9 Spunky Facts About Dachshunds


Here’s the lowdown on everyone’s favorite vertically challenged dog. 

1. Dachshunds are fierce.

The little dogs were bred 300 years ago in Germany to hunt badgers—their name literally means “badger hound” (dachs means badger; hund means dog). Their short legs allow them to enter badger dens, and their fierce gusto gives them the courage to take on the 15-pound mammals.

2. They come in a wide variety of sizes and colors.

Originally all dachshunds were black and tan, but today, they sport a variety of looks. According to the American Kennel Club, dachshunds come in 12 standard colors and exhibit three different kinds of markings; some interesting colors include blue and tan, cream, and wild boar, a mixture of brown and gold. Their coats can be smooth, long, or wire-haired. They come in two sizes: standard and miniature. With so many options, dachshunds are the canine version of snowflakes.

3. Anti-Germany hysteria led to a temporary name change.

Before there were freedom fries, there was the freedom pup. Thanks to their German heritage, during World War I dachshunds were often used to portray Germany in propaganda. Although often humorous, these ads led to a widespread contempt for the breed. The American Kennel Club tried to rebrand the breed by renaming them “badger dogs,” while others referred to them as “liberty pups.”

Unfortunately, this didn’t do much to help the breed’s wartime image. Kaiser Wilhelm II was known for his love of doxies and actually had his five pets buried at the Huis Doorn park. Two of his poorly behaved dachshunds, Wadl and Hexl, had previously made headlines after attacking Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s prized golden pheasants during a visit.

4. The Nazis claimed they taught one to speak.

If World War I was tough on dachshunds, what came next was just weird. Nazi scientists boasted that they successfully taught the dogs to speak, read, spell, and even communicate telepathically. Germans believed that dogs were nearly as intelligent as humans, so they set up a special program called Hundesprechschule Asra to tap into that asset. Some of the outlandish feats claimed by the program included a dog that could say “Mein Fuhrer” and another that could write poetry.

Kurwenal was a dachshund that could “speak” with different numbers of barks for different letters—sort of like a canine telegraph. According to Jan Bondeson's book, Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities, the dog even had his own biographer detailing the pup's daily life. He reportedly liked pink roses, illustrated zoology books, and attractive women. When asked if he ever wanted to be a father, the bachelor declared, “No!” Many were impressed with the fat little dog’s routine, but others suspected that he was receiving cues from his owners.

Right before he passed away, Kurwenal poetically barked, “I am not afraid of dying; dogs have souls and they are like the souls of men." The dachshund was buried in the garden of his owner’s home.

5. They’ve made a comeback.

Despite this rocky period, the resilient breed weathered two World Wars and has been welcomed back into the hearts of Americans thanks to some serious PR work. Today, dachshunds are the 11th most popular breed in America.

6. The first Olympic mascot was a dachshund.

Waldi the dachshund was born during the 1972 Munich games’ Organizing Committee’s Christmas party in 1969. Partygoers were given crayons and modeling clay to come up with a suitable mascot. Dachshunds are known for their athleticism and courage, so the colorful dog seemed like the perfect face for the Olympics.

7. Artists love dachshunds.

Famous artists have seemed to be drawn to the little dogs. Andy Warhol would often bring his doxie to interviews and let the dog “answer” the questions he didn’t like. When Picasso met David Douglas Duncan’s dachshund, Lump, in 1957, it was love at first sight. Their relationship was chronicled in Duncan’s Picasso and Lump: A Dachshund's Odyssey.

David Hockney was another dachshund aficionado. His two dogs, Stanley and Boodgie, were featured in 45 oil paintings and a whole book. The Far Side creator Gary Larson even used the dogs for a parody book called Wiener Dog Art—a whole collection of classic art pieces with dachshunds added in for comedic effect.

8. The hot dog was named after the dog.

The history of hot dogs is murky at best, but some historians believe that they were first known as dachshund sausages, after the similarly shaped dogs, which were favorite companions of German butchers. Some suggest that the name was changed after one cartoonist had trouble spelling “dachshund” and shortened it. Unfortunately, no one can find the comic, so the theory has been dismissed as apocryphal. The earliest written record of the phrase "hot dog" can be traced to an 1895 issue of the Yale Record about a lunch cart serving hot dogs to hungry students.

9. A dachshund is Britain’s first cloned dog.

After winning a contest, dog owner Rebecca Smith from Battersea had her 12 year old dachshund, Winnie, cloned. Experts in South Korea cared for the puppy for five months before sending her home to Smith. Despite the difference in age, the resemblance is striking; they both have a crooked tail and the same markings. The cloned dogs hit it off, and sleep in the same bed every night. Remarkably, the new puppy—dubbed Mini-Winnie—is in excellent health and is expected to live a long life.

Images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated. 

Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London

Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.


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