Karakachan

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Karakachan

The Karakachan is a large, Molosser-type dog that evolved many centuries ago within Bulgaria and its neighbouring countries. They are known to have patrolled the local mountains, protecting the livestock by warning off any predatory threats with deep, guttural growls and barks. Strong and courageous, they would fight any predator without hesitation if it continued to pursue its prey.

Affectionate with those they know, they are typically cautious in the presence of strangers, and have the potential to act aggressively. Stubborn at times, they can be a handful to train, and are not recommended for the first-time owner. They need a large amount of exercise and are not best-suited to urban lifestyles.

About & History

The Karakachan dog, also known as the Bulgarian Shepherd, Thracian Mollos or Ovcharsko Kuche, is likely a breed you have not heard much about, such is their rarity. Native to Bulgaria, it is difficult to trace their exact origin as they are truly an ancient breed, but it is widely believed that they originated from Central Asian herding dogs.

They derive their name from a native group of shepherding people called the Karakachani, or Sarakatsani, who lived in Greece, Bulgaria and Albania. These nomadic people put great emphasis on animal breeding, and as well as preserving the Karakachan dog, they also gave their name to the Karakachan Sheep and Karakachan Horse.

The dog breed's prime purpose has always been to guard livestock on mountains. They are known for their courage when confronted with such threatening predators, like bears and wolves, and will not hesitate to defend their flock. Due to their sheer size, as well as their inherent loyalty and territorial behaviour, the Karakachan has also been used for many years as a patrol dog on the Bulgarian border, as well as a guard dog within peoples’ homes.

Unfortunately, during the 1950s, the local government devised an agricultural plan that focused on the production of foreign breeds, as they were thought to be superior to their Bulgarian counterparts. This mandate affected many species, including dogs. The numbers of Karakachan dogs reduced dramatically during this time, and the breed has never fully recovered from this decision.

While most commonly seen in Bulgaria, some breed members have made it across to the USA, however, they remain an incredibly rare breed. The Karakachan's standard was officially approved in 2005 – though they have not been accepted into any international kennel clubs just yet.

Appearance

Karakachan Large Photo

The Karakachan is a remarkably large and impressive dog, with males reaching heights of 63-75cm, while females will stand smaller at 60-69cm. Males will weigh between 45 and 57kg, while females will weigh less, typically between 40 and 52kg.

Their skull should be large, ending in an immense muzzle. In contrast to the size of their head, their eyes (which may be brown or hazel) are relatively small and deep-set. Equally, their ears are disproportionally small, hanging close to their domineering head. They have a well-muscled body with a straight back and deep chest. Their tail is bushy and may curl, typically reaching the hocks.

They always have a thick, full undercoat, but their straight top coat is variable among the breed, and may be short or long. When long, it should reach lengths of over 12 cms. Their coat colour will be white with brown, or white with black, or white with both black and brown. Large, well-demarcated coloured spots are preferred.

Character & Temperament

Still used mainly as a working dog, the Karakachan dog is dedicated to its role. They are hardy, diligent and hard-working. They are always alert, patrolling and guarding their flock. Any perceived threat to their herd will be met with aggression. In a home setting, a Karakachan will usually give plenty of vocal warnings before attacking, if they feel there is a call to do so.

They are a breed that will bond closely with their family and will quickly become very protective of them. If raised with children, they will devote themselves to them, though purely due to their size, they should be monitored at all times. They can potentially do well with other family pets if introduced appropriately.

They need extensive socialisation when young to encourage them to be tolerant of strangers within their home, as they will instinctively be very wary of any newcomer.

Trainability

Photo of Karakachan puppy

While they are known to be an intelligent breed, the Karakachan survived by itself for a long time out on the remote Bulgarian mountains and can thus be strong-willed when it comes to training. Unfortunately, they will not necessarily obey commands that they do not agree with.

They require a confident and experienced handler who will not allow them to take advantage or get their own way. This is particularly important due to their strength and potential for aggression when they feel threatened. Positive reinforcement works best with the Karakachan and reprimanding them will only lead to more undesired behaviours.

Health

Unfortunately, there are no health studies available relating to the Karakachan breed, and very limited anecdotal evidence exists regarding which diseases actually affect them. On the whole, they are accepted as being a generally healthy breed of dog that lives into its early teens. Due to their size, it would be prudent to monitor for the health conditions known to be more prevalent in larger dogs. These include:

  • Bloat – Bloat is a condition that occurs mostly in deep-chested dogs. An owner will notice that their dog cannot settle, may be panting or salivating, and may appear physically bloated (or ballooned) in the abdominal region. This bloating has occurred due to enlargement of the stomach, as it fills with gas. In more serious cases, the stomach will twist 360 degrees, worsening the situation. Any animal experiencing bloating must immediately be brought to an emergency vet for live-saving intervention.
  • Orthopaedic Conditions – Any large-breed dog is more susceptible to an array of orthopaedic problems, including elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia, osteochondrosis dissecans and osteoarthritis. Screening of breeding parents is a good idea to ensure that affected animals to not pass along their defective genes.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Developed throughout the years for high levels of stamina and the ability to patrol a flock all day and jump to their defence when needed, the Karakachan has predictably high exercise demands. In the ideal situation, they will be given the task of guarding flocks, though where this is not possible, other activities can suffice. Long daily walks, access to a large and secure garden, and lots of mental stimulation can keep a Karakachan content in the absence of herding duties.

If a Karakachan is confined to a small space, or not provided with enough to do, it is likely that they will become bored and frustrated. This will often lead to behavioural issues that can be hard to manage.

Grooming

The Karakachan is a seasonal shedder that will benefit from daily brushing during a shed. In between moults, brushing can be done a few times a week. They do not need regular bathing, which is a blessing, as this can be a mammoth task in such a large dog!

As their ears flop over, they need to be checked for signs of infection on a regular basis. Be on the watch for bad odours, ear shaking or signs of pain when you touch the ear.

Famous Karakachans

Interestingly, former U.S. president, George Bush, was presented with a Karakachan when he visited Bulgaria in 2003. This is a great example of how prized the breed has become to the Bulgarians in recent years.

Boyko Borissov, the former Bulgarian Prime Minister, publically gifted the former Russian President, Vladimir Putin with a tri-colour Karakachan puppy. When asked at a later date how the puppy was doing, Putin replied that ‘… he’s a very pretty boy, of course, and I love him’. He has called the dog Buffy.

Cross-Breeds

The Bulgarian Shepherd Dog is a cross of the Karakachan dog and other local breeds, including the Caucasian Shepherd and the Central Asian Shepherd.

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