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Some people are passionate about really big dogs, and you won’t find many bigger than the Caucasian shepherd dog, also known as the Russian bear dog or the Caucasian ovcharka.
Bred in the Soviet Union in the 20th century, these giant dogs spend much of their time lazing around, but when danger strikes they know how to react. They can take down bears, jackals, and wolves when defending their territory.
A Russian bear dog can make a good pet if you are looking for a large dog that is relatively low energy, or you want a serious guard dog, but they require an experienced dog owner who knows how to train independent pups and show them who is boss at the right moment.
Read on as we go through everything you need to know about the Caucasian shepherd dog to help you decide whether they are the right animal for you.
Caucasian Shepherd Dog Vital Statistics
- Large breed from the Soviet Union
- Purebred/standardized breed
- 23-30 inches tall
- 70-170 pounds
- 10-12 year lifespan
- Very healthy
- Low energy and exercise requirements
- Excellent guard dogs
- Require socialization from a young age
- Best with experienced owners
Caucasian Ovcharka – History Of The Breed
The Caucasian shepherd dog is known by a variety of names, but it should not be confused with the King shepherd or the Shiloh shepherd, which are different breeds.
Large shepherd dogs have been used in the Caucasus region of the world for centuries to protect homes and livestock from large predatory animals such as wolves, jackals, and bears.
In the 1920s, the Soviet Union decided to start actively breeding the best specimens from mountain dogs and other breeds found in the Caucasus and Steppe regions of Southern Russia.
The breed was first officially described by cynologist Aleksandr Mazover, who noted that the breed is most common, and also of the best quality, in the region around Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Dagestan.
The dogs were first seen outside of the Soviet Union in Germany in the 1930s, and from there they started to make their way around the world working as guard dogs, bear hunting dogs, and even prison guards.
The breed was officially accepted by the Federation Cynologique Internationale in 1984. Since then it has been recognized by most kennel clubs internationally, but not the American Kennel Club.
The AKC considers the breed to be “developing” and lists it as a foundation stock breed.
Size & Appearance
Caucasian Shepherds are sometimes called Russian bear dogs not only because they can take down a bear, but because they are almost the size of a bear!
They range in height at the withers from 23 to 30 inches, with the males usually significantly larger than the females.
Males are usually 72-75 cm tall, while females are just 67-70 cm tall. The minimum weight for female dogs is 99 pounds/40kg and for males is 110 pounds/50kg, but they can be much heavier, weighing up to 170 pounds.
They have a muscular and strong body and a fluffy coat that can make them appear even bigger than they really are. They have a thick double coat designed to protect them from the elements which combine a soft inner layer with a coarser outer layer.
The length of their coat can vary quite a bit from long to very short. If they have a long coat they will also have a mane around the neck, while this will be absent on a short coat. Feathering is usually present on a medium-length coat.
It can be difficult to tell what type of coat they will have when looking at them as a puppy, but regardless of length, they will shed a lot. They shed year-round but shed even more profusely during the two annual shedding seasons.
Daily brushing is required to keep their coat in order and healthy, and it can be a good idea to take them to a professional groomer during their shedding season. Otherwise, they can end up looking a bit bald.
Standard colors range from white to rust, and almost all Caucasian shepherd dogs have black markings somewhere on their bodies.
Temperament And Personality
These dogs look like bears, and they also have the temperament of bears.
They are quite low-energy, lazy animals most of the time and prefer to flop about rather than run and play, but if they sense danger they are fearless and can leverage their size and strength to protect themselves and their families.
Their natural guarding instinct combined with their massive size and weight means that they can be very difficult to handle.
They need someone who knows how to train and command dogs and can remain calm and in charge when things threaten to get out of control.
Russian bear dogs are very intelligent, but also highly independent as they were bred to defend livestock and make life or death decisions in a split second on their own.
This instinct is very difficult to train out of them, and they will want to decide whether the stranger at the door is a threat or not without consulting you.
While it is very difficult to train them out of this completely, you can teach them the response that you want by socializing them from a young age.
Expose them to other animals and humans as soon as you get them home so that they can learn to make good decisions about who is a friend and who is foe.
Without this, they can be aggressive towards strangers and unnecessarily provocative towards other animals. They tend to be both noisy and intimidating in these circumstances.
Their big size means that they do best in a big home with lots of space for them to occupy.
Even when they spend most of the day flopped down on something soft, they take up a lot of space. It is important that they are securely fenced in when outside or they might escape trying to attack a “threatening” car.
While they do best with a big backyard to call their own, giving them space to roam, even a lot of space is not enough to keep them fit and healthy.
Left to their own devices, they are downright lazy. They need at least two 15 minute exercise sessions per day to keep them fit and healthy.
While they might seem lazy, they do actually have the endurance to join you on a long walk or a hike and even enjoy it if they are getting regular exercise.
You can’t let them lounge around on the couch for 12 months of the year and take them on a Christmas hike and expect them to manage.
When properly trained and socialized, Russian bear dogs make great family pets who will enjoy cuddles and will defend their families.
Don’t leave them unattended with small children, as their large size can cause accidents; however, they don’t tend to run and jump around so they aren’t the type to accidentally knock over furniture or other items in the home.
They make great guard dogs but are probably overkill in terms of home protection for most people. They certainly will scare people away, though.
There are no statistics available on bites from Caucasian shepherd dogs, but this is because they are such a rare breed outside of certain areas of the former Soviet Union. They will only bite when threatened, but this is something to be aware of.
Unlike many dogs breeds, these dogs won’t get destructive if you leave them at home alone.
You will probably come home to find them in the same place that you left them, but this does not mean that they aren’t bored and frustrated. They like spending time with their people and are happiest when someone is around.
Caucasian Shepherd Dog Health Concerns
As Caucasian shepherd dogs are a relatively new breed and were bred for practical rather than aesthetic purposes, they are significantly healthier than many purebred dogs. They have a lifespan of 10-12 years, which is long for dogs of their size.
One of the major health concerns with Russian bear dogs is hip dysplasia, which is common in most larger dog breeds.
Reputable breeders won’t breed dogs that have this problem, but irresponsible breeders don’t control for it. Environmental factors can also influence their likelihood to develop this problem.
The biggest cause of hip dysplasia in dogs is overexercising at a young age. Repetitive actions in the joint before the age of three months can cause or exacerbate the malformity of the joint, so avoid overexercising these pups.
As a general rule, they should have five minutes of exercise each day for every month of their age, so at four months they need just 20 minutes a day.
Some of the major signs that they have hip issues include stiffness, difficulty moving, lethargy, irritability, biting or scratching the joint, and a bunny hop walk that minimizes movement in the joint.
The other major health problem for these dogs is obesity since they just aren’t into exercise. This usually occurs as they enter middle age and their already low energy levels drop further.
For this reason, it is important to monitor their diet and exercise for them. Control calories and make sure that you are actively exercising them twice a day for about 15 minutes. Don’t trust them to run around the yard to blow off steam.
Read more about the right way to exercise your puppy here.
When choosing foods for them, always opt for something with lots of animal protein and healthy animal-based fats. It is better to stick with standard meats such as beef and chicken than to choose more exotic meats for these dogs.
Dog foods that contain grains are fine for these dogs, which don’t tend to have grain sensitivities; however, they do often have problems with legumes, peas, and potatoes, which are often used as substitutes in grain-free foods.
These have been linked to heart problems, as they can interfere with the digestive systems of these dogs and prevent them from absorbing essential nutrients.
You can read more about choosing the best dog foods here.
Should I Adopt A Russian Bear Dog?
Now that you have read our profile, are you still thinking about adopting a Russian bear dog? Consider the following questions to make your final decision.
Where Do You Live?
While these dogs might not need that much space to roam, both you and they will feel overwhelmed if you try and squeeze them into your city apartment and you might also have some alarmed neighbors.
They do better in a large home, with a fenced-off outside area.
Since they have a tendency to react to strangers, they will also do better somewhere that doesn’t have too much passing foot traffic that isn’t specifically for your home.
Are You An Experienced Dog Owner?
These dogs are pretty willful and independent, and they are big enough to do some considerable damage if you lose control of them. For this reason, they really do need the firm hand of an experienced dog owner.
If you don’t know what you would do if your large dog suddenly decided that an innocent stranger was a threat, you probably aren’t the right person to be responsible for a Russian bear dog.
What Is Your Lifestyle Like?
Russian bear dogs are actually pretty low maintenance on a day-to-day level. Feed them, brush them, and take them out for a quick walk twice a day and they will probably be happy.
They will probably also do just fine if they are left at home by themselves for a considerable period of the day, as long as you take the time to bond with them when you are at home.
They will enjoy joining you on the occasional hike as long as you maintain their weight and fitness, but don’t expect them to run marathons or jump cliffs with you. This can be hard on their joints and isn’t really advisable.
Do You Have Kids Or Pets At Home?
Very large dogs and very young kids don’t tend to mix because accidents happen. If a 100-pound dog was to accidentally knock into your two-year-old, they could do a lot of damage.
They are fine with older kids, though, as they will develop a bond and aren’t excitable dogs likely to jump up and cause accidents.
They can be socialized with other animals and taught to treat them as part of the family, but if you want to do this it is necessary to socialize them from the puppy stage.
If you are adopting an adult dog, this can be a problem if you aren’t sure how they are likely to respond to other animals.
Adopting A Caucasian Shepherd Dog
There aren’t that many breeders of Caucasian shepherd dogs in the United States, so you can expect them to be expensive. Puppies can cost anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000 depending on the supply and demand where you are.
You can also order these dogs from Russian kennels, but you can expect this to come with significant additional expenses.
Make sure you research your breeder properly and ensure that they put the wellbeing of the animal first.
While adopting from a dodgy breeder can save one animal and send them to a good home, it just encourages them to continue breeding in unsuitable circumstances and feeds the cycle of abuse.
You may find Russian bear dogs in rescues and shelters, since many people may adopt them and then find that they don’t have the space or the experience to handle these dogs.
Rescues will be careful about placing such large and potentially aggressive dogs with inexperienced owners.
Which is bigger, the Tibetan mastiff or the Caucasian shepherd?
In general, Caucasian shepherds tend to be larger than Tibetan mastiffs. While the latter generally reach a maximum weight of 150 pounds, the Caucasian Shepherd can weigh up to 170 pounds.
Are Caucasian shepherds lazy?
Yes! While they can climb mountains and run great distances when needed, if there is nothing to be done, they will generally do nothing and prefer to sit around.
Russian bear dogs, better known as Caucasian shepherd dogs, are both gentle giants and aggressive guardians in equal measure.
They will spend most of the day snoozing and enjoying the company of their families, but if they sense danger they can jump into action and have the strength and instinct to protect their loved ones–even from threats such as wolves and bears.
They can make great family pets if you have the space and the experience to look after them properly.
Just remember that you can’t trust them to eat well and exercise regularly on their own. As well as loving them, they need you to act as their personal trainer!
Do you have experience with Russian bear dogs?
Share your thoughts with the community in the comments section below.
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