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Caucasian Ovcharka

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Caucasian Ovcharka
Caucasian Ovcharka
Alternative names
Caucasian Mountain Dog
Caucasian Sheepdog
Kavkaski Ovcar
Kavkaz Dog
Kavkaz Mastiff
Kavkaz Volkodav
Kavkazskaya (...kiaia) Ovcharka
Ovtcharka (Owtcharka)
Sage Ghafghazi
Country of origin
Common nicknames
Classification and breed standards
FCI: Group 2 Section 2 #328  
UKC: Guardian Dogs  
Not recognized by any major kennel club
This breed of dog is extinct

Caucasian ovcharka or Caucasian Shepherd Dog is a breed of dog that is popular in Russia, Georgia, and other countries where shepherds need serious protection for their flocks and properties.


A well-bred Caucasian Shepherd Dog should be a healthy, strongly-boned, muscular and even-tempered Moloss, but some of today's bloodlines are prone to hip dysplasia, obesity and too soft, as well as overly-vicious temperaments. The ears of the Kavkaskaya Ovtcharka have traditionally been cropped, although a large number of modern dogs can be seen unaltered. Even though many coat-types and beautiful colours exist, the preferred Show-types are the long-coated grey dogs with some white markings allowed. No black or black-n-tan dogs are accepted for Show, but do exist. The height ranges anywhere from 23 to 34 inches among working specimens, but most modern dogs are around 28 inches tall.


Powerful and massive, the Kavkaz Volkodav can prove to be a serious problem for an inexperienced owner, because it respects and obeys only those dominant members of the family that it deems superiour to itself. They are generally good with children, but will not see them as their masters. The great Kavkazec develops a strong bond with its owner, but will rarely be completely submissive and blindly follow orders, for this is truly a thinking dog, which relies primarily on its own instincts, sometimes even disregarding its master's directions in certain situations. A breed with a very quick reaction time and lightning-fast protection reflexes, it has even been unfairly described by some as somewhat of a "loose cannon". Still, with proper care, handling and training, this is a well-behaved and obedient family companion.


Caucasian Ovcharka Caucasian Ovcharka

Located between the Black Sea on the West and the Caspian Sea on the East, the Kavkaz (Caucasus) mountain range of Eastern Europe represents a true melting pot of various cultures due to a number of nations calling it their home through the ages. Today these influences are still strong and a rich source of cultural wealth of the region, as well as numerous political conflicts. Encompassing the territories of Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Daghestan, Ossetia, Turkey, Chechnya, Ingushetia and, Iran, the Caucasus mountains are also home to one of the oldest living Molossers, the magnificient Caucasian Shepherd Dog. In reality the term "Caucasian Dog" should stand for a group of breeds and not for a single breed or a favoured variant. There is a great variety of types among the Caucasian dogs depending on their home region, but due to the ignorance of many Westerners and strong national appetite of Russian and pro-Russian dog fanciers worldwide, a single type bearing a misleading name is being favored in the show rings and literature, at the expence of truth and other breed variants. The exotic-sounding misnomer Ovcharka is very popular in the West, thanks to the efforts of the Russian Kennel Club, even though it simply translates to "Sheepdog, Shepherd or Shepherd Dog", making it very unpopular and often insulting among the non-Russian nationals of Caucasian and dog enthusiasts. Considered a Russian breed, the Caucasian Ovtcharka is a part of the Troika, a threesome of recognized Russian sheepdogs, the other two being the bearded South-Russian Sheepdog and the controversial Central Asian Shepherd Dog.

In order to understand the issues concerning the Caucasian Shepherd Dog, a short historic overview is in order. Although its first official Western Show-Ring appearance was in the 1930's in Germany, the Caucasian Shepherd Dog has existed since ancient times and, like many Eastern Molossers, was introduced to the bloodlines of many of today's World breeds throughout history. The Armenian Plateau was one of the earliest cradles of civilization and the first appearance of dogs of this type is closely linked to that area. The Armenian Gamprs are seen as a variant of the Caucasian Shepherd Dog, and while that may be the case, it is also important to note that the Gampr comes in two distinct varieties, both of which are believed to be much older than the modern Caucasian and Central-Asian Sheepdogs. Some believe that the Caucasian Shepherd Dog was a result of crossing the mountain Gampyrs with the spitz-type dogs in ancient times, but this theory, although not without merit, is understandably not very popular.

Most blame for the confusion surrounding the Caucasian Shepherd Dog should be placed on the Soviet concept, which was famous for erasing facts and re-writing histories of regions under its rule. Even though it was officially non-nationalist, the Soviet regime was obviously pro-Russian, which was manifested through forcing Russian language and cultural ideas on many non-Russian nations it controlled. It should be noted that the Russian introduction to the Kavkaz came in 1859, which goes against the theories claiming the ancient Caucasian Shepherd Dog as an indigenous Russian breed. In this respect, the Turks could lay more claim on the breed, seing how they ruled the region before the Soviets did and are known to had used Caucasian dogs as guardians for their camps and forts as far back as the 1700's. The same case could be made for pre-Turkish rulers of the area, but this could turn into into a vicious circle of "who came first?", further complicating the issue. Politics and nationalism should never mix with dog-culture, but unfortunately they do and oftentimes have terrible consequences for the breed.

When Russians started importing Caucasus dogs to Moscow, they separated them into two types, the mountain dogs receiving the name Trans-Caucasian Ovtcharka after the Trans-Caucasus region, consisting of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, while the shorter-haired and lighter-built type steppe dogs were named the "Caucasian Ovcharka". Because of the immense variation in sizes and temperaments within the two "official" types, the Soviets started a standardization programme which resulted in an official standard change in the 1970's, when the Russian Kynological Federation made the decision to promote a single type, under the name of "Caucasian Ovtcharka", abandoning their earlier definitions. They agreed that the "best" type is the Georgian bear type, as favoured by Stalin. The Russian-favored Georgian type is actually a hybrid, created by crossing the Nagazi and Mt.Kazbek variants, both of which still exist in Georgia. The strong influence of some Central Asian bloodlines shouldn't be ignored. Modern incarnation of the Russian show type also has some St. Bernard, Sarplaninac, Leonberger, and Moscow Watchdog blood running through its veins, courtesy of ambitious Soviet breeders trying to create a more agreable personality and colours in their "Ovtcharka". When the Soviet military was developing the Moscow Watchdog in the post WW2 years, they imported Armenian and Azerbaijan mountain dogs and crossed them with St.Bernards, resulting in an excellent service dog, but also in a demise of certain bloodlines of Caucasian dogs. During the Cold War, the Caucasian Shepherd Dog was a breed commonly seen wherever the Soviet Army was stationed, famously used as patrol dogs guarding the Berlin Wall. Many of these working strains have been crossed with German Shepherd Dogs over the years, affecting both the GSD and the CO breed. After the fall of the Wall, over 7000 of these dogs are believed to had been disbanded and left behind, where they were adopted by many German families and dog enthusiasts, becoming one of the building blocks for the modern Caucasian Ovtcharka, along with the Russian show type. Because military bloodlines come in a variety of colours, sizes and temperaments, they aren't favoured among some modern Russian breeders who are pushing for a single type, the aforementioned bear variant of the Georgian dogs, preferred in shades of wolf-grey colours.

Modern times

The main Russian bloodlines can be traced to Moscow, Ekaterinburg, Tambov, Orenburg, Magnitogorsk, Cheljabinsk, Novosibirsk, Donetsk, Lugansk, Ivanovo, Perm, Nizhny Novgorod, and St.Petersburg, even though there are many different Caucasian strains still found in the Caucasus mountains. In recent years, the term "Aboriginal" is being used to describe older, non-show mountain bloodlines, but this is very misleading and often used as a trendy marketing ploy by some breeders.

Even though most dogs in the Caucasus are working hybrids between various types, there are still some distinguishing characteristics among regional variants. For instance:

  • The Georgian dogs are divided into the large, longhaired and often multicoloured Mkinvartsveri Kazbek type and the slightly smaller wolf-grey Nagazi dogs of medium-length coat with longer muzzles, but there is also a separate breed known as Tushetian Nagazi or Georgian Caucasian Sheepdog in Georgia, which represents the original Georgian population of the breed, with the pure white dogs being the most valued.
  • Daghestan dogs are tall, wide-headed and athletic, always short-haired and multicoloured.
  • Astrakhan type is found in the Kabardino-Balkarian region and is believed to be a cross between the Russian show type and the old Circassian and Kazbek dogs, but Balkarian Molossers are also rooted in the Sarmatian Mastiff.
  • The Turkish Caucasus dogs are divided into 4 types, those being the Garban, the Akhaltsihnske type, the Circassian variant and the Kars Dog.
  • The large, short-muzzled, shorthaired fawn, brown, red, with or without white markings and extremely vicious Garban (Gorban) was developed from the Kars and the Kangal, as well as other Turkish dogs being crossed with the Armenian and Kazbek types.
    • The Akhaltsihnske type was then created from the Garban crosses with the Georgian Nagazi variant and possibly Turkish Akbash, resulting in longhaired, lightly built solid-coloured white, fawn and grey dogs. The Circassian variant is believed to be a result of crossing the Kangals with the Cherkes dogs introduced to Turkey after the Russian-Circassian wars.
    • The Kars Dog is a variety closely associated with the Kars province of modern Turkey and is today seen as a separate breed. The Armenian Gamprs are usually slightly smaller than the Georgian dogs and are shorter-necked and more squarely built, also allowing for a great variety of colours, even brown or black.
  • The Azerbaijan Volkodav variant also comes in two types, with the longhaired mountain and short-coated steppe dogs both being smaller than Georgian and Armenian types, always having black masks.
  • A result of matings between the dogs of southern Kavkaz with the Sage Mazandarani and the Kars Dog of Turkey, the Iranian Sage Ghafghazi is a lean, powerful and richly coated mastiff, used as a caravan protector of the Shahsavan nomads, who have been breeding it since the 17th century. These Iranian Caucasians come in a variety of colours, both solid and bicoloured.
  • There is also a rare shorthaired Kavkaz mastiff, known as the North-Caucasian Volkodav, which is on its way to receive a separate breed recognition.

It should be noted that even the legendary Alaunt, the breed considered to be the key progenitor of all bulldogge breeds, is also originally descended from this Caucasian stock of mountain dogs.

As mentioned above, most working Caucasian dogs are hybrids between established types, as well as some lines of the Central Asian dogs, in effect making the Russian show type appear to be a superiourly-bred dog in the eyes of the West. This is of course due to in part to the main difference between the Eastern and Western ways; the dogs being bred strictly for work in the East and primarily for show and companion life in the West. The fighting strains of the Caucasian Ovcharka can contain blood of some European breeds too, from certain mastiffs to even Pit Bull Terriers and Bandogges, but these crosses are a minority in the breed. The Caucasian Molossers were used for centuries to protect properties, guard livestock, kill wolves, hunt bears and for many other duties, but today and especialy in the West, they're most commonly employed as companion animals and watchdogs. Most prized as an aggressive property guardian, the mighty Caucasian Ovcharka is an intimidating and committed protector with no equal. The Caucasian Shepherd Dog is generally a low activity dog, seemingly lethargic when not working, but extremely agile and convincing when it feels its family is threatened. Although certain strains are more vicious than others, all Caucasians are very territorial and fairly dog-aggressive, needing early and careful broad socialization, as well as firm, but never forceful handling. This wonderful ancient breed makes a good family dog, but it isn't the same thing as a Newfoundland, a Bernese or a St.Bernard and potential owners should be aware of the breed's history and temperament before deciding to tackle the task of raising a Caucasian Shepherd Dog.


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