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rec.pets.dogs: Caucasian Ovtcharkas Breed-FAQ

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Archive-name: dogs-faq/breeds/ovtcharkas
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Last-modified: 10 Nov 1997

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                            Caucasian Ovtcharkas

   Copyright 1995 by Catherine Goldman, Robin Leff.
   Published by;
   Caucasian Ovtcharka International
   PO Box 2355
   Boston, Mass. 02130
   tel: 617-522-2649
   fax: 617-524-1067
Table of Contents

     * Description
          + What is a Caucasian Ovtcharka?
          + How big do they get?
          + What colors are allowed?
          + What kind of temperament do Caucasians have?
          + Are they good with children?
          + Are they good with other dogs?
          + Are they good house dogs?
          + What is their level of energy?
     * Care
          + What about shedding?
          + Aren't they messy dogs?
          + Do they eat much?
          + How do Caucasians do in weather extremes?
          + Do ears have to be cropped?
          + What about obedience training?
          + Should I breed my dog?
     * Health Issues
          + Do they get hip dysplasia?
          + Any special advice or issues that should be known about
     * Getting a Caucasian
          + Why would you not recommend a Caucasian?
          + Should I get a male or a female?
          + Should I get a puppy or an older dog?
          + What does "show quality" vs. "pet quality" mean?
          + How much do they cost?
          + How do I locate a breeder to purchase a puppy?
          + How can I tell if a breeder is reputable?
     * Dog Shows and Breed Clubs
          + Showing dogs looks like fun but scary. How hard is it?
          + Why don't I see Caucasians at AKC dog shows?
          + Where else can I show my dog?
          + What should I expect from a breed club?
          + What are the benefits of joining a breed club?
          + What you can do for your club

  What is a Caucasian Ovtcharka?
   In the remote regions of the Caucasus Mountains and Steppes, which
   span several territories of the former Soviet Union, there hails one
   of the significant rare breeds of our time. This breed is recognized
   by many authorities not only for its incredibly attractive bear-like
   appearance but for its supreme versatility. The Caucasian Ovtcharka,
   as we know it today, is indeed testimony to Darwin's theory of
   survival of the fittest!
   The Caucasian Ovtcharka, a member of the working group, is a very old
   breed of Molosser origins. This large, generally rough coated dog has
   been considered by many to be a descendant of the Tibetan Mastiff;
   however, current archaeological evidence suggest otherwise. The most
   recent research suggests that the ancestors of all the working
   sheepdog breeds most likely originate from ancient dogs that lived in
   the forested hills of Iraq and Mesopotamia.
   Nomadic tribes settling in the remote regions of the Caucasus brought
   working dogs with them which evolved with little outside intervention
   into the hardy, intelligent Caucasian Ovtcharka. The breed takes its
   name both from the region of origin and from the original purpose of
   the dogs.
   Caucasian refers to the regions of the Caucasus, which include
   Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Daghestan, Iran and Turkey. Ovtcharka, a
   Russian word, translates to Shepherd or Sheepdog. Not to be confused
   with herding breeds, the Caucasian is actually a livestock guardian,
   bred for the role of bonding with the livestock and effectively
   fending off predators -- whether wolves, bears or thieves.
   For centuries, the breed was little known outside these remote regions
   and were first seen in European dog shows in 1930s Germany. In 1952,
   the breed was sub-divided into two distinct types: the Transcaucasian
   Ovtcharka, the heavier boned, more massive dog from the mountain
   regions; and the Caucasian Ovtcharka, the lighter built dog of the
   steppe regions. In 1976 the two types were re-classified as one breed
   with all dogs expected to conform to the same standard. However,
   individuals of the breed can still be identified by regional type
   today, with each area of the former USSR having its own varieties,
   including numerous sub-types. Today, the best examples are considered
   to be of "Georgian" type, a heavy-boned, heavy-coated type often said
   to most resemble a bear.
   The Caucasian has an elaborate history that goes well beyond its
   pastoral origins. Realizing the versatility of the breed, the Soviet
   Army enlisted the Caucasian as a service dog and it was used as a
   guard in both war and peace time. Breeding and promotion of the breed
   for military and industrial use became the responsibility of the famed
   "Red Star Kennels" where many modern dogs had their origin.
   As the Caucasian has slowly become known in the West, it has continued
   to uphold a reputation for trainability and adaptability, making the
   breed an excellent candidate for service dog, family
   companion/guardian, and flock guardian in the appropriate situations.
  How big do they get?
   A typical male should stand anywhere from 25 1/2 to 30 + inches at the
   withers and should weigh 100 + pounds. Females are a bit smaller, 80 +
   pounds and a minimum of 24 1/2 inches.
  What colors are allowed?
   All colors except solid black and solid brown, black ticking and
   combinations of black and brown. Most commonly seen are various shades
   of gray. Other colors described are rust, straw, yellow, white,
   brindle, earth, spotted and piebald.
  What kind of temperament do Caucasians have?
   The Caucasian was developed to guard flocks and thus is naturally
   protective. Though their appearance may be fierce, in general they
   should be a calm and steady dog with even temperament. They should be
   well behaved with and accepting of all family members, but naturally
   wary of strangers. Although more eager to please than many flock
   guardians, they still can be quite independent and stubborn when
   compared to more easily trained breeds such as the German Shepherd dog
   or Golden Retriever. It is important to "socialize" the Caucasian at
   an early age to properly adapt to different people and situations. If
   you are planning to use your Caucasian for flock guardian work, it is
   important to start exposing them to the livestock as early as
   possible. With proper socialization and training, you should have few
  Are they good with children?
   Yes. most Caucasians are good with children they know and would never
   hurt them purposely. However, it is imperative to establish the proper
   pecking order from the beginning, making the Caucasian understand that
   it cannot push the children around. It is also essential to realize
   that they are large dogs and sometimes forget their size. This can
   result in a child accidentally being knocked down or stepped on. As
   with any pet, it is important that young children be supervised by an
   adult when playing with your Caucasian. Also, as a dog bred to protect
   their flocks, Caucasians will substitute the family for its flock and
   may try to keep strangers or other threats away from the children.
   Older children with an active social life need to realize that
   although their friends may like dogs, it may not be appropriate for
   the dog to interact with every visitor.
  Are they good with other dogs?
   Most Caucasians are able to live with other dogs, cats and of course
   livestock. If you have other pets it would be best to get a puppy so
   everyone learns to get along.
   Females are more likely to be able to live together; two male dogs who
   have not been neutered can rarely be expected to live peaceably.
  Are they good house dogs?
   Well, that depends on what you mean. If you have a pristine house with
   many precious and breakable items, you may need to think twice. If you
   have a good vacuum cleaner, have moved the crystal out of the way and
   are ready and eager for an adventure, than yes, the Caucasian can be a
   great house dog.
   Any dog can be trained to behave in a house and the Caucasian is no
   exception. Puppies need to be housebroken and taught what is
   permissible behavior and what is not. All puppies and young adults
   chew and crate training can be of great benefit to you and your dog in
   this regard. Talk with your breeder, trainer or experienced dog owners
   about the value of using a crate.
   Caucasians respond very well to steady and consistent training.
   Caucasians are not really that different from most other dogs, except
   that you can never forget that they are a large dog and the problems
   or challenges may be correspondingly bigger. For instance, you may
   find the crate for your dog is bigger than the kitchen table! You may
   also want to buy stock in the company that makes rolling hair removers
   for clothes and furniture. Although large in size and requiring
   regular exercise, CO'S make excellent house or apartment dogs as they
   generally do a lot of lying around. Their activity level is quite low
   compared with many smaller breeds.
  What is their level of energy?
   As with most livestock guarding breeds, the CO is generally a
   phlegmatic, low activity level dog. Originally they were bred to lay
   around with the sheep all day and keep predators at bay. As most
   predators are nocturnal, you may find your CO much more active at
   night. If you are planning on keeping your dog outside, you must
   realize they are alarm barkers and will give warning to anything
   encroaching their territory. Do not be fooled by their habit of lying
   around, appearing to be dozing. The slightest disturbance will rouse
   them and most CO'S are surprisingly quick and agile.

  What about shedding?
   Although they lose hair all the time in small quantities, most CO'S
   "blow coat" at least once a year. When this happens large tufts of
   hair are everywhere! Get out the rakes and combs and go to work. With
   proper grooming, the mess can be minimized and save that fur! Clothing
   knit from CO fur is said to bring good luck and longevity to the
  Aren't they messy dogs?
   Well they do shed and like the mud. Pound for pound, they are no
   messier than most other dogs but since they are big dogs, any mess is
   correspondingly bigger.
  Do they eat much?
   For their size they are an easy keeper. While a growing puppy or a
   pregnant or lactating bitch might consume as much as 8-10 cups a day,
   an unstressed adult dog will likely consume much less. You should feed
   your CO a high quality food that provides necessary nutrition. Check
   with your breeder to see what they recommend. Some breeders supplement
   the diet with cooked meat, yogurt, goats milk, etc. Young pups need to
   be fed 2-3 times a day, while adults 1-2 times a day.
  How do Caucasians do in weather extremes?
   CO'S do well in all kinds of climactic conditions. They absolutely
   love cold weather and snow. Under normal conditions a good solid dog
   house with plenty of bedding is sufficient. They tolerate heat equally
   well with sufficient shade and water.
  Do ears have to be cropped?
   No. This is a personal option. Ear cropping is traditional (as a flock
   guardian, dogs are at an advantage if the prey have no ears to bite
   at) but not required even for show dogs. Although a cropped ear is
   preferred, many European countries have banned cropping for humane
   reasons. The cropped ear does change the expression, however, and some
   feel it makes the look of the dog.
  What about obedience training?
   As soon as your pup is old enough, a "Puppy Kindergarten" is highly
   recommended (contact a local obedience or breed club to find one),
   followed by a basic obedience class. Caucasians respond well to
   positive reinforcement training methods and will enjoy short, fun,
   creative training sessions. Obedience training also helps to establish
   the bond between you as pack leader and your dog as a respected member
   of the pack. Beyond the obvious benefits of having a well trained dog,
   many people enjoy working with their dogs in obedience competition.
   Through breed and all-breed clubs, Caucasians can compete for the
   Companion Dog (CD) or more advanced titles. Any large breed of dog is
   encouraged to attain AKC'S Canine Good Citizen title, which several
   Caucasians in this country have already achieved. With a Caucasian, it
   is particularly important to remember that obedience training is not
   for 1 hour a week for 8 sessions, it's forever.
  Should I breed my dog?
   Before you consider breeding, talk to a breeder about the problems,
   pitfalls, expenses and heartaches and have your bitch properly
   evaluated by knowledgeable persons. Have you ever handled the breeding
   of large dogs before? Its not as automatic as you think! Are you
   prepared to pay for all the necessary expenses? Testing before the
   pregnancy? Caring for a pregnant bitch? Are you willing to pay for a
   cesarean section if necessary? What if the bitch dies? Have you ever
   had to hand feed a large litter before? Are you ready to watch the
   litter 24 hours daily to insure the mother doesn't roll over on them?
   Do you have a Vet lined up to come into your home? Are you willing to
   pay? What if you can't sell all the pups by 8 weeks of age? Will you
   be able to continue to pay for the vaccinations and extra mouths? If
   you can't sell them right away, what about housing, housebreaking,
   socialization and training? No dog needs to be a mother or a father to
   be fulfilled.
   You should breed your dog only if:
    1. Your dog meets the approved standard.
    2. You have proven this by showing your dog, or by having it
       evaluated by more than one knowledgeable person.
    3. You are prepared to care for all the resulting puppies regardless
       of when they sell.
    4. You are willing to take back any puppy/dog you have bred, should
       the circumstance arise.
   You should not breed your dog if your main motive is to make money, or
   to recoup your purchase price, or expenses! When breeding is done
   right, it is doubtful you will accomplish either. Dog breeding is not
   a casual venture. Before breeding your dog, visit the local animal
   shelter and talk with the staff.
Health Issues

  Do they get hip dysplasia?
   Caucasians, like any large breed, can be afflicted with hip dysplasia.
   Adult dogs should be x-rayed for signs of the disease. The Orthopedic
   Foundation for Animals, (OFA) issues numbers to dogs with acceptable
   hips. When buying a puppy, always try to find a breeder that is using
   x-rayed stock. Ask to see OFA certificates or letters from a certified
   Veterinarian. Reputable breeders will guarantee their pups against hip
   dysplasia and other severe genetic defects.
  Any special advice or issues that should be known about health?
   As of this writing (1995) Caucasians appear to have few genetically
   linked health problems. As mentioned before, hip dysplasia is of some
   concern. In the FCI and Russian breed standards eye disease, cataracts
   and loose lower eyelids are mentioned.
Getting a Caucasian

  Why would you not recommend a Caucasian?
   CO'S are not a dog for everyone. Why not? They demand time, attention,
   frequent training and handling. They are strong, willful and cannot be
   expected to like everyone. Without proper training, they can be very
   aggressive to both people and dogs. They do bark a lot and have a lot
   of hair. They require firm, steady and consistent training. A CO needs
   to learn manners well enough to be trusted to react as you would want
   and expect in all situations. If you know you are totally confident in
   your ability to handle a large, dominant dog even in threatening
   situations and are able to supply the necessary time, energy,
   attention and money to raise and keep a dog for its full life, only
   then should you consider a Caucasian.
  Should I get a male or a female?
   As with many breeds, males are generally larger and can be more
   aggressive. Females may be a bit easier in the house because of their
   smaller size. Also females are usually less dominant and can be easier
   with children. The answer for you depends on personal preference,
   whether you've owned a Caucasian before, whether you have other male
   dogs in the house or whether you've had experience with other flock
   guardians or large working breeds before. This should also be a point
   to discuss with your breeder.
  Should I get a puppy or an older dog?
   Some people prefer to acquire an older dog that has already been house
   broken, has some training and is no longer chewing. Some people are in
   seventh heaven around a pup and don't mind the trials and tribulations
   of puppyhood. Some are even crazy enough to have more than one puppy
   at a time.
  What does "show quality" vs. "pet quality" mean?
   To determine its show potential, each dog is compared against its
   breed standard. A dog or puppy displaying any disqualifying faults
   would be graded as pet quality. Sometimes the faults are only visible
   to a knowledgeable person, while sometimes the fault is very visible.
   Show quality means that the dog has no serious faults as defined by
   the breed standard. This does not mean that the temperament will be
   good, that the dog will ever win at shows, or will become a champion.
   Puppies graded show quality at the time of sale by the breeder are
   considered only to have the potential to be shown.
   If you pay show quality price, you should have a written guarantee
   that the puppy will be replaced or part of the purchase price be
   refunded should the puppy develop a disqualifying fault, or other
   defect or disease which would prevent it from being shown. Show
   quality is much easier to assess in an adult dog. If your heart is set
   on a show dog, you may be happier purchasing an adult whose structure
   and quality are already clear.
   Pet quality dogs cannot be shown in the conformation ring. However,
   they can compete in obedience, agility or make a perfectly suitable
   livestock or family guardian. Generally these dogs should not be bred
   and should be neutered, as they can pass on their faults to their
   offspring. Most breeders will register pet quality puppies under a
   limited registration or with a spay/neuter contract.
   Usually pet quality dogs have a less expensive purchase price. There
   should be no difference in the dog's abilities, or the amount of time,
   training, cost and care that they require.
  How much do they cost?
   The cost of a Caucasian depends on many factors including whether one
   or both the parents have championship status; whether or not the
   animal is American bred or imported; and whether health and hips are
   guaranteed. A pet quality puppy might range from $500.00 to $1,000.00.
   Show quality puppies generally cost $800.00 and up. Imported dogs can
   cost more. Older dogs may be priced higher or lower depending on the
   quality of the dog and whether or not it has earned any championship
   points or has had obedience training.
  How do I locate a breeder to purchase a puppy?
   One way is to visit a rare breed show and talk with exhibitors and
   owners of CO'S. Various dog publications list breeders or clubs. Rare
   breed organizations often have breeder referral services.
  How can I tell if a breeder is reputable?
   Start by looking at the conditions. Do the bitch and her pups appear
   healthy? Ask a lot of questions. How long has the breeder been active
   in breeding, showing and training dogs. What dog clubs do they belong
   to? How long have they had Caucasians? How many individual dogs do
   they own? How often do they have puppies available? Be sure to ask for
   references. Expect that you may have to get on a waiting list to get
   what you want.
   Make sure the breeder can substantiate all titles claimed, as well as
   furnish proof of X-rays. Beware of people that keep what would
   logically seem like too many dogs, or have multiple litters annually.
   The breeder should be just as interested in you as you are in them and
   ask lots of questions. Beware of complicated co-ownership contracts
   with future breeding commitments. Make sure you get a written contract
   that you've read and completely understand.
Dog Shows and Breed Clubs

  Showing dogs looks like fun but scary. How hard is it?
   If you've never been to a dog show, you must go! It's a canine lover's
   paradise with dogs of every size and descriptions, vendors selling
   every dog related item you could think of and lots of people enjoying
   their passion. If you've seen Westminster dog show on TV, you must
   realize this is the "super bowl" of dogdom with the finest dogs,
   handlers and judges. However, the average dog show is not nearly as
   extravagant. If you think you could be bitten by the bug, talk to your
   breeder and find a breed handling class in your area. Here you will
   learn proper ring technique.
   Showing your dog can be a great hobby for you and the whole family.
   Its a great way to meet other CO owners and dog enthusiasts and have a
   lot of fun.
  Why don't I see Caucasians at AKC dog shows?
   Caucasians are just one of many breeds not recognized by the American
   Kennel Club (which only recognizes about 1/3 of over 300 separately
   identified breeds).
   There are many types of flock guardians and most countries with an
   agrarian culture have dogs that have been used as livestock guardians
   throughout history. Some of the more popular breeds, such as the Great
   Pyrenees, Kuvasz and Komondor, are recognized by the AKC. However, the
   vast majority of flock guardians are considered "rare breeds" in the
   U.S. In addition to the Caucasian Ovtcharka, some other examples of
   flock breeds are the Maremma Abruzzi, Anatolian Shepherd Dog and the
   Sharplaninatz. While some are rarer than others, all these breeds are
   considered purebreds, which means that the dogs and all prior
   generations before it are purebred. Each country has various
   registration bodies which records pedigrees, keeps a stud book and may
   provide shows. Currently, Caucasians and other rare flock guardians
   can be shown at the American Rare Breed Association (ARBA) shows.
  Where else can I show my dog?
   In addition to ARBA shows, Caucasians can be shown at other rare breed
   shows and at match shows where rare breeds are invited. You can find
   out about these venues through your breeder, various publications and
   from other rare breed enthusiasts.
  What should I expect from a breed club?
   You should expect that the breed club will give honest and unbiased
   information. You should expect the club to keep accurate and fair
   records. That it will be run in a democratic fashion and not be a
   soapbox for one person's vision or opinions. That, in the case of the
   Caucasian Ovtcharka, it follows the world standard, which at present
   is FCI #328. A club should be open to all fanciers of the breed and is
   not a private organization. It is not a broker or an importer or a
   front for these individuals. It is not a guarantee that a puppy or dog
   registered through a breed club is anything but purebred. A club
   registration does not validate individual dogs temperaments or
   standards of beauty. This is up to the individual to study for him or
  What are the benefits of joining a breed club?
   A breed club keeps the official stud book. It registers individual
   dogs and litters of puppies. It will offer breed information and
   breeder referral to its members and other people making inquiries
   without prejudice. It will sponsor honest shows and working
   evaluations as a forum for people to evaluate their stock and breed
   for improvement. It will publish an informative newsletter on a
   regular basis. It will serve as a clearinghouse for new and important
   information about the breed and its history, health and
   accomplishments around the world.
  What you can do for your club
   All the services provided by the club cost money. By joining the club,
   you pay dues which help to support these services. The club needs not
   just your monetary support but your physical help as well. If you have
   the time and the inclination, please volunteer your services! The club
   cannot function without you, the members!
    Caucasian Ovtcharka FAQ

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