Caucasian Shepherd Dog

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Caucasian Shepherd Dog

Having lived for many centuries in the Caucasus Mountains, the Caucasian Shepherd dog is renowned for its bravery and loyalty. Their powerful, wolf-like bodies are physically impressive, and their thick coat acts as thermal insulation in the winter. Headstrong and independent, consistent training from a young age is essential.

Still utilised in their homeland today by local farmers, they act both a source of physical protection against predators, and as a watchdog; barking at the first hint of trouble. Faithful and calm with the people they trust, Caucasian Shepherds are known for their suspicion and potential aggression with strangers and intruders. This trait has ensured they are still commonly employed as guard dogs today; used in people’s homes, as well as in prisons.

About & History

The Caucasian Shepherd dog, or the Caucasian Ovtcharka, is likely a very ancient breed of dog that descended from the pre-historic Molosser dogs several thousand years ago. As their name suggests, this breed of dog originated in the Caucasus Mountains in West Asia, situated between the Black and the Caspian Sea. It is known that large, working dogs similar in appearance to the Caucasian Shepherd dog have been patrolling these mountains for many centuries, acting as watch dogs and protecting the local livestock from mountain predators, such as bears and wolves. While there have been many variants of these dogs over the years, the Caucasian Shepherd has come to be the recognised standard today and is by far the most wide-spread of all.

These dogs are very popular nowadays in countries near their place of origin, including Georgia, Russia, Hungary and Poland. Interestingly, the breed was once employed to patrol the Berlin Wall, and when it began its disassembly in 1989, several thousand of the working dogs were re-homed within Germany. The Caucasian Shepherd has also been used to guard prisoners, patrol factories and government buildings, and has even played a role in the military.

Their natural protective instinct lives on, and this is a dog that remains incredibly well-suited to its job even today. In Georgia, the Caucasian Shepherd is commonly used by farmers as a watch dog and protector of their sheep and cattle. Many families who own this dog as a household pet benefit from both the personal and property protection it continues to offer. Indeed, their defensive nature, along with their impressive size and strong work ethic, make them a valuable asset in many areas of the community.

Appearance

Caucasian Shepherd Dog Large Photo

Bred for functionality rather than physical appearance, there is a degree of variability when it comes to the physical characteristics of this breed. The Caucasian Shepherd is a large breed of dog, with males standing at an impressive 72-75cms at the shoulders and weighing up to 100kg. The females are somewhat shorter, measuring between 60-70cms and reaching weights of 80kg.

With a large and robust skeleton and a well-muscled body, these dogs have been developed to be exceedingly strong. Their dark eyes are deep-set within their face and their relatively small ears flop forwards (though are sometimes cropped, particular in working dogs), while their nose should be black with wide-open nostrils. Their limbs should be long and straight, with very large paws which have fur in between the toes. Their rump stands slightly higher than their withers.

Their entire body should be densely covered with a luxuriously, thick double coat, which is feathered in places and offers superb protections against harsh climates. There is quite a variability of coat lengths within the population (divided into short, medium and long coats), and they may have a darker ‘mask’ on their face. Accepted coat colours include:

  • Grey
  • Fawn
  • Tan
  • Red
  • Brindle
  • White

Character & Temperament

A well-trained Caucasian Shepherd should be even-tempered, calm and confident. They are known to bond closely with their owners and are typically defensive of both their family and their property. Sought after for centuries for their ability to be alert and courageous as they worked, these traits are still present in the breed today. They will patrol their territory, bark forcefully at potential threats, and can be aggressively defensive when provoked. They are hostile with strangers, and without careful training, can be potentially very dangerous.

Their barking can be incessant, and can be a particular nuisance at night, so great consideration should be taken before bringing a Caucasian Shepherd into a home that has neighbours close by. While dedicated to the protection of children and animals that they have been brought up with, the Caucasian Shepherd should not be trusted with any small animals or young children, as they are incredibly powerful, and often do not know their own strength.

Trainability

Photo of Caucasian Shepherd Dog puppy

This breed is not for the novice trainer and requires an experienced handler to take on the role of their ‘pack leader’. They will not respect a submissive trainer and respond best to confident and consistent instruction. Starting all of the Caucasian Shepherd’s training, especially its socialisation, from a very early age, is critical to its success. Failure to do so can result in an apprehensive and suspicious dog when in the presence of new people, making social interactions unmanageable and unsafe.

Stubborn, independent and intelligent, with no particular desire to please people, these can be a difficult breed of dog to train. They will not always follow orders or perform commands, and extensive patience is required.

Health

With an average lifespan of 10-12 years, for a large breed of dog, they tend to live a relatively healthy life. Conditions that they are thought to suffer from more so than the average dog include:

  • Bloat – GDV (gastric dilatation volvulus) or ‘Bloat’, is a potentially life-threatening condition that tends to occur most commonly in large breed dogs. This is a true emergency that can kill a dog within hours if not corrected by a veterinary surgeon. An affected dog’s stomach will twist on its axis, and the ensuing build-up of air within their stomach is what causes the abdomen to ‘bloat’. Symptoms to be on the watch for include a visibly bloated abdomen, drooling and panting.
  • Cataracts – The lens of the eye will become opaque resulting in varying degrees of vision loss. Surgery can be curative.
  • Hip Dysplasia – This is a chronic condition affecting the hip joints of the dog. The hips do not form correctly and will become arthritic as the dog ages. Affected animals will have trouble with their mobility and will experience joint pain. A multi-modal approach is recommended to treat this disease, which will commonly include weight loss, exercise management, nutraceuticals, anti-inflammatories and pain relief, as well as physiotherapy and hydrotherapy. Medical treatment is life-long, and while will help to manage symptoms, will never be curative. Total hip replacement or other orthopaedic surgeries may be an option for some candidates.

Exercise and Activity Levels

It is important to remember that puppies and juveniles should not be over-exercised as large-breed dogs can easily damage their joints when they are developing. The Caucasian Shepherd has incredible stamina, and if used as a working dog will responsibly patrol its territory for long hours without a break. If not used for shepherding, this dog would greatly benefit from a large, secure garden, as it loves to walk around.

The Caucasian Shepherd has relatively high exercise requirements and if given anything less than a good hour of activity a day is likely to exhibit nuisance or destructive behaviours. Another potential side effect of under-exercising is weight gain, as this breed can be prone to obesity.

Grooming

Brush once to twice weekly, and daily during their shed; which can be heavy. The longer haired versions of the breed benefit from daily brushing. It is absolutely critical to ensure routine grooming plays a part in the Caucasian Shepherd’s daily life from a very early age to increase their acceptance of it. Tooth brushing, ear checking, and claw clipping should be started as soon as a puppy is brought into a new home. Failure to do so will likely result in an uncooperative and grumpy adult who will not allow you to perform necessary tasks.

Famous Caucasian Shepherd Dogs

Whilst are no well-known Caucasian Shepherds in popular culture, Instagram offers wonderful insight into the lives of Caucasian Shepherds and their humans.

Cross-Breeds

While there are no recognised cross-breeds, the most commonly seen cross breed involving the Caucasian Shepherd Dog today, is likely the German Shepherd and Caucasian Shepherd mix.

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