Russian Black Terrier

Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
Photo of adult Russian Black Terrier

The Russian Black Terrier is a large dog belonging to the working group of breeds. It is energetic, loyal and confident with a natural love of work. It was originally bred by the Russian military after World War II as a highly specialised guard and service dog by combining several well-known breeds. The breed makes an excellent guard dog, but requires plenty of exercise and mental stimulation to keep it happy and healthy, meaning that is best suited to an experienced owner.

The Russian Black Terrier is exceptionally loyal to its family but can be suspicious and aloof with strangers. It does not typically suffer from separation anxiety and is highly trainable. It should be supervised around children and needs to be well socialised with other dogs from puppyhood to ensure it does not develop problematic behaviours. The breed has a coarse coat, which does not shed, but requires regular brushing. Although the Russian Black Terrier has a long life expectancy for its size it can be affected by some inherited health problems.

About & History

The Russian Black Terrier, also known as the Tchiorny Terrier, is a large breed of dog that belongs to the working group of breeds. In fact, it is not a terrier at all and it was developed relatively recently after the Second World War in the late 1940’s by crossing several different breeds, which include the Giant Schnauzer, the Airedale Terrier, the Rottweiler, and the now extinct Moscow Water Dog (a breed formed from the Newfoundland and sheepdogs). The formation of the breed was undertaken by the Russian army to produce a highly specialised guard and service dog after World War II left the native dog populations severely depleted. The breed was developed to be large, independent, agile and tough to cope with the extreme variations in both terrain and climate found in Russia. It was intended to be brave, but manageable with an inbuilt guarding instinct. Initially, the military supervised the breeding and all dogs were based at the ‘Red Star’ kennels until the late 1950’s.

After the breed was also made available to civilian breeders, the appearance of the breed also became more of a focus, as opposed to purely focusing on its working ability. Since then, the breed has spread to other countries around the world and was introduced to the United Kingdom in 1996. Today, the Russian Black Terrier still makes an excellent guard dog, but also excels in obedience, agility and other modern dog sports and trials.


Russian Black Terrier Large Photo

Only Russian Black Terriers of the following colours may be registered with the UK Kennel Club :

  • Black
  • Black with Grey Hairs

The Russian Black Terrier is a large dog and should measure between 66 and 77 cm at the withers. Female dogs should be slightly smaller than males. The body should be slightly longer than the height at the withers. The breed should have a long, strong neck set at around 45 degrees to the back. This should lead to well-angled shoulders and straight legs. The withers should be clearly defined and the chest should be deep, occupying at least half the height to the withers. The back and hind end should be well developed, wide and muscular with a high set tail.

The Russian Black Terrier should have a fairly wide flat skulled head that is in proportion to its body with visible eyebrows and rounded cheekbones. The muzzle should be strong and solid and appear to run parallel to the skull – although it should be a little shorter in comparison to the skulls length. The jaws should be strong, with a complete dentition and a perfect scissor bite and the beard should give a square appearance to the face. The breed has wide set, dark, oval shaped eyes that are of a medium size. Ears should be triangular in shape and high set, folding neatly over against the cheek.

The breed should move with a springy, elastic movement, covering plenty of ground with each stride. The back end should appear to provide plenty of drive to the gait.

Character & Temperament

The Russian Black Terrier has a calm, confident and secure character. It is extremely loyal to its family but is aloof and suspicious with strangers due to its natural guarding instinct. Although the breed is generally good with children in its family it is always best supervised. The breed does not typically suffer from separation anxiety and makes an exceptional guard dog, a task that it performs naturally, even without training. Socialisation from puppyhood with other dogs is important to ensure the breed does not become difficult to handle or aggressive.


Photo of Russian Black Terrier puppy

The Russian Black Terrier was bred to work and enjoys having a purpose in life. This means it generally enjoys learning and is very quick to pick up on training, so recall and house training is not usually a problem. The breed needs plenty of mental stimulation and consistency and this is important to prevent it from developing undesirable behaviours, also meaning it is a breed better suited to the more experienced dog owner.


The Russian Black Terrier has a life expectancy of 10 to 14 years of age. The UK Kennel Club classes it as a Category 1 breed. Despite its relatively long life span for a breed of its size it can be predisposed to certain hereditary conditions. Testing is required by the UK Kennel Club for the following conditions:

Hip Dysplasia (HD)

Hip dysplasia in the Russian Black Terrier is where the hips develop abnormally. It can be comprised by one or more different problems or abnormalities, which all lead to joint disease and arthritis in older dogs. The hips are x-rayed in dogs over a year old and the x-rays are evaluated by experts and assigned a score. The maximum score for both hips is 106 and the lower the score, the fewer signs of hip dysplasia are present. Although hip dysplasia has a genetic factor, its development can also be influenced by environmental factors.

Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is a condition where abnormal development leads to joint abnormalities and eventually arthritis. There is a large genetic component to the condition and ideally only dogs free from the condition should be used for breeding.

In addition, it is also strongly recommended by the UK Kennel Club that:

  • Breeders provide grooming advice
  • Females dogs should not have a litter of puppies under two years of age

Other hereditary conditions that can affect the Russian Black Terrier and can be tested for include:


This condition is caused when the uric acid, which is produced as a waste product by the body, does not dissolve in the urine as it should and accumulates over time. This eventually forms crystals, that form stones in the bladder. These often take time to build up and the condition most often becomes evident between 3 and 6 years old.

The stones can cause blood in the urine, difficulty and pain when urinating and may cause obstruction, which can have serious consequences and is considered a medical emergency. Obstructions are more likely to occur in male dogs due to a smaller urethra. Eventually, the build up of bladder stones may require surgery. A DNA test is available for the condition and this should be used before dogs are used for breeding.

Juvenile Laryngeal Paralysis & Polyneuropathy

This disease is caused when there are degenerative changes in the nervous system. The nerve that innervates the voice box or larynx is the longest nerve in the body and is therefore usually affected first. When this nerve is affected signs are seen in the dogs ability to breathe normally, especially after exercise or in warm conditions.

Eventually other nerves in the body can also be affected, causing instability in the back legs amongst other signs. The clinical signs of this condition usually become apparent after just a few weeks of age. There is a DNA test available to test for the condition and this should be used before dogs are used for breeding.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Russian Black Terrier is an extremely active breed that requires plenty of exercise to keep it happy and healthy. This means around two hours of walking a day are necessary, ideally, with as much time as possible spent off the lead or performing mentally stimulating activities.

The breed can have a strong character and its working background means that it is happiest if it has a purpose in life to keep it mentally and physically stimulated. A lack of activity and stimulation can lead to boredom and dogs may resort to destructive behaviours or become hyperactive and difficult to control.


The Russian Black Terrier has a double layered coat that is neither soft, nor wiry. The outer layer is coarse and appears to be slightly ‘broken’ in appearance and the undercoat is dense and insulating. If left unclipped, the coat grows to a medium length, but typically the breed is groomed and clipped leaving the coat around the muzzle, legs and underside longer and shorter on the rest of the body and neck.

This means that professional grooming is usually necessary a few times a year to keep the coat in good condition. The breed does not shed but should be brushed regularly, otherwise its coat can become matted and dirty and difficult to manage.

Famous Russian Black Terrier

There are currently no famous examples of Russian Black Terriers in popular culture.


Some popular Russian Black Terrier cross-breeds are:

  • Russian Doodle – Cross between a Russian Black Terrier and a Poodle
  • Russian Water Spaniel – Cross between a Russian Black Terrier and an Irish Water Spaniel
  • Wolf Terrier – Cross between a Russian Black Terrier and an Irish Wolfhound

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