Wolf Dog of the Canary Islands

In addition to covering established breeds, we sometimes touch upon breeds that might well be recognized as purebred dogs in the future. It’s wise to remember that may of today beloved breeds were once considered landraces.

Meet the Lobito Herreño, also known as the Herreño Wolf Dog, or Herreño Shepherd Dog. Native to the Island of El Hierro, the dogs have also been found on Gran Canaria, La Palma and Tenerife, hardly a surprise as they are all part of the Canary Islands (an archipelago known as the “island of dogs” since ancient times).

These dogs have been raised by shepherds to herd goats, sheep and cattle for at least 200 years, but no one seems to know with certainty where they came from. One theory is that they arrived with the people who conquered the islands in the 15th century, another is that similar dogs lived in the area long before Europeans arrived. There is a bit more “heft” to the latter hypothesis because chaplains who accompanied Conquistadors at the arrival of the Spanish conquest wrote about the presence of “wild dogs like wolves, but they are small.” Also known is that the original inhabitants of the Canary islands, the Guanches, lived in relative isolation before the Spanish colonization, and revered dogs they called “canchas.” They mummified the dogs and treated them as holy. Certainly this strongly suggests that dogs were present in the Canaries prior to the Spanish conquest.

The decline of traditional farming on the island pushed the dogs to the verge of extinction, but happily, there are groups who have taken it upon themselves to keep that from happening. In 1989, Pérez, a breeder and trainer, started to notice how few of the dogs were around. He began a program to record their lineage, collect DNA samples, and breed them, and it was through him that the Association for the Recovery of the Herreño Wolf Dog (or AMILOBO) began studying the dogs.  According to José Juan Pestano, a geneticist from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the Herreño is “a real breed” based on a series of samples he received from AMILOBO for analysis. The final result indicated that the mitochondrial DNA of the specimens belonged to an authentic and original breed, an authentic Canarian pre—Hispanic breed which should help grant it future recognition by clubs.

In 2013, the Real Sociedad Canina de España (the Spanish kennel club) published a draft breed standard🚩, and in 2021, the Herreño was one of three breeds listed by the Real Sociedad Canina de España as a grupo étnico canino, a regional dog population with consistent form and function shaped by functional selection.

This “real” breed is described as faithful and affectionate to its master, suspicious of strangers,” and possessing an excellent aptitude as a shepherd dog for small livestock. As you can see from the photo above and the hyperlinks, the Herreño Wolf Dog is an extremely handsome breed, and one aptly named.

By La Manada – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

There is a breed society, the Asociación para la Recuperación del Perro Lobo Herreño (worth a “look-see” for the photos)

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