Caucasian Shepherd Dog (Caucasian Ovcharka)
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The Caucasian shepherd, also known as the Caucasian Ovcharka, is a fierce protector in the face of a threat, but sweet and loving to his family. Weighing up to 170 pounds, this gentle giant 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 can stand 30 inches tall and weigh as much as 170 pounds. There are two types of Caucasian shepherd: The mountain type 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 go for a long-coated Caucasian shepherd, they’ll require daily brushing and you can expect to be dealing with quite a lot of fur, especially when the dog has its 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 fearless personality.
There are two sides to the Caucasian shepherd temperament. They are fearless protectors of their homes and families, but they are also 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 shepherds because of their size and the potential for problems. “You should also ask 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.
While the Caucasian shepherd is going to display aggression should a stranger try and enter your home or be a threat to your family, this doesn’t mean they are aggressive and always ready to react. Margaret Coffey, DVM, former Hospital Director of the School of Veterinary Medicine at Louisiana State University, says if a Caucasian shepherd is treated with love and brought up in a family environment, they can be calm and docile at home, making great family dogs.
While Caucasian shepherds will be wonderful and nurturing with the children in their own family, owners need to be careful when other children or adults visit the home. “If your child has a friend over and they start roughhousing, the dog may interpret that as an act of aggression and react in a way that is not desirable,” Albrecht says.
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. 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). Because this breed is so territorial, you never want to have them off-leash, or in a non-fenced yard. They have good stamina and will enjoy hiking with you (again, on 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.
As with any dog, especially giant breeds, the key is to start training early and be consistent. Your dog will need to know his place in the family before they weigh as much as you do, or you could face major behavioral issues that will be difficult to address. 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.
Even if you are buying a Caucasian shepherd as a guard dog, you should in no way try to train them to be aggressive. “Treat these dogs as family dogs, even if you want them to be a protector for your home and family. Don’t worry, they will step up if needed, that isn’t something you need to train into them,” Albrecht says. “Your dog is going to respond without any help.”
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 type will require daily brushing (and Albrecht says they can get matts behind their ears and around their butts 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.”
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 giant breed dogs such as hip and knee dysplasia, and other orthopedic conditions including bone cancers. These are all things you should discuss with your 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 can kill a dog in two hours. 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 large-breed 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 was entered into the AKC Foundation Stock Service, which allows breeders to keep records with the AKC as purebreds, and for them to compete in AKC Companion events (obedience, rally, tracking, and agility). Breeders hope ultimately the Caucasian shepherd will become AKC recognized, as it is 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).