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

A large breed of dog that naturally developed in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Tornjak, or Bosnia and Herzegovinian Shepherd Dog, has existed for many centuries, offering its services to local farmers. Traditionally used to drive flocks and fend off predators, the Tornjak has always used its imposing size and loud bark to its advantage.

One of the Tornjak’s most notable features is its thick double coat. Essential for surviving when left outside in harsh winters, this coat is now thought of as one of the breed’s main attractive qualities. Proper coat care is crucial, and regular brushing is needed to keep it in good condition.

The Tornjak has recently adapted nicely into modern life, settling into family homes and gaining a reputation as a sweet-natured and easy-going pet. When provided with a moderate amount of exercise and outdoor access, the Tornjak will happily potter around the house, confidently socialising with any other pets. Not lacking brains, this dog is known to be relatively easy to train and is said to have an extraordinary memory.

About & History

The Tornjak (pronounced Torn-yak) is one of the true ancient dog breeds that exists in records from over a millennium ago. Since these early days, the Tornjak’s purpose has always been to shepherd, as well as watch over and guard, livestock, in both Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Some believe that Tornjak type dogs go far further back than the year 900, possibly even to Roman times. They would have likely been used in dogfights, as well as for guarding people and their territory. It is theorised that the Tornjak is one of the descendants of the Tibetan Mastiff.

Through the years, as nomadic shepherding has declined, and with the introduction of new dog breeds and farming methods to the area, the Tornjak has gradually fallen out of favour in its homeland, and its population numbers have dwindled. As a response to this, in the 1970s, zoologists began compiling all of the breed’s documented history, proving their true antiquity. The Croatian Kennel Club began a breeding programme in 1982 in order to combat the potential extinction of the Tornjak, and the first breed standard was written several years later in Bosnia.

This breed was provisionally accepted into the FCI in 2006, belongs to the AKC foundation stock service and is classified by the UKC as a guardian dog. Nowadays, there is a concerted effort to use the breed for their original purpose and it is not unheard of for local groups to donate Tornjak dogs to farmers to protect their livestock. This has already proven to be successful in reducing the number of attacks from large predators, such as wolves.


Tornjak Large Photo
Photo thanks to Kennel Dalmatinski Vrisak - Karlovac, Croatia

Squarely built, these large dogs are physically impressive beings. Despite this, they are known to move with relative grace and agility, allowing them to quickly take chase when needed. Their wedge-shaped head is not overly large and should contain dark, almond-shaped eyes and a powerful jaw. Their floppy ears are set close to the face and covered in dense fur for protection. Equally, their thick neck has a near impenetrable fur covering – a necessity when fighting off predators. Their shaggy tail is very mobile, though generally pointed downwards when the Tornjak is inactive.

Their coat is a double-coat, with the inner layer being very thick, so as to safeguard them against harsh winters. Any coat colour is acceptable with white, black, red and yellow being the most prevalent. Irish spotting (white fur on the legs, tail, chest and muzzle) and piebald patterns (irregular patches on a white background) are most typical.

Female breed members measure between 58 and 65cm to the withers, while males stand taller at an impressive 65 to 70cm. Females will weigh between 27 and 40kg, while males reach weights of around 35 to 50kg.

Character & Temperament

While generally a quiet and respectful dog that is laid-back, if the situation arises, they are more than capable of becoming defensive and even aggressive and territorial. They are not typically nervous and are courageous when guarding their livestock on farms. Devoted with their owners, they are known to be affectionate and loyal.

Not violent by nature, they will only resort to the offensive if absolutely demanded, and it is not a personality trait that should be readily associated with these gentle giants. The breed has adapted to living harmoniously in packs of dogs and tend to get on well with other canine pets in the household. Traditionally scaring away predators with their bark, they can be prone to nuisance barking in certain situations.


Photo of Tornjak puppy

When it comes to the tasks of livestock shepherding or flock guarding, the Tornjak will naturally excel, and rarely needs to be taught how to do its job. Innately independent and decisive, it can be somewhat tricky to train them to do tasks that may not be instinctive to them, such as agility. Regardless, they are quick to learn and trainers should get good results if they are patient and consistent.

Their versatility and eagerness to learn has meant that they have earned a reputation as diligent students. Anecdotally, the Tornjak rarely needs to be taught how to do the same thing twice, as they are said to have superb memorising abilities.


Often heralded as a dog with ‘no medical issues’, it is true that the Tornjak can be considered a dog with relatively few health complaints. This is likely due to the lack of inbreeding throughout the ages. Impressively for a dog of its size, the Tornjak will commonly live to its early teens, but there are certain things an owner should be on the watch for:

Hip Dysplasia

A condition that is common to many medium and large dogs, and it can be rare to find a breed of this size that is not predisposed. The condition occurs in the Tornjak when their hips fail to develop properly, resulting in an ill-fitting joint that rubs against itself during movement.

After a time, this instability and joint rubbing will result in osteoarthritis and inevitable pain. It is known that over-exercising under-developed juveniles can lead to hip dysplasia (alongside other orthopaedic issues), and so is to be avoided.

Protein-Restricted Diets

It is known that historically the Tornjak survived on a poor quality, low protein diet. Feeding this breed a high level of good quality protein can cause health problems and a protein-restricted diet is preferable.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Tornjak enjoys the chance to exercise when possible with a minimum of two long walks a day needed to keep them happy. They enjoy being exercised alongside other dogs, as they are incredibly social. Ideally, they would have access to a large, fenced garden and are able to happily stay outside for prolonged periods of time, even in cold conditions.

It is vital to not overdo the exercise when these dogs are developing, as this can potentially lead to joint issues in later life. Once fully developed, off-lead work is to be encouraged as they enjoy the freedom it provides. Due to their size, they should not be restricted to small apartments.


While their luscious coat is one of the breed’s main attractions, it requires a moderate amount of attention. Ideally, it should be brushed thoroughly a few times a week, especially in working dogs who can be prone to matting. Their body (especially ears and paws) should be checked each time they return from outside to ensure no brambles, thorns or grass awns are hiding in their long, thick coats.

Such a large breed of dog needs to be taught good manners from an early age when it comes to such tasks as ear cleaning and claw clipping. These chores should become part of the dog’s normal routine and can be rewarded with tasty treats to encourage willing participation.

Famous Tornjaks

A breed that has only recently become internationally known, there are not yet any famous examples of the Tornjak. However, if you are researching the breed and want to see some examples, Instagram features plenty of beautiful Tornjaks, as well as Facebook.


No cross-breeds of the Tornjak are recognised today.

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