Croatian Sheepdog

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
Photo of adult Croatian Sheepdog

The Croatian Sheepdog is an old breed with roots dating back to 14th century Croatia. This medium-sized working dog was created as a shepherding dog, capable of keeping both flocks of sheep and herds of cattle in order. In addition to their guarding duties, the Croatian Sheepdog also forms strong bonds with the shepherd, providing loyalty and companionship around the campfire at night.

The Croatian Sheepdog is so well-adapted to his tasks that there’s been little need for the breed to change since their early days all those centuries ago. In the modern age, the breed has the same strong herding instincts and is extremely active. When socialised well as a puppy, the breed makes for an excellent, loyal and loving family pet, provided they get plenty of exercise. The penalty for not meeting the latter are unwanted behaviours, such as excessive barking or destructiveness.

About & History

The history of the Croatian Sheepdog is a story of success. Information dating back to 1374 tells us the breed was already in existence then, with breed enthusiasts believing the origins go back even earlier to the 7th century.

What is certain is the breed’s appearance and talents have remained largely the same since the 14th century. When a dog is perfectly adapted to their environment and doing a great job of work, there’s little need to tinker round the edges. Indeed, documents written by a Petar, Bishop of Djakovo, in the 18th century describe a dog exactly matching the Croatian Sheepdog we see today.

In the early 20th century, the numbers of these working dogs dwindled, along with so many other niche breeds. The far-sightedness of a veterinarian, Prof. Romic, in the 1930s and his selective breeding program to save the breed, did indeed protect it so that numbers are now stable.


Croatian Sheepdog Large Photo

The Croatian Sheepdog has a distinctive appearance, in part because of his wavy or curly coat. He is a medium-sized dog of athletic appearance, with a body that is slightly longer than he is tall. Both male and female dogs are a similar height and weight.

His face has a healthy length of muzzle and triangular prick ears give him a permanently inquisitive air. The tail is slightly curved when held over the back, although traditionally working Croatian Sheepdogs had their tails docked.

Croatian Sheepdogs are usually black, or black and white. They have an unusual coat that is part reminiscent of a coarse-coated terrier and part of the curly poodle. Needless to say that coat provides wonderful waterproof protection for the working dog.

Character & Temperament

For the right owner, a Croatian Sheepdog will be a loyal, loving, willing, and gentle canine companion. This breed settles best when given firm but fair leadership with time spent on obedience training using reward-based methods. Two major aspects of the Croatian Sheepdog’s character is their need for exercise and a nature tendency to shyness. Again, for the right owner who loves outdoors activities, then this breed is a great match. Likewise, a well-socialised puppy will bond with a family and be utterly loyal.

The downside of these two aspects occurs if the breed's need for exercise and socialisation are not met. That energy has to come out somehow and the Croatian Sheepdog will happily entertain himself and the neighbourhood with a loud, cacophony of barking. Either that, or he’ll try his paw at interior design and scratch wallpaper off the walls and chew the sofa.

But it’s not all bad news. The well-adjusted Croatian Sheepdog is a loving soul, and readily takes to children and other pets. Indeed, they will stick close to their human owners and a well-developed herding instinct means they are protective should the need arise.


Photo of Croatian Sheepdog puppy
Michala Mračková /

The Croatian Sheepdog is an intelligent dog. When guided by a confident instructor, he learns quickly and is keen to obey. However, much like other working dogs, necessity means he’s also prone to independent thought and making his own judgement calls when the situation arises.

For the inexperienced owner, this independent streak may prove problematic. If a Croatian Sheepdog senses hesitancy, then he may fill in the gap by doing what he thinks best. So, whilst this isn’t a wilfully disobedient breed, the wise owner has some experience with dogs and how to train using reward-based training methods.


With a long heritage as a healthy working dog, the Croatian Sheepdog is blessed with robust good health. However, he’s not completely immune to ill-health, with the most common problems listed below.

Patella Luxation

The term Patella Luxation refers to wobbly kneecaps. The kneecap is designed to sit over the top of the knee (stifle) joint to provide a fulcrum on which the big thigh muscles pull. When a dog has a wobbly kneecap, this means the patella can slide sideways out of position and lock to one side of the knee.

This causes a mechanical lameness, a sign of which is the dog skipping a step on that leg. In mild cases, the kneecap rapidly slides back into position and the dog carries on as normal. In more severe examples, the knee becomes swollen and painful, and can result in early arthritis. Treatment ranges from the occasional use of pain-relieving medications through to reconstructive surgery of the knee.

Whelping Difficulties

The Croatian Sheepdog is linked to more than their fair share of difficulties giving birth. Whelping difficulties are a genuine emergency or the life of the mother and her unborn pups may be in danger. The answer often requires an urgent caesarean section, where the mother is given a general anaesthetic and the pups surgically removed from the womb.

Thus, the owner of a Croatian Sheepdog that is a pet should think very carefully before deciding to breed their female dog for the experience or for fun. Be aware there are real risks involved and be sure you have the finances for a caesarean section should this become necessary.

Retained Testicles

A normal male dog should have two testicles present in the scrotum. When only one testicle descends into the scrotum, the second testicle is referred to as ‘retained’. This errant testicle may be retained within the abdomen or in the inguinal canal where the back leg joins the body.

Retained testicles are significant because they pose a health risk to the dog. When exposed to the warmth of the body, the retained testicle carries a greater chance of becoming cancerous. In addition, torsion or twisting of the testicle can occur suddenly and be life-threatening.


Bloat or Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV) is a sudden onset condition where the stomach twists such that food and gas cannot escape. The increased pressure stretches the stomach to the point where the wall dies and major blood vessels in the abdomen are compressed. Without urgent surgical intervention, bloat can kill a dog within a frighteningly short period of time.

Deep-chested dogs, such as the Croatian Sheepdog, are at greatest risk of bloat. You can reduce the dog’s risk of developing this condition by feeding a good quality (low or no grains) food and always resting the dog for 90-minutes after eating.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Back in the 14th century, the Croatian Sheepdog had a job to do, and he did it very well. So well in fact that the breed has changed little over the centuries. What has changed is the lifestyle of those owning the breed. Whilst the Croatian Sheepdog is still wired to run and herd all day, he’s more likely to be a pet than a working dog. This breed requires huge amounts of exercise – on this, there is no compromise.

Should an owner not give sustained exercise twice a day, such as two, one-hour runs, then a Croatian Sheepdog will find their own outlet for excess energy. This is likely to involve barking, chewing, or general destructive behaviours. You have been warned! However, the good news is that they excel at dog sports, such as agility, Flyball, or Skijoring.


That distinctive wavy coat is the doggy equivalent of a waterproof jacket. Natural oils coat the hairs, making the coat as a whole impervious to water. This is the perfect adaptation to life when a dog spends day and night out in the field watching over a flock of sheep.

With this in mind, it’s best not to interfere with nature and avoid bathing a Croatian shepherd unless it’s absolutely essential. Shampoo, even a mild one, will strip away that waterproof coating and allow the elements in. Therefore, it’s best to steer clear unless the dog rolls in something unbearable on the nose!

As with any dog, the Croatian Sheepdog dog does shed. Whilst he doesn’t need much coat care, a weekly brushing is advisable so that you trap shed hair on the brush, rather than the soft furnishings.

Famous Croatian Sheepdogs

Herded together in one place on Pinterest are some wonderful photos of Croatian Sheepdogs. You can also search the hashtag #CroatianSheepdog on Instagram should you be interested in seeing some every day examples. In popular culture, however, we've yet to see the Croatian Sheepdog take up the limelight.


The Croatian Sheepdog is not commonly used for cross-breeding to produce hybrids.

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