Central Asian Shepherd
Central Asian shepherds are large, fluffy dogs who make loyal companions. Evolving naturally over the past 5,000 years, they're instinctual overseers of whatever is in their territory, including livestock, human family members, and other pets. You may also hear this intelligent breed referred to as Central Asian ovcharka, alabai, or alabay.
Though they're confident and independent, Central Asian shepherds love being around their owners. They'll happily curl up on the floor next to you as you watch TV or spend the day outside in the yard, keeping a watchful eye over the neighborhood as you work in the garden. Because of their large size and their willful tendencies, these rare dogs are best for more experienced dog owners.
"The Central Asian shepherd dog is a very large, strong, very smart, very tough, very courageous working dog," says Sarah Wooten, DVM and veterinarian at Pumpkin Pet Insurance. "These dogs were originally livestock guardian dogs, and their size, courage, and hardy nature served them well as they protected livestock from predators."
The first thing you'll notice about a Central Asian shepherd dog is his large size. These are substantial dogs, weighing between 88-110 pounds and standing 25.5-27.5 inches tall. Central Asian shepherds have large, rectangular heads that are in proportion with the rest of their big bodies.
Their thick, oval-shaped ears are medium-sized and naturally hang down the sides of their heads. Central Asian shepherd dog ears are typically cropped and their tails are docked when they are puppies-in fact, it's very rare to come across an uncropped Central Asian shepherd. However, both practices are controversial. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, ear cropping and tail docking are often done for purely cosmetic reasons and have no proven health benefits for the animal.
They have fluffy coats made up of coarse, straight hair that comes in nearly all colors and combinations, except for blue or brown and liver. The Central Asian shepherd's big, soulful eyes are oval-shaped and moderately deep-set. Their eye color runs the gamut from hazel to dark brown, but their eye rims are typically black. These dogs are often described as having a confident, dignified look.
The Central Asian shepherd temperament is independent and self-assured, thanks to their long history of protecting livestock and people within their territory. But though they are confident and content with being alone, these dogs are far from aloof-they're loving and faithful to their family members.
These dogs are known for their high capacity for work. When confronted with large predators, they typically behave courageously, which has historically made them a popular choice on farms and ranches with sheep, goats, chickens, horses, and cattle.
"Central Asian ovcharka are [watchful over] their people and property, while also loyal and loving to the people they know," says Annette Louviere, DVM, veterinarian for Wisdom Panel.
Central Asian shepherds are typically calm dogs, but they do enjoy regular walks and other forms of exercise and play. These dogs have lots of stamina and they're adaptable to all sorts of terrain and weather, which makes them perfect long-distance hiking companions. And because they evolved in varying climates, they're adaptable to adventures in all sorts of weather, both hot and cold.
When it comes to affection, Central Asian shepherds are not known for being overly clingy, but they do regularly seek out attention from their owners. They love to be in the same general area as their humans and tend to follow their family members around the house or the yard.
Because these dogs evolved to guard a specific territory, they may take a while to warm up to new people, especially those entering their house or yard.
"They enjoy attention from their trusted people with whom they form loving bonds; however, this breed will be wary of strangers," Louviere says.
Central Asian shepherds are active when they're outside, but quiet and calm when they're indoors, Wooten says. They're just as happy going on long hikes as they are lounging around while you read a book.
They're ideal pets for families who can take them on daily walks, as Central Asian shepherds benefit from regular exercise and stimulation.
These dogs do best in homes with large, fenced yards for roaming around in, and some amount of privacy and space away from neighbors-they're not the best fit for an apartment, condo, or townhome. If you have a farm or a large property with livestock, these dogs may be a good option for you, too. Because they have a tendency to wander, be sure to inspect your fence regularly for any holes or loose boards that may make for an appealing escape route.
These loyal giants love spending time with children, particularly kids in their household. They typically get along well with other dogs and with cats they consider to be part of their family. But, as with all dog breeds, Central Asian shepherd owners should supervise their dog's interactions with both children and other animals.
Because they are so big and not super comfortable meeting new people, Central Asian shepherds are ideal for owners who are homebodies and who aren't looking for a four-legged travel companion. A lazy weekend at home is his idea of the perfect time!
Central Asian shepherds are relatively low-maintenance dogs who require little grooming-all they need to look their best is a good brushing once or twice a week at home and a periodic bath when they get dirty. Otherwise, their coat mostly takes care of itself with a heavy annual shedding period in the spring or early summer.
"They don't tend to shed a lot, but once a year they blow their coat and create quite the fur storm," Wooten says. Keep a good dog-hair vacuum on hand and be prepared for lots of hair when temperatures start to rise.
Their nails tend to grow fast, so be sure to make regular nail-trimming appointments with a groomer or invest in a nail clipper or rotary grinder tool for at-home trims. Because these dogs love to spend time outdoors, their ears tend to get dirty and should be cleaned regularly. Owners should also brush their teeth often and schedule consistent dental checkups and cleanings with their veterinarian to keep Central Asian shepherds feeling their best.
These dogs do best with experienced owners who are well-versed in positive reinforcement training techniques and can spend the time needed to help their Central Asian shepherd learn good behaviors. And because they tend to be suspicious of people outside their family, Central Asian shepherd puppies also benefit from early and regular socialization with other people and other animals.
Central Asian shepherds have a lengthy lifespan for big dogs at 10-15 years, but some have lived to be as old as 17, according to the Central Asian Shepherd Society of America (CASSA). Owners can help ensure a long, happy life by feeding Central Asian shepherds high-quality dog food, giving them proper exercise, and scheduling regular veterinary checkups.
Because they evolved through natural selection, Central Asian shepherds typically have very few genetic issues and are considered a healthy breed. That said, reputable Central Asian shepherd breeders will screen for conditions including hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. These dogs may also suffer from epidermolysis bullosa, a rare skin disorder that causes blistering.
Unlike many other dog breeds that were developed by human breeders, Central Asian shepherds have evolved on their own over the last 5,000 years, according to CASSA. In fact, they're one of the oldest known dog breeds in existence!
Over time, this indigenous breed adapted to the extreme climates and terrains of Central Asia, from frigid mountain peaks to sweltering deserts. Their natural instincts drew them to humans for attention and bonding, which led to them guarding their human companions and their possessions.
In 1996, the Central Asian shepherd was accepted into the American Kennel Club's Foundation Stock Service group. They're still very rare in the U.S., but commonly found in Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kirgyzstan, Tadjikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, according to the United Kennel Club.
- As they evolved, the Central Asian shepherd's territory was vast and wide, spanning from the Caspian Sea to China and from the Southern Ural mountains to Afghanistan.
- Because Central Asian shepherds have lived in a variety of difficult terrains and climates, they've learned over time to preserve their energy when they're not working. This is why Central Asian shepherds are often calm-but they're definitely not lazy!
- Female Central Asian shepherds, which are smaller than males, tend to reach full maturity more quickly than their male counterparts. They also tend to have higher-pitched barks, according to CASSA.