Croatian Sheepdog (Hrvatski Ovcar): Breed Profile

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

A Croatian Sheepdog lying in the grass

Domagoj / Getty Images

The Croatian Sheepdog, also known as the Hrvatski Ovcar, is an ancient breed that has retained much of its original characteristics to this day. They are a hard-working, healthy, loyal herding dog that thrives in an active home where they are given lots of exercise and stimulation.

Breed Overview

Group: Herding

Height: 16 to 21 inches

Weight: 29 to 44 pounds

Coat: Double-coated with a soft thick and curly or wavy topcoat

Coat Color: Always black but can have white markings on the chest

Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

Characteristics of the Croatian Sheepdog

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

History of the Croatian Sheepdog

There is evidence of dogs matching the description of the Croatian Sheepdog going all the way back to the late 14th century.

It is believed these type of dogs may have travelled with their owners to Croatia during the Great Migration of the native Croat people in the 7th century. So they are a breed with a very long history.

A number of documents were also found in the archives of the Diocese of Đakovo, Croatia, from the 18th century. These repeatedly referred to a dog called the 'Canis Pastoralis Croaticus', and the descriptions of them matched the appearance of the dog today.

They were prized for being hard-working, enthusiastic, courageous and versatile herders, having been known to drive sheep, cattle, pigs and even horses.

In 1935 a Croatian Vet, Prof Dr Stjepan Romic, started a selective breeding programme for the Croatian Sheepdog. Most of the dogs came from the region of Đakovo, the area where much of their history was recorded.

In 1969 the breed was officially recognized by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI).

They were registered under the Foundation Stock Service for the American Kennel Club in 2017, and are working towards full breed recognition.

Croatian Sheepdog Care

The Croatian Sheepdog is best suited to an experienced home that can offer them an appropriate amount of exercise and enrichment on a daily basis.

These are not dogs that will do well being cooped up in an apartment for much of the day on their own. This could lead to a stressed-out, bored dog that will exhibit destructive and problem behaviors.

They have lots of energy and thrive on company. If you lead an active, outdoors lifestyle, then they will likely slot in well.

If they do get enough exercise, they are usually relatively calm and quiet around the house. They are regarded as being more docile than the likes of a Border Collie.

They are known for their excellent jumping ability, so a garden with a high and secure fence would be preferable.

Croatian Sheepdogs can develop a particularly strong bond with one individual in the household, and they will be fiercely devoted to them.

Providing they have appropriate training and socialization, they can get on well with other dogs and people too, and tend to have a playful personality. They can be wary of strangers, though.

Their wariness means that they can be excellent non-aggressive watchdogs. You should be prepared to put in some training to make sure that this wariness does not lead to fearful behavior, over-enthusiastic guarding, or overly frequent alert barking.

Croatian Sheepdogs are highly intelligent, often gentle and respond well to force-free training. They are eager to please, quick learners, and love to have a job to do. So if you are looking for a breed that will enjoy dog sports or competitive obedience, you will likely have a good partner in a Croatian Sheepdog. Croatian Sheepdogs have excelled in major competitive trials at platforms like Crufts.

The breed does not have a high maintenance grooming regime. They do shed, but not excessively, and their coat is designed to repel dirt naturally. You will just need to give them a brush out around once a week to remove dead hair and keep the coat in good condition.

A Puppy Croatian Sheepdog lying in the grass
Croatian Sheepdogs usually have erect ears, but, as puppies they can take a while before they stand to attention!. The Walker / Getty Images
Headshot of a Croatian Sheepdog looking up
Croatian Sheepdogs usually have a distinctive wavy or, as in this photo, curly coat. Iwanyan / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

The Croatian Sheepdog is a robust and healthy breed and does not have any known major inheritable health conditions, other than one that is common in a number of breeds, which is hip dysplasia.

It is still important to do your research and find a reputable breeder to ensure that they are selecting healthy parents, to minimize any genetic problems being passed on to their puppies.

Diet and Nutrition

Croatian Sheepdogs, like all dogs, do well on a high-quality and appropriately portion-controlled diet.

If you regularly partake in high energy dog sports or long daily hikes, then you may want to consider a diet that is suited to dogs that will be burning off fat more quickly to help them maintain a healthy weight and condition.

Pros
  • Devoted to their owners

  • Intelligent, eager to please and easy to train

  • Excels in dog sports

Cons
  • Needs a lot of exercise and enrichment

  • Can be wary of strangers

  • They can be intense

Where to Adopt or Buy a Croatian Sheepdog

The Croatian Sheepdog is a rare breed. Even in their native Croatia, they are still not found in large numbers.

You may need to go on a waiting list or travel further afield to secure a puppy from a reputable breeder.

Don't let your enthusiasm and impatience tempt you to cut corners though. If you support a backyard breeder or puppy farm, you could end up with an unhealthy and under-socialized puppy, and you could be inadvertently supporting an industry rife with cruelty and bad practices.

There are lots of herding breeds in rescues across the country. You could certainly find a Collie or Sheepdog type, with similar characteristics to the Croatian Sheepdog, looking for a loving forever home in your local shelter.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you would like to research other breeds similar to the Croatian Sheepdog, you may want to also consider:

There are lots of wonderful dog breeds out there. By doing your research, you will find one that will be best suited to having a forever home with you.