Moscow Watchdog

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
 
Photo of adult Moscow Watchdog

The Moscow Watchdog is a breed popular in its country of origin, but almost unheard of in the wider world. This is because the Russian’s breed the Moscow Watchdog as a bespoke breed created to fill a specific niche with the Russian army, as an intimidating guard dog that was highly trainable.

On first inspection, you would be forgiven for mistaking a Russian Watchdog for a Saint Bernard. This is no coincidence because the latter was used, along with other breeds to adapt dogs of the ancient Molosser type, to meet the needs of the former Soviet Union.

This giant-breed dog is perhaps summed up in the word “Aloof”. He’s not a cuddly or affectionate dog, but with the right handling, can be calm and patient. However, his natural strength and protective nature means he needs an experienced owner who can meet the challenges of a strong-minded dog.

About & History

Our story starts in the ancient world with Molosser-type dogs. These were the huge, fierce fighting dogs that were used as dogs of war. It is from this line that breeds with bad reputations for being aggressive, such as the Cane Corso, Tosa Inu, and Neapolitan Mastiff, descended from.

After World War II, when the army of the former Soviet Union wanted to create a fierce and intimidating watchdog that would take instruction, the natural starting point seemed these Molosser dogs. To modify their fighting spirit, they introduced blood stock from the Saint Bernard (for greater size, intelligence, and good character), Caucasian Shepherd and Russian Spotted Hounds.

The result was indeed a strong watchdog of impressive proportions that was capable of taking and following orders. Over time, their popularity reached beyond the military, but these days, his popularity remains solely within Eastern Europe and he is little known outside of this area.

Appearance

Moscow Watchdog Large Photo

The Moscow Watchdog is sturdy and tall, giving the impression of a powerful dog not to be argued with. Standing two-thirds of a meter tall to the shoulder, and weighing as much as a small woman, they have an undeniable presence.

The breed has a thick coat, capable of withstanding harsh winter temperatures, that is predominantly white or red in colour. They have a pleasingly long tail that can almost brush along the floor.

Character & Temperament

Think of the Moscow Watchdog as a courageous warrior and you get a glimpse into his character. Bred to guard and protect, this ethos goes to his very core. In turn, this means he’s not dependent on human interaction and can seem rather aloof and disengaged from people.

However, this doesn’t mean he can’t be a family dog…it just needs to be a special kind of family. His owner must be an experienced dog trainer who is prepared to put in the time and commitment to keeping his dog obedient and occupied. These firm leadership skills help the dog understand his place within the family or pack, and thus behave appropriately towards any children.

Socialisation of a Moscow Watchdog puppy from an early age is essential, especially if they are to be a family dog.

Trainability

Photo of Moscow Watchdog puppy

As a breed that takes instruction well, how the dog shapes up is largely in the hand of the trainer. Whilst the breed does require strong leaders, so they don’t become too bossy, the use of harsh domineering training methods is inappropriate. The latter leads to a dog that obeys out of fear, which in turn, can inhibit the dog from growling and showing other valuable warning signs that he intends to attack.

Instead, the use of reward-based training methods is far preferable. This teaches the dog to listen to his owner and respond appropriately, but without fear or anxiety. In turn, this leads to a responsive, self-confident dog that listens readily to instruction. Given the physical size of the Moscow Watchdog, this is far more desirable than engaging in a battle of strength, which a human will inevitably lose.

Health

The Moscow Watchdog is overall a healthy breed with relatively few inheritable health problems. Of course, any dog needs a good diet, adequate exercise, vaccination, and parasite treatments to stay in top condition, and the Moscow Watchdog is no exception.

Hip Dysplasia

The hip is a ball and socket joint, designed so that the ball of the femoral (thigh bone) head moves smoothly in the socket of the pelvis. Hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition where the parent dog passes down faulty genes coding for poor hip conformation.

The anatomical issues this creates include a blockish femoral head, shallow joint, and lack of joint stability as the dog walks or runs. This causes inflammation, which results in pain, an outward sign of which is lameness. Over time, the body’s attempt to heal the inflammation results in bony spurs developing, which further complicates the picture. The ultimate end result is early onset arthritis which can be debilitating.

Pain-relieving medications are used to treat early stage or mild hip dysplasia, whilst more severe cases need radical surgery, such as a total hip replacement.

Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV)

The deep chest of the Moscow Watchdog means his stomach is prone to flipping over its axis. This traps gas within the stomach, which expands in size like a balloon to cause the life-threatening condition known as GDV or bloat.

Prevention is key and some working dogs undergo an elective surgical procedure, which anchors the stomach to the body wall. This prevents the stomach flipping over to cause an emergency situation.

Other strategies include giving a high quality food that is low in fermentable ingredients (such as soy or beans), feeding from the floor (rather than a raised bowl) and not exercising within at least 90 minutes of eating.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Exercise is essential, as these are working dogs. This doesn’t mean running the dog all day, like you would a terrier or shepherding dog, but a more sustained activity level, such as long walks or a chance to roam and explore, is ideal for the Moscow Watchdog. Those walks should also be used as an opportunity to train the dog and set the correct example, by insisting the dog walks to heel and obeys commands.

These dogs are no coach potato and not providing sufficient physical and mental exercise vastly increases the risk of bad behaviour. A bored dog is less likely to listen to his owner and more likely to quickly become out of control. In turn, the physical size of the dog means he’s ill-suited to being kept in an apartment or small house, and could accidentally (or not so accidentally!) do a lot of damage.

Grooming

The Moscow Watchdog has a thick, medium length coat. He doesn’t require professional grooming, but a good brush through once a week will help to condition the coat. Also, the breed is a moderate shedder so removing dead hair onto a brush, helps to reduce shed hair around the home. As with any dog, it’s a good idea to check for tangles or knots regularly, and remove them before they become a bigger problem.

Famous Moscow Watchdogs

Check out the handsome Bart, who is doing his bit on Instagram to showcase this impressive breed.

Cross-Breeds

The Moscow Watchdog is very much valued for himself and his unique characteristics. Indeed, it can be argued that the Moscow Watchdog is itself the ultimate in hybrids, since it was created by carefully selecting breeds that would provide him with sufficient size and the right temperament to perform his guarding duties.

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