Famously described by H. L. Mencken as "a half-dog high and a dog-and-a-half long," the Dachshund ranks among the most popular dog breeds in America. These short-legged, long-backed dogs are brave, bold and sometimes reckless, willing and ready to take on the badgers they were bred to hunt. To the surprise of their many fans, a 2008 study in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science named the Dachshund the most aggressive of all dog breeds.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

Dachshunds are active, fun-loving dogs, but they can also be hard to housebreak, willful and feisty, which might make them a poor choice for many families, particularly those with children. Dachshunds are also wary of strangers and tend to bark loudly when their suspicions are aroused -- or because a leaf blew across the lawn. That tendency to bark at the least provocation is just one of many reasons a Dachshund cannot be left alone out in the yard or live outdoors.

The breed descended from dogs bred to fearlessly follow prey into underground burrows and tunnels -- a job a few of them still manage. Those traits make the Dachshund determined to the point of stubbornness, a bit aggressive with other dogs and an enthusiastic digger. The Dachshund's personality fits in with terriers more than hounds, so don't let the "hund" in the name fool you.

And what about that 2008 study claiming Dachshunds are the most aggressive of all dog breeds? The work of researchers Deborah Duffy and James Serpell of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society(CIAS), it should certainly make all prospective Dachshund owners and breeders particularly careful about the training and socialization of their dogs.

Variations of the Dachshund

For those who love the breed, there's a lot of variety: Dachshunds come in two sizes -- the standard, weighing between 16 and 32 pounds, and the miniature, which is 11 pounds and under. They also come in three coat types: smooth, wire-haired, and long-haired. All three coat types come in a variety of colors and markings, including solid colored, dappled and marked with white. The wire-haired Dachshunds most resemble the terriers they act like, and the long-haired versions can look a little like a short-legged setter with its long silky coat.

Health Issues Common to Dachshunds

The most common health issues in the breed are back problems. Conditions severe enough for hind-end paralysis are so common that Dachshunds are one of the breeds most likely to spend part of their lives in "canine wheelchairs": wheeled carts that support the rear of the dogs.

Because of their long, low-slung spines, normal canine behavior like jumping off the sofa may result in a slipped, pinched, herniated or ruptured disc. Dogs can be injured even in relatively mild play, and will sometimes show defensive or apparently aggressive behavior at other dogs -- or children -- who are nearby. In fact, a study done at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the Ohio State University approximated that Dachshunds are 57 times more likely to suffer from a herniated intervertebral disc than all other breeds.

It can be a challenge to give a Dachshund enough exercise to keep him mentally stimulated and physically fit without also harming his back. Keeping your Dachshund on the lean side will help, as will training him when young to use ramps to access sofas, beds, and other high surfaces. If your dog seems stiff, reluctant to move or as if he's in pain, seek immediate veterinary attention.

As with all breeds with floppy ears, the Dachshund can suffer from an increased risk of ear infections. And similar to other deep-chested breeds, they are prone to a condition known as "bloat and torsion," which is a life-threatening emergency where the stomach twists around, trapping air inside. Dogs that bloat need immediate surgery to save their lives.

Epilepsy, allergies, eye disorders and orthopedic problems in the knees and elbows are also found in the breed. If a puppy's parents are both of the pattern known as "dapple" (a swirl of different colors), they can also suffer from deafness.

To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Dachshund before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Patellar Luxation Medium $1,500-$3,000
Corneal Dystrophy High $300-$3,000
Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (Bloat) Medium $1,500-$7,500
Cushing's Disease High $3,000-$10,000
Panniculitis Medium $1,000-$3,000

7 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Dachshund Puppy

Don't ever buy a Dachshund puppy online or from a pet store. Like all popular breeds, Dachshunds are popular by puppy millers, pet stores and internet retailers more interested in whether your check clears than in whether you'll provide a good home for the puppy -- or he'll be a good fit for your family.

Look for a good, reliable breeder. The Web site of the Dachshund Club of America maintains a list of member breeders who have agreed to abide by the club's Code of Ethics. That code specifically prohibits selling puppies through pet stores, so that's one place you will not find a responsibly-bred Dachshund.

Ask to see written documentation that your puppy's parents were tested for health and behavior problems, and good breeders will be proud to show you the results. Tests include Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) certification of hips, knees and elbows; Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) clearance; a history of spinal x-rays on both parents. Since no one has ever eliminated all health and behavior problems from his lines, any breeder who says he has is lying. Look elsewhere.

Don't, under any circumstances, purchase a Dachshund puppy without meeting the mother. While any female with puppies might be a bit protective of them, this doesn't excuse snapping, biting or any form of aggression towards people who are not threatening the puppies.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Dachshunds aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, many of them can be ruled out.

Puppy or adult, take your Dachshund to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues. Ask specifically about preventive care for ears, since dogs with floppy ears are prone to infections. Discuss how to protect your Dachshund from back injuries as well.

Pet Insurance for Curly-Coated Retrievers

Pet insurance for Dachshunds costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Dachshunds are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Dachshunds are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Dachshunds is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.