“Is that a Canaan dog?”

Theo was  still an adolescent the day we met the woman who asked that question ten years ago…the first time we’d heard of a Canaan.

Sweet Theo, West Village.

Sweet Theo, West Village.

At the moment, we were focused on our destination: the mighty Shake Shack at Madison Square Park, the smell of their famous burgers an undeniable lure, but an open expression from a friendly soul and curiosity about Theodore encouraged us to linger.

“A Canaan?” I replied. “I don’t know the breed.” For a kid who grew up studying the AKC Handbook with the intensity that other children might devote to dressing Barbies, this was an unusual admission.

“It’s an Israeli Herding Dog, and he looks just like one!” she said.  Theo gave his new friend his most vigorous butt wag and open mouthed smile.

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Image from the Web. A champion Canaan Dog.

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Image from the Web. A champion Canaan Dog.

“Well, I can’t be sure what he is, but I’ve always thought he was a Border Collie with some greyhound mixed in, and maybe a dash of Akita, which might explain this curl in his tail, ” I said. “But the truth is, I’m just making a guess!”

“I want you to go home and look up the Canaan. You’ll see what I mean. Your kid is maybe a bit taller and bigger overall than a typical Canaan, but the markings, body shape…I’m sure of it,” she said. And with that, we parted ways.

Theo and I walked home, sharing a burger along the way. But once back in the apartment, my curiosity took hold and I quickly pulled up a page of Canaan Dog images. The resemblance between my youthful Theo and the ancient Canaan was spot on and I was fascinated to learn that the breed dates back to Biblical times. But it seemed unlikely that my humble pooch, rescued from a New Jersey shelter, could have descended from this relatively rare breed…

When I first adopted Theodore, his herding tendencies (later channeled into Service and Therapy work), boundless energy, plus his distinctive black and white markings and insatiable desire to learn new behaviors had me convinced he was a Border Collie.

I never thought to question my assumptions until Lila came along…

Lila in Connecticut.

Lila in Connecticut.

With her unique combination of shelter-dog challenges (noise sensitivity, reactivity, and head strong nature)  finding out about her lineage became a priority. I hoped that learning about her ancestors and natural genetic tendencies might help me to develop an appropriate training protocol to deal with her issues.

After reading a number of blogs and reviews about genetic testing services, I settled on Wisdom Panel. According to a veterinary newsletter and a number of other sources, Wisdom Panel seemed to produce the most accurate analyses, in part, due to their large number of samples.

I sent for the kits and they arrived shortly after.

The dogs didn’t appreciate my swabbing their cheeks for the requisite amount of time (15 seconds…an eternity for a dog) but I was intent on following the instructions to the letter, and the dogs dutifully complied.

Then we popped the tests in the mail and waited.

Lila’s results came back first, in a speedy two weeks, and she proved to be what we expected:

Coonhound + Plott Hound…with some Harrier mixed in. 

The Harrier. Image from the web.

The Harrier. Image from the web.

Plott Hound. Image from the Web.

Plott Hound. Image from the Web.

Looking at her and observing her behavior, it all makes sense.

She has the refined head, intelligence and sweet expression of a Harrier; the high energy, strength, athleticism, thin coat, enthusiasm and brindle markings of the boar- hunting Plott (a descendant of the German Hanoverian Hound, first bred in the American South); and the nose and youthful, rowdy energy of a Coonhound.



Two weeks later, Theodore’s results came back, and we were floored.

The tests reported: Canaan Dog + Malamute + Golden Retriever.

The woman in the park was correct!

His body and head shape, markings and herding behaviors, intelligence and high energy levels are all typical of the Canaan. Then there’s that heavy undercoat and tendency to roam from the Malamute. And finally the sweetness and people-loving traits so common in Golden Retrievers.

Theodore on his perch. Connecticut.

Theodore on his perch. Connecticut.

It’s interesting now, to notice how my view of Theodore has been subtly altered.  Knowing about his Malamute and Canaan Dog genes, I think of him as a heartier dog than I once did and am no longer surprised when he’s not in the mood to wear his coat when the mercury drops. And I love this image of his ancestors, guarding and herding for their ancient Israeli masters.

I always thought of my sweet boy as having an old soul…

Theodore keeping a watchful eye. Vermont.

Theodore keeping a watchful eye. Vermont.


There’s a sweet, elderly gentleman who lives just around the corner from our apartment in the City. If we’re lucky, we’ll bump into him once a week or so.  His hair is white and a little unkempt. He walks slowly and deliberately, a cane providing assistance. Everyone’s in a hurry around here and I can feel my anxiety rise when I see strangers carelessly brushing past him. “BE CAREFUL PEOPLE!” I want to shout.  “How will YOU want to be treated when you’re a senior citizen?!”

Instead, we quicken our pace and Theo takes over, furry diplomacy at the ready. He sidles up and offers a hello with a wag of the tail, soft eyes, and a little gentle leaning.  And though the man seems a bit unsteady on his feet, as soon as he sees Theodore, his eyes begin to sparkle and a warm, broad smile follows.  He’s tickled to see his canine buddy and the feeling is mutual.  We chat for a bit while making our way towards his door, and then wish our neighbor well before moving on.

I do love this city and these unexpected moments of connection…

Like our neighbor, Theodore is a senior too.  Late last month, we marked his 10th Birthday and celebrated with a romp outdoors on a frigid Vermont afternoon. It was so cold, the fields of snow seemed more like endless tundra and as I wrapped a scarf around to cover my face, the phrase, “Not Fit for Man nor Beast” came to mind.

Theo’s cousin Kaya visited that day.  A sweet surprise, since it had been ages since the two had seen each other.  So, I stood back and watched while they tore around together, all the while, the sun playing a game of hide and seek.

Then, Theo stood quiet and still, his nose tilted into an icy breeze and a vision of him as a young, 8 month old pup came to mind.

I remember how awkward and rangy he was when we first met at the shelter.  But when I look at him now, there’s something regal about him.

Regal and gentle and wise.

Though we still run together–his little sister Lila on the left, Theo on the right–all of us keeping a respectable pace, this ten year old boy reminds me now and then that he needs a tender touch.  Be Patient, he tells me.  Let’s take our time.  So, on slippery surfaces, we move like molasses.  Theo has always needed traction to feel confident, now more than ever.

So, I reassure him that I won’t rush and and let him fall, and he returns the favor by making a go of it.  (Booties with sticky, rubbery soles are becoming standard equipment around here.)

When I stir in the morning, still warm in bed and tucked under the covers, Theo rises to greet me.  He’s not effusive or wiggly or boisterous. He simply rests his head on the bed and makes his soft ears available for stroking. I bury my face in his white, furry chest and wrap my arms around his neck and thank this sweet boy for starting my day off with so much love and calm.

Every day, I think I couldn’t possibly love him more than I already do.  But then every day, I prove myself wrong.