South Russian Ovcharka

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult South Russian Ovcharka

A large and powerful herding dog, the South Russian Ovcharka has a profuse, woolly coat that is mostly white, though may have shades of yellow and grey. Their strength and stamina allow them to patrol their territory for hours on end, while their defensive nature ensures they will not hesitate to defend their flock from any potential threat.

They are fiercely protective of their home and family, so are often seen as guard dogs within Ukraine and Russia. They need plenty of exercise, and if not used as working dogs, must have access to lots of fenced-in land on which they can roam.

About & History

The South Russian Ovcharka is a breed of many names and is also known as the South Russian Sheepdog and the Ukrainian Shepherd Dog. It is not to be confused with the larger, short-furred Caucasian Ovcharka, which is a different breed entirely.

The history of the South Russian Ovcharka is open to debate, with some sources claiming that the breed naturally descended from local shepherding dogs native to Russia and Ukraine. However, others believe that the ancestors of the South Russian Ovcharka were imported from Spain and other European countries and bred with local dogs, such as the Caucasian Ovcharka and the Hungarian Komondor. The addition of these local breeds to the smaller European shepherding dogs would have been necessary to give them the size and strength to fight off the large local predators, such as wolves and bears.

Whatever their true history, the South Russian Ovcharka is likely closely related to the wolf and has certainly been crossed with a number of shepherding and sight hound dogs along the way. Their impressive speed and agility are almost certainly thanks to the contribution of these sight hounds.

Traditionally, these dogs dutifully patrolled the Russian Steppes, loyally protecting the livestock herds from the vast numbers of fearsome predators and shepherding them from place to place. During the last few hundred years, however, the existence of the South Russian Ovcharka has been under threat. With many farmers moving away from food animal production – instead using their land for arable farming – the South Russian Ovcharka has become less of a necessity to rural life.

In the early 1920s, Professor Brauner is credited with restoring the breed and encouraging local breeding programmes. The dogs were also bred by military kennels, in the aims of producing assertive, working dogs. Sadly, despite these efforts, during the World Wars, the breed numbers continued to decline. The population size became so worryingly low that it was necessary for the survival of the South Russian Ovcharka to breed it with similar local breeds. The UKC officially recognised the South Russian Ovcharka in 1996. They are now classified within the Herding Dog Group.


South Russian Ovcharka Large Photo

The South Russian Ovcharka must be strong with well-developed muscles and a robust and sturdy body. Their small, drop-down ears sit on top of a long head, which ends in a large, black nose. Their back should be straight, while their chest is deep and broad. Their limbs, particularly their hindquarters, should be well-built and powerful. Their tail is relatively short, reaching their hocks and covered in thick fur.

Breed members exhibit a sexual dimorphism, with males being obviously larger than females. According to the breed standard, males must stand taller than 64 cms, while females must reach heights of 62 cm. Most dogs will weigh between 48 and 65kg when full grown.

Their dense, crimped, weather-proof coat can reach lengths of 15 cms and, along with their plush undercoat, protects them adequately from the harsh Russian winters. Typically, the South Russian Ovcharka will have white fur, but yellow and grey markings are also accepted.

Character & Temperament

A working dog through and through, the South Russian Ovcharka is a natural watch dog and guard dog. They are defensive and protective over their territory and family. They can be dominant and wilful, and as they have long been used to working without human interaction for most of the day, they are fiercely independent. This also means that they tend to be undemanding, content to entertain themselves, and will rarely look to humans for much.

They are a confident and courageous breed, rarely showing signs of fear. However, they can become nervous if not correctly socialised and handled from young. They are very adaptable and can live happily in a variety of situations. They also cope well in most weather conditions, and can spend long periods of time outdoors, even in the height of winter.


Correct training is vital for the development of a well-rounded South Russian Ovcharka. They are a headstrong and determined breed that require a very experienced trainer. They need to understand their role in the family and must be actively discouraged from assuming the role of leader.

Training should begin very early on in their life and should continue throughout all life stages. Firm handling, consistent rules and a positive attitude are needed to keep the South Russian Ovcharka on side. Any signs of aggression must be dealt with immediately and safely.

Very early, thorough socialisation is essential to avoid hostility towards other animals and even humans. As it is the natural instinct of the breed to defend with violence when provoked, if they are to be kept as a family pet, they need strict rules and guidance at all times to avoid violent situations. With the correct upbringing, the South Russian Ovcharka can accept other pets and children, though should be supervised when in their company.

Their strong distrust of strangers means that they are often unwelcoming towards house guests. It is important to teach them early on that new people are accepted. Exposing them to a variety of guests from puppyhood and the guests bringing their favourite treats as ‘gifts’ can help to increase acceptance.


This large breed has a lifespan of 9 to 11 years. Health conditions to which the South Russian Ovcharka may be predisposed include:

Hip Dysplasia

A predisposition common in most larger dogs, a diagnosis of hip dysplasia can have far reaching implications. Hips that have not formed correctly will cause lifelong discomfort and disability, negatively impacting on the life of a working dog. While lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and exercise control can help, many dogs will also need life-long pain relief to cope with the condition, particularly in the end stages of the disease.

Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow joints that develop abnormally result in a malfunctioning joint, erosion of cartilage and eventual osteoarthritis. Dogs that are affected will have a front limb lameness that worsens over time. Owners may notice their dogs particularly struggle after exercise or during cold winters.

A veterinary examination and X-rays or CT scans will usually diagnose the condition. While milder cases may be medically managed, surgery is often recommended. The earlier this condition is addressed, the more favourable the long-term prognosis.


Bloat is a colloquial term that refers to a condition called Gastric Dilatation. This tends to be a condition seen more in deep-chested dogs. For reasons that are not yet fully understood, the dog’s stomach will fail to empty appropriately and will fill with gas and fluid. In more serious cases, the stomach will rotate on its axis, trapping the contents inside.

This is a true, medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention. If an owner notices their dog’s abdomen enlarging, or sees that their animal is panting, restless and retching, they should head straight for the veterinary clinic.

Exercise and Activity Levels

These strong and agile dogs have a high demand for exercise and need long, daily walks to keep them content. It is also advised that they have a large garden or field to ‘patrol’ during the day. The South Russian Ovcharka is certainly not an apartment dog and will very likely become destructive if kept indoors for prolonged periods.


Their long, thick coat can become easily matted and so requires routine brushing. Their daily grooming routine must be introduced to them from a very young age, otherwise they may not tolerate it. Each evening, the fur around their face needs to be cleaned, and their floppy ears must be checked for signs of early infection.

Famous South Russian Sheepdogs

There are no famous South Russian Ovcharka dogs just yet. For more insight on the day and the life of your average South Russian Ovcharka though, you're best off heading to Instagram and investigating the tag #southrussianovcharka.


There are no popular cross-breeds of the South Russian Ovcharka to date.

User comments

There are no user comments for this listing.