Caucasian Shepherd: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Caucasian ovcharka

 Anni Sommer / Getty Images

A powerful, solemn guardian breed, the Caucasian shepherd can be fearless, self-confident, and fierce when they detect a threat. With proper training, they can also become a devoted, loyal, and affectionate family pet.

The Caucasian shepherd gets its name from the Caucasus mountains, which are home to one of the oldest living Molosser dog breeds. While Caucasian shepherd is the most common name for these noble dogs, alternatives include Caucasian Ovcharka, Caucasian sheepdog, Caucasian mountain dog, Kavkaski Owtscharka, and Kaukasische Schaferhund.

Breed Overview

Group: Working

Height: 23 to 30 inches

Weight: 99 to 170 pounds

Coat and Color: Ranges from short to heavy coat in solid, brindle, or spotted colors

Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 Years

Characteristics of the Caucasian Shepherd

Affection Level High
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness Low
Energy Level Low
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Caucasian Shepherd

In existence since ancient times, the Caucasian shepherd has been used for centuries to protect properties from trespassers and guard livestock from predators such as wolves and coyotes. There's great variety in Caucasian dogs depending on their home region; throughout history, this breed was introduced into the bloodlines of many of today’s world breeds.

The Caucasian dog is considered to be a close relative of the sheepdogs of the Balkans and mastiffs of Asia. These massive, bear-like dogs are particularly similar in appearance and nature to the Tibetan mastiff, as they're both working dog breeds with a long history protecting stock and flocks.

The first mention of a large molosser dog, which was used by the army of Armenian Tsar Tigran the II, dates from the first century BC. However, selection work with the breed started in the 1920s to develop personality traits, such as physical strength, fearlessness, sharp hearing and sight, endurance, and self-confidence. They also were able to develop the breed's dense, waterproof coat. Selective breeding has allowed people to own Caucasian shepherd dogs in all kinds of climates, including those with more extreme temperatures.

For nearly a century, there have been two breed types and standards of the Caucasian shepherd:

  • Mountain: A long-coated dog with a heavier body mass
  • Steppe: A shorter-coated, lighter dog

These dogs historically served an important role to shepherds in the Caucasus mountains as guard dogs; they defended sheep from predators like jackals, wolves, and bears. Today, the Caucasian shepherd still serves its guardian role and they’re commonly used as both companions and watchdogs.

Caucasian shepherds are also used as show dogs under the name of Caucasian Ovcharka. They remain one of Russia’s most popular working dog breeds for flock protection, as guard dogs, and in the show ring. The Caucasian shepherd dog is a fully standardized breed, recognized by major kennel organizations including the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club.

Caucasian Shepherd Care

An intelligent breed, the Caucasian shepherd can be stubborn, strong-willed, and insolent at times. They require a great deal of training because with incorrect handling, this breed can become aggressive toward other people and animals. The average Caucasian shepherd is assertive and courageous, as well as brave, strong, and alert.

Thanks to their history as a watchdog and protector, the Caucasian shepherd is extremely territorial and can become aggressive when it feels its family is being threatened. Although certain variations can become more vicious than others, they can all be dog-aggressive and suspicious of strangers—as such, the Caucasian shepherd requires early socialization as well as consistent, experienced handling and training.

Providing plenty of exercise and play time can help prevent obesity in the Caucasian shepherd, as certain variants of this breed are considered low-activity and seemingly lethargic when they aren’t working—which is when they can quickly become alert and agile. Due to their working life in the mountains, these large dogs are well-suited for outdoor endurance activities, such as hiking.

Caucasian Ovcharka puppy
Irina Kulikova / Getty Images 
Caucasian Shepherd dog breed
Spike Summers / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Common Health Problems

Overall, the Caucasian Shepherd is a generally healthy and long-lived breed with the proper care. This breed has been associated with some health issues such as:

Diet and Nutrition

A Caucasian shepherd dog will require a formula tailored to its unique digestive needs throughout the various phases of life. Owners should continue to feed their Caucasian shepherd puppy the food recommended by a reputable breeder until the puppy is at least 6 months old. As your dog ages, you can consider breed-specific formulas for breeds of various sizes that are manufactured by many dog food companies, but try to avoid kibbles with low-quality ingredients, as these aren’t easily digestible. Clean, fresh water should be made available to your dog all times.

Pros

  • Excellent guard dog
  • Can live in any climate
  • Exceptional endurance

Cons

  • Can become aggressive if not properly trained
  • Not good with other pets or small children
  • May snap or bark at strangers

Where to Adopt or Buy a Caucasian Shepherd

If you think you'd like to adopt a Caucasian shepherd, start by contacting one or both of the following organizations:

These groups will be able to prepare you for adoption and connect you to local breeders and rescues in your area.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

A Caucasian shepherd requires training by someone with experience working with these types of large, guardian dogs, as they're independent, and strong-willed dogs from puppyhood. As such, they may not be the best choice for a first-time pet owner, someone who lives in a smaller home without ample outdoor space, or one with small children or other pets. When properly trained and socialized, this breed can become an excellent family dog due to its protective, loyal nature and ability to be very affectionate and loving.

If you’re interested in similar large dog breeds, consider these alternatives. A little research will help ensure you find the right pet to complete your family.

Otherwise, check out all of our other dog breed profiles.