this often leads to decreased movement and painful arthritis. In some cases, dogs may even lose the use of their back legs and require surgery or special equipment to regain mobility.
Thankfully, most serious health problems are very uncommon for this breed. The average Havawort usually lives between 10 to 14 years, and do not incur high healthcare costs like some other breeds.
Many breeds can work as service animals. But what exactly is a service animal? According to the AVMA and the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” As Hovawarts are kind, gentle, and loyal dogs, they’re very well suited for many different types of service.
Since service animals must be receptive to training, Hovawarts are prime candidates for the job. Additionally, because of their friendly and active personalities (toward their owners and people that they know well), Hovawarts make can make great emotional support animals as well.
There is a distinction between service animals and emotional support animals. An emotional support animal is defined as an animal that provides emotional support and stability as recommended “by a qualified physician, psychiatrist or other mental health professional based upon a disability-related need.
“Therapy dog” is another category that is often lumped together with service dogs and emotional support animals. These terms are often used interchangeably in casual conversation, but they actually have strict definitions. The ADA does not regulate therapy dogs like they do service animals and emotional support animals—the two stricter categories require the animal to be trained to ameliorate a medical diagnosis, while therapy dogs are treated much more generally. Fortunately, Hovawarts can also make great therapy dogs, too, as therapy dogs need to have a calm, quiet demeanor. However, due to their wariness around strangers, Hovawarts must be well-trained before meeting new people—or else their natural loyalty to their owners might make them not as comforting to others as they could be.
For more information on registering a Havawort as a service animal or emotional support animal, consult usserviceanimals.org today!