The Hovawart as a breed is still fairly young, although the name has its origin in the Middle High German word “hovewart”, which means “watchman of the yard or farm”.
The “hovewart” is mentioned in writings from the 13th century. It is described as a “dog which is guarding someone’s homes or farms”, and its appearance is described as “big, robust, and strong”. Very likely it was bred at that time in quite large numbers with individual dogs of relatively similar appearance. It was a valuable dog, and stealing it was strictly punished. In addition to paying a high fine, the thief had to supply a comparable substitute. It is believed that the “hovewart” was esteemed and useful when the basis of society was agricultural and rural. Other breeds became more popular with the advent of industrial and urban life.
Breeding of the Hovawart actually began in 1922 when some breeders in Thale of the German Harz Mountains founded a Hovawart Club with the name Hovawart-Verein für Deutsche Schutzhunde e.V., Sitz Thale. Their aim was to save them by reconstructing the old “hovewart” type of dog. They searched for and found some in remote areas of the Harz and Odenwald. It was necessary to cross-breed them with German Shepherd Dogs, Newfoundlands, Kuvaszs, and Leonbergers to regenerate the breed. The Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) officially recognized the Hovawart as a breed in 1937.
The circumstances of World War II threatened the breed again. It was difficult to keep and sustain dogs. Various groups of breeders tried to revive the breed with the reduced number of dogs that remained after the War. In 1948 the Rassezuchtverein für Hovawart-Hunde e.V. (RZV) was founded from some of these groups in the Federal Republic of Germany and became a member of the Verband für das deutsche Hundewesen (VDH), the German Kennel Club.
The Hovawart is a powerful, medium sized, slightly elongated, long-hared breed with an average life span of 12 years. Males range in size from 63 to 70 cm (24.8” to 27.6”) and bitches ranges from 58 to 65 cam (22.8” to 25.6”). There are 3 approved colorings. About 60% of Hovawarts are black and tan, 30% are blond, and 10% are totally black. The difference between the sexes is clearly recognizable, specially in the shape of the head and the build of the body.
Hovawarts have a protective instinct and even disposition. They are kind, self-confident, dignified, intuitive, and discerning. They are alert and highly intelligent with medium temperament. They can be willful and dominant toward other dogs and are frequently distrustful of strangers.
Since 1965 in the RZV and 1968 in the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany), breeding has been strongly influenced by the fight against hip dysplasia (HD). The effort has proven to be very successful: the number of Hovawarts with moderate or severe HD is very low compared to other large breeds
For many years, the RZV has used the breed value assessment to help breeders and breed wardens plan matings. This method and the extensive documentation of illnesses and causes of death of individual dogs are good tools to estimate the chances and risks of a mating.
Because the Hovawart does not have much undercoat, it does not need much grooming. Apart from the period of molting, an occasional brushing will suffice.
What it does need is exercise and meaningful training. Merely giving your Hovawart access to your backyard is not enough. It needs at least a one-hour walk, plus 3 or 4 shorter walks to do “its business” daily. Activities, such as bicycling, in-line skating, or running, are perfect for your Hovawart to accompany you.
Playing with it every day is a perfect way to build a stable and trustful relationship between you and your dog. The very famous cynologist, Eberhard Trumler, studied the behavior of dogs intensively. He once said: “A dog that is not allowed to work becomes deadened, wastes away, and is a pitiable creature.”
The Hovawart is a family dog. It develops a strong bond to its “pack” and must be a part of the family life. It needs to bond closely with the owner/family. If it has been well integrated into the family, it does not mind spending the occasional hour in a kennel.
The Hovawart is basically very tolerant towards children, although this depends of course on its experiences with them and how it was raised. Also, children must learn how to behave towards dogs. They must be told about how a dog interprets interaction and how it reacts towards the surrounding environment and gestures. It is never advisable to leave children and dogs unsupervised. Certain ways of dealing with a conflict from a dog’s point of view may not be meant to harm the child, but may have severe consequences nonetheless. This applies to all dogs breeds – big or small. Providing ongoing guidance for the dog and child is essential to prevent a tragic accident as their relationship develops.
If you follow these basic rules, children and their Hovawart will become best friends.
Further outstanding characteristics of our Hovawart are creativity and persistence when it comes to pursuing independently its aims and ideas in life. The Hovawart needs to have a “job”. After all, the owner must remember constantly, and respect patiently and sensitively, the unique heritiage that Hovawart made decisions and worked alone for centuries to watch and guard property. This is not a matter of obstinate stubbornness, but intelligent thinking. It is up to the Hovawart owner to be more alert, intentional, directive, and consistent than his dog. The Hovawart needs a leader it can trust. The Hovawart does not respond positively at all to harsh methods of training; it is much more important to create and sustain the fundamental trust that it wants to feel toward its pack leader.
It is important to note that the Hovawart tends to test from time to time who is the real boss. Never compromise. Also, refrain from anti-authoritarian methods because they do not work with dogs.
Puppy to Adulthood
Patience is required to raise a Hovawart puppy because it matures very slowly, both mentally and physically, in comparison to other breeds. It takes 3 to 4 years until your Hovawart companion is fully matured and considered an adult dog. Some dogs take 3.5 years to develop a perfect coat. Markings take time to develop, too. Positive reinforcement is essential for successful training and obedience work. Because the Hovawart has been bred for centuries to think and work independently, there are 2 important training considerations. Consistency is needed every day from day one. Also, the Hovawart is not as eager to please as any other working dog breeds because it is confident to work independently. It is important to realize that the Hovawart will enjoy working with you and not for you.
Training in dogsport is a superb way to grow with your Hovawart. It does not matter whether you compete formally. The Hovawart is an all-round talent. There is no showline or working line. The excellent nose makes it suitable for Tracking. Due to its guarding instinct and judicious intelligence it loves Schutzhund. A Hovawart stands ready to be your partner in Obedience, Rally Obedience, Agility, or even Fly-Ball. The sensitive and discerning nature can be disposed to Therapy work. The Hovawart will be very happy to work and use its intelligence when you give it the opportunity to show its abilities as a working dog. Moreover, training your dog is great opportunity to learn to understand it. Just going for walks together will not give you the same insight. Plus, you will receive plenty compliments in every day life from people for having such a well-behaved dog when people see the two of you as such harmonious partners.