What to Know About Canaan Dogs

Reviewed by Vanessa Farner, DVM on June 10, 2022

The Canaan Dog is an ancient breed that goes back thousands of years and today is the national dog of Israel. Also called the Kelef K’naani, this dog was used to guard and herd livestock in the deserts of the Middle East for centuries. Quick and alert, this dog still retains its natural herding and guarding skills. The Canaan Dog fits well into a family that can keep up with its active lifestyle and need for ongoing training and mental stimulation.

Characteristics of Canaan Dogs

The average Canaan Dog size is between 19 to 24 inches (48 to 61 centimeters), and males are usually noticeably larger than females. This breed weighs between 35 and 55 pounds, making it a medium-sized dog. The Canaan Dog has a lean, square body and a wedge-like head. Its ears stand up straight with rounded tips, and they’re set low. This breed has a bushy tail that curls over its back.

The Canaan Dog has a thick double coat that helped it adapt to life in the desert. The outer coat is smooth and straight and lies flat against the body. It’s medium in length on the body but shorter in areas like the front of the legs and the head. The Canaan Dog’s undercoat is soft, and the density depends on the climate that you live in. This dog’s coat comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns. It can be white with black, brown, or red markings or a solid color, like black or brown, with some white spots.

The Canaan Dog has an interesting personality. It’s very gentle and relaxed with its family but is a bit wary of strangers. A natural guard dog, some Canaan Dog traits include being extremely clever, alert, and a keen tracker. This breed is known for having very acute senses of smell and hearing and for the ability to know that a stranger is approaching from a distance. This dog is easy to train and housebreak and does well at protecting children and other pets that it’s raised with.

This breed is very healthy and active, so the average Canaan Dog lifespan is between 12 and 15 years.

Caring for Canaan Dogs

The Canaan Dog is a naturally clean breed due to its history. This dog lived in the wild in dens in the desert for centuries, and its body has adapted to keep itself tidy. However, this breed sheds a lot of hair and goes through periods of heavy shedding at least once a year. It’s important to brush your Canaan Dog’s coat weekly to remove loose hair and to keep it looking healthy, but grooming is even more important during heavy sheds. When you notice that your dog has a lot of loose hair, it’s important to brush it out frequently.

Since this breed is constantly on the go, its nails tend to wear down naturally. But if you notice that your dog’s nails are getting a bit long, give them a trim. When its nails become too long, your Canaan Dog will feel uncomfortable, and they can cause structural issues.

It’s important to take care of your dog’s teeth by brushing them every day or two. Always brush your Canaan Dog’s teeth with an approved dog toothpaste and a toothbrush. Brush in gentle circles, focusing on the gum line, by lifting up your dog’s lips. Its mouth doesn’t need to be completely open.

The Canaan Dog’s ancestors roamed freely in the desert, so this dog is used to having space to move around. It’s not well-adapted to apartment living and would do best in a home that has a yard or garden to move about and play in. Your Canaan Dog needs about an hour of exercise a day and naturally moves at a brisk pace, preferring trotting to walking. This breed is quick and agile and seems to never get tired, so it may be the perfect companion for someone who enjoys activities like hiking or running.

Canaan Dogs are natural omnivores and live healthy lives when given a diet of high-quality dog food. Avoid dog foods that have chemicals and preservatives. Some Canaan Dog owners also opt to put their dogs on a special diet. Canaan Dogs do well on the BARF, or bones and raw food, diet. This includes eating items like raw, frozen dog food or raw meats and kefir. Be sure to consult with your vet before switching to this type of diet. How much your dog needs to eat depends on its age and activity level, and its appetite may change depending on the weather or its mood.

As a dog owner, you want to do everything that you can to keep your pet healthy. This includes making sure that your Canaan Dog has the right vaccinations. When you get your dog, it’s important to talk to your vet about a vaccination schedule. During your dog’s first year, it will need several different vaccines, with booster shots to follow every one to three years. Your dog will need the following vaccines:

  • Distemper
  • Parvovirus
  • Adenovirus
  • Parainfluenza
  • Rabies 

While not required, your veterinarian may recommend that your dog get the following vaccines:

  • Bordetella
  • Influenza
  • Lyme disease
  • Leptospirosis
  • Coronavirus

Heartworm is another concern. There currently isn’t a vaccine available to prevent heartworm, but there are several medications that can help to prevent an infection. Talk to your vet about which option is best for your Canaan Dog. Some heartworm prevention treatments include monthly chewable pills or an injection that’s given every 6 to 12 months. Either of these methods is given by prescription from your vet.

Keeping your Canaan Dog free from fleas and ticks will keep both you and your dog happy. Make sure to check your dog regularly when they come in from outside, and comb them with a flea comb to remove any parasites. Your vet may recommend flea collars or topical treatments to protect your dog. Another option to prevent fleas is oral medication. Flea pills are oral insecticides that not only prevent fleas but control and treat them if your Canaan Dog has an infestation. There are several different kinds of flea pills, and they all have different active ingredients.

Health Problems to Watch for With Canaan Dogs

The Canaan Dog is one of the healthiest breeds and has very few health problems in general. One thing to note is that you should regularly check your dog’s ears for any signs of infection and make sure to keep them clean.

Canaan Dog breeders work together and communicate to ensure that the breed stays healthy. Some Canaan Dog health issues that occasionally occur are:

  • Epilepsy
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Cryptorchidism
  • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)
  • Luxating patella
  • Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD)

As a caution, the National Breed Club recommends that you have the following tests performed on your Canaan Dog:

  • Hip evaluation
  • Patella evaluation
  • Elbow evaluation
  • Thyroid evaluation
  • Ophthalmologist evaluation

Special Considerations for Canaan Dogs

When it comes to Canaan Dog temperament, this breed is not aggressive but is highly territorial and doesn’t trust strangers. The Canaan Dog is highly alert and quick to react and will protect each person and other pet in your home against perceived threats. Even so, your dog will be loyal and devoted to you and loves spending time with the family.

Canaan Dogs need early training and socialization. They are easy to train but will end up walking all over a passive owner if authority isn’t established early on. Your Canaan Dog will respond really well to positive training techniques and loves to have a job to do. Agility, obedience, or herding trials are great for your dog’s physical and mental health and help it stay active and stimulated.

Canaan Dogs bark when they notice something is off or that something new is in their space. How much they bark depends on the dog, but they can be trained to control their barking.

History of Canaan Dogs

The Canaan Dog was used by ancient Israelites to guard their camps and flocks. The ancestor of the Canaan Dog, the Pariah, dates back even further to biblical times. In fact, there are cave paintings dating going back to 2200 B.C. that depict these dogs. When the Romans forced the Israelites out of their ancestral lands, they had to leave their dogs behind. Most of these dogs retreated to the Negev Desert, living mostly undomesticated. Some dogs lived with the Druze and Bedouin peoples, providing protection and guarding their herds.

Canaan Dogs continued to live this way until the 1930s, when Dr. Rudolphina Menzel was asked to set up a service dog organization. She took in a group of semiwild Canaan Dogs and tamed and trained them, eventually breeding them. Dr. Menzel discovered that this breed was very easy to train, adapted easily, and could quickly be domesticated. By 1934, Dr. Menzel was providing dogs to the military, and by 1953, she was training Canaan Dogs to be service dogs for the blind.

Since their domestication, the Israeli army has used Canaan Dogs for several purposes, including guard duty and sniffing out mines. They're also used as messengers and Red Cross helpers.

Show Sources

Photo Credits:

1. f8grapher / Getty Images


American Heartworm Society: “Heartworm Prevention for Dogs.”

American Kennel Club: “4 Tips to Help Keep Your Dog Safe From Fleas And Ticks,” “Canaan Dog,” “Flea Pills for Dogs,” “Your Complete Guide to First-Year Puppy Vaccinations.”

Britannica: “Canaan dog.”

The Canaan Dog Club of America: “The Canaan Dog Breed Standard,” “FAQ: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the Canaan Dog,” “History of the Canaan Dog,” “What is a Canaan Dog?”

DOGS NSW: “Canaan Dog.”

DogsNZ: “Canaan Dog.”

DogsTrust: “Dog dental hygiene.”

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