Karst Shepherd

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Karst Shepherd
Svar12 / Wikipedia.org

The Karst Shepherd closely resembles the Caucasian Shepherd, though is smaller and lighter. They have a thick, grey coat with a lion’s mane at the neck, a sturdy body, pendulous ears and a long, furry tail. Karst Shepherds are built for patrolling land and roaming for hours on end and thus have well-muscled limbs and a relatively high exercise requirement.

Though this breed has traditionally been used in their homeland of Slovenia for guarding farms and herding farm animals, they have recently made a name for themselves as a family pet. Devoted to their owners, the Karst Shepherd will be very protective of their family and acts as an excellent watchdog and guard dog.

About & History

The national dog of Slovenia, the Karst Shepherd has been in existence for several centuries, though its exact date of origin remains unknown. It is named after the region from which it originates. The Slovenian Karst region is located in southwestern Slovenia, a visually stunning area with limestone formations and hilly terrains.

The Karst Shepherd continues to work locally as a herding dog, as well as a guardian of livestock. Despite this job role, this breed is often kept within the family home, as it adapts well to indoor life.

A sheepdog by nature, the Karst Shepherd is thought to have developed from a mixture of several sheepdog breeds, including the Caucasian Shepherd and Romanian Shepherd, two breeds that it closely resembles. While it was initially known as the Illyrian Shepherd from 1939, it had a name change in 1968. At the same time, the Šarplaninac dog (Yugoslavian Shepherd) was recognised as a separate breed, as previously these two breeds had been grouped together. The UKC currently recognises the Karst Shepherd within their Guardian Group, and there are thought to be a few breed members that presently reside in the USA, where it is considered an extremely rare breed.

While exact population size is unknown, it is estimated that there were around 600 Karst Shepherds in existence in 2008, and numbers are not likely to have changed dramatically since then. There is now a breeding programme in place which aims to increase breed numbers and decrease line breeding, to reduce the likelihood of genetically transmitted diseases.


Karst Shepherd Large Photo
Pleple2000 / Wikipedia.org

A physically impressive dog, the Karst Shepherd is similar in appearance to the better-known Caucasian Shepherd. The Karst Shepherd is robustly built, medium in stature and has long, straight, grey fur.

The skull of the Karst Shepherd is rounded and their head is relatively large in comparison to their body. Their stop is not pronounced, while their muzzle is slightly shorter than their skull. The lips of this breed must be black and should be tight fitting. Their black nose is prominent, while their almond-shaped eyes are brown and deeply set within their face, well spaced apart. The dark eyes of this breed lend it a sincere and relaxed expression. Their pendant ears fall tightly beside the face and are of a medium size, covered with fur that is longer than that on the rest of the coat.

The broad neck of the Karst Shepherd is one of its most striking features; well-muscled and with a densely-furred ‘lion’s mane’. Their body is rectangular in shape, with a wide and deep chest and a straight, strong back. Their limbs are long and muscular with dense bones. It is advised by the UKC that hind limb dew claws should be removed for show dogs. The long tail of the Karst Shepherd should reach past their ankle and is covered in dense fur. It curves slightly and is carried level with the back when the dog is alert.

The characteristic, profuse coat of the Karst Shepherd protects it from the harsh weather conditions it often encounters. Its undercoat is thick, offering ample protection. The fur of this breed should measure >10cm and is described as ‘iron grey’ in colour. Their fur is lighter on their legs and underside. A black facial mask is a necessity and it is also important that the front of the legs have darkly streaked fur.

Male dogs will reach heights of somewhere between 57cm and 63.5cm when measured to the withers, while females are slightly smaller at 54cm to 60cm. Males will weigh between 30kg and 40kg and females weigh from 25kg to 37kg.

Character & Temperament

True individuals, the Karst Shepherds are not the type of dog that will ‘go with the flow’, preferring instead to have things their way and be in control of situations. Built to be a superb guard dog, this breed is very wary of any new person and will instinctively guard their territory and family, even if never asked to. While they are a brave breed and will never back away from confrontation, they will only become aggressive if the situation warrants it, preferring to warn off intruders with their deep bark. A family should be reassured that a Karst Shepherd will act as a very reliable burglar alarm!

Notably loyal, this breed bonds strongly with their family and will happily co-exist with them inside the family home, eager to obey their commands and maintain the peace. Docile with younger family members, they can usually be trusted with children as long as they have received appropriate socialisation and training from puppyhood. However, given the strength of this dog and its potential to be territorial, children should be supervised in their company and must act sensibly, treating this dog with the respect it deserves.


As the Karst Shepherd has a tendency to want to be dominant, they must be taught their position within the family from a young age. Mixed signals must be avoided and all family members should abide by the same rules when it comes to the dog. Karst Shepherds should understand that it is not appropriate for them to climb on people or furniture, to act possessive of their food or toys or to be hostile towards visitors that are welcome in the home.

When it comes to the routine duties of the Karst Shepherd, they are instinctively good at both shepherding and guarding farmyard animals. They will need little training in this regard and will carry out their instructions with relish.


As with many breeds that have been traditionally used to work and have not been bred primarily for their physical appearance, the Karst Shepherd tends to be an extremely healthy breed. However, due to the small population size, there is a concern that if any diseased breed members are used in the breeding pool, the health of the overall population could be dramatically affected. Screening programmes for breeding animals are highly recommended for this reason, and the following orthopaedic condtions should be monitored for:

Hip Dysplasia

A malformation of the hip joints that is diagnosed with X-rays. Hip dysplasia results in lifelong mobility issues and chronic pain in affected dogs.

Elbow Dysplasia

Orthopaedic elbow diseases can be tricky to diagnose and dogs with suspected elbow dysplasia often need advanced CT imaging in order for a vet to identify the exact underlying issue. For many dogs, surgical procedures will be recommended in an attempt to improve their forelimb mobility and comfort.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Probably the paragraph to which a potential owner should pay the most attention to when researching this breed, the exercise requirements of the Karst Shepherd are relatively large and must be met in order for the dog to be well-balanced and settled within the family home. Providing them with a small house and garden and not meeting their exercise needs on a daily basis will likely result in negative behaviours and a misbehaving dog that is difficult to control.

Luckily, the Karst Shepherd does not need to be exercised at a fast pace and will be happy to tag along on walks and hikes with their owner. They love to roam and be active and ideally would be placed in a home with extensive land that is well fenced-in. If it is an option to allow this breed to perform tasks such as herding or agility training, these activities will provide the necessary physical and mental stimulation needed to keep the Karst Shepherd happy.


The double coat of the Karst Shepherd is thick and requires grooming once or twice a week with a wire comb. This grooming will need to be done more frequently during the shedding season, and a daily brush outdoors is often advised. The longer fur on the ears and behind the legs is prone to tangling and should be paid extra attention.

It is not necessary to bathe the Karst Shepherd often as their natural oils maintain healthy skin and fur. Bathing should be undertaken once or twice a year, or on any occasion that the dog gets particularly muddy or smelly. Dry shampoos are often useful to keep their coat smelling nice in between baths. Ears should be cleaned out twice a month if they are prone to developing a waxy build-up.

Famous Karst Shepherds

A rare breed that is not often seen outside of its native Slovenia, the Karst Shepherd has no famous breed members at this moment in time.


There are no popular Karst Shepherd cross-breeds.

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