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So, you want to learn about Dachshunds. Who could blame you? They’re such characters, and so comically cute to look at, both in their unique physical proportions and also in their spirited antics.
No wonder they’re so popular. In 1996 they ranked seventh in popularity for AKC breeds, and they’ve long been in the top ten. This FAQ attempts to give you the background and characteristics of this breed, through a mixture of facts gathered from numerous sources (referenced below), from first-hand experience with my Dachshund, Chillie, and conversations with other Dachshund owners.
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Development of the Dachshund
The current Dachshunds (also known as Teckels, Dachels, or Dachsels) originated in Germany. In fact, the name Dachshund is German for “badger dog,” indicating why these dogs were originally bred – to hunt badgers.
German foresters, in the 18th and 19th centuries, mixed a variety of breeds together, aiming for a fearless, elongated dog that could dig the earth from a badger burrow, and fight to the death with the vicious badgers who were unlucky enough to inhabit that burrow. Dachshunds have also been used to hunt foxes, and believe it or not, wild boar.
Even though Chillie is heavily domesticated and abundantly pampered, she still maintains and nurtures this innate hunting instinct.
She’s been known to suddenly leap off the living room sofa from a sound sleep in the donut position (a favorite position of Dachshunds), and, without any hesitation, fiercely attack and capture her unwitting prey – a common household bug. So, it’s no wild boar. Thank God.
The first Dachshunds were brought into the United States in 1887, where they grew in popularity over the next few decades. By 1914, they were among the 10 most popular entries in the Westminster Kennel Club Show.
During World War I, there was much disdain over anything considered German and unfortunately, the Dachshund was a victim of much hostility. In fact, they were sometimes the victims of stonings, and Dachshund owners were often called traitors.
As a result, the number of Dachshunds in the United States and Britain dwindled. After the war, a few U.S. breeders slowly rebuilt the gene pool by importing German stock, and the breed began to increase in popularity again.
The advent of World War II did not yield the same effects as World War I, because by then American breeders were well established and Dachshunds were very popular.
In the United States, there are, in total, six types of Dachshund. They come in two sizes: miniature (less than 10-11 pounds) and standard (all the rest, but usually above 18-20 pounds). In other countries, there’s wider variance in the sizes.
In fact, in Germany, the dogs are identified as either Standard, Miniature, or Kaninchenteckel, based on a chest measurement taken at the age of fifteen months. For each size, there are three coats: smoothcoated, longhaired, and wirehaired. The standard smoothcoated Dachshund is the most popular in the United States.
The coat is short, smooth, and shining. There are two theories regarding how the standard longhaired Dachshund came about. One theory is that smoothcoated Dachshunds would occasionally produce puppies which had slightly longer hair than their parents. By selectively breeding these animals, breeders eventually produced a dog which consistently produced longhaired offspring, and the longhaired Dachshund was born.
Another theory is that the standard longhaired Dachshund was developed by breeding smooth Dachshunds with various land and water spaniels. In either case, the result was a beautiful animal (admittedly I’m a little biased), with a coat comparable to that of an Irish Setter and a temperament like a spaniel.
In general, longhaired Dachshunds tend to be more docile than the other two coats, though I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule.
I consider myself very lucky, because Chillie is a standard longhaired Dachshund with just such a temperament, especially indoors when there are people around. Wirehaired Dachshunds were developed by breeding smooth Dachshunds with various hard-coated terriers and wire-haired pinschers.
They look very wise, most notably due to their beards and bushy eyebrows. The coat is wiry, short, thick, and rough. Like their smoothcoated cousins, the wirehaired tend to be mischievous.
They come in red, black, or even dappled. Chillie has both red and black hair. Interestingly, the red hair is softer and finer than the black, at least in longhaired Dachshunds.
Physical Characteristics and Temperament
Dachshunds are recognized by their long bodies and short legs. Their design is the epitome of form following function. They are low to the ground, which allows them to enter and maneuver through tunnels. Their senses are all well developed. They are very brave. And they are very independent.
Being the smallest breed used for hunting, they need to be independent to do their job. Remember this. Their independence, in my opinion, has a lot to do with some other characteristics, which I’ll mention a little later. (By the way, if you’re into low-riding, comical looking dogs, you might also consider the Basset Hound.
In fact, in French, bas-set means simply low-set, and at one point, the French name for the Dachshund was Bassets de Race Allemande. According to literature from the Dachshund Club of America, it is even likely that Dachshunds are descended from Basset Hounds.)
Dachshunds like to enter into the spirit of everything you do, which isn’t always the greatest help. When Chillie sees me putting on my shoes to take her o-u-t for a w-a-l-k, she often tries to expedite the process by helping me tie my laces.
Needless to say, as well-intentioned as she is when she presses her nose against my shoelaces, this has never, in the four years we’ve been together, sped up the process. This is akin to a three-year-old “helping” you bake a cake, and insisting that (s)he break the eggs.
They are playful animals, but they insist on you following their rules of play, which may or may not coincide with the rules commonly used by their other canine cousins.
I know a Champion standard wire-haired named Matthew who I’m convinced has retriever in his bloodline somewhere – he lives to chase and retrieve balls. This is very unusual for a Dachshund. The retrieving part, that is. Although they often like to chase balls, they don’t necessarily see the need to bring them back to you. This is an example of a Dachshund rule of play.
Anyone who meets a Dachshund has no doubt about who’s dog it is. They are often one-person dogs, meaning they bond very closely with their master. A Dachshund’s master is never alone in the house – they have a long, low shadow following them everywhere around the house.
This is not to suggest that Dachshunds dislike other humans – quite the contrary. But they definitely know which human is theirs.
It is extremely important to keep a Dachshund from getting fat, not only for the usual reasons of general good health but also because their long back is susceptible to slipped or ruptured (herniated) disks through the additional strain placed on their spinal cord.
This can result in partial or full paralysis but is often treatable through a variety of methods. Fortunately, a full recovery is likely if the problem is dealt with promptly (as soon as there’s any evidence at all that the dog is having neck or back pain).
In addition, to reduce the chance of disc problems, it is also important to make sure a Dachshund does not do things that put additional stress on his back, such as sitting up and begging, jumping on and off furniture, or running up and down stairs.
I’m not suggesting that you can completely avoid such things all the time, but you can take steps to minimize how often they occur.
For example, if you allow your Dachshund access to the sofa or bed, I would encourage you to get a ramp and teach them to use it when they are young; using a ramp to get on and off furniture, rather than jumping, reduces the shock on their discs that jumping can cause.
Also, you should be careful, when holding a Dachshund, to keep his back horizontal. Holding him like a football, with his rear quarters tucked under your arm, and your hands supporting his chest usually keeps the back in the horizontal position, thus reducing stress on the back. I don’t wish to convey the impression that Dachshunds are fragile dogs – they’re not (after all, they were bred for hunting).
I just think that an ounce of prevention goes a long way. And if you accidentally hold one the wrong way, it’s not like he will immediately develop back problems, either. But you might as well take reasonable precautions.
I would strongly urge you to visit the Dodger List to learn about the back problems to which Dachshunds are susceptible and ways to prevent them and treat them. It’s a terrific resource for Dachshund people and others with dogs susceptible to disc problems, such as Corgis.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are they easy to housebreak?
Housebreaking can be difficult with Dachshunds. I’ve spoken with numerous people who have Dachshunds, and I’ve found it’s not uncommon to hear things like “she’s 95% reliable.” Personally, I think it’s their independent nature that makes them difficult to housebreak.
It’s not that they don’t know any better, or that they maliciously want to be disobedient; it’s just that they don’t always see the necessity of relieving themselves outside (especially in bad weather), and they are willing to accept the consequences.
Unless you’re a real ogre, the minute you see one look up at you with his inquisitive, adoring expression, capped off with his brown, almond shaped, soulful eyes, you’ll understand why they often get away with things.
I want to train my Dachshund to start my car on really cold days. Will this be possible?
Probably not, but it would not be due to lack of trying. Simply put, their short legs give them a severe handicap when it comes to reaching the gas pedal. That and the lack of an opposable thumb would make this task unlikely.
However, Dachshunds are very intelligent dogs. Let me qualify that. They learn fast, but only when it suits their purposes. Remember that independence trait? Well, that tends to make them stubborn, which makes them a challenge to train. Although they can learn, they definitely have their own agenda, which may or may not coincide with yours.
They can (and should) be trained with proper motivation, but figuring out what motivates your Dachshund might be a challenge. (A hint: one common motivational factor among Dachshunds seems to be treats. Being hounds, they love to eat.) But they are also very clever in ways you’d never expect.
It’s not impossible to show a Dachshund in the obedience ring, but it’s definitely not the most common dog for this purpose. Although I don’t compete in obedience trials, I did take Chillie to obedience class and continued with the training even after the class was finished.
She now has a nice repertoire of obedience commands and other assorted tricks, but it took a great deal of consistent and patient training to motivate her.
How are they with children?
Dachshunds can be very good with children, provided they are socialized properly when they are puppies. I often let mine play with the children in the neighborhood, including babies, when I first got her (I still do), and I believe, at least in part, this made her very good and tolerant of children of all ages. Still, no matter how good any animal is with children, you should never leave them unsupervised.
Do they bark a lot? What do they sound like?
Once they find their voice (at about 18 months), they have barks that sound like they come from much bigger dogs, making them good watch dogs – not guard dogs (which will actually attack) but watchdogs, which only make a lot of noise.
Do they have any funny habits?
One peculiar thing they do is to roll around in smelly things when they encounter them. This is due to their hunting instinct. While doing this, they are trying to “lose their scent” so that their prey cannot smell them. Chillie tries to do this, but I’m usually pretty quick to detect when she’s about to do it, and I put an end to it rather quickly. (Whenever she gets too interested in something, I know there’s potential trouble!)
Another carry-over from their hunting days is that they love to dig. Although this trait is usually seen outdoors, it also follows them into the house, where they like to tunnel through blankets until they get it “just right.”
Tell me, do they shed, are they clean, and do they smell?
They are medium shedders, relatively clean, and they have little or no doggy odor. They don’t need to be bathed often (less than once a month, unless, of course, they’ve gotten into something, which they’re known to do).
How much exercise do they need?
They require a modest amount of exercise. Two walks of moderate distance (each about 1/2 mile) a day should be pretty good. More if you’re so inclined. They’re a long-lived breed, which can live up to 16 years or more with proper care.
Because they are such social creatures, they don’t do well as outdoor dogs – they need to be with their humans.
Are there any other Dachshund resources on the net?
There are many resources on the net, and they frequently change. I would recommend doing a search on Dachshunds using your favorite search engine. One resource that I’m quite fond of is the Dodger List, which is a great place to learn about disc problems, and to find a ramp for your Dachshund. The Dachshund Club or America is also a useful site to look at for additional information.
It sounds like a Dachshund is the dog for me. Where can I get one?
If you decide that a Dachshund is the breed for you, you have several options. If you want to buy from a breeder, then please only buy from a reputable breeder (which you might be able to locate by contacting the Dachshund Club of America), where you can talk to the breeder, learn more about the breed, and meet the parents of the puppies.
A good breeder will ask as many questions of you, as you should of him or her. Being such a popular breed, I’m sure there are breeders who are more interested in making money than breeding well-tempered, healthy dogs.
By asking lots of questions of a potential breeder, you can weed out the bad ones from the good ones. Better yet, consider saving a dog by adopting from a local Dachshund rescue league, or rescuing a Dachshund from a local animal shelter.
There are many terrific regional rescue organizations (too many to list), but a couple of national ones are Coast to Coast Dachshund Rescue and Dachshund Rescue of North America. With proper care, socialization, and training, they can be wonderful companions for many, many years.
Further reading: Dachshund mixes
- Chiweenie: Chihuahua and Dachshund mix