This is Peanut, Jeff and Monika’s number one doxie.
I’m writing about dachshunds this month because my daughter-in-law asked me to. Her idea was to promote a fundraising parade and dog event in Florida called, very cleverly, Dachstoberfest. If you and/or your doxie plan to be in West Palm Beach in late October, you are welcome to participate. (Go to www.dachstoberfest.com for details.) All donations and sponsor and vendor fee proceeds go to Dachshund Rescue of South Florida, of which, more later.
I don’t often choose writing topics by request—truth is, I don’t get a lot of requests—but Monika and Jeff live way down in South Florida so it’s not often that I have a chance to do something useful for them. Besides, we’re talking about dachshunds, the breed that H. L. Mencken once described as “a half-dog high and a dog-and-a-half long.” Who could resist?
Dachshunds are not the first breed that comes to my mind when I think “dog.” The dogs of my childhood were mutts that resembled, respectively, a cocker spaniel, a collie, and a beagle, with an actual Irish setter at one point. In fact, the only dachshunds I know personally belong to Jeff and Monika, who have three of them. If I was going to write about dachshunds, I had a lot to learn.
I found two books quite useful: Dachshunds for Dummies, by Eve Adamson, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dachshunds, by Liz Palika. (Tell yourself, as I did, that the “Complete” in front of “Idiot” actually refers to “Guide.”)
According to some sources, dachshunds originated in 17th-century Germany, where they were bred—with their short legs, flat paws, long noses, and barrel chests—to hunt badgers and other burrowing animals. Hence their name: dachs (German for “badger”) plus hund (“dog”). There’s some controversy as to whether dachshunds should be classified with hounds, since they were bred to use scent for hunting, or with terriers, due to their love of digging. As a result, in the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, the dachshund is actually in its own group, Group 4, also known as “the Dachshund group.”
More important to some of us than the official classification of the breed is the tricky spelling of its name. Because it’s almost impossible to remember to put one “h” in front of the “s” and another one after it, Americans who love this sausage-shaped breed like to call them “doxies.” (That’s my personal theory about the spelling.) They are also called “wiener dogs,” “sausage dogs,” “little hot dogs,” and “hotdog dogs.”
I was surprised to read that improperly trained dachshunds can show signs of “small dog syndrome,” which is marked by Napoleonic tendencies—like guarding territory, incessant barking (of orders), and taking over (the house). As www.dogbreedinfo.com points out, taking over the house and keeping your humans in line are burdens that should not be placed on any little dog’s shoulders—“especially one as sweet as a Dachshund.” Doxies need an owner who understands how to be their “pack leader”—not one who treats them like toys or babies. (Dressing them up is okay, though, as long as you avoid imperial themes.)
Good pack leadership from their humans will prevent “small dog syndrome,” letting doxies be their own true selves. As many sources—including Jeff and Monika—will attest, dachshunds are “curious, clever, lively, affectionate, proud, brave, and amusing,” as well as devoted to their human families. The organizer of a doxie event in Manhattan claims that “they are the bravest of breeds.” They appear to be unaware of their own small size.
Doxie owners are also pretty amusing. They mark their calendars with events like WienerFest and Pup Crawl and, of course, Dachstoberfest. On YouTube I watched the trailer for a dogumentary [sic] called “Weiner Takes All” about the world of dachshund racing. It was outdone only by the “dachsong” theme, played on accordion and sung by dozens of doxie owners at the aforementioned event in Manhattan.
Dachshunds are a very popular breed, ranking seventh in relatively recent AKC statistics, and the list of famous doxie owners ranges from Queen Victoria to JFK, but Florida seems especially smitten by the breed. The Dachshund Club of South Florida regularly hosts Doxie Beach Parties at the Hollywood (FL) Dog Beach. Last summer’s “Bark at the Park” event was billed as an opportunity to “support the Humane Society . . and have a great time at the New Marlins Stadium with your wiener.” At the annual New Year’s Eve dachshund walk in Key West, you can find doxies in tutus and pink pointed princess hats, doxies in sailor suits riding in a little boat, and my favorite, a doxie wearing a fabric hot dog bun decorated with spirals of ketchup and mustard.
I’m guessing that participants in West Palm’s Dachstoberfest parade will include doxies in mini-lederhosen, complete with suspenders and a feather in their caps. And what do you bet there will be at least one doxie in a mini-beer barrel? It’s Dachstoberfest, after all.
All proceeds from the West Palm Beach Dachstoberfest go to Dachshund Rescue of South Florida (DRSF). Like other rescue groups around the country, DRSF finds foster and “forever” homes for abandoned or otherwise homeless doxies. Over 100 dogs per year were rescued in 2010 and 2011.
Now it’s time to confess that I had yet another, more personal reason to look into this subject.
At the end of last semester, after teaching creative writing at Creighton University in Omaha for almost 14 years, I thought I might be going through a crisis of some kind. While it’s not unusual for a teacher to suspect that one or two or even a dozen of the students putting in seat time are not really awake and listening, even if their eyes are open, at one point last semester I looked up from the pages of a story whose shifts in narrative point of view I’d been earnestly discussing to find that the students sitting in the circle of desks had all turned into dachshunds! I mean to say, they were looking at me—and this is the phrase that came into my head—like so many dachshunds.
Only now, after reading up on the breed, is the source of my pedagogical troubles clear to me. What do dachshunds care about shifts in point of view? Even less technical aspects of the art of fiction—developing likable characters, for example, or dreaming up believable plots with satisfying endings—are not likely to interest a sausage-shaped breed of German hunting dogs!
I suppose that goes without saying.
Mary Helen Stefaniak is author of the award-winning novel The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia. She lives in Iowa City and teaches at Creighton University in Omaha.