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A German watch dog, the Hovawart, or Hovie, is not dissimilar to a retriever in appearance. The name 'Hovawart' means 'estate guard dog' and this was the Hovie's original purpose - guarding the grand estates of the nobility in the Black Forest region of Germany.
The Hovawart is an ancient breed that can trace its origins, through texts and paintings, to Medieval times.
One of the first literary mentions of the Hovawart stretches all the way back to 1210, when the castle Ordensritterburg was besieged. The castle and its inhabitants fell and the Lord and his family were killed. However legend tells that the Lord's infant son was dragged to safety by the family's Hovawart - despite being wounded itself. The dog found its way to the next castle and safety, thus saving the life of the boy. The boy later became a leading figure in German law and was responsible for the country's first Code of Law. Within this code it is stated that any Hovawart that is stolen or killed should be replaced and the owner should be compensated.
The fifteenth-century Hovawart was listed as one of five 'noble breeds'; used for tackling criminals and miscreants. Unfortunately this 'noble' breed had entered serious decline by the 20th century thanks to the popularity of other guard and watch breeds such as the German Shepherd.
A group of enthusiasts decided to resurrect the Hovie in the early 20th Century. Farms in the Black Forest region were scoured by breeders led by Kurt Friederich Konig to find Hovawarts and a breeding programme was initiated, although this good work was almost undone by the outbreak of World War Two. Because of their talents as guard and watch dogs many Hovies were used in the war effort and died, and by the end of the war only a few examples remained. Enthusiasts rallied and continued trying to save the Hovie and were ultimately rewarded in 1947 by the formation of the first ever Hovawart breed club. The breed was finally recognised by the German Kennel Club in 1964.
Average height to withers: 25" - 29" (dogs) 22.5" - 26" (bitches)
Average weight: 30-45kg
A medium dog, the Hovie is sometimes said to be 'naturally beautiful', with no part of the body exaggerated - except perhaps the luxuriant tail. The dog has a medium, wavy coat that is permitted in black, blonde and black and gold. They look not unlike a retriever.
The breed is impressive but not heavy, with pendulous ears and dogs and bitches vary greatly in size and appearance.
Robust dogs, Hovies are a true all-weather animal. They are adventurous, athletic, observant, confident, affectionate, clever and obedient and hold onto their playful 'puppy-ness' until they are about two years of age. They are active and naturally curious and because of their sharp minds they need training and socialisation from an early age.
Perhaps their most important asset is their stable personality, which makes them ideal family dogs. They love being with the family and working and are definitely not suited to life in a kennel. The Hovie is not overly excitable and is not possessive or argumentative - in fact if it's possible for a dog to be dignified, the Hovie fits the bill! However, if they are provoked to the point where they are forced to defend themselves they will fight with everything they have. Although they are not easily angered, they can be wilful and domineering with other animals.
They love nothing more than working with their owner and never forget a good friend. Or an enemy!
As a larger breed, the Hovie should be exercised gently until it's 12 months old to avoid strenuous activity taking its toll on delicate joints and bones.
As a breed the Hovawart is generally healthy, but there are a few conditions that seem to affect some lines. Hip dysplasia is a painful condition that causes lameness and dislocations. The problems are caused by a congenital malformation of the hip joint which can be identified in the young animal.
Osteochondrosis is a number of conditions affecting the bones of fast-growing mammals including humans, horses and dogs. The disease is characterised by the interruption of the blood supply to the bone, causing some tissue to die off, only for new bone to grow when the blood supply is reinstated. Symptoms include localised pain and swelling or in severe cases affecting the spine - malformation can occur.
Hovawarts are also known to suffer with a number of thyroid problems which can cause weight issues, but can be managed with medication. Liver shunt is a failure of the foetal circulatory system to develop properly around the liver.
Liver shunt is a serious condition, with toxins building up in the system as the liver fails to cope. This build up of toxins can cause depression, drooling, seizures, tremors and head pressing, while the initial symptoms include failure to thrive and vomiting and usually appear around six months of age.
Surgery is the best form of treatment for liver shunt, but where this is not possible the condition can be managed through a combination of diet and medication.
The Hovie is not a decorative dog and should be relatively easy to care for. It should not be overly groomed - combing once or twice a week is all that's required. The breed has virtually no undercoat, which helps with grooming and keeping him clean and he is an average shedder. A Hovie should only be bathed when he begins to smell.
As they have drooping ears, a regular cleansing routine should be established as soon as possible to help make sure the ear is clean enough to keep infections away. It is also worth having a routing in place to ensure both teeth and nails are kept in good order.