Bulgarian Hound

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
Photo of adult Bulgarian Hound
BG Macedonia / Wikipedia.org

The Bulgarian Hound, also known as the Bulgarian Barak, is an ancient dog breed. The word ‘Barak’ comes from an old Turkish word meaning ‘shaggy’, which describes the coat of these scent-driven working dogs. As the name hound suggests, these dogs work using their noses to track small mammals. But more than this, they are capable of hunting and bringing down some of the more fearsome types of wildlife, such as wild boars, which once roamed the Balkan region.

The Barak is an active dog that likes to think for himself and isn’t great at taking direction, and can be a handful to control. Whilst he is good natured, his natural stubborn streak means he’s not suitable as a first dog and in general he does better with an experienced handler.

About & History

The Bulgarian Hound has a long and mysterious history. The story of their origin is thought to extend back well over a thousand years, to times when no records were kept.

There are two prevailing theories about how the Barak came into being. The first involves dogs breed by the ancient Thracians, whilst the second theory involves invading Turks. Whatever the truth, there’s no disputing that the Balkan region was an important cross-roads where different peoples met or passed through. It is entirely reasonable that the dogs accompanying travellers from ancient times, then went on to breed with dogs native to the area.

The result of this cross-breeding, so long ago, became what we now see as two distinct lines of hunting dogs considered native to the area. One breed is coarse coated and called the Bulgarian Hound (or Bulgarian Barak), whilst the other is smooth coated with a distinctive black and tan colouration, known as the Bulgarian Scenthound (or Gonche).

The success of Barak is down to their consummate tracking abilities, and a character of steel that gives them the courage to take on fearsome wild boars.


The Bulgarian Hound is a medium to large-sized dog, somewhat similar in silhouette to a Beagle. They are solidly built, yet lean, with workman-like legs and a sensible proportion to the head and muzzle.

The feature that most distinguishes the Bulgarian Hound from other similar dogs is his coat. The latter’s shaggy nature lends itself to the dog’s alternative moniker of Barak (meaning ‘shaggy’). However, this isn’t a long curly coat that hangs in dreadlocks, but more coarse, slightly wavy hair that grows about 6-7 cm long.

The Bulgarian Hound comes in a range of colours, including: black, white, brown, grey, red, and rust; and is more frequently bi- or tri-coloured, with a saddle region of a darker colour.

Character & Temperament

To understand the character of the Barak means understanding the job they were bred to do. This involved tracking a scent and following it across rough terrain. This accounts for their obsession with smells from which it can be hard to distract them.

Another feature of their character is that the dog would frequently run some distance ahead of their owner and then bark to signal their position. This allowed their master to locate them and catch up. In practical terms, this makes the Barak immensely independent and freethinking… not to mention noisy. Whilst a good trait in a hunting dog, this can make for a frustratingly disobedient pet.

And, did you spot the mention of barking? These guys like the sound of their own voice and aren’t afraid to use it. Added to this, remember this bark is one that carries over quite some distance – a trait that is helpful out in the country, but not so good in the city.

In common with many tracking dogs, the Bulgarian Hound tends to form a strong bond with their handler. Once they learn to look to their owner for guidance, they are devoted animals, provided the owner meets their needs for mental stimulation and exercise.

Another factor to consider is that strong hunting instinct. A Barak isn’t able to tell the difference between a wild rabbit and beloved pet bunny. To the dog, they are both prey, and things aren’t going to end well. The upshot being that Baraks make uneasy house companions to other pets and this is a scenario best avoided.


The Barak is an intelligent dog but can find it hard to focus on instruction. This is because they are readily distracted by their nose and prone to using their own initiative rather than following instruction.

However, with an experienced handler they can achieve wonderful things, especially using reward-based training methods. The wise handler uses the dog’s sense of smell to provide mental stimulation by way of having them follow a scent trail for exercise.

Training sessions should be fun and involve movement to get the best out of the dog. Consider training outdoors and have the dog fetching and retrieving, rather than training in a school hall where they have to sit and stay still. Remember, this is a dog that likes to be on the go and not sitting learning lessons.


As a working dog with ancient heritage, the Barak has few recognised inherited health problems. It’s not clear whether this is down to genuine hardiness or because they live in rural communities where few records are kept.

However, even for a hardy dog, there are hazards an owner would do well to protect their dog against. These include infectious disease, parasites, and parasite-transmitted diseases.


An active dog is likely to encounter all manner of infectious diseases on their adventures. For example, a hunting dog that splashes through standing water is at increased risk of exposure to leptospirosis.

Thankfully, there is the option to vaccinate against a range of highly infectious conditions, such as parvovirus, distemper, and canine adenovirus. Most vets now follow protocols where they risk assess the dog and create a vaccine protocol that best suites the needs of that individual. This avoids ‘over vaccination’ whilst still maintaining the protection the dog needs.

Parasite Control

That active lifestyle does place the Barak in contact with a whole host of parasites, both external and internal.

The external parasites include fleas, ticks, and fox mange mites. Whilst the internal parasites include the common roundworm, tapeworms and others, such as hook or whipworms. Depending on which country the dog lives in, there’s also heartworm and lungworm to consider.

Effective regular parasite control is essential in order to prevent the discomfort or distressing impact of parasites. Whilst fleas are unpleasant and cause itchiness, other parasites have the potential to kill or cause debilitating illnesses. For example, ticks can transmit Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Fever, whilst lungworm can cause blood-clotting disorders that can cause fatal bleeding.

Once again, speak to your vet about a risk assessment to work out which wormer to use and how often.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The high energy levels of the Bulgarian Hound mean he needs plenty of exercise, each and every day. These are dogs that love the outdoor life and are never happier than when tracking over rough terrain. Ignore this natural need at your peril!

An owner that fails to meet their dog’s need for exercise is liable to end up with a bored dog. The latter then makes their own entertainment in the form of barking, chewing, digging, or generally destructive behaviour. In short, don’t go there!

Instead, be prepared to get fit with your dog. A Barak makes for a good jogging companion for someone training for a marathon, or alternatively, consider activity sports, such as Canicross or agility, to do with a Barak.


The coarse coat of the Barak has evolved to protect the dog from the elements and from thorns. As such, it needs very little by way of maintenance, if you don’t mind the shaggy look. In common with other coarse coated breeds, such as terriers, for a smarter appearance, then hand stripping is the thing. Avoid clipping the coat as the regrowth is often of inferior quality.

The Barak only needs the occasional bath, since over-cleansing will strip the naturally protective oils out of the coat. But this doesn’t mean you should ignore coat care altogether. A regular brushing helps spread those conditioning oils and stimulates the circulation to the skin. In addition, you should check the dog over after each walk, and remove any detritus that has got stuck in the fur.

Famous Bulgarian Hounds

If the Barak or Bulgarian Hound is a dog that intrigues you, then this Facebook group, the National Club of the Bulgarian Barak is the place to find out more.


All breeding efforts are concentrated on maintaining the purity of this ancient dog breed, and so the Barak is not usually used to create hybrids.

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