black russian terrier profile treatment

Black Russian Terrier

Black Russian terriers are working dogs that were bred for the Soviet military. Today, these family companions are highly intelligent, energetic dogs that will gladly join you on a hike or run.
By Brittany Anas
July 28, 2021
Black Russian Terrier
Breed Group
Dog Size
Other Traits
Temperament

Black Russian Terrier

height
  • 26–30 inches
weight
  • 80–130 pounds
life span
  • 10–12 years
breed size
  • extra large (101 lbs. or more)
good with
  • families
  • dogs
temperament
  • friendly
  • aloof
intelligence
  • high
shedding amount
  • normal
exercise needs
  • high
energy level
  • active
barking level
  • when necessary
drool amount
  • medium
breed group
  • working
coat length/texture
  • curly
colors
  • black
  • blue
patterns
  • sable
  • black and tan
other traits
  • easy to train
  • strong loyalty tendencies
  • cold weather tolerant
  • good hiking companion
  • loves water

Ginormous in size and with a tousled coat, the Black Russian terrier almost looks like a cross between a bear and Mr. Snuffleupagus. But really, these intelligent dogs—nicknamed BRTs—are the descendants of more than a dozen different breeds. They were strategically bred in a secret Russian kennel as superdogs to work alongside the Soviet military police, which means decades ago, BRTs were tenacious employees for military installations and prisons. Today, they're loyal companions who will let you know when your Amazon package arrives. 

First thing's first, let's clear something up: Black Russian terriers are large dogs that aren't actually terriers, says Sarah Wooten, DVM, veterinary expert for Pumpkin Pet Insurance. A member of the working dog group, these animals loom large—the typical Black Russian terrier size ranges from 80–130 pounds.

At less than a century old, BRTs are a relatively new breed and arrived in the United States in the 1980s.

"You have to really want one and to search one out because they're relatively rare," says Pam Nichols, DVM, president of the American Animal Hospital Association.

To put it another way? Be prepared to field a lot of questions from curious dog lovers when you're out walking your Black Russian terrier. 

Appearance

At first glance, Black Russian terriers look like supersized giant schnauzers. These larger-than-life, muscular dogs weigh between 80–130 pounds and stand up to 30 inches tall. Still, these big-boned, military-grade dogs are quite agile and, with their smooth gait, they look positively majestic as they gallop about in your backyard.  

side view of black russian terrier standing outside
With his curly fur, scruffy beard, and strong stature, be prepared for heads to turn whenever your out with your Black Russian terrier.
| Credit: Rita_Kochmarjova / Shutterstock

Their eyes are medium and oval shaped, set relatively far apart with a confident, self-assured gaze.

While black is the most common coat color, some Black Russian terrier puppies have black and tan, sable, or blue coats. A few grey hairs may sprout up, too. Regardless of color, these extra-durable double coats are coarse on top and softer underneath, keeping BRTs well-insulated and helping them fare well in cold climates. (After all, their coats once served as built-in blankets, keeping them warm enough to withstand extreme Russian winters).

Temperament

The Black Russian terrier temperament is calm, confident, and courageous, according to The Black Russian Terrier Club of America, Inc (BRTCA). While they make great family pets, these brawny dogs are self-assured, tend to keep a tight circle, and don't care much for strangers, Wooten says.

"They are great working dogs and very loyal and devoted to their family," says Sara Ochoa, DVM.  

black russian terrier standing in forest
Black Russian terriers are devoted family dogs, but might be suspicious of strangers—including the mail carrier.
| Credit: Duta Andrei Catalin / Shutterstock

BRTs are also reliable dogs who enjoy having a job to do. With a history working for the military and police, they'll naturally take on a watchful role in their households. They tend to be non-social creatures, meaning they aren't immediately trusting of strangers, but they are loyal to their own family members, Nichols explains. 

"They are not a lie-around-the-fire kind of dog; they are more of a working dog that likes to patrol your yard," she says.  

They don't tend to bark just for the sake of barking, but they will sound the alarm if a stranger approaches.

This breed can be a quick study when it comes to training. Black Russian terriers may not be an ideal dog for a first-time pet owner, and they require a lot of socialization and a good amount of consistent positive-reinforcement training.

Black Russian terrier lying in grass
Credit: ragoNika / Shutterstock

Living Needs

Black Russian terriers are loyal dogs who enjoy spending lots of quality time with their humans. Because of this, they shouldn't be left alone for too long, and they'll also do best with owners who work to keep their brains busy and stimulated.

Because Black Russian terriers are super smart, if you have one as a pet you just may feel like a camp counselor finding new and interesting ways to keep these dogs occupied and happy. Some go-to activities: brisk walks around the neighborhood, jogs on trails, or going for swims. BRTs will also gladly hit the hiking trails with you, as these muscular dogs can cover rocky terrain. But they're also game for a casual night of playing catch or Frisbee in a fenced-in yard

black russian terrier standing on boat
Many Black Russian terriers love spending a day at the beach. These pups need ample exercise and mental stimulation, so take them with you on your adventures!
| Credit: Mayehem / Getty

With boundless energy, BRTs need about an hour of exercise time twice a day, Ochoa says. While not a firm requirement, Black Russian terriers will probably do best in a home that has a backyard.

"They do not do well in small apartments unless they are given a lot of time outside exercising," Ochoa says. 

While all dogs have slightly different personalities, Black Russian terriers tend to live well with other household pets, including cats and dogs. And, because of their energy, they'll enjoy playing with kids. That said, they may not be the perfect fit for families with very small children. Always supervise children during puppy playtime with any dog, and teach your kids how to interact with pets.

Care

Big and burly with thick coats and a wiley mustache, Black Russian terriers might look to be high-maintenance, but their grooming routine is actually pretty straightforward. Their coats should be brushed at least once or twice a week with a bristle brush to prevent any mats from forming and to keep shedding under control. Your BRT also needs to have a regular mustache and beard trim, which you can do at home—as long as you're skilled with scissors and your dog will sit still. 

black russian terrier closeup
With all that fur, a Black Russian terrier can look a bit like a mop. But with a quick beard trim, you'll reveal the handsome pup underneath!
| Credit: Zanna Pesnina / Shutterstock

Other routine grooming tasks include regular nail trims—nails that grow too long make it difficult for these otherwise nimble-footed giants to trot comfortably. Regular teeth brushing should also be part of your pet's care to remove plaque and ward off periodontal disease.

When it comes to training Black Russian terriers, you'll need to be patient and consistent. These dogs are independent thinkers, so proper training and continued socialization are important, according to the BRTCA.

In addition to training activities (and lots of head pats and treat rewards), your BRT is an Einstein in the canine world who will enjoy solving food puzzles. Don't be surprised if your dog sets records for just how quickly they crack the code!

black russian terrier puppy sitting on bench
Black Russian terrier puppies need early socialization and training to grow into well-rounded dogs. They aren't the most outgoing breed, so exposure to new people is super important.
| Credit: Utekhina Anna / Shutterstock

Health

For the most part, Black Russian terriers are healthy dogs that aren't prone to too many major illnesses. However, like other extra-large dog breeds, BRTs do tend to have shorter lifespans, about 10–12 years. (As a general rule, the larger the dogs, the shorter the lifespan, Nichols says.)

In general, these dogs face some of the same health problems other big dogs encounter, including elbow and hip dysplasia. This condition can result in loose joints, which can lead to pain, mobility issues, and osteoarthritis.

Progressive retinal atrophy is another ailment that can affect these dogs. This degenerative disease can lead to cells deteriorating, eventually causing blindness

During veterinary exams, it's a good idea to have BRTs go through hip and elbow evaluations and ophthalmologist exams. 

History

Back in the 1930s, the Red Star Kennel was established by the Soviet government in a secret location near Moscow. Scientists and breeders were tasked with developing a "superdog" of sorts that would be fit to join the national security force, according to the Black Russian Terrier Club of America, Inc. The goal was to breed a dog that was highly dependable, skilled, intelligent, trainable, and could withstand the harsh Russian winters. 

In their working days, Black Russian terriers were used by military police at border crossings, prisons, and military installations. But by the 1950s, the need for these dogs dwindled and they transitioned into their roles as companions, beginning with officers bringing their K-9 partners home. The Red Star Kennel released dogs to private breeders in 1956.

BRTs found their way to the U.S. in the 1980s, and the American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed in 2004.

Black Russian terrier jumping
Credit: Rita Kochmarjova / Shutterstock

Fun Facts

  • The Red Star Kennel drew on 17 breeds to ultimately create the Black Russian Terrier. Among the main breeds were the giant schnauzer, Rottweiler, Airedale terrier, and Newfoundland breeds.
  • Despite their name containing "terrier," BRTs only had 15–30 percent terrier in their genetic makeup.
  • Curious about Black Russian terriers vs. giant schnauzers? Both are high-energy, intelligent dogs, but BRTs can be double the size of giant schnauzers.