Few dogs in the history of man have been subjected to as much ridicule and invective as the German dachshund or "badger dog." Long in the trunk and low-slung on bent legs, these former hunting dogs of Austrian nobility have always suffered at the hands of the so-called humorists, particularly cartoonists who made them in wartime the symbol of enemy Germany. One look at a dachshund's peculiar shape and most people start laughing without quite knowing why. Often referred to as the "sausage dog," the dachshund has been called "half a dog high and a dog and a half long" or, alternatively, "the dog that is sold by the yard." It makes an ideal family dog, claims another source, "because all the family can pet it at the same time."
In spite of—or perhaps because of—its odd appearance, more and more people are wanting to pet it all the time. The breed is, in fact, enjoying an unprecedented boom in popularity, which breeders confess far exceeds anything they anticipated. There are many reasons for the dachshunds' popularity other than its lambent charm; they are little or no trouble to keep, are economical to feed, do not need their ears cropped or tails docked, are exceptionally clean and thrive on apartment living.
First introduced to America in the late '70s and registered by the American Kennel Club in 1885, dachshunds hit their all-time low in popularity during World War I when, along with everything else associated with Teutonic origin, they were suspected of treason or at least dangerous thoughts. The public disapproval of the breed reached such intensity that, along with sauerkraut (which overnight became "liberty cabbage"), the dachshund officially changed its name, calling itself "badger dog" for a few years.
USED AS WAR DOGS
A week after World War II was declared, the Dachshund Club of America—national association of dachshund owners—received reports that dachshunds were being stoned in the streets and kicked and that many were having tin cans tied to their tails. Determined that their breed should not again suffer as it had during the first world war, the breeders' club successfully carried on a vigorous public relations campaign directed at editors and cartoonists in particular. Their efforts were aided considerably by such dachshunds as John Chaff's Zep v Waldbach which, as a war dog in the Italian and North African campaigns, reached hero status after uncovering, along with another dachshund, over 600 enemy mines. The popularity of the breed was kept up throughout the hostilities and at war's end the dachshund began its climb to its present eminence. There are now about 100,000 registered dachshunds in the U.S. and they rank fifth in registration after beagles, boxers, cockers and Chihuahuas. In 1926, by comparison, there were only 23 dachshunds registered in this country.
The origin of the dachshund is difficult to trace. The historical facts of the breed's development are no longer separable from the background of myth in which they are imbedded. Dachshund lovers, with more zeal than accuracy, variously claim that their dogs' ancestors turned the spit in England, were the pets of ancient Egypt's pharaohs, were cousins to the Pekingese owned by Chinese royalty, were hunters in France and Belgium and were even found as mummified remains of the Inca civilization.
Actually, the earliest known records of dogs hunting badgers are contained in woodcuts published in 1560, and the German name Dachshund (pronounced "doxhoont") was being used as early as 1681. According to Laurence Horswell, a dachshund authority, "the real origin of the breed is embraced in the 300 years (1550-1850) during which German foresters and gamekeepers, along with landowning noblemen, sought to produce a badger dog capable of fighting his prey underground."
The primary requirements were short legs and a comparatively slender body so that the dog could maneuver in tight burrows underground. Since the air supply was limited, chests and lungs had to be well developed in length, too. Other characteristics were acquired as selective breeding continued. A long neck and tapered muzzle gave almost rapierlike efficiency to the dog's head, and an elastic skin which was loose enough to stretch and slip when going through tight spots of the burrow but which would snap back into place and leave no grab-holds for the adversary completed the functional attributes of the good badger dog.
All these qualities are still combined in the dachshunds of today; and, although few are used for their original purpose of hunting badgers, they are judged in show competition against a standard based on the original functional purpose of the breed.
Although it is the short-haired, or smooth, variety of dachshund which is best known in the U.S.—estimated at 80% of the breed—there are two other varieties currently recognized by the American Kennel Club, the longhaired and the wire-haired dachshund. The long-haired variety has existed since earliest times and is believed by some to be either a distinct species of its own or a sub-variety of the smooth dachshund brought about by a cross with the water spaniel.