Big Woofs, Big Hearts: The Caucasian Shepherd Dog

Discover the Caucasian Shepherd Dog, a majestic breed with a rich history, unique appearance, and diverse uses. Learn about its size, colors, and more.

Dec 5, 2023By Natasha Elder
big woofs big hearts caucasian shepherd dog

Some dogs look just like teddy bears: the Chow Chow, Pomeranian, Cockapoo, and Goldendoodle come to mind. And then you get the dogs that look like actual bears: the Akita, Tibetan Mastiff, Leonberger, Great Pyrenees, and the subject of today’s article. Are you ready to fall head over paws with the Caucasian Shepherd Dog?

Caucasian Shepherd Dogs Are Known for Their Looks

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Image credit:Reba Spike on Unsplash

Caucasian Shepherd Dogs have a very distinctive appearance; there’s no risk of mixing this breed up with another breed accidentally, that’s for sure. Caucasian Shepherd Dogs have a strong resemblance to bears, as they are quite large and covered in a thick outer layer of medium-length coarse hair that looks like a mane.

This breed is revered for its solid muscular build. As is the case with all other breeds, males are much bigger than females. Their heads are also significantly bigger, and they have broader withers. Caucasian Shepherds measure an average of 72 to 75 centimeters (28 to 29.5 inches) for males and 67 to 70 centimeters (26 to 27.5 inches) for females.

The minimum weight for males is 50 kilograms (110 pounds) and 45 kilograms (99 pounds) for females. This should give you an idea of how big they can get. The biggest known Caucasian Shepherd is Cadaboms Hayder, who weighed a whopping 110 kilograms (242 pounds) at just 1.5 years old.

The History of the Caucasian Shepherd Dog

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Image credit:Spike Summers from Pixabay

For hundreds of years, dogs similar to the Caucasian Shepherd Dog served as loyal guardians to shepherds in the Caucasus Mountains. Their main task was to defend flocks of sheep from wolves, human thieves, and other predators and chase bears away. With their impressive size and incredible strength, they proved to be perfect protectors, and farmers began to rely on the breed to keep their livestock safe.

Let’s just say that these dogs did their jobs very well. Before long, they were considered a valuable asset to those who worked with them. Over time, Soviet breeders selected different dogs from the Caucasus region and refined the breed, creating the Caucasian Shepherd Dog we know today. Georgia in Eastern Europe, in particular, is credited with producing the best examples of the breed due to their size, muscular structure, and beautiful long hair.

Caucasian Shepherd Dogs Go by Other Names

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Image credit:Wikimedia

In the animal naming world, it’s completely normal to name an animal after the place in which it was discovered or created. Since the breed was developed over time by breeding different dogs from the Caucasus region, it makes sense that their name would reflect this. Most people know them as Caucasian Shepherd Dogs, but there are a couple of other names that this breed goes by.

Depending on where you are in the world, a Caucasian Shepherd is also known as a:

  • Caucasian Sheepdog
  • Caucasian Ovcharka
  • Caucasian Mountain Dog
  • Kawkasky Owtscharka
  • Baskhan (Karachay) Pary
  • Kaukasische Schaferhund
  • Caucasian Volkodav
  • Russian Bear Dog
  • Russian Prison Dog

Caucasian Shepherd Dogs: From Herders to Guards

caucasian  shepherd dog up close
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Caucasian Shepherds aren’t also known as Russian Prison Dogs for fun. This alternative name is a reflection of the purpose they now serve in Russia. If you watch videos about dog stars on TikTok or YouTube, you’ll probably know that the days of guarding livestock are over for the Caucasian Shepherd Dog.

Thanks to its intimidating size, protective nature, insane durability, and incredibly high level of intelligence, the Caucasian Shepherd Dog has evolved to serve as a prison guard dog in Russian penitentiaries. Their loyal and protective nature makes them an ideal breed for this role. Their massive size and imposing presence probably don’t hurt, either.

In a prison setting, Caucasian Shepherds have a variety of uses. Depending on the training they’ve had, Caucasian Shepherds can either be used to identify and alert guards to potential threats, serve as patrollers, or carry out typical watchdog duties. In all honesty, they’re mainly used to scare prisoners into submission. These incredible dogs are employed at various correctional institutions, including the infamous Black Dolphin Prison and Vladimir Central in Russia.

The Caucasian Shepherd is a Bear-Hunting Breed

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Image credit: Wikipedia

The very thought of a dog being able to help take down a bear is difficult to process, but there are thought to be eight different dog breeds that are capable of doing just that. Along with the Caucasian Shepherd, these breeds include:

  • Plott Hounds
  • Coonhounds
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Black Mouth Curs
  • Rhodesian Ridgebacks
  • Komondors
  • Karelian Bear Dogs

It’s important to note that there are several factors that influence bear-hunting dogs. It’s not just a case of a big dog jumping on a big bear. A lot of the time, it’s tracking, treeing, barking, baying, catching, and nipping at the bear’s heels until the human hunter comes along.

Though one of its original uses was to hunt bears, these days, the Caucasian Shepherd isn’t really used for this due to the ethical concerns associated with bear hounding and hunting.

Caucasian Shepherd Dogs Aren’t Necessarily Dangerous

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Image credit: Wikimedia

You’d be forgiven for taking one look at this dog and thinking, despite its super fluffy (and inviting!) coat, you could never cuddle it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. This beautiful breed is known for being fearless, aggressive, alert, dominant, strong, powerful, and reliable. But that’s not all it can be.

With the right training and – more importantly – the right family, Caucasian Shepherd Dogs can be wonderfully loving dogs. When the right boxes are checked, the breed can be described as affectionate, loyal, protective, calm, and gentle.

When Caucasian Shepherd Dogs are raised in the right environment, they can be amazing family pets and can be great with children. The only caveat to this is that their large size means they aren’t the best choice for younger or smaller children, as they could easily knock them down. Because of this, they aren’t easy pets for kids, but they could work for families with older children or teenagers at home.

Caucasian Shepherd Dogs Are Mostly Healthy Animals

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Image credit:Animal Corner

Caucasian Shepherd Dogs are considered to be a pretty healthy breed. Plus, on top of the common health issues that can bother all dogs, there are a few health issues that these dogs are more likely to experience compared to other breeds. For starters, like most giant dog breeds, Caucasian Shepherds are at risk of heart problems and developing both elbow and hip dysplasia.

Older Caucasian Shepherds are at risk for developing cataracts and entropion (when the eyelid turns inward). Both of these conditions are usually treatable, but if not, they don’t have too much of an impact on the dog’s life expectancy. Thanks to their large size and slow metabolism, obesity is another condition that Caucasian Shepherds are prone to developing if their diet and exercise needs aren’t met.

Another way in which the Caucasian Shepherd’s large size impacts their health is, sadly, in their shortened lifespan. On average, Caucasian Shepherd Dogs live for 10 to 12 years.

Training Caucasian Shepherd Dogs is Difficult

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Image credit: Titans Family

Training Caucasian Shepherd Dogs can be, to put it frankly, exceptionally challenging. This is mainly due to their strong-willed and independent nature. These dogs have a deeply ingrained protective instinct and an inherent wariness of strangers, which can lead to a stubborn demeanor and common behavioral problems.

By nature, Caucasian Shepherds are prone to display aggressive behavior when their protective instincts are triggered. They tend to assert dominance and require a firm, consistent, and experienced handler to establish control. Socialization is crucial to ensure they are not overly aggressive, overly territorial, or overly protective, and this process can be time-consuming.

And all of that has just been the mental side of training! Now, on to the physical side of things. Their formidable size and overwhelming strength make them even more challenging to manage, necessitating early and consistent obedience training. Novice dog owners may find it particularly difficult to handle these powerful, almost autonomous canines. In short, if you’re looking for beginner-friendly dogs, look elsewhere.

Caucasian Shepherds Can Have Different Colors

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Image credit: Wikimedia

Caucasian Shepherds are double-coated dogs. Their undercoat is soft and fine, while their outer coat is full of medium-length coarse hair. More often than not, Caucasian Shepherds are agouti and white, but that’s not to say you won’t find them in other colors.

You’ll find Caucasian Shepherds in 10 colors, to be exact. The American Kennel Club defines the accepted breed standard colors as:

  • Agouti and white
  • Black and gray
  • Cream
  • Fawn
  • Gray
  • Grizzle (a mix of black with other dark colors)
  • Red
  • Rust
  • Sable (a very dark reddish brown or black color)
  • White

Some Countries Ban Caucasian Shepherds

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Image credit:RussianDog.Net

After learning all the above, it’s easy to see why so many people are besotted with this beautiful breed. However, it’s just as easy to see why the breed can be misunderstood and, when not properly trained or socialized, dangerous. Because of the potential risks associated with the breed, the Caucasian Shepherd Dog is classified as a dangerous or banned canine breed in a handful of countries.

In countries including Belarus, Italy, Ukraine, and – somewhat surprisingly – Russia, the Caucasian Shepherd is listed as a dangerous breed, and specific restrictions around owning this dog are in place. Caucasian Shepherds are banned outright in Denmark, and owning one is strictly prohibited by law.

You have options if you’re looking to bring a poofy, bear-like dog into your home. Perhaps you would enjoy spending time with the lovable Newfoundland. While they don’t hunt down bears, they’re generally easy to train and offer their undying devotion.

Natasha Elder
By Natasha Elder

Natasha is a mother, a wife, a writer, and a serial cat owner. Though she is currently in mourning, her heart not ready for another feline family member just yet, she has always lived life with four paws beside her. She loves – you guessed it – cats, as well as creatures of the fluffy, scaly, and finned variety. Natasha longs to meet Sir David Attenborough one day and is passionate about responsible pet ownership