Popular Dogs: Dachshunds
This hound is small in stature but big in personality.
You may think of them as wiener dogs. You may laugh at their comical, long-bodied shapes. You may even wonder just how much of a real dog this short-legged creature can be. But make no mistake: A big dog’s heart beats in the little Dachshund’s body, and a big dog’s soul permeates it. Here are 10 things you need to know about the temperament of a typical Dachshund.
1. He Can Be Devious
Look into the big, dark eyes of a Dachshund and you think you see the face of doggie innocence. But don’t let that face fool you. These creatures can be crafty, as my family discovered when we lived with Casey, an unforgettable smooth, miniature Dachshund. Casey loved taking naps on a plush floor pillow in front of our fireplace, but my parents would chase Casey off the pillow whenever they caught him on it. Casey quickly learned to avoid even going near the pillow whenever my parents were around. However, whenever we came home from being out, we’d find a tell-tale dent in the pillow, even though Casey would come out from the kitchen to greet us.
One day, my mother decided to see just when Casey was sneaking naps on the pillow. She went to our front door, opened and closed it, and then hid in a corner of our living room. Just a few seconds later, Casey ambled out of the kitchen and -- because he didn’t see my mother -- headed straight for the pillow and dove onto it. The crafty little guy knew enough to wait until my parents had left the house before ensconcing himself on the pillow, but he hadn’t anticipated my mother’s fake-out.
2. He Lives to Sniff
The Dachshund is a member of the American Kennel Club’s Hound Group, but within that group are two divisions: scent hounds and sight hounds. Sight hounds (sometimes called gaze hounds) include Greyhounds, Scottish Deerhounds, Borzois and Salukis -- all breeds that use their superior eyesight to track their prey. Scent hounds, however, include Beagles, Bassett Hounds, Bloodhounds and Dachshunds; they all work primarily with their supremely sensitive noses.
The Dachshund’s superior sniffer means that he can find the most minute crumb that you may have dropped on the floor, and will have no trouble finding the tennis ball that you have so carefully stashed under the furniture as part of the find-the-toy game that you (hopefully) play with him. But that awesome sense of smell may also contribute to this breed’s reputation for being more challenging to housetrain than others. That’s not because the Dachshund is incapable of learning where to potty, but because combined, human failure and this dog’s olfactory superiority can trip up his efforts to become a housetraining ace.
Human failure figures in when a Dachshund’s person fails to completely clean up not only the scene, but also the scent of a Dachshund potty accident. The dog’s sense of smell can detect even the faintest residue of urine or feces, even if his person can’t see or smell it.
The solution here is to exercise diligence in housetraining your Dachshund, particularly if he’s a mini. While he’s learning housetraining basics, watch him closely while he’s out and about, and confine him to his crate when you can’t watch him. And if, despite your diligence, he has an accident, clean it up with a product that’s designed to deal with pet stains and odor. No matter how small the puddle or pile is, cleaning up completely is crucial if your short-legged dog is to learn proper potty protocol.
3. He’s Often Vocal
Because your Dachshund is a hound, he is likely to be very vocal. Those who created this breed wanted their dogs to be vocal; they trained them to alert their people to prey by barking.
So yes, your Dachshund is likely to be a barker. He will also yodel and may even howl. I remember taking care of my brother and sister-in-law’s dog, a smooth standard Dachshund named Jackson, while they were on their honeymoon. One evening, when going upstairs for bed, I saw Jackson seated in a low light next to our bedroom door. Before he realized I was approaching, he lifted his snout into the air and began to howl. Our house was filled with Dachshund song -- and what a mournful song it was.
A black-and-tan Dachshund who lives around the corner from me will bark insistently at me and my dog if we walk by his home -- even if we cross the street so that we aren’t near what might reasonably be considered to be his turf. No matter: The little guy seems to tell us in no uncertain terms that we are not welcome on his street.
That said, Dachshunds are more likely to be constant barkers than constant howlers. This behavior can quickly become annoying, not only for you but also for your neighbors -- especially if those neighbors’ homes are in close proximity to yours. A good way to short-circuit this behavior is to first teach your dog to bark when you tell him to, and then teach him to be quiet when you tell him to. In short, you turn his barking on and off. Another strategy is to teach him an incompatible behavior; for example, have him lie down whenever he starts to bark. Dogs of any breed rarely bark when lying down.
4. He Wants to Know Everything
The Dachshund does not take a laissez-faire attitude toward life. On the contrary: This little dog is intensely curious about the world around him and insists on knowing what his people are doing, or at least where they are. He’s also eager to contribute his skills to any and all family enterprises. For example, each of the four Dachshunds my parents and brother have lived with insisted on helping family members open presents on Christmas morning. They always approached this endeavor with great intensity.
The Dachshund’s history makes such curiosity understandable. A dog who’s trailing prey needs to be very aware of the world around him, and to work happily in partnership with a person. The Christmas-present-opening Dachshunds my parents and brother lived with were simply employing their instincts in a manner they thought would be useful to their families.
5. He’s Got the Heart of a Lion
How would you feel if your job was to dig into a burrow, pursue an animal with long, sharp claws that was almost as big as you are, and then corner that animal until your human hunting partner could catch up and bag your quarry? That’s the job the Dachshund was bred to do, and in performing that job, the breed developed a reputation for having a lion’s heart in a little dog’s body. Dachshunds were also known to trail wild boar, foxes and rabbits. As Dachshund breed judge Jane Fowler of Laurel, Del., notes, the Dachshund is "courageous to the point of valor.”
Today’s Dachshund retains the hunting ethos of his forebears. Breeder Kitty Johnson of Richmond, Va., warns not to keep rabbits as pets if you plan to share your life with a Dachshund. And there was nothing our family Dachshund, Casey, liked to do more than to race up the hill in our backyard in pursuit of an errant squirrel or rabbit. He never caught one -- but a couple of times he came pretty close.
6. He Never Gives Up
A successful hunter needs more than courage; he also needs tenacity if he is to succeed in overtaking his quarry. In the Dachshund’s case, holding a badger at bay until the hunter catches up to bag him requires a refusal to back down from an objective -- a quality that this dog has in spades. He simply never gives up on whatever activity he is undertaking. This insistence on seeing things through to the end can be fun to watch, but also can be infuriating.
Shawn Nies, a regional chair of the Dachshund Club of America who lives in Hazelwood, Mo., loves the tenacity her dogs show. "Especially when they’re faced with a problem,” she says, "like how to get into the bag of dog food or how to catch the mouse that built his nest in the gutter downspouts on my house. But ironically, that tenacity can also be a pain in the neck. I no longer have one of the downspouts on my house because the dogs just had to get to that mouse.”
7. He Loooves to Play
For all his courage, tenacity and work ethic, the Dachshund is by no means an all-work-no-play kind of a dog. Quite the contrary: This dog loves to romp and frolic with his people. Johnson recalls that her first Dachshund, a black-and-tan standard named Lydia, relished playing never-ending games of fetch with anyone, including toddlers.
"Playing with tennis balls was her passion,” Johnson recalls. "My 2-year-old son would throw the ball forever and she would fetch it forever. She was like a built-in toy that amused him, for hours on end.” Chances are, Lydia was pretty amused, too.
Casey, my family’s Dachsie, was always up for a modified game of football. My brother would place Casey a few feet behind him, tell him to stay, and then bend over ready to snap a toy doggie football backward between his legs. He’d call a few words and numbers, snap the ball and Casey would catch it in his mouth. At that point, Casey would run straight ahead past my brother to a chair that my brother had designated as the goal post. Once Casey passed that chair, my brother would call, "Touchdown!” Casey would then turn around and saunter triumphantly back to my brother, still carrying the football in his mouth. I’m sure that if Casey could have spiked that football, he would have.
8. He Knows Who He Is
A Dachshund often develops a strong bond with his family, but that doesn’t mean he’ll always be a lap-dog. This dog is independent, with a mind of his own, and a clear sense of who he is -- and he doesn’t hesitate to demonstrate that nature, even to his beloved inner circle.
Casey was a case in point. In addition to appreciating the comforts of a plush floor pillow, he also enjoyed lounging on the sofa that graced the TV room. One evening, when he was stretched out in full glory on that sofa and I was sitting next to him, my mother came downstairs to watch television with me. She told Casey -- who was not supposed to be on the sofa in the first place -- to scoot. He complied, but made his feelings about being evicted known in a memorable fashion. As he hopped off the sofa, he passed a supremely stinky gaseous emission. My mother and I groaned audibly at the odor that wafted toward our noses, but Casey didn’t pause. He simply trotted out of the room and up the stairs without a backward glance.
This kind of behavior doesn’t surprise Nies, who points out that a dog with such a temperament may not always take to being schooled in the art of living with human beings, particularly if such schooling involves repetition.
"It can be quite a challenge to train such a dog,” Nies says. "This is not the breed to have if you want a dog who will blindly do the same training skill 100 times. The Dachshund will look at you as if to say, ‘Hey, I figured this out on the second try. What is wrong with you?’”
9. He’s Multi-talented
Although the Dachshund was originally bred to hunt badgers, he can lend his talents to many other pursuits. He is a master of the earthdog events offered by the American Kennel Club (much the way Border Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs are masters of agility trials). In an earthdog test, a dog searches for a rat or woodchuck that has been placed in a burrow. The rat or woodchuck is in a cage, is well cared for, and cannot be harmed by the dog. For information on earthdog events, check out the AKC website at www.akc.org/events/earthdog
Earthdog events aren’t the only activities in which Dachshunds can excel. Their inbred instincts make them naturals for other events, such as tracking tests and field trials, both of which are offered by the AKC. Info on tracking tests can be found at www.akc.org/events/tracking. To learn about field trials, head over to www.akc.org/events/field_trials/dachshunds.
10. He’s a Unique Individual
For all we may talk about a typical Dachshund temperament, the fact remains that this breed displays a wide range of behaviors. One reason may be that different varieties have somewhat differing personalities. The smooth Dachshund was developed first, and appears to retain the classic independent, tenacious, crafty personality that many people expect of this breed. By contrast, longhaired Dachshunds are often said to be gentler, more laid-back and less independent than the smooths. Finally, the wirehaired variety -- which may well have developed from terriers -- is often characterized as having a more terrier-like personality than the other two varieties. A typical wirehaired Dachshund is likely to have a brasher, bolder, fierier personality than his smooth or longhaired counterparts.
But even within these generalizations there is room for considerable variation in temperament. Although my family’s first Dachshund, the aforementioned Casey, was crafty, interested in hunting, and quite independent, our second Dachshund couldn’t have been more different. Lola was a black-and-tan miniature Dachshund who loved being a lap-dog -- she often served that function for the women who were members of my mother’s bridge club -- and wanted nothing more than to be with her people. Unlike Casey, Lola wouldn’t have dreamed of sneaking a snooze on a forbidden floor pillow or sofa.
But that’s not to say Lola wasn’t independent; her independence simply exhibited itself differently than was the case with Casey. Lola, unlike Casey, loved to play with toys all by herself. My mom recalls seeing Lola repeatedly toss a ball or bop it with her nose, then run to where she’d thrown it and pounce on it, as though it were prey.
And while certain aspects of the Dachshund’s temperament appear to be ingrained, in this breed’s nature-nurture seesaw, the nurture side of the balance is important. In other words, the people who live with a Dachshund can have considerable influence on that dog’s temperament. "I think that temperament is really a result of how your dog is raised and socialized,” Fowler says. "Raise him with structure and kindness, and he should turn out to be a loving and faithful companion.”
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