This lesser-known livestock guardian is a powerful and effective tool against wolves, bears, and thieves. While they are still primarily used as a working breed, these dogs can make loyal and loving family companions for the right owner.
Think you have the skills to tame the giant Caucasian Shepherd? Keep reading to find out what it takes to own one of these ancient beasts.
General Characteristics of the Caucasian Shepherd
- Other names: Caucasian Ovcharka, Kawkasky Owtscharka, Caucasian Sheepdog, and Kaukasische Schaferhund
- Height: 23 to 30 inches
- Weight: 100 to about 220 pounds
- Lifespan: 10 to 12 years
- Origin: Caucasus region
- Colors: Solid colored, solid brindle, or any variation of white and other markings are common.
- Activity level: Low
- Grooming needs: Moderate to High
- Best suited for: Experienced guard breed owners
While they are best known for their tenacity and fierceness, the Caucasian Shepherd can also be a cuddly, loyal companion. But taming this giant lion dog takes experience and patience. “Tiny Dancer” by Spike Summers / CC BY 2.0
The History of the Caucasian Shepherd Dog
The Caucasus region of eastern Europe includes countries such as Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, and, Azerbaijan. This mountainous area sandwiched between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea is where this ancient breed got its start.
The area has been home to many different lines of molosser, or ancient Greek mastiff-type dogs, for thousands of years.
Genetic research into the breed has linked them to both the ancient mastiffs of Asia, including the forebearers of the Tibetan Mastiff, and to the ancient sheepdogs of the Balkins.
These dogs were likely used as all-around utilitarian animals, but their main function was to protect livestock and dwellings from predators. Wolves, jackals, and bears are all common to the area and were a constant threat to farm animals.
In order to fend off these large predators, the CSD was bred to be a large, powerful dog with a strong bite, ferocious temperament, and strong guarding instincts. Their muscular legs, large head, and well-protected neck all lend themselves well to the job that was required of these dogs.
For thousands of years, the people of the Caucasus region have relied on large livestock guardian dogs to protect their flocks from large predators like bears and wolves. Today, many ranchers still utilize these types of dogs to protect their animals and homes. “Shepherds” by Vladimer Shioshvili / CC BY-SA 2.0
The environment also played a huge part in determining the look of the breed.
Dogs found in the higher, mountain regions had thick double coats and tended to be larger overall than the short-coated Caucasians of the steppe region.
While the progenitors of the breed had existed relatively unchanged for a large part of human history, the breed itself didn’t really exist until the early 20th century when Soviet dog breeders took an interest in these large shepherd-type dogs.
Dogs from different areas of the region, including some proto-breeds like the Azerbaijani shepherd, Azerbaijani volkodav, and the Georgian Shepherd Dog, were used to create a uniform breed that would become the Caucasian Shepherd we know today.
The breed first appeared in the show ring in the 1930s but their popularity never really took off outside the region, with the exception of Russia. Here, the dogs are often used to work alongside prison guards.
Outside of their homeland and Russia, some of these dogs have found a new use as a companion animal with a keen ability to protect their family.
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Here are some more incredible facts about the Caucasian Shepherd.
The Temperament of the Caucasian Shepherd Dog
Like all livestock guardians, the CSD tends to be aloof, independent, and stubborn. For millennia they have been used to accompany flocks alone in the mountains. They relied on their keen senses to keep themselves and their herds safe.
Because of their history, they prefer to approach the world the way they want to and do not always tolerate being told what to do.
That being said, it is possible to train these dogs and they certainly have the intelligence to pick up basic obedience commands very quickly. To find success, you will have to be very dedicated and willing to start as early as possible with puppy classes.
Beyond obedience, these dogs require a consistent owner who can set strict but simple ground rules.
Along with early training, these dogs also require a lot of varied and frequent socialization and exposure in order to grow into calmer, more well-rounded adults. Introducing your CSD puppy to a variety of people, animals, and situations is a must if you ever want to be able to take them out of the yard once they are fully grown.
A well trained, well socialized Caucasian can be an amazing family pet. But their strength and instinct to react aggressively to threats mean they aren’t the easiest dogs to care for if you are a novice dog owner.
While their reputation is as a powerful guard dog that can take down a full-grown wolf if needed, these dogs are capable of being very gentle, especially with younger family members. This stems from their use as guardians for livestock, including baby sheep, goats, and cattle. But how well this particular trait is expressed will depend on the individual and the type of upbringing they have.
Like many larger breeds, these dogs tend to be calm once they have matured. Dogs with access to a large yard to roam and a comfy couch to lounge on aren’t likely to need much exercise. Still, it is important to rouse these hounds for a daily walk to keep them fit.
Overall, the Caucasian Shepherd is a fearless companion that won’t hesitate to protect their family from perceived threats. Their independent and stubborn nature means they are not a breed for novice dog owners. But for the right person, they can be a loyal companion and effective home guardian.
Health Issues Common to the Caucasian Shepherd Dog Breed
Like so many ancient breeds, this breed is relatively healthy and suffers from few genetic defects. They are, however, a large dog and prone to some ailments. Here are some of the more common health issues seen in the Caucasian.
One of the reasons that these dogs tend to be so healthy is because they are so rare outside of their home region. The few breeders you can find in the West typically take great care to make sure they are only breeding the healthiest dogs who represent the best of the breed.
As with all breeds, it is important to research your breeder thoroughly before you decide on a puppy. While most true CSD breeders tend to be dedicated to the health of the breed, the high price of these pups mean some people will try to take advantage by selling large cross-bred shepherds that look like Caucasians but aren’t. “Szamir na trawce 11” by Marek Komorowski / CC BY-SA 2.0
It is also quite easy to add new blood to the current lines by importing stock from the Caucasus mountains.
One issue that does tend to plague the breed is obesity. Luckily, this problem can be completely avoided as long as the dog’s owner is proactive.
As these dogs mature, their energy levels quickly level out. While they are very capable of climbing mountains and running for great distances, they are prone to getting lazy if given the chance.
To help your Caucasian Shepherd avoid issues with weight you need to make sure they are getting enough exercise and are not being overfed.
A good walk around the neighborhood a few times a week is a good start. But taking your CSD on hikes, cross country skiing trips, and allowing them to tag along during other outdoor activities is the best way to keep them fit.
These activities have the added benefit of keeping your pup mentally stimulated as well.
In addition to exercise, you also need to watch what your dog eats. A neutered adult that is not being used to work and does not participate in dog sports will not need a ton of calories.
Make sure to measure out your dog’s food accurately and don’t overdo it with the table scraps or treats.
It is also a good idea to check your dog’s body condition every once in a while by running your fingers along their skin under their coat. You should be able to feel an obvious indent behind their ribs. If you can easily feel the ribs themselves without pressing in, your pup may need a bit more food.
If you have questions about your dog’s weight, it is a good idea to talk to your vet.
Before you fall in love with these beautiful brown eyes, make sure you are committed to caring for them for their entire life. Caucasians have relatively long life spans compared to other dogs of their size and will require more dedication the older they get. “Untitled” by altered.ego / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Do Caucasian Shepherd Dogs Do Well With Children and Other Pets?
How well your Caucasian Shepherd does with children will depend on two things.
First, is their individual disposition. While you can’t guarantee that you will get a dog that is naturally tolerant of children and happy to be around them, you can do some research to increase your odds.
Ask any potential breeders how their breeding dogs do with children and ask to meet them if possible. More tolerant, laid back dogs are more likely to do well with children than those that are reactive or sensitive to noise or pain.
The second thing that will determine how well your dog does with kids is how well they were socialized as a puppy. CSDs who are introduced to babies, toddlers, and children in a positive way as a young puppy are more likely to accept them as part of the flock later on.
While Caucasians do commonly do well with children, they are much less likely to get along with other dogs. They tend to be territorial and can quickly become aggressive with dogs they perceive as a threat.
They are not great candidates for doggy daycare or dog parks, though some can learn to live peacefully with other dogs if introduced to them early on.
Typically, these dogs are more tolerant of other furry pets since they have long been used to protect livestock. While they don’t typically have a high prey drive, they may pose a threat to any animal they find threatening. Always introduce your dog carefully to new furry family members and take things slow to avoid issues.
Just as with all dogs, socializing your Caucasian pup early and often is a must if you want them to be well adjusted to other dogs, humans, and situations as an adult. “Anuk Irulan and Parma” by Kostadin Hristov / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
What to Consider Before Bringing Home a Caucasian Shepherd Dog
Think you have the right experience and lifestyle to accommodate one of these powerful Ovcharka dogs? Here are a few more things to consider before bringing one home.
Like all puppies and adolescents, CSDs need plenty of activity and enrichment early on to avoid issues with hyperactivity and destructive behavior. But once they hit maturity at around two years, they tend to calm down a lot.
While they may be happy to lounge around in between laps around the yard, make sure you are still doing your part to keep them healthy with frequent walks and adventures outdoors.
These stubborn shepherds can be difficult to train. They prefer to do what they want when they want and are more independent than your typical breed. Start obedience classes early on and stick with it through adolescents. Stay consistent and strict, but gentle.
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Due to their tendency to wander and their unpredictability toward strangers, it is best to keep your CSD leashed or secured behind a strong fence at all times.
It is by no means impossible to train the stubborn and independent Caucasian Shepherd, they are, after all, used heavily by the Russian military. But it takes patience, consistency, and working to the strengths of your particular dog’s personality. “Crossing Bridges” by Spike Summers / CC BY 2.0
Most of these dogs come with a thick, long coat that will require frequent brushing. They tend to be regular shedders as well, so make sure your vacuum is up to the task. They like to spend time outdoors in all kinds of weather, so expect to have to bathe them frequently throughout the year.
CSD puppies require a large breed specific puppy food to regulate their growth and help assure their bones and joints develop properly. Once they reach maturity, you can typically feed any high-quality raw, homemade, or commercial dog food. Just be sure to keep their intake in check so they don’t become overweight.
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These rare dogs will cost you, with a purebred puppy typical going for $1,000 to $3,000.
While these dogs tend to be healthier and easier keepers than most breeds, you should budget extra for food given their huge adult size.
5 Fun Facts About the Caucasian Shepherd Dog
Now that you know what it takes to own one of these giant mountain dogs, here are some fun facts about the breed.
- Traditionally, CSDs have their ears cropped which gives their heads a unique shape. But in the West, it is more common to find them with natural drop ears.
- This breed is recognized by the United Kennel Club but is not yet officially recognized by the AKC.
The Caucasian Shepherd isn’t the only large fluffy dog found in the Caucasus region. Breeds like this Central Asian Shepherd Dog can also be found there. Many of these proto-breeds likely went into creating the CSD as we know it today. “Central Asian Shepherd Dog” by Orientalizing / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
- Ovcharka, pronounced “uhf-char-ka,” means something between “shepherd’s dog” and “livestock guardian” in Russian.
- CSDs are sometimes used as bear hunting dogs.
- Archeological finds have dated dogs very similar to the CSD all the way back to Mesopotamia.
Before You Go
Not sure the Caucasian Shepherd is the right breed for you? Here are a few more breeds to consider.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.