East European Shepherd

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
 
Photo of adult East European Shepherd

Whilst the East European Shepherd is a breed few people have heard of, this dog’s physical appearance has a sense of déjà vu about it. This is because of the breed’s German Shepherd ancestry to which the EES has holds a striking resemblance. Regarded as a tough, outdoorsy type dog, the one chink in this breed’s otherwise good health, is a tendency to develop hip or elbow dysplasia (a trait prevalent in his German Shepherd antecedents)

The East European Shepherd (EES) was created by mixing breeds native to Russia, such as the Laika, to create a working dog well-acclimated to harsh sub-freezing conditions. The EES excels as a guard dog, with his skill set skewed towards guarding and protecting which also means he’s not ideal material for a pet dog. Anyone considering taking on an EES needs to be an experienced handler and it’s essential to source a well-socialised puppy, especially if he’s to mix with children.

About & History

The German Shepherd-like appearance of the East European Shepherd gives a strong hint as to the backstory of this breed. The Russian Army and police wanted a guard dog and sniffer dog that was physically equipped to deal with the harsh climatic conditions. They started with the acknowledged working skills of the German Shepherd and crossed this breed with native Russian breeds, such as the East Siberian Laika, along with the Caucasian Shepherd and Central Asian Shepherd.

Created as late as the 1930-50s, arguably the EES was one of the first hybrid breed (decades before the Labradoodle) created with function in mind to work as a guard dog in a harsh environment. The standard which now sets the breed type was established in 1964 by the USSR Ministry of Agriculture, Cynological Council. The EES breed goes by a variety of names including the Vostochnoevropejskaya Ovcharka… or, more manageable, VEO for short.

Appearance

East European Shepherd Large Photo

The overall impression of an EES is of a large but athletic dog that is powerfully built and mentally alert. Their physique is muscular but without being stocky or heavy; with strong straight legs, a deep but narrow chest, a tucked up waist, and a long back. The croup or rump slopes down slightly towards as thickly furred straight tail. The EES has a medium-length double coat that is exceptionally thick, due to a well-developed undercoat. The coat colour is typically described as ‘saddled’ with a blanket of a contrasting colour over the shoulders and backline.

The most prevalent colours are:

  • Tan with a black saddle
  • Tan with a red-black saddle
  • Solid black
  • Solid liver
  • Blue with black saddle
  • Solid blue
  • Solid silver
  • Solid white

Character & Temperament

The EES is primarily a working dog and so scores low when it comes to getting along with other dogs, pets, or children. Anyone thinking about an EES as a family dog needs to be an experienced trainer and dedicate hours to obedience training. In addition, it is essential that the puppy comes from a well-socialised litter and has had positive experiences with a wide variety of children and people. Even then, supervision when with kids is not optional.

The breed’s strong prey drive also means they’re prone to chasing other animals, so he’s best kept as a lone pet. That said, in the hands of the right owner, the EES makes for a loyal and sensitive dog that is devoted to his master or mistress.

A well-socialised EES will let his hair down and be playful and confident, however, the very nature of his being means he is wary of strangers and prone to protect first rather than hang back. Of course, these are great properties in a guard dog, but not so desirable in a pet.

Trainability

The EES is intelligent and loves having a job of work to do. This makes him highly trainable with the correct motivation. However, his natural strength of character will make him challenge for leadership and need a special sort of handling.

As with all dogs, reward-based training methods are most appropriate, where the dog learns to think through problems in order to get praise or a treat. This can be done in a firm but fair way, so that the dog listens to his owner and doesn’t try to take advantage. But this isn’t simply a matter of training the dog and job done, because obedience training should be on-going and continuous throughout the dog’s lifespan in order to provide vital mental stimulation and remind him who is in charge.

Health

The East European shepherd is overall a healthy breed, with a couple of notable exceptions. Unfortunately, the German Shepherd heritage shows through in the EES with a tendency to develop hip and/or elbow dysplasia.

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

Dysplasia refers to poorly formed joint anatomy, in this case affecting the hips and/or elbows. This is a genetic condition where the parent dogs had genes coding for poor anatomy. In later years, the scale of this disabling problem was recognised and screening of parent dogs actively encouraged, so that only dogs with sound joints are used for breeding future generations.

Unfortunately, for pups that inherited badly shaped joints, the latter are prone to inflammation and cause pain when the dog exercises. In the short term, the dog may be lame or limp, have difficulty performing actions such as jumping up, or he may stop during exercise. In the long term, that constant inflammation can lead to joint remodelling and premature arthritis setting in. For some dogs, this can be disabling and impair their enjoyment of life, which is all the more heart-breaking because this can happen to young dogs.

Management of hip or elbow dysplasia means careful guardianship of the pup’s activity levels whilst his bones are still maturing. It’s important to avoid excessive tiredness, since the muscles supporting the joints then become less supportive and joint damage becomes more likely.

In addition, giving a joint supplement or nutraceutical regularly can help to protect the joint surfaces. Dogs with mild dysplasia can often be managed with rest and pain-relieving medications, however, those most seriously affected may need radical surgery, including specialist replacement joint surgery.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The EES is a working dog and needs exercise levels matching up to his drive to be active. He is no couch potato and requires daily exertion and vigorous exercise to keep both his mind and body healthy. Not to do so risks boredom, which then leads to unwelcome behaviours, such as chewing, digging, or excessive barking.

Grooming

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to the East European Shepherd and coat care. First, the good news: He doesn’t need trips to the grooming parlour and his coat is unlikely to become knotted or unkempt. But, the bad news is that his thick undercoat has to be shed, and when this happens it causes a veritable fur-storm around the house. Regular brushing can help reduce the amount of fur shed on the carpets and soft-furnishings, but even then be prepared for drifts of fur lurking in the corners of the room.

Again, the East European Shepherd’s coat is designed to look after itself and requires little by way of bathing or shampooing. Indeed, frequent washing will destroy the natural balance of oils that weatherproof the coat against wind and rain, and is therefore best avoided.

Famous East European Shepherds

Here’s the thing, if you’re interested in being the first, then the field is wide open to start a group for the East European Shepherd on the social media platform of your choice. But, at present, there really are no 'famous' East European Shepherds in the media. Instagram has a fair few photos of the breed though with a.l.e.k.s.n.a.t being a particularly gorgeous example.

Cross-Breeds

The EES is a rare breed outside of his native Russia and is therefore not a dog at the forefront of the mind when creating for new hybrid crosses. Indeed, the purity of the breed is highly prized with the efforts of breeders going into reducing the likelihood of hip dysplasia in future generations, rather than outcrossing.

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