5) The Czech Spotted Dog
The origins of the Český strakatý pes, known as the Czech Spotted Dog or sometimes the Bohemian Spotted Dog in English, are rather sad from today’s perspective. Originally known as Horák’s Laboratory Dog, it was bred in the 1950s for use in medical experiments. But from these unhappy beginnings, the world gained one of its most easy-going, low-maintenance, and sociable dogs.
The history of the Czech Spotted Dog begins in a research institute – the laboratories of the Czechoslovak Academy of Science’s Institute of Physiology, to be exact. Czech cynologist František Horák wanted to create a dog that would be ideal for laboratory use, specifically for medical research into epilepsy, genetic illnesses, and transplants. As such, the Czech Spotted Dog was one of the first animals in Czechoslovakia to receive a kidney transplant.
The original Horák Laboratory Dogs, eponymously named after their creator, were the result of breeding the female Riga with the male Misi in 1954, although the exact ancestry of the first litter’s parents are somewhat hard to trace, as breeder, vet and cynologist Vladimíra Tichá explains:
“If you look at the Czech Spotted Dog, he’s a bit of a riddle. We don’t really know where he came from. It’s been suggested that there was a Fox Terrier, possibly a German Shepherd in his parentage. But we don’t really know for sure.”
Among the characteristics considered desirable for a laboratory dog were a calm and gentle nature, a suitable body structure and size, a smooth coat, high fertility, low consumption of food, and being easy to care for and breed. Vladimíra Tichá elucidates further on the traits that František Horák was trying to breed in:
“Mr. Horák was trying to create a dog that would be able to change owners often and that would let people do almost anything to it. The scientists tried to breed dogs with epilepsy, medicines were tested on them, organ transplants, cosmetic products – a lot was done.”
The offspring of the initial litter underwent further selective breeding which resulted in a new breed with a brown coat and spotted markings. However, for many years the existence of the breed remained somewhat of a secret and was never seen outside of the laboratory, until it finally made a public appearance at a 1961 national dog show in Prague-Chuchle.
In the late 1970s, the Czechoslovakian Academy of Science reduced the number of experiments using the breed, and by the 1980s, it ceased to be used for experiments altogether. In 1981, the institute gave several of the remaining dogs to private breeders, although owing to administrative delays, most of the 40 breeding animals died beforehand and only a few made it into the hands of their new owners. From this point on, the breed began to be known as the Czech Spotted Dog. The first litter raised by a private breeder was born in the same year, 1981.
However, the initial enthusiasm of the private breeders died down, and the Czech Spotted Dog came to the brink of extinction, with only six remaining in the early 1990s - three male dogs with documents proving their origin and three females whose documents had been lost. These six dogs became the basis of a renewed breeding effort by a few keen enthusiasts. A litter of puppies was born in 1994, and careful breeding increased their numbers.
Nowadays, it seems that these efforts were not in vain, and that the Czech Spotted Dog has been saved, becoming a relatively popular breed of dog in Czechia. There are twenty active kennels and the number of dogs that are being bred and taking part in dog shows is on the rise. There are approximately 600 living individuals at the time of writing, and the breeding base has 82 females and 117 males. However, it is still considered a relatively rare breed overall – breeding of the Czech Spotted Dog is organized under the authority of the Kennel Club for Rare Breeds.
The Czech spotted dog was included in the registry of Czech national dog breeds under its original name of Horák’s Laboratory Dog in 1960 and under its current name in 1981, but it has not yet been internationally recognised by the International Canine Federation.
"Strakáči", as the dogs are known for short in Czech, are 40 - 55 cm tall at the withers. Since the breed’s creators deliberately bred in character traits that would make them easy to deal with in the laboratory, their descendants are extremely eager-to-please and co-operative, making them excellent family pets. They are very good with children and other animals, and extremely friendly with humans. As Vladimíra Tichá says:
"When you say the name of the breed, some people think of a laboratory dog with sad eyes. The “Strakáč” can still look sad, especially if you have a treat in your hand. But otherwise, it is a happy dog for happy people."