Central Asian Shepherd

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Central Asian Shepherd

An ancient breed of dog that has many purposes, the Central Asian Shepherd has been prized and bred by nomadic people for thousands of years. Traditionally used to guard livestock and fight off predators, this dog has more recently been used by the government and the military, who have capitalised on its intimidating size and impressive strength.

Their large and well-muscled bodies ensure that they are well-equipped for their job, while their thick, heavy coat offers them protection from the harsh weather. Known for their potential aggression, as well as for their dominance and stubborn nature, this is not a breed for the novice owner, and great care should be taken to ensure that they become a well-adjusted, confident dog who is not a danger to society.

About & History

The Central Asian Shepherd Dog, or the Central Asian Ovtcharka, is thought to be one of the most ancient breeds still in existence today. Originally inhabiting rural areas of the Great Steppe of Central Asia in countries, such as Russia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, it is plausible that they have existed for over 10,000 years. It is believed that they may be the result of mixing the Tibetan Mastiff with other Central Asian guard dogs – though it is impossible to fully ascertain their history.

Nomadic farmers relied heavily on these strong and courageous dogs to protect their precious livestock from predators roaming the mountains, including wolves, bears and jackals. The Central Asian Shepherd would diligently spend hours by its flock, on the lookout for any hungry predator, typically working in packs. They would patrol the land, and bark to alert the nomads of a potential threat. Equally, if the predator attempted to attack and eat any of the livestock, the Central Asian Shepherd would heroically fight them off.

Existing on a barren land that experienced incredibly cold weather, this dog has had to develop into a robust and resilient breed with the weaker dogs naturally dying off. Often referred to as ‘wolf-crushers’, these are an incredibly powerful breed of dog. It is believed that these dogs were also participants in what is possibly the earliest known version of ‘dog fighting’. Encouraged, and witnessed by, the nomadic tribes, two male dogs would be made to fight. While it is thought that most fights ended with a dog admitting defeat by turning away, rather than with injuries, one can only imagine the potential wounds and damage these large beasts could have inflicted on each other. It is thought that one of the purposes of this deed was to determine which male dogs should be used for breeding.

More recently in history, the breed was recognised by the Soviet Union for its qualities. The best of the breed were employed in Russia in various capacities, including as guard dogs, patrol dogs and within the military. The government crossed the Central Asian Shepherd with other local breeds, such as the Caucasian Shepherd and the Russian Black Terrier. This has resulted in a breed with a very diverse genetic make-up.

Nowadays, these dogs tend to be used by civilians as both companion animals and watch dogs, though do still guard livestock in more rural communities. Sadly, they are also known to be used in dog fights in Central Asia: a profitable sport for man, that often results in brutal injuries and even deaths for the dogs involved.

There was an effort to standardise the breed in the 1920s and they were recognised by the United Kennel Club in 2001. If purchasing a Central Asian Shepherd, it is prudent to assess their lineage, and determine what purpose their ancestors have been bred for, as a dog who comes from a line of livestock watchdogs will naturally have a different personality to those bred to participate in dog fights, for example.

Appearance

Central Asian Shepherd Large Photo

While there is a great deal of variance within the population, all members of the breed share certain characteristics. Large and imposing, the male Central Asian Shepherd reaches heights of 78cms, while the female stands not much shorter, at up to 69cms. While males can weigh between 50kg and 80kg, the female of the breed tends to weigh about 20% less – usually 40kg to 65kg.

Their head is wide and bear-like, and their neck is thick and short with a prominent dewlap. Their dark eyes are deep-set within their head, while their ears are small and will flop over (though are traditionally cropped). Their broad, muscular body is sturdy, ending in a broad rump. They tend to be slightly longer than they are tall. They naturally have a long tail, though this is cropped within the working populations in many countries.

They possess a double coat that consists of a harsh outer layer and a soft, dense under coat for insulation. Breed members may have either a short coat or a long coat (which will not typically grow any longer than 7cm). Bred for their physical traits rather than uniform appearance, just about any pattern and colour is accepted, including:

  • Black
  • White
  • Grey
  • Brown
  • Brindle

Dark coloured ‘masks’ on their faces are common.

Character & Temperament

As a general rule, the Central Asian Shepherd dogs are independent, strong-willed, loyal and potentially aggressive. Depending on which breeding line they have come from, their characteristic traits may differ considerably. They will devote themselves to their owner, and do not tend to bond with any new people or animals. Due to their raw strength, and at times unpredictable nature, they should not be homed with children or other animals. Dog on dog aggression is common and males do not tend to tolerate each other.

It is not recommended that first time owners choose this breed of dog. Without adequate, early socialisation and firm training, the Central Asian Shepherd will almost certainly display aggression with strangers. Naturally suspicious of them, they will not hesitate to attack. Humans do not stand much of a chance against an animal that has fought off tigers and bears successfully.

Trainability

Photo of Central Asian Shepherd puppy

Unless an owner has considerable experience in dog training, they should not own a Central Asian Shepherd, who, in the wrong hands, can be a lethal weapon. Stubborn and at times determined, this dog lives to please no one, and will likely not perform a task unless it sees the benefit for itself. A dominant, consistent trainer is essential as this breed of dog will constantly attempt to fill the role of ‘top dog’ in the pack.

The ability to think for themselves was essential when surviving on the barren mountains of Central Asia, so these dogs are undeniably intelligent and resourceful. A talented trainer will be able to use this trait to their advantage, rather than allowing the dog to manipulate the situation and get its own way.

Health

Due to the dilution of the gene pool with the mixing of other breeds into the population, genetic diseases are not as common as in other purebreds. Despite their large size, they tend to live a good quality life and have a lifespan of 12 to 14 years. Diseases that are likely more prevalent in this population include:

  • Hip Dysplasia – An orthopaedic condition affecting the development of the hip joints. The osteoarthritis that inevitably follows can severely hamper the quality of life of these large-breed dogs. Medical management is often advised.
  • Elbow Dysplasia – An inherited disease of the elbow joint, resulting in chronic osteoarthritis and lifelong pain and mobility issues.
  • GDV (Bloat) – When the dog’s stomach expands with gas and food, it may rotate on itself, trapping the contents and resulting in a potentially deadly scenario. Without surgery, affected dogs will not survive.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Naturally bred for stamina, this dog is ideally suited to walking and patrolling, rarely taking breaks. A large fenced-in garden is essential to allow the Central Asian Shepherd to keep active.

While not particularly energetic, due to their size, a daily walk of at least one hour is suggested. Failure to provide adequate exercise will lead to a dissatisfied dog that will likely use its energy for nuisance behaviours, such as barking and destructiveness. As with any growing large-breed dog, juveniles should not be over exercised, as this risks damaging their developing joints.

Grooming

While these dogs can shed profusely during their shedding season, most of the year they only require brushing a few times a week. It is vitally important to introduce all routine grooming requirements, such as coat brushing, tooth brushing and claw clipping, as early in the dog’s life as possible. Failure to do so will likely result in an adult dog that is intolerant of even the most basic tasks.

Famous Central Asian Shepherds

More suited to the vast, rural landscape of Central Asia than the bright lights of Hollywood, this breed has no well-known individuals. Prospective owners may find it useful to browse photos of the breed on Instagram, which are posted by owners of the breed.

Cross-Breeds

No popular cross-breeds of the Central Asian Shepherd exist.

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