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Tucked between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea lies the Caucasus, a land of towering mountains and winding valleys. From the earliest times, the Caucasus has been a region of high romance.
To the ancients, it was the end of the known world, beyond which all was fable and mystery.
Here, more than a millennium of geographical isolation and natural selection has produced a most spectacular guarding breed, the Caucasian Mountain Dog.
About the Caucasian Mountain Dog
The Caucasian Mountain Dog is called the Kavkazskaya Ovcharka in its native land. The word ovcharka does not have an exact English language translation and means something between shepherd’s dog and sheepdog. However, the Caucasian Mountain Dog is not of the shepherding dog classification.
It is a flock guardian which has served the peoples of the Caucasus as a livestock guard, a home guardian, and historically a fighting dog as well.
Standing a minimum of 26 inches at the withers (dogs), preferably larger, the Caucasian Mountain Dog is handsome and powerfully built, with a medium to long double coat, often with abundant ruff and fringing. The coat color can be a range of shades of agouti gray, from dark gray to light, to reddish to fawn, with white markings and usually a distinctive dark facial mask.
The head is massive and wedge-shaped. Shortly after birth, shepherds crop the pups’ ears horizontally and bluntly close to the head, thereby eliminating the demise of the ears by the teeth of a predatory wolf.
The appearance of the Caucasian Mountain Dog is best characterized as a bear-like view, that’s why it’s also known as the Russian Bear Dog. While some type differences exist across the mountain range, the breed is bred to a single standard of soundness.
Character/Temperament, Training, and Successful Ownership
The Caucasian Mountain is strong-minded, well-balanced, and even-tempered. They are territorial and suspicious of strangers and will protect their flock, family, and property from danger–real or perceived–with lightning-quick speed.
The breed is said to have an uncanny ability to discriminate between a true threat and benign interference. In other words, the Caucasian Mountain Dog is able to exercise good judgment provided he has been given the proper socialization, training, and experience on which to base this judgment.
Socialization, training, discipline, control
These are the factors to successful ownership of the Caucasian in today’s fast-paced society. Formal obedience training beginning with puppy classes is necessary.
The Caucasian should be included to participate in family activities and should accompany the owner off home turf 2 to 3 times per week even for just a quick jaunt to the bank or grocery.
Just as a child should not be raised in a closet, so too the Caucasian should receive consistent, diverse exposure to the outside world, so that he may grow up to be a good canine citizen.
The Caucasian should be contained in a fenced yard or run when not directly supervised by the owner. This breed should never run loose and should not be tied out. Due to the Caucasian Mountain Dog’s territorial and protective nature, they may be aggressive towards an unannounced visitor or the UPS delivery person carrying that strange-looking package which could be a threat to the family.
Training must be firm, patient, and inducive. Due to its close association with man, the Caucasian Mountain Dog breed is one of the most willing of the flock guardians and is very trainable.
However, the Caucasian is still a more independent thinker than a shepherding type dog such as the German Shepherd Dog. Because the Caucasian is slow to mature, the hundred-pound yearling with the mental maturity of a 3-month old can be quite a challenge.
And the Caucasian can be very headstrong, especially during the first 2 1/2 years of life. Very highly intelligent, the young Caucasian Mountain Dog will find many creative ways to get into trouble!
The Caucasian Mountain Dog has a keen sense of hearing and is quick to alert to strange sounds. This means that the breed is often noisy and barks a lot, especially at night. These traits must be carefully considered by the potential owner.
Because the Caucasian Mountain Dog has functioned as a livestock guardian and a predator animal, he will protect the yard from a wolf, a coyote, a mountain lion, and the neighbor’s dog.
The properly socialized and trained Caucasian Mountain Dog is gentle and loving with his family. He is good with children and the family cat and is so loyal that he will sacrifice himself to protect his family.
The Caucasian is sweet and charming–downright beguiling most of the time!
In general, the well-bred Caucasian Mountain Dog is vigorously healthy. As with other large breeds, the Caucasian should be at a minimum screened for hip and elbow dysplasia. Life expectancy is believed to be 12 years or more.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the Caucasian Mountain Dog make a good family member?
Yes, the Caucasian Mountain Dog, if properly socialized and trained, is a devoted family member. He is good with children and enjoys participating in family activities especially outdoor ones such as hiking.
Do they get along with family pets?
The Caucasian Mountain Dog will get along with family pets in a pack situation as long as he is “second in command”. But keep in mind, this breed has a history of fighting off with wolves and is very, very large and strong. If a fight breaks out amongst family pets, the Caucasian can easily hurt another family pet. An owner must be the alpha figure in the family, in other words, the “top dog” and must lay down the law to the pack.
Do they shed and do they need a lot of grooming?
The Caucasian Mountain Dog sheds “fur storm” twice a year and loses some coat in between. The luxurious coat is maintained by frequent brushing. Aside from routine bathing and nail clipping no other specialized grooming is needed.
Do they drool?
The breed standard requires a tight flew and no drooling. However, some dogs are faulted in this area and do slobber somewhat. If this is of special concern, let your breeder know about it.
How should I choose a breeder and what questions should I ask a breeder before choosing a puppy?
Be very sure that the breeder is a member of the Caucasian Ovcharka (Mountain Dog) Club of America, Inc. (C.O.C.A.) and is listed under current approved breeder list. This is your only guarantee that the dog you are getting is an authentic, purebred (see History) and that strict breed practices have been followed. Be sure to get details about the temperament/character of the parents, whether they are working farm dogs or family pets, and also the results of the hip x-rays.
How do I get a puppy?
Because the Caucasian Ovcharka (Mountain Dog) Club of America, Inc. advocates a careful breeding, they are difficult to acquire. The best approach is to subscribe to C.O.C.A.’s newsletter, C.O. respondence, and to contact an approved breeder. Quality pups are available by reservation so it’s wise to shop early.
Lack of written records results in speculation as to exactly how and when the Caucasian Mountain Dog originated. Western writers suggest that Mastiff-type dogs were purposely crossed with sheep herding Spitz to produce a hardy breed resistant to the cold with sufficient size and fierceness to protect the flock.
However, Russian experts contend that the breed naturally evolved from a group of dogs originating from Tibet approximately 2,000 years ago. As these dogs accompanied nomadic people during their trek across the continent, some of this group settled into the Caucasus mountain area.
The dogs bred for centuries in a half-wild state, geographically isolated from other breeds. Hard natural selection has resulted in the Caucasian we know today. Thus the Caucasian is considered a natural or indigenous breed which retains strongly-developed primitive instincts.
Conscientious modern breeders have successfully preserved the naturalness of the aboriginal types.
Because the Caucasian is trainable and territorial and makes and excellent reliable guard dog, the Soviet government utilized the Caucasian in straight-run kennels for guarding service throughout the former Soviet Union.
As a result of this role, the Caucasian gained a reputation steeped in mystery as to its aggressive character. Here in North America, the Caucasian Mountain Dog is earning a reputation as being a trustworthy service dog and is capturing the hearts of dog fanciers across the continent.
Russian experts estimate that 70% to 80% of the Caucasian Mountain Dogs are cross-bred with St. Bernards and other breeds.
Aware of this situation, in 1990 the FCI (the European registering body) suspended automatic registration of the breed and individual dogs must now be examined by a panel of FCI judges to be registered.
The Caucasian Ovcharka (Mountain Dog) Club of America
U.S. Breed Founders for Preservation
Here in the United States, the Caucasian Ovcharka (Mountain Dog) Club of America, Inc. was founded in 1991 for the preservation and responsible promotion of the authentic Caucasian Mountain Dog. Working with licensed judges and breed experts in the former Soviet Union, the C.O.C.A. maintains the National Registry USA and abides by a strict Code of Ethics.
As of January 1, 1995, the United Kennel Club accepted the Caucasian Mountain Dog with full privileges, and C.O.C.A. dogs are eligible for dual registration.
Buy only from a breeder who upholds the high standards set forth by the C.O.C.A. and join us in the preservation and protection of this very precious breed!
The authentic Caucasian Ovcharka (accurately referred to as the Caucasian Mountain Dog) is a livestock guarding dog of greater than average size and power possessing a robust constitution and exhibiting an inherent distrust of strangers.
The Caucasian Ovcharka (Mountain Dog) is indigenous to the mountain regions of the Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani Union Republics; the Kabardino-Balkar, Daghestan and Kalmyk Autonomous Republics, and the steppe regions of the northern Caucasus and the Astrakhan district.
For hundreds of years, the Caucasian Ovcharka (Mountain Dog) has functioned as a guarding dog, herding dog, and historically as a fighting dog. Their faithfulness, protectiveness, and ferocity when called upon to defend is legendary.
The breed’s intrepidity, hardiness, and tolerance for different temperatures and climates have made it possible to utilize the Caucasian Ovcharka (Mountain Dog) in almost all the regions of the Soviet Union.
Type varies geographically throughout the mountain range, and also varies according to the purpose for which the dogs were utilized.
Generally, dogs of the Transcaucasus regions are more massively built, while those found in the steppe regions have a somewhat rangier build, are leggier, and are often short-coated. Modern breeding conforms to a single standard.
- Particulars of deportment
- Highly developed nervous system – strong, well-balanced and even-tempered. Well developed defensive reactions, professed in the active form (ADR). Suspicion and aggressiveness toward strangers is characteristic.
NOTE: Characteristic aggressiveness should be tempered by careful socialization and training without suppressing natural instincts to guard and protect. Behavior in the show ring should be controlled, willing and adaptable. The dog should be trained to submit to “Hands On” examination.
Only the handler shall show mouth. Mild hostility exhibited towards other dogs should not be penalized; however, the judge should dismiss from the ring any handler who does not have control over the dog.
- Type of constitution
- Despite regional differences, the ideal Caucasian Ovcharka (Mountain Dog) is powerful and athletic, sturdy and well-boned in proportion to height (see index of bone), with very strong musculature.
- Height at withers
- Dogs: 65 cm. (25.6 in.) minimum; 69 cm. (27.2 in.) – 85 cm. (33.5 in.) preferred.
Bitches: 62 cm. (24.4 in.) minimum, usually much larger; 65 cm. (25.6 in.) – 75 cm. (29.5 in.) preferred.
- Proportional to height giving the Caucasian Ovcharka (Mountain Dog) an imposing, symmetrical appearance.
- Index of bone
- Dogs: 21-22; bitches: 20-22.
NOTE: While the ideal Caucasian Ovcharka (Mountain Dog) is “well-boned”, this breed is not as large-boned as some of the giant mastiff breeds.
- Index of format
- 102 – 108
- Gender type
- Well expressed. Dogs are more powerful and more massive than bitches. Bitches are slightly smaller, lighter in build, more feminine.
- Thick and elastic.
- A double coat, slightly off-standing, formed by straight and coarse guard hairs and a well-developed undercoat. Coat on the muzzle, forehead, and the front of the legs is short and smooth. Coat on the top and back of head is longer and slightly off-standing. Three types of coat lengths are accepted without preference:
- Long coats with very long outer coat hairs. The hairs on the neck form a “mane,” and extensive feathering on the hind legs gives the appearance of long, silky “pants”. The long hairs feathering the tail on all sides make it look thick and fluffy.
- Intermediate coats covered with longer hair on the body, but with a lesser degree of “mane”, leg “pants” and tail feathering than the long coat variety.
- Short coats covered with thick hair, somewhat shorter than the long coat variety. The neck “mane”, leg “pants” and tail feathering are absent. This coat type is seldom seen.
- Agouti gray – dark, light, silver, reddish, or yellowish – with or without white markings; white, creme, fawn, reddish fawn, tan, reddish tan, fulvous, or any of these colors with white markings; brindle, piebald or white with gray patches. The undercoat is light colored. The head often has a distinctive dark mask.
- Massive, with a broad skull and strongly developed cheekbones. Skull and gradually tapering muzzle form a one piece blunt wedge-shape. The forehead is flat, broad and level, divided by a slight centerline furrow.
The stope is gently defined but not abrupt. The muzzle is shorter in length than the forehead and tapers to a large, broad, black nose. A brown nose is acceptable in white and light fawn colored dogs. Lips are thick, dry and tight.
NOTE: The head of the dog is more massive and masculine compared to the more refined and feminine head of the bitch.
- Hanging, highset, cropped short.
- Dark brown or brown, medium-sized, oval-shaped, deepset, slightly slanted. Eyelids rimmed with black pigment.
- White, strong, well-developed, fitting closely one to the other. The points lie in one line. Scissor bite.
- Powerful, short, moderately set at an angle of approximately 30-40 degrees.
- Broad and deep with a well-sprung, slightly rounded ribcage. The brisket curvature should be at the elbow line or slightly below.
- Moderately tucked.
- Broad, muscular, clearly distinguishable above the backline.
- Broad, straight, muscular.
- Short, broad, gently arched.
- Broad, long muscular, almost horizontally set.
- Highset, hanging downward, reaching at least to the hocks in repose. Carried as a sickle-shaped hook or ring when raised in excitement and when gaiting.
- Viewed from the front, the forelegs are straight and parallel. Measured from the shoulder joint, the angle between the blade and humerus is approximately 100 degrees. The forearms are well-boned, straight and moderately long. The length of the lower arm to the elbow is slightly greater than half the height at the withers. Index of leg height is 50-54.
- Short, strong, perpendicular. From a side view, they may appear slightly sloping. The circumference of metacarpals for dogs: 14-17 cm (5.5-6.7 in.); bitches: 13-15 cm (5.1-5.9 in.).
- Viewed from the rear the hind legs are straight and parallel; from the side, they are slightly straightened from the stifle joint. The shins are short, the hocks strong, broad, and slightly straightened. The metatarsals are well-boned and perpendicular.
- The hind legs are not extended backwards. A perpendicular line, drawn from the hip, passes through the center of the hock and the metatarsus.
- Large, oval, well arched, compact, firm. Dewclaws, if any, should be removed from the hind legs. Foreleg dewclaws should remain.
- Free, usually unhurried. The characteristic gait is a short prancing trot, shifting to a rather heavy gallop as the dog gains speed. The legs should move in a straight line with the limbs converging slightly toward the centerline of travel.
- The joints of both the fore and rear quarters should flex freely. The back and loins should be elastic and springy. At a trot, the withers and croup should lie in the same plane.
- Substantial deviation from correct scissor bite – overbite, underbite. Missing teeth (other than isolated premolar).
- Monorchid or cryptorchid dogs.
- Soft, wavy coat, absence of double coat.
- St. Bernard red and white, solid black, black and tan, or solid brown coat color.
- Blue, green, or yellow eyes.
- Standard Interpretation
- Overall structure and soundness have priority over color and flashiness. Regional variations shall be judged under this single standard without preference.
The authentic Caucasian Ovcharka (Mountain Dog) has been extensively crossbred with other breeds in the former U.S.S.R. and throughout Europe (such as the St. Bernard, Great Dane, German Shepherd Dog, Leonberger, Tibetan Mastiff, Sar Planina, and others).
These cross-breeds often possess a pedigree stating that they are “Caucasian Ovcharka” or “Caucasian Shepherds”, and it may be extremely difficult to differentiate these cross-breeds from the authentic Caucasian Ovcharka (Mountain Dog) type.
Incorrect coat type, disqualified coat colors and lack of distinctive blunt wedge-shaped head are strong evidence of mixed breeding; therefore, dogs exhibiting these traits should be strictly disqualified.
*Other names include: Kavkazskaya Ovcharka; Caucasian Shepherd or Sheepdog; Kaukasischen Owtscharka; Kaukasischer Schaferhund; Kawkasky Owtscharka.
Copyright (c) 1992 Abbreviated Breed Standard by Caucasian Ovcharka (Mountain Dog) Club of America, Inc., United States Breed Founders for Preservation.
In the words of Marina Kuznetsova, licensed judge-expert in Russia, the Caucasian Mountain Dog is distinguished for its beautiful character and well-balanced nervous system.
And, if you treat a dog of this breed with love and patience, you will get the best friend and protector, fearless and faithful, who will stand by you through anything and everything.