One of the most interesting little problems in classifying dogs is the dachshund.
The dachshund is perhaps the most varied purebred dog in the world. It comes in around 175 different colors, three different coat types, and (in Europe), three different sizes.
In North America and the UK, smooth dachshunds are the most common. On the continent, wire-haired dachshunds hold that distinction.
In my own area, miniature dachshunds, including the smaller size that would be classified as “rabbit dachshunds” with the FCI, are more common than standards.
In Germany, most of the dachshunds I saw were wire-haired and standard-sized. Some of these were on the larger size of standards in the 25-pound range.
But the question of where to classify such a diverse set of dogs that apparently comprises a single breed is a difficult one.
Dachshund do resemble certain British terriers, including the very rare drop-eared Sky terrier and the Dandie Dinmont.
However, no one has found any evidence that these dogs are closely related to these terriers. Indeed, the best genomic evidence I’ve seen places dachshunds with scent hounds. (Source for image). Another, more in depth genome-wide analysis found dachshunds to be closely related to beagles.
But dachshunds do behave like terriers.
One of the main uses for dachshunds is as earth dogs, but that function is hardly their only talent.
They are quite adept at doing the work of a hound. They can run rabbits and raccoons, tree squirrels, and track wounded game.
They can also work quite nicely as a retriever or spaniel, although they are not quite as adept at swimming as retrievers are.
But how could such an animal have been developed out of scent hounds?
Aren’t scent hounds hard to train?
Aren’t they also incredibly docile, while dachshunds are known to be scrappy?
I think some of the resistance to counting dachshunds as hounds comes from our own prejudices from the Anglo-Saxon hound tradition.
The Anglo-Saxon tradition of hounds has been mostly been of large packs of dogs that run a great distance while on the trail. The British are known for their mounted fox hunts, but they have a tradition of hunting deer in much the same way.
The British could get away with this, because the hunting culture was based upon a hunting-estate model. From the eighteenth century onward, there were vast deer parks throughout England, where nobles would ride to hounds.
The selection for a British hound was one that had a good nose and good stamina.
There was no selection for biddability, other than the dogs were required to have some road manners.
The German hunting culture– and much of that on the European continent– was quite different.
The region that became Germany was always crowded. There was always very little room to have agricultural enterprises and hunting estates.
And although hunting was initially a right given to nobles, it eventually became a popular activity– much more so than it was in the United Kingdom. The failed revolutions of 1848 had led to some concessions from the nobility in many of the German-speaking states, and one of these concessions was a right to hunt in the forests.
The working and middle classes of Germany wanted dogs that could do it all. All the German hunting dogs are capable of doing multiple things. After all, space and food were limited, and the various governments taxed dogs very highly. A German who wanted to hunt needed a dog with many talents, while his English noble counterpart could afford to have spaniels, retrievers, deer greyhounds, greyhounds that coursed only hares and rabbits, pointers and setters than never retrieved, and any number of little fox, badger, and otter bolting terriers.
The German hunter needed a dog that could be used to hunt a variety of game, and he needed one that didn’t consume that much in terms of resources.
When it came to hounds, the Germans had several strains of bloodhound or lymer that were used to track wounded game. These dogs are called schweisshunds, and there was also pack hounds called bracken (singlar “bracke”). There is also an Austrian black and tan hound (Brandlbracke) and the Tyrolean Hound.
All of these dogs are fairly large, and almost all of them were used as lymers, hounds that were used to track game on the leash. This means that the were often selecting dogs for greater biddability than the Anglo-Saxon hounds were.
They were also used to bay up wild boar, which means that these dogs have to have a sharper edge than a foxhound.
Very few dogs are as friendly as a well-bred beagle or foxhound, which is exactly what you’d expect from dogs that were selected to run in big packs.
Basset-type dogs were always very common France, and it appears that some of these bassets were incorporated in the German hound stock. Some of the French bassets are more like a dachshund in temperament and function. The fawn Brittany basset is not often run in packs, and it was meant to be a working man’s little hound.
France developed a kind of hybrid system of hound culture from the Germans and British. The French did keep large packs of hounds to hunt everything on big hunting estates, but after their experiences with the Revolutions of 1848, the commoners were given access to the hunt. And they began to produce multipurpose dogs.
The influx of basset genes into the German hound population apparently gave someone an idea. As early as the eighteenth century, hunters were using small bassets to bolt badgers from badger setts. It was not likely a common practice, but by the time German hunting became more democratic, there was a stronger emphasis to produce a smaller hunting hound.
My guess is the Germans used this smaller bassetized German hound framework to produce the dachshund. These bassetized German hounds would have the sharper temperament and greater biddability of a German hound, but they would have short legs.
One might think these dogs are the dachsbracke hounds, but there is some debate as to whether the two breeds of dachsbracke (the Alpine and the Westphalian, the ancestor of the Swedish drever) are the result of crossing dachshunds with larger hounds or whether they are the bassetized German hound that is the “missing link” between the larger German hounds and the dachshunds.
They could be either. Dachsbracke is sometime treated as a portmanteau between the words “dackel or dachshund” and the German word for hound, but the name actually means “badger hound,” which might suggest that these dogs actually are the bassetized German hounds that are the missing link between the larger hounds and the improved dachshund. (Dachshund means “badger dog,” not badger hound. They are known by this name only in English. Germans call them teckel or dackel.)
If this is true, then dachshunds are an improvement on the dachsbracke. From that type of dog, they bred them to be even smaller and more adept at doing earth dog work, even getting them small enough to hunt rabbits in their warrens.
They may have done so through the influx of pinscher blood. Pinscher were much more common among the middle classes of Germany. They initially served the function of the feist in the United States and the larger terriers in Ireland. They were small, multi-purpose working dogs. The smaller sizes became popular pets of the nobility and then with the growing middle class in the German-speaking lands.
It’s very likely that breeding the small pinschers into these dogs resulted in the very thin coat of the smooth dachshund, which they then tried to fix by breeding some strains with wire-haired dogs– perhaps Dandie Dinmont terriers, perhaps affenpinschers, griffon-coated hounds, or (more likely) small schnauzers– and poodles were also probably in the mix as well. Poodles could introduce biddability, retrieving instinct, and when crossed with single-coated smooth dog, the possibility of producing a wire-haired dog.
Others crossed the dogs with some sort of spaniel or other feathered gun dog to produced long-haired dachshunds. This also would create dachshund that would be very good at hunting feathered game.
I think the case is pretty good that the dachshund is a hound, but to understand why it’s a hound, one must understand the other hounds of Germany and that nation’s hunting culture. It is also worth understanding that, like all German hunting dogs, dachshunds were meant to be used for a variety of purposes. To reach this end, they added blood from other breeds, but the dogs still remained hounds in terms of the bulk of their genetic material.
A dachshund is a hound that can work as a terrier, but I don’t think it is correct to call them terriers. Even the smaller-sized, more terrier-like dogs are capable of blood-tracking with a greater utility than, say, a Jack Russell terrier.
The dachshund might be a good example of convergent evolution through artificial selection. It is a hound that incidentally developed some adaptations associated with terriers.
Which is pretty amazing.