German Hovawart

Often Confused with the Affectionate Golden Retriever, This Intelligent Guard Dog is Reserved with Strangers

This incredible watchdog shows devoted loyalty to its immediate family but can be reserved toward strangers – actually, a very good trait for a watchdog. Incredibly courageous and very smart, these working dogs are one of the oldest breeds in history. The dogs' original primary purpose was to be "guardians of the property," and in fact the name "Hovawart" translates to "estate guard dog" – a very apt name indeed. Today, the German Hovawart has become an excellent pet as well as superb guard dog who will need lots of activity; strict, consistent training; and above all, plenty of love and companionship.


The Hovawart dog is an ancient breed, dating back to at least the year 1210, when Slavic invaders attacked the German castle, Ordensritterburg. The Slavics were successful in their attack, slaughtering most of the targeted inhabitants. However, a Hovawart dog saved the infant son of the Lord who lived in the castle. Despite being gravely wounded itself, the dog dragged the baby out of the castle and saved its life. That baby, a boy, grew up to be Eike von Repkow, a legend in German law. He in fact published the oldest Code of Law to survive from medieval times. A text of the law that was published in 1274 based upon that Code of Law, The Schwabenspiegel, states that the perpetrator must pay restitution for the Hovawart dog if it is killed or stolen, to provide for a replacement. This is one primary indicator of the historic value of this dog!

In 1473, the Hovawart was listed as one of the "Five Noble Breeds" by Heinrich Mynsinger, and was highly praised as a hunting dog. By the beginning of the 20th century, however, the Hovawart's popularity began to decline, with the German Shepherd becoming one of the dogs of choice as "replacement" for the Hovawart. Even with that, however, several enthusiasts took it upon themselves to try to resurrect and save the breed, most predominantly zoologist Kurt Konig. Konig is considered the founder of the modern Hovawart. He looked for the dogs based on their original descriptions in Germany, crossing the Hovawart or Hovawart-like dogs he found with other types like the Leonberger; Bernese Mountain dogs; African Hunting Dogs; German Shepherds; Newfoundlands; and a breed called the Kuvacz. The first puppies of this new, modern Hovawart breed were registered in Germany in 1922. Fifteen years later, in 1937, the German Kennel Club officially recognized the Hovawart dog.

The Second World War threatened the breed with extinction again. Because of its ability to work in a combat zone, the Hovawart was very valuable to German military but many of the existing dogs were killed during the war. Since the breeding programs had stopped, the dogs’ numbers dwindled drastically. However, many supporters still appreciated the Hovawart’s outstanding value. In 1947, "Rassezuchtverein für Hovawart-Hunde Coburg," a new Hovawart club, was formed by Otto Schramm and some of his colleagues. In 1964, the German Kennel Club recognized the Hovawart as a working breed. Today, the American Kennel Club has accepted the Hovawart as part of its Foundation Stock Service, a first step to eventual full recognition.


The Hovawart can actually look like the Golden Retriever if the color of fur is correct (blonde), and stands between 22 and 29 inches at the shoulder, weighing between 65 and 99 pounds. In addition to a solid blonde color, common colors for the Hovawart's coat are also black, and black and gold. With a powerful, broad head, black nose with well-defined stop, triangular-shaped drop ears, and dark to medium-brown eyes, this loving canine companion has a lush, dense, slightly wavy coat with "feathers" or longer hairs on the back of the legs and chest, underneath the tail, and on the belly.


This dog will be extremely affectionate and absolutely obedient as long as you give it proper boundaries and training. However, unlike the Golden Retriever with which this dog is commonly confused, it will not generally be affectionate toward strangers. In fact, the Hovawart is slightly reserved with outsiders, perfect for the guard dog duties for which it has been bred. This intelligent dog will use its deep bark judiciously, only when important to alert you to danger. Never prone to rambunctious or disobedient behavior, this dog responds positively to ample daily exercise and consistently-delivered training.

As with many smart dogs, Hovawart puppies will try to dominate if you do not establish yourself as the "alpha dog" leader while the dog is young. Once this dog respects your authority, it will obey your commands while serving as your good-natured protector above all else. If you show your pet that a stranger is welcome, the dog will accept the person as a friend, with the same warmth and affection usually only reserved for you. This dog is so pleasant and obedient that you can trust it with small children without worry.

Proper Environment

Given that this breed is characterized by an intelligent work ethic, you will need to provide a lot of mental and physical stimulation at all times, in order to keep this dog occupied and fulfilled. Excellent as rescue dogs, watchdogs, tracking dogs, and for military defense, they prefer to live in a cool climate where they can sleep outdoors. Some space to run around outdoors is also recommended. Long walks every day are absolutely necessary, with obedience training an important component. (Teach your dog to heel beside you on the leash, not in front of or behind you, to establish your “alpha-dog” status). Apartment living is not suitable for this very active breed, but inclusion in a large family with plenty of diverse activity is the perfect environment.


For the most part, this dog is extremely healthy with a lifespan of about 10 to 14 years, a very long time for a large dog. Still most popular in European countries, most especially Germany, European lines of this breed can be prone to underactive thyroid difficulties and to hip dysplasia.


The Hovawart is very easy to groom, with a coat that simply needs to be brushed or combed on a daily basis to deter tangles. The dog sheds an average amount, and bathing is only rarely necessary.

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