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Did You Know?
In the remote regions of the Caucasus Mountains and Steppes, which span several territories of the former Soviet Union, there hails one of the significant rare breeds of our time.
This breed is recognized by many authorities not only for its incredibly attractive bear-like appearance but for its supreme versatility. The Caucasian Ovtcharka, as we know it today, is indeed testimony to Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest!
What is a Caucasian Ovtcharka?
The Caucasian Ovtcharka, a member of the working group, is a very old breed of Molosser origins. This large, generally rough coated dog has been considered by many to be a descendant of the Tibetan Mastiff; however, current archaeological evidence suggests otherwise.
The most recent research suggests that the ancestors of all the working sheepdog breeds most likely originate from ancient dogs that lived in the forested hills of Iraq and Mesopotamia.
Nomadic tribes settling in the remote regions of the Caucasus brought working dogs with them which evolved with little outside intervention into the hardy, intelligent Caucasian Ovtcharka. The breed takes its name both from the region of origin and from the original purpose of the dogs.
Caucasian refers to the regions of the Caucasus, which include Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Daghestan, Iran and Turkey. Ovtcharka, a Russian word, translates to Shepherd or Sheepdog.
Not to be confused with herding breeds, the Caucasian is actually a livestock guardian, bred for the role of bonding with the livestock and effectively fending off predators — whether wolves, bears or thieves.
For centuries, the breed was little known outside these remote regions and was first seen in European dog shows in 1930s Germany. In 1952, the breed was sub-divided into two distinct types: the Transcaucasian Ovtcharka, the heavier boned, more massive dog from the mountain regions; and the Caucasian Ovtcharka, the lighter built dog of the steppe regions.
In 1976 the two types were re-classified as one breed with all dogs expected to conform to the same standard. However, individuals of the breed can still be identified by regional type today, with each area of the former USSR having its own varieties, including numerous sub-types.
Today, the best examples are considered to be of “Georgian” type, a heavy-boned, heavy-coated type often said to most resemble a bear.
The Caucasian has an elaborate history that goes well beyond its pastoral origins. Realizing the versatility of the breed, the Soviet Army enlisted the Caucasian as a service dog and it was used as a guard in both war and peace time.
Breeding and promotion of the breed for military and industrial use became the responsibility of the famed “Red Star Kennels” where many modern dogs had their origin.
As the Caucasian has slowly become known in the West, it has continued to uphold a reputation for trainability and adaptability, making the breed an excellent candidate for a service dog, family companion/guardian, and flock guardian in the appropriate situations.
How big do they get?
Also known as the Russian Bear Dog, a typical male Ovcharka should stand anywhere from 25 1/2 to 30 + inches at the withers and should weigh 100 + pounds. Females are a bit smaller, 80 + pounds and a minimum of 24 1/2 inches.
What colors are allowed?
All colors except solid black and solid brown, black ticking and combinations of black and brown. Most commonly seen are various shades of gray. Other colors described are rust, straw, yellow, white, brindle, earth, spotted and piebald.
What kind of temperament do Caucasians have?
The Caucasian was developed to guard flocks and thus is naturally protective. Though their appearance may be fierce, in general they should be a calm and steady dog with an even temperament.
They should be well behaved with and accepting of all family members, but naturally wary of strangers. Although more eager to please than many flock guardians, they still can be quite independent and stubborn when compared to more easily trained breeds such as the German Shepherd dog or Golden Retriever.
It is important to “socialize” the Caucasian at an early age to properly adapt to different people and situations. If you are planning to use your Caucasian for flock guardian work, it is important to start exposing them to the livestock as early as possible. With proper socialization and training, you should have few problems.
Are they good with children?
Yes. most Caucasians are good with children they know and would never hurt them purposely. However, it is imperative to establish the proper pecking order from the beginning, making the Caucasian understand that it cannot push the children around.
It is also essential to realize that they are large dogs and sometimes forget their size. This can result in a child accidentally being knocked down or stepped on. As with any pet, it is important that young children be supervised by an adult when playing with your Caucasian.
Also, as a dog bred to protect their flocks, Caucasians will substitute the family for its flock and may try to keep strangers or other threats away from the children. Older children with an active social life need to realize that although their friends may like dogs, it may not be appropriate for the dog to interact with every visitor.
Are they good with other dogs?
Most Caucasians are able to live with other dogs, cats and of course livestock. If you have other pets it would be best to get a puppy so everyone learns to get along.
Females are more likely to be able to live together; two male dogs who have not been neutered can rarely be expected to live peaceably.
Are they good house dogs?
Well, that depends on what you mean. If you have a pristine house with many precious and breakable items, you may need to think twice. If you have a good vacuum cleaner, have moved the crystal out of the way and are ready and eager for an adventure, than yes, the Caucasian can be a great house dog.
Any dog can be trained to behave in a house and the Caucasian is no exception. Puppies need to be housebroken and taught what is permissible behavior and what is not.
All puppies and young adults chew and crate training can be of great benefit to you and your dog in this regard. Talk with your breeder, trainer or experienced dog owners about the value of using a crate.
Caucasians respond very well to steady and consistent training. Caucasians are not really that different from most other dogs, except that you can never forget that they are a large dog and the problems or challenges may be correspondingly bigger.
For instance, you may find the crate for your dog is bigger than the kitchen table! You may also want to buy stock in the company that makes rolling hair removers for clothes and furniture.
Although large in size and requiring regular exercise, CO’S make excellent house or apartment dogs as they generally do a lot of lying around. Their activity level is quite low compared with many smaller breeds.
What is their level of energy?
As with most livestock guarding breeds, the CO is generally a phlegmatic, low activity level dog. Originally they were bred to lay around with the sheep all day and keep predators at bay. As most predators are nocturnal, you may find your CO much more active at night.
If you are planning on keeping your dog outside, you must realize they are alarm barkers and will give warning to anything encroaching their territory. Do not be fooled by their habit of lying around, appearing to be dozing. The slightest disturbance will rouse them and most CO’S are surprisingly quick and agile.
What about shedding?
Although they lose hair all the time in small quantities, most CO’S “blow coat” at least once a year. When this happens large tufts of hair are everywhere! Get out the rakes and combs and go to work.
With proper grooming, the mess can be minimized and save that fur! Clothing knit from CO fur is said to bring good luck and longevity to the wearer.
Aren’t they messy dogs?
Well, they do shed and like the mud. Pound for pound, they are no messier than most other dogs but since they are big dogs, any mess is correspondingly bigger.
Do they eat much?
For their size they are an easy keeper. While a growing puppy or a pregnant or lactating bitch might consume as much as 8-10 cups a day, an unstressed adult dog will likely consume much less. You should feed your CO a high quality food that provides necessary nutrition.
Check with your breeder to see what they recommend. Some breeders supplement the diet with cooked meat, yogurt, goats milk, etc. Young pups need to be fed 2-3 times a day, while adults 1-2 times a day.
How do Caucasians do in weather extremes?
CO’S do well in all kinds of climatic conditions. They absolutely love cold weather and snow. Under normal conditions a good solid dog house with plenty of bedding is sufficient. They tolerate heat equally well with sufficient shade and water.
Do ears have to be cropped?
No. This is a personal option. Ear cropping is traditional (as a flock guardian, dogs are at an advantage if the prey have no ears to bite at) but not required even for show dogs. Although a cropped ear is preferred, many European countries have banned cropping for humane reasons.
The cropped ear does change the expression, however, and some feel it makes the look of the dog.
What about obedience training?
As soon as your pup is old enough, a “Puppy Kindergarten” is highly recommended (contact a local obedience or breed club to find one), followed by a basic obedience class. Caucasians respond well to positive reinforcement training methods and will enjoy short, fun, creative training sessions.
Obedience training also helps to establish the bond between you as pack leader and your dog as a respected member of the pack. Beyond the obvious benefits of having a well-trained dog, many people enjoy working with their dogs in obedience competition.
Through breed and all-breed clubs, Caucasians can compete for the Companion Dog (CD) or more advanced titles. Any large breed of dog is encouraged to attain AKC’S Canine Good Citizen title, which several Caucasians in this country have already achieved.
With a Caucasian, it is particularly important to remember that obedience training is not for 1 hour a week for 8 sessions, it’s forever.
Should I breed my dog?
Before you consider breeding, talk to a breeder about the problems, pitfalls, expenses, and heartaches and have your bitch properly evaluated by knowledgeable persons. Have you ever handled the breeding of large dogs before?
It’s not as automatic as you think! Are you prepared to pay for all the necessary expenses? Testing before the pregnancy? Caring for a pregnant bitch? Are you willing to pay for a cesarean section if necessary? What if the bitch dies? Have you ever had to hand feed a large litter before?
Are you ready to watch the litter 24 hours daily to ensure the mother doesn’t roll over on them? Do you have a Vet lined up to come into your home? Are you willing to pay? What if you can’t sell all the pups by 8 weeks of age?
Will you be able to continue to pay for the vaccinations and extra mouths? If you can’t sell them right away, what about housing, housebreaking, socialization, and training? No dog needs to be a mother or a father to be fulfilled.
You should breed your dog only if:
- Your dog meets the approved standard.
- You have proven this by showing your dog, or by having it evaluated by more than one knowledgeable person.
- You are prepared to care for all the resulting puppies regardless of when they sell.
- You are willing to take back any puppy/dog you have bred, should the circumstance arise.
You should not breed your dog if your main motive is to make money, or to recoup your purchase price, or expenses! When breeding is done right, it is doubtful you will accomplish either. Dog breeding is not a casual venture. Before breeding your dog, visit the local animal shelter and talk with the staff.
Do they get hip dysplasia?
Caucasians, like any large breed, can be afflicted with hip dysplasia. Adult dogs should be x-rayed for signs of the disease. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, (OFA) issues numbers to dogs with acceptable hips.
When buying a puppy, always try to find a breeder that is using x-rayed stock. Ask to see OFA certificates or letters from a certified Veterinarian. Reputable breeders will guarantee their pups against hip dysplasia and other severe genetic defects.
Any special advice or issues that should be known about health?
As of this writing (1995) Caucasians appear to have few genetically linked health problems. As mentioned before, hip dysplasia is of some concern. In the FCI and Russian breed standards eye disease, cataracts, and loose lower eyelids are mentioned.
Getting a Caucasian
Why would you not recommend a Caucasian?
CO’S are not a dog for everyone. Why not? They demand time, attention, frequent training and handling. They are strong, willful and cannot be expected to like everyone.
Without proper training, they can be very aggressive to both people and dogs. They do bark a lot and have a lot of hair. They require firm, steady and consistent training. A CO needs to learn manners well enough to be trusted to react as you would want and expect in all situations.
If you know you are totally confident in your ability to handle a large, dominant dog even in threatening situations and are able to supply the necessary time, energy, attention and money to raise and keep a dog for its full life, only then should you consider a Caucasian.
Should I get a male or a female?
As with many breeds, males are generally larger and can be more aggressive. Females may be a bit easier in the house because of their smaller size. Also, females are usually less dominant and can be easier with children.
The answer for you depends on personal preference, whether you’ve owned a Caucasian before, whether you have other male dogs in the house or whether you’ve had experience with other flock guardians or large working breeds before.
This should also be a point to discuss with your breeder.
Should I get a puppy or an older dog?
Some people prefer to acquire an older dog that has already been housebroken, has some training and is no longer chewing. Some people are in seventh heaven around a pup and don’t mind the trials and tribulations of puppyhood.
Some are even crazy enough to have more than one puppy at a time.
What does “show quality” vs. “pet quality” mean?
To determine its show potential, each dog is compared against its breed standard. A dog or puppy displaying any disqualifying faults would be graded as pet quality. Sometimes the faults are only visible to a knowledgeable person, while sometimes the fault is very visible.
Show quality means that the dog has no serious faults as defined by the breed standard. This does not mean that the temperament will be good, that the dog will ever win at shows, or will become a champion.
Puppies graded show quality at the time of sale by the breeder are considered only to have the potential to be shown.
If you pay show quality price, you should have a written guarantee that the puppy will be replaced or part of the purchase price be refunded should the puppy develop a disqualifying fault or other defect or disease which would prevent it from being shown.
Show quality is much easier to assess in an adult dog. If your heart is set on a show dog, you may be happier purchasing an adult whose structure and quality are already clear.
Pet quality dogs cannot be shown in the conformation ring. However, they can compete in obedience, agility or make perfectly suitable livestock or family guardian.
Generally, these dogs should not be bred and should be neutered, as they can pass on their faults to their offspring. Most breeders will register pet quality puppies under a limited registration or with a spay/neuter contract.
Usually, pet quality dogs have a less expensive purchase price. There should be no difference in the dog’s abilities, or the amount of time, training, cost and care that they require.
How much do they cost?
The cost of a Caucasian depends on many factors including whether one or both the parents have championship status; whether or not the animal is American bred or imported; and whether health and hips are guaranteed.
A pet quality puppy might range from $500.00 to $1,000.00. Show quality puppies generally cost $800.00 and up. Imported dogs can cost more. Older dogs may be priced higher or lower depending on the quality of the dog and whether or not it has earned any championship points or has had obedience training.
How do I locate a breeder to purchase a puppy?
One way is to visit a rare breed show and talk with exhibitors and owners of CO’S. Various dog publications list breeders or clubs. Rare breed organizations often have breeder referral services.
How can I tell if a breeder is reputable?
Start by looking at the conditions. Do the bitch and her pups appear healthy? Ask a lot of questions. How long has the breeder been active in breeding, showing and training dogs? What dog clubs do they belong to?
How long have they had Caucasians? How many individual dogs do they own? How often do they have puppies available? Be sure to ask for references. Expect that you may have to get on a waiting list to get what you want.
Make sure the breeder can substantiate all titles claimed, as well as furnish proof of X-rays. Beware of people that keep what would logically seem like too many dogs, or have multiple litters annually.
The breeder should be just as interested in you as you are in them and ask lots of questions. Beware of complicated co-ownership contracts with future breeding commitments. Make sure you get a written contract that you’ve read and completely understand.
Dog Shows and Breed Clubs
Showing dogs looks like fun but scary. How hard is it?
If you’ve never been to a dog show, you must go! It’s a canine lover’s paradise with dogs of every size and descriptions, vendors selling every dog related item you could think of and lots of people enjoying their passion.
If you’ve seen Westminster dog show on TV, you must realize this is the “super bowl” of dogdom with the finest dogs, handlers, and judges.
However, the average dog show is not nearly as extravagant. If you think you could be bitten by the bug, talk to your breeder and find a breed handling class in your area. Here you will learn the proper ring technique.
Showing your dog can be a great hobby for you and the whole family. It’s a great way to meet other CO owners and dog enthusiasts and have a lot of fun.
Why don’t I see Caucasians at AKC dog shows?
Caucasians are just one of many breeds not recognized by the American Kennel Club (which only recognizes about 1/3 of over 300 separately identified breeds).
There are many types of flock guardians and most countries with an agrarian culture have dogs that have been used as livestock guardians throughout history. Some of the more popular breeds, such as the Great Pyrenees, Kuvasz, and Komondor, are recognized by the AKC.
However, the vast majority of flock guardians are considered “rare breeds” in the U.S. In addition to the Caucasian Ovtcharka, some other examples of flock breeds are the Maremma Abruzzi, Anatolian Shepherd Dog, and the Sharplaninatz.
While some are rarer than others, all these breeds are considered purebreds, which means that the dogs and all prior generations before they are purebred. Each country has various registration bodies which record pedigrees, keeps a stud book and may provide shows.
Currently, Caucasians and other rare flock guardians can be shown at the American Rare Breed Association (ARBA) shows.
Where else can I show my dog?
In addition to ARBA shows, Caucasians can be shown at other rare breed shows and at match shows where rare breeds are invited. You can find out about these venues through your breeder, various publications and from other rare breed enthusiasts.
What should I expect from a breed club?
You should expect that the breed club will give honest and unbiased information. You should expect the club to keep accurate and fair records. That it will be run in a democratic fashion and not be a soapbox for one person’s vision or opinions.
That, in the case of the Caucasian Ovtcharka, it follows the world standard, which at present is FCI #328. A club should be open to all fanciers of the breed and is not a private organization. It is not a broker or an importer or a front for these individuals.
It is not a guarantee that a puppy or dog registered through a breed club is anything but purebred. A club registration does not validate individual dogs temperaments or standards of beauty. This is up to the individual to study for him or herself.
What are the benefits of joining a breed club?
A breed club keeps the official stud book. It registers individual dogs and litters of puppies. It will offer breed information and breeder referral to its members and other people making inquiries without prejudice.
It will sponsor honest shows and working evaluations as a forum for people to evaluate their stock and breed for improvement. It will publish an informative newsletter on a regular basis.
It will serve as a clearinghouse for new and important information about the breed and its history, health, and accomplishments around the world.
What you can do for your club
All the services provided by the club cost money. By joining the club, you pay dues which help to support these services. The club needs not just your monetary support but your physical help as well.
If you have the time and the inclination, please volunteer your services! The club cannot function without you, the members!