BERLIN, Germany (Reuters) -- Germans are turning their backs on dachshunds, the short-legged, long-bodied "sausage dogs" which are as much a national emblem as beer and lederhosen.
Dachsunds or "dackel", the short-legged, long-bodied "sausage dogs," are as much a national emblem as beer and lederhosen in Germany.
The German Dog Association (VDH) says only 7,158 dachshund, or "dackel", puppies were born in the country last year and the birth rate has dropped by about 35 percent in the last decade.
"Dackels are in decline because German owners have a far wider range of breeds to choose from than they did 20 years ago," said Birgit Buttner of the VDH.
Golden retrievers, Labradors and Jack Russell terriers, relative newcomers in Germany, are the main threat to the beloved dachshund, she said.
One of the country's oldest breeds, the dachshund can be long-, short- or wire-haired and is still Germany's second most popular dog after the Alsatian.
"Waldi", a multi-colored dachshund, was the mascot of the 1972 Munich Olympics and famous German owners include World War Two Afrika Korps commander Erwin Rommel and Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Owners love the long-eared hounds for having an independent, even stubborn, character.
"They are ideal family pets because they are vigilant, loyal and they really have a character of their own," said Margitta Trogisch, of the German Dackel Club. She insists there is no danger of the breed dying out.
The dogs, which weigh between 3 and 10 kilos and cost about 500 euros, have been bred for hunting since the Middle Ages, and dachshund translates literally as "badger dog".
Their short legs, elongated bodies and long snouts allow them to burrow into holes to catch badgers and foxes. Trogisch, who has two of her own, welcomes the decline in dachshunds' popularity.
"If dogs become too fashionable, they are sold on the black market and can develop health problems because they are not immunized properly and then illness can spread," she said.
However, even if dachshunds are in decline in Germany, they are booming in Japan where last year 20,000 puppies were bred.
Japan's soccer team used a miniature dachshund, named "Erwin Rommel", as its mascot at last year's World Cup in Germany. E-mail to a friend
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