The Dachshund: The Canine Hell Gate Bridge

The Dachshund has to be one of our favorite breeds to use as an illustration of form following function, and with this post, we touch upon the breed’s chest.

Dachshunds were bred to “go to ground,” and that means furiously digging towards prey that’s often an ill tempered badger holed up in a tunnel (or, as as D. Caroline Coile and Michele Earle-Bridges put it in their book on the breed, “35 pounds of fury in a hole”).

Breathing room? Not much of it, usually.  The more furiously the dog digs, the more oxygen is used up, and it becomes necessary to inhale more of depleted air to support all that digging.  A Dachshie’s chest, which should be oval and comparatively broad, has lungs that go back as far as its ribs, and this helps the dog’s diaphragm act like bellows. The longer the rib cage, the more air can be processed. That long rib cage also helps support the dog’s long back. In a wonderful piece written by Laurence Alden Horswell, he likened the dog’s design to, “box girders under the southern approach to the New York, New Hampshire and H.R.R. Hell Gate Bridge.”

Image” “Puppy Butt” by Kimberly Santini 

6 thoughts on “The Dachshund: The Canine Hell Gate Bridge”

  1. Suzi, Mr. Horswell’s first name was Laurance. Love the post!

    • Thanks, Dawn, we’ll be sure up update the information. We LOVE NPDD supporters – such a wealth of knowledge.

  2. I love Horswell’s descriptive! Thank you for the article. There are, however, many misconceptions about dachshunds working in ground and this article perpetuates a few of them. Badger and fox dens consist of ‘halls with rooms.’ None of the rooms have doors. Little of a dachshund or terrier’s work consists of actual digging. Replace “digging furiously” with “barking furiously” and the picture of what is happening underground improves. If the badger/fox/raccoon dog/woodchuck is digging away and able to throw dirt up in front the dog, the dog is not effectively doing his job. The dachshund’s tasks are: 1. Go to ground 2. Discover whether anyone is home and communicate same to the hunters 3. Move the resident through its hallways system until it is pushed against a wall in its house 4. Bark loudly and continuously so the hunters can determine location and where to begin digging (not an easy feat) 5. KEEP THE ANIMAL ENGAGED AND STOP IT FROM MOVING AWAY 6. MAINTAIN THE ENGAGEMENT until the hunters – they’re the ones actually doing all the hard digging – dig down and through a ceiling to where the pair are faced off. This muscle-popping digging may require a man-made hole deeper than the men are tall, and take an hour or two or three to accomplish 7. Come out as soon as it is called out so that 8. The hunter may make a close, clean shot and kill the animal. A dachshund requires appropriate desire, size, flexibility, keenness, endurance, and obedience to assist hunters in this arduous endeavor. Breathing is important (!) but not an issue. Chest size is important and absolutely can be an issue, no hunter wants a broad-chested dachshund or terrier. Breadth is a liability to an earthdog in what, absolutely, can be dangerous work. The better and best dogs, though, are good at taking care of themselves as they help control the populations of den dwellers.

    • Thank you for this, Patricia. Never having owned a Dachshund ourselves, let alone explored badger and/or fox dens makes us comfortable with deferring to breed experts. We’re especially happy that you posted your remark here on the website and not on Facebook where a year from now, it’ll be harder to find, if not lost altogether.

  3. I must add my 2 cents about dachshunds and their digging. They are built to dig. Their front feet are bigger than the rear ones, designed to break dirt and move it out of the way. It is not considered a fault if the front legs turn out SLIGHTLY, to ease putting the dirt out of the way. The rear legs act as anchors for the front. In North America they also hunt rabbit and must flush the game from another tunnel exit giving the hunter a clean shot OR allowing the hawk that the hunter uses a clear chance at nailing the rabbit. They also hunt vermin like rats and weasels and they must dig to make an opening that they can fit into to reach their quarry.

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