Notes on...

How sausage dogs were weaponised in the war

26 February 2022

9:00 AM

26 February 2022

9:00 AM

Short of leg but big on personality, the eccentrically shaped dachshund is one of Britain’s most beloved pets. Originally known as the ‘dachs kriecher’ (badger crawler) or ‘dachs krieger’ (badger warrior), dachshunds as we know them today can be traced back to 15th-century Germany where they were bred primarily for hunting.

With extended, sausage-shaped body, elongated snout and long whippy tail, the scent hound’s ability to flush out badgers and other smaller mammals became a highly prized trait. Sadly, these feisty creatures haven’t always been held in such high regard.

During the first world war, ‘wiener dogs’ featured in anti-German propaganda. Although largely humorous, these poster campaigns led to a widespread disdain for the breed. In an effort to distance ‘dackels’ or ‘teckels’ from their Teutonic heritage the Kennel Club renamed them ‘liberty pups’ but the nomenclature never caught on.

The breed’s reputation took a further hit during the second world war when Nazi scientists, working at the Hundesprechschule Asra institution for performing dogs in Leutenberg, claimed they had trained dachshunds to speak, read, spell and even communicate telepathically. Some of the more outlandish claims included a hound that could say ‘Mein Führer’ and another that could write poetry.

Now firmly back in the nation’s affections, the ‘doxie’ comes in two sizes, standard and miniature, as well as three distinct fur types. The smooth-coated variety has a gruff, surprisingly ferocious bark. Those blessed with wire coats are more playful. The silky, long-haired doxie has a doe-eyed countenance that speaks of a sensitive soul.

You never really ‘own’ a dachshund but their unwillingness to compromise is more than compensated for by lifelong devotion. The sausage dog is also one of the longest living breeds. Chanel, the oldest on record, died in 2009 aged 21 years and 114 days.

Famous doxie owners include Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall, Clint Eastwood and Her Majesty the Queen. Her oldest dog Candy is half-dachshund, half-corgi — or ‘dorgi’. Artists have been particularly enamoured by the breed; after Jamie Wyeth painted Andy Warhol alongside his dog Archie, he said: ‘He carried that dog everywhere. So he became Andy personified, without the make-up and the wig.’ David Hockney made dozens of intimate portraits of his two short-coated hounds, Stanley and Boodgie. Picasso’s sausage dog Lump was his loyal companion, the two dying only days apart.

For sausage dog devotees, I can heartily recommend a trip to the Dackelmuseum in Bavaria, where former florists Oliver Storz and Seppi Kublbeck have amassed more than 4,500 doxie-themed objects. In America, ‘wiener dog racing’ has become a popular if controversial sport, with the annual Wiener Nationals championship in San Diego attracting large crowds. Londoners in need of a doxie fix should head to Hyde Park for the monthly ‘Sausage Walk’.

Lastly, a tip for dachshund owners planning to host a house party: to avoid injuries underfoot, tie a brightly coloured helium balloon to your dog’s collar. Watch your guests’ faces light up as your balloon dog works the room.

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