Tornjak: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners


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The Tornjak, also known as the Bosnian-Herzegovinian and Croatian Shepherd Dog, is a large guardian dog breed with a square body outline, deep chest, long tail, and thick double coat. This well-proportioned and agile breed typically has particolored fur with a white base and black or tan markings. The tail is abundantly covered in hair, which creates a feathery look known as a plume tail. The tail hangs low when resting, but it raises over the back when the dog moves.

This ancient shepherd breed was on the verge of extinction until some dedicated breed fanciers revived it in the 1970s. While it has been preserved, the Tornjak is still an extremely rare dog breed. Owners of these unique canines will find that their relaxed, even-tempered nature is also a striking contrast to their extremely protective instincts.

Breed Overview

Group: Guardian Dog (UKC)

Height: 23 to 28 inches

Weight: 62 to 110 pounds

Coat: Double coat with long, thick, coarse, and straight fur

Coat Color: White, sometimes with black or tan markings

Life Span: 12 to 14 years

Temperament: Calm, alert, even-tempered, protective, obedient

Hypoallergenic: No

Origin: Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia

Characteristics of the Tornjak

The Tornjak is an intelligent, highly trainable, and very obedient dog. Full of dignity and self-confidence, this breed's calm demeanor combines with a steady disposition. Tornjaks have friendly personalities and are extremely devoted to their immediate families. These dogs are known to bestow abundant affection on their people, but they're also very wary of strangers—especially anyone the dog believes to be threatening. Owners of this breed should be aware that it's courageous in the face of danger and fiercely protects its flock. The Tornjak acts with swift and appropriate aggression when warranted, but at home, it's laid-back and relaxed.

The Tornjak is protective of livestock thanks to its origins as a guardian breed, but it can become aggressive with other dogs (especially those it doesn't know). Some Tornjaks may get along with a family cat, though not all will be able to live with cats peacefully. While this breed is certainly not for everyone, it makes an especially devoted companion for the right owners.

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

History of the Tornjak

The Tornjak, also known as the Bosnian-Herzegovinian and Croatian Shepherd Dog, existed in the mountains and valleys of this region as far back as 1067. It is believed that the Tornjak is directly related to the Tibetan Mastiff. This breed watched over flocks of sheep and worked to protect its family and homestead from invaders, whether animal or human. 

By the 1970s, the Tornjak breed was on the brink of extinction. It was saved and painstakingly repopulated by dedicated breeders in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. By 1978, the Tornjak was revived, and breeding programs continued to preserve the breed. It was accepted by the international Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) in 2017. In the United States, the Tornjak was recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC) 2011. It is currently part of the American Kennel Club’s Foundation Stock Service. The Tornjak is still extremely rare, especially outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.

Tornjak Care

Similar to other guardian breeds, the Tornjak requires more training than exercise. These large dogs are content to patrol the property of their homesteads each day. Tornjaks that live indoors will need more regular brushings than those that live outside guarding livestock, but overall, this breed's grooming needs are average.


Tornjaks are large, but they only need a moderate amount of exercise to stay happy and healthy. About 45 minutes of activity per day should suffice. These dogs do best when they're able to follow their instincts, thriving on large, rural properties with plenty of time spent outdoors. Tornjaks enjoy exploring and keeping a watchful eye on their homes, families, and other animals. Owners can also bring these dogs along for activities like walking, hiking, and swimming.


The Tornjak’s long double coat is relatively easy to care for. Owners should keep up with weekly brush-outs and occasional baths. If your Tornjak spends a lot of time indoors, you might prefer daily brushings to reduce shedding around the house.

Like other dog breeds, Tornjaks also need to have their nails trimmed, teeth brushed, and ears cleaned on a regular basis. Dogs that are regularly outside in harsh conditions like rain and snow will likely need their ears checked more often to prevent moisture from building up, which can lead to infections. Clean the ears a few times each month and take your dog to the veterinarian if you notice any signs of infection like redness, swelling, or unusual odor.


This breed is extremely smart and highly trainable. Capable of learning many tasks and happy to perform them, your Tornjak should begin obedience lessons in puppyhood at around eight weeks of age. Once they've got the basics down, these dogs excel at more advanced training. Positive reinforcement methods are best for owners to build trust with these large, powerful dogs.

Since this breed is naturally suspicious of strangers, it's essential for owners to provide puppies with lots of socialization early on. Introduce your Tornjak to other dogs, cats, and new people to help prevent aggression. With proper socialization, this breed can grow up to be discerning yet accepting of friendly visitors.

Common Health Problems

The Tornjak is exceptionally healthy and hardy, with few inherited health conditions known to plague the breed. However, like most purebreds, it is still susceptible to a few common problems (even if rarely seen). The Tornjak also boasts a typical lifespan of 12 to 14 years, which is a fairly long life for a large breed. Reputable Tornjak breeders are committed to making the health of their dogs a priority.

The following are conditions that may affect Tornjaks:

  • Elbow and Hip Dysplasia: Caused by a malformation in your dog's joints as they grow, dysplasia is often signaled by lameness in the joints when walking or standing up.
  • Von Willebrand Disease: This bleeding disorder is common in many dog breeds, and it prevents the blood from clotting normally. Owners should take precautionary steps to help dogs avoid injury.
  • Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV or Bloat): Bloat is a serious and often life-threatening condition in which the stomach is filled with gases, causing it to twist. Your veterinarian may recommend preventative surgery to tack the stomach down.

Diet and Nutrition

The Tornjak is a large breed; some can weigh 100 pounds or more. However, this dog's moderate exercise requirements mean that it may need to eat less than you think. Active dogs will require more calories per day, while those that exercise moderately need less. Owners should keep a close eye on their dog to prevent excess weight gain or canine obesity, which puts more stress on the joints and can lead to other health problems like diabetes.

Since this breed is prone to Bloat, it's best to feed your Tornjak at least two smaller meals per day rather than one large portion. Owners can also use slow-feeder bowls to prevent the dog from eating too quickly, and exercise should be limited before and after meals. Ask your breeder to help you determine a healthy diet and portion plan for your Tornjak based on the dog's age, weight, and activity level.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Tornjak

The Tornjak is extremely rare, especially in North America. Prospective adopters are not likely to find a Tornjak available for adoption through an animal shelter or rescue group, but local shelters may introduce them to similar guardian breeds in need of forever homes.

To purchase a puppy from a responsible breeder, it's essential to do your research and ensure the parent dogs have been screened for genetic health problems. For very rare breeds like the Tornjak, the only option may be to import a puppy from one of its home countries. These puppies typically cost between $800 and $1,500 depending on pedigree and availability.

To start your search, check out resources like the AKC and UKC:

Tornjak Overview

  • Highly trainable

  • Loyal and protective

  • Effective flock guardian

  • Very rare, hard to find

  • Needs thorough and ongoing socialization  

  • May not get along with other pets

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you love the Tornjak, you might also like these similar breeds:

There are plenty of different dog breeds out there that can join your family. With a little research, you can find your perfect match!

  • Is a Tornjak a Good Family Dog?

    Tornjaks are extremely protective and loving toward their families, especially involving children in the home. Because of their guardian origins and tendency to become aggressive toward strangers, this breed is not recommended for owners that socialize often and cannot provide adequate, ongoing training.

  • Does the Tornjak Shed?

    Tornjaks have thick double coats that insulate their bodies in harsh conditions, but because of all this extra fur, they also shed considerably. Owners can use de-shedding tools and brush their dogs regularly to limit shedding at home.

  • Is a Tornjak Recognized by the AKC?

    While the Tornjak is not yet recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), it is a part of the club's Foundation Stock Service, which is a stepping stone toward full recognition.