A superb all-around working dog, the Hovawart was developed in the early twentieth century in Germany’s Harz region. With a goal of recreating the long-haired working farm dogs of Northern Germany, Kurt König cross-bred German Shepherd Dogs, Leonbergers, Newfoundlands, and other working dogs with general farm dogs of the type he sought to reproduce as its own breed.
The name “Hovawart” comes from Middle High German (Hof = court or yard and Wart or Wächter = watcher) and is mentioned in lawbooks from the Middle Ages. But the breed, like many pure breeds, is relatively new. The first official studbook entries for the Hovawart were recorded in 1922—making this year the Hovawart’s official 100th Anniversary. In fact, a large celebration was held this past June near Fulda [Hesse, Germany] with over 400 Hovawarts in competition.
Though very rare in North America, the breed is well-known in its native country of Germany as well as throughout western, central, and northern Europe. The medium-sized, long-haired dog can be found in three colors: Black and Tan, Blonde, and Black. The males are between 24 inches and 27 inches at the withers, while the females are between 22.5 and 25.5 inches in height. Beyond the height, the head size and body structure are markedly different between the sexes.
Since the start of the breed, great importance has been placed on the health of the dog and uniformity across borders. Instances of hip dysplasia, for example, are very low in the Hovawart, as are reports of cancer. All reputable breeders and breed clubs work hard to maintain these standards, and detailed records are maintained in order limit the passing of undesirable health issues between generations. National Hovawart breed clubs meet regularly to discuss the health of the breed and develop plans for the continued health of the Hovawart.
The breed’s lifespan has historically been between 10 and 14 years, though this seems to be increasing, perhaps due to better diet and the changing ways that humans treat their pets. But the ongoing efforts to limit reproduction by unhealthy dogs, eliminating nearly all inbreeding, and increased understanding of the dogs’ genetics are certainly some of the reasons why we can say this breed has remained so healthy.
As a working dog, the Hovawart requires a job to do. Luckily, they seem to like almost any activity. Competitive Obedience, IGP, Tracking and Mantrailing, or Therapy, the active owner is certain to find the right job for her Hovawart. But it is necessary to do something. These dogs cannot sit around the house for too long. The breed is independent and not particularly interested in pleasing its owner, though it does respond to a partner. Some may say they are stubborn, but headstrong may be the better word. They are very protective of their home and family, and can be quite standoffish to strangers until they understand that their owner is not concerned.
Hovawarts can be good with the little ones they know well, but like all dogs and children, they should be closely supervised when around one another. The Hovawart’s size, bark, and protective nature may be traits that some children (and adults) are not used to. We do not recommend the breed to first-time dog owners or those without the commitment to work with their new family member.
While a few Hovawarts have certainly been in North America for decades, the Hovawart Club of North America got its start in the 1990s when some very nice, but poorly bred and raised, Hovawarts were found in need of rescue. While those saved dogs were eliminated from any breeding stock, their new owners knew that they had a breed worth developing. Beginning with imported dogs from Germany, and then France, the first breeders in the US and Canada began a club and a program to responsibly develop the Hovawart in North America.
The HCNA has maintained extremely close ties to the largest Hovawart breed club in Germany, and we regularly invite highly trained specialty judges to the US, typically twice a year, to evaluate our dogs and assist in the breeding selection. With these judges we also have created a breeding suitability test (or temperament test).
This evaluation, separate from a conformation evaluation, tests an individual dog’s ability to accept and handle increasingly stressful situations and still rebound quickly. On a preset course, the dog will encounter strange noises, visual surprises, and even strange people. The dog cannot be too scared or so aggressive that it cannot be calmed down. And as these encounters and experiences accumulate, the dog must still be willing to engage with subsequent tests. That is, the stress must be handled by the working dog, and it cannot merely avoid uncomfortable experiences. This test has been developed specifically for the breed with the assistance of the club’s associates in Germany and with a canine behaviorist. Before a dog may be bred within our club, it must pass this test. Certainly, our insistence on proper conformation and behavior limits the number of litters we have annually. But having proper Hovawarts is our goal.
Through our own practices, and with the support of some European clubs, our club was admitted in 2009 to the International Hovawart Federation, a group of 16 national Hovawart breed clubs. This federation works to maintain communication across borders and keep the standard for the Hovawart the same whether it is from Italy, Germany, Canada, or the US. As it has become easier for individual buyers and sellers to find each other on social media, it has become even more important for these breed clubs to maintain communication and exchange information to help protect the breed.
The HCNA is also the official Hovawart club within the AKC. The breed is a member of the Foundation Stock Service, and as our numbers and registrations grow, the breed may move to AKC’s Miscellaneous Class. Given the small number of dogs, full recognition is far down the line. We suspect that there might be up to 500 dogs in Canada and the US, but we are not wholly certain of that number. But interest continues to increase as does the number of responsibly bred litters in both countries.
The Hovawart population in the US will certainly continue to grow, and it is the aim of the Hovawart Club of North America to responsibly maintain this growth through controlled breeding, the importation of strong stock and responsibly cross-border breeding, and the continued development of our temperament test. This will ensure the Hovawart remains not just beautiful, but healthy and strong, with a well-balanced conformation and a temperament suitable for this working dog.