Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Šarplaninac

The Yugoslavian Shepherd Dog, or Šarplaninac, is a Molosser type dog that gets its name from the Šar mountain range in the Balkan region where it originates from. A true working dog, this breed has shepherded flocks for many centuries, and does best when fulfilling this role. A dog with impressive stamina, they will work tirelessly for their master when out in the fields. Also employed by the military in various roles, and by the public as guard dogs, they are a remarkably versatile breed.

Large and powerful, though not innately aggressive, they can be fiercely protective and will attack if they sense the need. While very tolerant of their own family, they are known to be suspicious of new people, and thus need excellent socialisation from puppyhood.

About & History

Referred to in older texts as the Illyrian Dog, this breed was renamed in 1957 after gaining recognition from the FCI. It’s current breed name Šarplaninac is pronounced ‘Shar-plan-ee-nats’ and means Sharr (Šar) Mountain Dog. As this breed developed naturally with little or no intervention, its exact origins are largely unknown and undocumented. What is known, is that it the Šarplaninac has guarded flocks of mountain sheep and cattle from fearsome predators for what is likely thousands of years. The flocks needed protection from the likes of bears, wolves and even human poachers.

Given their dominant appearance and protective nature, it is not surprising that the Šarplaninac dogs have also been employed by the local militaries, patrolling prisons and guarding important areas.

Interestingly, the more recent breeding of the Šarplaninac was completely controlled by the state until the 1970s, and no international exports were allowed; greatly limiting their popularity in other countries. Though difficult to prove, many sources state that the first Šarplaninac brought to America was brought down from its mountain on top of a mule!

Today, it is still common to see this breed performing its usual shepherding role in its native lands, and a small number of breed members have now made it overseas. In Canada and the USA, some people use the Šarplaninac to fend off wild coyotes. While recognised by the UKC within the Guardian dog group, the Šarplaninac is not yet recognised by the AKC or United Kingdom Kennel Club yet.


Šarplaninac Large Photo

The Šarplaninac should be large and strong with good muscling all over and heavy, thick bones. Their head is large and their body long. Their dark eyes are relatively small and sunken, while their small and furry, v-shaped ears hang down behind their face. Their nose is large and dark while their huge jaw should be prominent as well as powerful.

Males reach heights of 62cm, with females a few centimeters shorter at maturity. The male Šarplaninac will weigh between 35 and 45kg, whereas females will typically weigh about 5kg less than this.

Their shaggy, dense double-coat is impressively thick, protecting them from the cold winters atop mountains, even allowing them to sleep on ice and snow contentedly. Their belly and legs have profuse feathering, adding to their intimidating size. Their coat is either grey, fawn or white, with a dark facial mask and darker fur along the back. It is rare that they display only one colour, and most breed members will have fur that is varying shades of the same colour. The most common colour pattern is grey with tan markings. Their elegant tail should be noticeably bushy once matured.

Character & Temperament

It is essential that the Šarplaninac, a working dog by nature, retains its natural instinct to be courageous in the face of predators, and be protective and defensive of their territory. Even people that the Šarplaninac does not see as a threat will be welcomed into the home coolly, as they tend to remain aloof with those that are not part of their family.

They are calm and quiet, always alert of their surroundings, but happy to relax at the end of the working day. They accept the children in their household, but care should be taken with others, and they should be introduced slowly and in a controlled setting.

Used to working without human interaction for long periods of time, this breed is independent and not prone to issues such as separation anxiety. Serious and diligent, they make excellent working dogs, who make little fuss and will get on with their job with little persuasion.


Photo of Šarplaninac puppy

It is vital that the Šarplaninac has an experienced and confident trainer. They respond best to fixed commands and repetition. Due to their potential to be dangerous, an untrained Šarplaninac should be considered a potential threat, particularly to people it doesn’t know and trust. Often stubborn, they require a persistent trainer who will not yield to them; letting them get their own way when they are being obstinate. Wilful at times, they are certainly not for the faint-hearted, and require a dominant handler who is firm and fair.

Intelligent, once provided with suitable training, they can excel in a number of tasks. Indeed, having been used by military forces for many years, they have proven their ability to be disciplined and trustworthy.


A large breed of dog that often lives to their early teens, the Šarplaninac has naturally evolved for centuries, meaning that they tend to be hardy and healthy.

Hip Dysplasia

In 1972, a study carried out by the university of Belgrade, revealed that roughly one in four Šarplaninac dogs suffered from Hip Dysplasia; a surprising statistic to people at the time, as most breed members were successful working dogs. A preventative programme was thus put into place in order to reduce the frequency of this debilitating condition within the population. Hip Dysplasia is a health condition that results from the failure of the dog’s hips to form correctly.

The ball and socket hip joint does not glide smoothly when the dog moves, but instead, the bones will grate against each other. This leads to ‘micro trauma’ and inflamed tissue, which will ultimately cause lameness, pain and bony remodelling. Imaging studies can diagnose the condition and it is essential that only animals proven to have healthy hips are bred from.

Bloat / GDV (Gastric Dilatation Volvulus)

GDV is another potential health condition that the Šarplaninac may experience. In general, deep-chested dogs are more prone to this potentially deadly condition. While the cause is not fully understood, over-eating and exercising after a large meal have both been associated with GDV.

A dog’s stomach will fill with gas (dilatation) and turn over on itself (volvulus). Blood vessels then become compressed, leading to a decrease in blood pressure and shock. When the organs do not receive enough oxygenated blood, they will start to become necrotic. Within mere hours, an animal can die without intervention.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Used to having large territories of their own to roam and patrol, the Šarplaninac is not suited to a small home, and if not working on farmland or living in a rural area, should be provided with plenty of exercise and an outdoor fenced area that it has constant access to. The fencing must be very robust to keep them within their boundaries.

When being taken on walks, the Šarplaninac requires a powerful person to hold it, and a body harness rather than a neck collar is recommended to give the owner more control. A child should never walk a Šarplaninac, as they are not strong enough to properly restrain this breed if necessary. It is not unheard of for under-exercised or under-stimulated Šarplaninacs to become destructive, often digging up gardens and chewing household items in frustration.


The Šarplaninac can be a moderately heavy shedder and a consistent grooming routine is a must. Ensure that this routine is established from when the Šarplaninac is young, as attempting to introduce a new and unexpected task to an adult dog will potentially result in defensive behaviour or even fear aggression.

Equally, tasks such as clipping overgrown claws, checking between toes for debris and cleaning out ears should be started from puppyhood, and continued regularly throughout the life of the Šarplaninac.

Famous Šarplaninacs

The Šarplaninac is yet to make its Hollywood debut, and appears to be far more comfortable living its rural lifestyle in south-eastern Europe.


There are currently no popular examples of any Šarplaninac crosses.

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