Monday 25 June 2012

What's A Hovawart?

The Hovawart is a little-known German dog breed. The name of the breed means "an estate guard dog," which is the original use for the breed. The breed originated in the Black Forest region and was first described in text and paintings in medieval times.

In my latest release, Carried Away, the hero, Dieter von Wolfenberg, owns a Hovawart named Vormund (Guardian). Vormund is one of three dogs in the story, but  he saves Dieter’s life. I chose this breed of dog because my story is set in Germany at the beginning of the 12th century. The plot revolves around the rebellion of the citizens of Cologne against the Holy Roman Emperor, Heinrich V.

Readers of The Montbryce Legacy series will recognize the heroine of this book, Blythe Lacey FitzRam, daughter of Sir Caedmon FitzRam. She appeared as a newborn in A Man of Value. Now she’s all grown up and a lady-in-waiting to Adelaide, daughter of King Henry I of England. Adelaide married the Holy Roman Emperor, Heinrich V and that is how Blythe ends up in Germany!

The Hovawart is a medium dog. Male Hovawarts are 63-73 cm (25"–29") and females 58-65 cm (22.5"–26") at the withers. The weight is approximately 30–45 kg (65–95 pounds). The correct color descriptions are Black, Black and Gold, and Blond. Vormund is black and gold.

The Hovawart is an outstanding watch dog and somewhat reserved towards strangers. They make excellent family dogs as they are totally devoted to their family. They are a working dog breed, and require a consistent and loving yet strict training and meaningful activity throughout their lives.

Statue of Von Repkow
One of the first documented recordings comes from the year 1210 when the German castle at Ordensritterburg was besieged by Slavic invaders. The castle fell and its inhabitants, including the Lord, were slaughtered. However, the Lord's infant son was saved by one of the castle's Hovawarts. In spite of being wounded itself, the dog dragged the tiny child to a neighbouring castle and thus saved the boy's life. This young boy, Eike von Repkow, grew up to become a legendary figure in the history of German law. He later published the Sachsenspiegel, the oldest Code of Law to survive from medieval Germany. Not surprisingly, the Hovawart is mentioned with praise. The Schwabenspiegel, a law text published in 1274 and based on Eike von Repkow's work, lists the Hovawart among the dogs you have to replace and pay restitution for if they are killed or stolen.
By 1473, Heinrich Mynsinger described the Hovawart as one of "The Five Noble Breeds" and among its uses listed that it was useful for tracking the robber and miscreant. This along with references to the Hovawart in German law show that it was a readily identifiable breed and held in similar esteem to that of hunting dogs.

Following the medieval period, the popularity of the Hovawart began to decline. Newer breeds such as the German Shepherd slowly replaced the Hovawart as a guard and working dog until it had almost disappeared by the beginning of the twentieth century. Around 1915 a group of enthusiasts decided to try to save the breed. Predominant in this group was the zoologist Kurt Friedrich König. They started by looking for dogs in the farms of the Black Forest region. König then started a careful breeding program using these dogs and crossed them with Kuvaszok, Newfoundlands, German Shepherds, Leonbergers, a Bernese Mountain Dog and an African Hunting Dog. After much work the group was rewarded in 1922 when the first Hovawart litter was entered into the German Breeding Registry. The enthusiasts continued their work and in 1937 the German Kennel Club officially recognised the Hovawart.

All this work was almost undone with the outbreak of the Second World War. Because of their abilities many Hovawarts were used in the German war effort and perished. By 1945 only a few remained. Enthusiasm for the breed remained and in 1947, Otto Schramm and some fellow enthusiasts in Coburg formed a new club, the "Rassezuchtverein für Hovawart-Hunde Coburg" which is still in existence today. In 1964 the German Kennel Club recognised the Hovawart as the country's seventh working breed and around this time enthusiasm for the breed started to develop in other countries.

The Hovawart does exceptionally well in search and rescue, tracking and working dog activities. The females are generally lighter in build. In training and especially obedience work the trainer must keep positive reinforcement in mind all the time, as this mountain dog is not as eager to please as many other working dog breeds: it always needs some kind of motivation.

The Hovawart works with you and not for you. They have the ability to think and act independently. Their guarding instinct for example does not require any real training; it is inherentsomething they were bred for. The Hovawart may easily become reluctant if training is built only on punishments. The owner of a Hovawart should ideally have previous experience in owning and training a dog and as such the Hovawart is not usually suitable as a first dog.

Carried Away is Book I of The FitzRam Family trilogy.


  1. What an interesting and little-known piece of history--both dog breed and medieval, Anna. I'm going to note this breed, it sounds like a great match for my daughter's family.
    Thanks for the info and a fascinating blog!

    1. Hope it works out for them. My circumstances preclude owning a dog, but I think if I could own one, I'd choose a hovawart.

  2. That was so interesting. I love dogs, but I've never heard of the Hovawart. I can see a similarity in some of the colors to the Bernese Mountain Dog. Hope your new release does well.

  3. Thanks Linda. It was a breed I'd never heard of before, and I wanted to make sure it was authentic to the period and location. Who knew they'd be so appealing!

  4. They are so cute Anna! I've never heard of them before either! So beautiful. Loved your post!

    If you ever see my blog posts, they are all about animals :-) They give us inspiration...don't they!!

  5. Thanks for your comment, Lawna. I agree that adding pets to a story certainly gives it an added something, especially if you give them a significant role.

  6. What an interesting post. I'm a big Rottie lover, but have never heard of this breed. They are gorgeous dogs.The blond looks a lot like my possibly Golden/Pyrenees rescue and that sure describes his personality and over protectiveness. Maybe he needs a DNA test since the shelter I adopted him from knew nothing about his background.

  7. Let me know how that works out, Jezebel. Who knows?