Caucasian Shepherd Dog (Caucasian Ovcharka)
The Caucasian shepherd, also known as the Caucasian ovcharka, is sweet and loving to his family. Weighing up to 170 pounds, this gentle giant can be wary around new people and requires a dedicated and experienced owner with plenty of time and attention to give. Caucasian shepherds come in a number of colors, with coats ranging from long to short fur.
Caucasian shepherds are big pups, standing 30 inches tall and weighing as much as 170 pounds. They are a sexually dimorphic breed, meaning you can quickly tell the difference between a male and female Caucasian. Male Caucasian shepherds are bigger, have larger heads, are more muscular, and "often shorter in body" than females, according to the Caucasian Shepherd Club of America (CSCA).
There are two types of Caucasian shepherd: mountain and steppe. The mountain Caucasian shepherd has a longer coat and a larger body mass, whereas the steppe type has a shorter coat and lighter body mass. Depending on the type you choose, your Caucasian shepherd could be a hugely fluffy teddy-bear-looking dog, or sport a svelte-looking short coat, or anything in between those two coat types. If you bring home a long-coated Caucasian shepherd puppy, he'll require daily brushing and you can expect to be dealing with quite a lot of fur, especially when the dog has his annual heavy shed.
Caucasian shepherd colors cover pretty much the entire spectrum of dog coat colors, and they can come with brindle, piebald, or white markings. They have deep-set, dark, and intelligent-looking eyes. These striking dogs are truly beautiful and have a proud stature that fits their bold, confident, and brave personality.
Though their enormous size can look a bit imposing, the Caucasian shepherd temperament can be sweet, gentle, and affectionate companions to their families, including other family pets.
Alan Albrecht, an American Kennel Club-recognized breeder and owner of Asian Bears LLC, says he fell in love with the personality of this breed. "They're the most loyal and dedicated dog you'll ever meet," he says. "But that's not always a positive trait. You have to be a very experienced handler to own one."
Caucasian shepherds are empathic as well, Albrecht says. They are good at reading your emotions, and they're sensitive to getting in trouble. "If you even raise your voice to one of these dogs, they're going to spend the next hour or two following you around, almost begging for forgiveness," he says. "They are very concerned with being disapproved of."
As with all dogs, socialization and training from an early age is key, but Albrecht says this is especially true with Caucasian shepherd puppies. "You should also ask [Caucasian shepherd breeders] lots of questions about the lines their dogs come from and look for dogs that are bred to be family dogs or show dogs," he advises.
But while he's gentle and loving with his family, a Caucasian shepherd might be wary and watchful around strangers. Margaret Coffey, DVM, former hospital director of the School of Veterinary Medicine at Louisiana State University, says if Caucasian shepherds are treated with love and brought up in a family environment, they can be calm and docile at home, making great family dogs.
Although the ideal living situation for a Caucasian shepherd is a home with a big fenced yard, you can make it work in a smaller space, Coffey says. "A lot of people will say, well, I couldn't possibly have them in an apartment because they're just so big," she says. "Often with a larger dog, they really require a lot less care and after their exercise needs are met they tend to be a little lethargic."
Though they love to lounge around and will try to be your 170-pound lap dog when at home, a Caucasian shepherd requires a fair amount of regular exercise. This should include good long walks and play in a fenced yard (if you have one). They have good stamina and will enjoy hiking with you, and they should always be kept on a leash.
Caucasian shepherds tend to get along well with other animals in the home, including cats, but early socialization is key. Because they are so attached to their people, these are not dogs who will do well left alone for long periods; all they want to do is be close to you.
Caucasian shepherds come in different coat types, and how intensive the grooming process is will depend on whether you go for a short-, medium-, or long-haired variety. The long-coated Caucasian shepherd will require daily brushing, and Albrecht says they can get matts behind their ears and around their rears that you need to watch for.
"The nice part is that Caucasians are not constant shedders," he says. "For me, they drop their coats once a year, though in different environments they can shed more often than that. So you aren't constantly dealing with dog hair everywhere."
As with any dog, especially giant breeds, start training early and be consistent. Known as smart dogs with an independent streak, the Caucasian shepherd can be difficult to obedience train, though Albrecht says he has found them easier to train than other giant breeds. "They're very fast learners, and two of my mixed-breed Caucasians are currently in training to be service dogs," Albrecht says.
Always treat a Caucasian shepherd as a member of your family, and use positive reinforcement for the best training results.
Considering their size, the breed has a fairly long lifespan of 10–12 years. Caucasian shepherds are considered a healthy breed that doesn't have any specific issues beyond those that affect most giant breed dogs.
According to the CSCA, these pups are susceptible to elbow dysplasia and hip dysplasia. They can also be prone to heart problems and a condition called entropion, where the dog's eyelashes curl in and cause eye irritation. These are all things you should discuss with your Caucasian shepherd breeder to find out about the lines of your puppy and what screening has been done to avoid these issues.
All giant and large breed owners need to educate themselves about bloat, a condition that is hard to spot and life-threatening. Coffey explains this happens when the stomach twists and cuts off the dog's blood supply, sending them into shock. "Sadly, by the time the dog owner gets their dog to the vet, it'll be too late to save them," Coffey says. "Thankfully, there's an easy fix where the stomach is stapled or stitched to the animal's body cavity and is no longer able to rotate." The procedure is something all Caucasian owners should discuss with their vet; it's often done when a dog is being spayed or neutered.
The Caucasian shepherd is an ancient breed, so old they are first mentioned as being used by Armenian armies in the 1st Century BC. Originating in the Caucasus Mountains, which intersect Europe and Asia, the roots of this breed can be traced back to ancient Balkan sheepdogs and Asian mastiffs. Not surprisingly, considering their size and intimidation factor, these dogs were originally bred to guard herds of sheep, flocks of domesticated fowl, and homes from predators and intruders. They were bred for their size, intelligence, loyalty, confidence, and a thick waterproof coat that meant they could withstand even the harshest of environments.
First introduced as show dogs in Germany in the 1930s, the breed has gained popularity in North America in recent years though are still considered relatively rare. The Caucasian shepherd is not an AKC registered breed, but in 1996 the dogs were entered into the AKC Foundation Stock Service, which allows breeders to keep records with the AKC as purebreds and for the dogs to compete in AKC Companion events (obedience, rally, tracking, and agility). Breeders hope ultimately the Caucasian shepherd will become AKC recognized, as the dogs are already recognized by kennel clubs in other countries.
- Caucasian shepherds are sometimes referred to as "Russian bear dogs" or "giant bear dogs" because historically they were used to help hunt bears (and other large animals).
- The mayor of Manilla, Isko Moreno, has a Caucasian shepherd named Yorme who accompanies him to work (and is much loved on the mayor's social media channels).