Badger Dogs of Germany
German foresters originally used dachshunds to hunt badger, but they quickly discovered that these dogs were excellent trackers, too, that could be used to locate deer wounded during the hunt. This was an important skill. No matter how good the bowman, inevitably a deer would be hit with an arrow and run a great distance, losing the hunters before eventually dying. Dachshunds are still used to track wounded deer today.
Over the years, the dachshund proved to be an extremely versatile hunter, used to hunt fox and rabbit. Packs of dachshunds hunted wild boar. It is said that the dachshund would even perform water retrieves with fowl.
But where exactly did this little dog with a big heart and so much talent come from? No one knows for certain what breeds were used in developing the dachshund. However, it is believed that the braque or bracke — a smaller, pointing-style hunting dog commonly found in Europe at the time — was a progenitor of many hunting dogs found today with long or pendulous ears, such as basset hounds, bloodhounds, and the dachshund. The braque may have been crossed with the German pinscher, a smooth-coated, vermin-killing breed that was popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The Turnspit Dog
Reaching even further back in history, we find that another dog may have had input in the development of the dachshund. Now extinct, this dog belonged to a type called a “turnspit.” The turnspit, at one time found all over Europe, walked on treadmill in order to turn a spit loaded with roasting meat. In the 1500s, the dog was described as having a long body and short legs, not standing more than ten inches tall. In the mid-1700s, it was noted that turnspit dogs came in short and long haired varieties with grizzled or spotted coats and that the dogs possessed crooked legs.
The mention of crooked legs in relation to turnspits could be significant. In paintings of the dachshund up through the mid-1800s, members of the breed are shown with extremely crooked front legs, too. According to one canine historian, the only initial difference between the turnspit and the dachshund could have been the owner (peasant or nobleman) and the dog's purpose in life (turning a spit or sport hunting).
Dachshunds quickly became recognized as the dog of German and Austrian nobility. Those who were privileged to own dachshunds did not part easily with their puppies, except perhaps as gifts to those of equal social rank and power.
Long-bodied, short-legged dogs the size of dachshunds and turnspits could also be found in other parts of the world. It is reported that Native American tribes owned turnspit-like dogs as late as the mid-1800s. However, few mentions of these dogs have been recorded in any detail, so very little is known about how these dogs reached North America or how long ago.