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The South Russian Sheepdog (the Ovtcharka)

The South Russian Sheepdog (the Ovtcharka)

By Michael Russell

The South Russian Ovtcharka is also known as the South Russian Sheepdog. It resembles the Bearded Collie not only in looks but in natural tendencies and it is likely that the two breeds may have some common genetic background. There is dispute on that matter, for some historians believe that the South Russian Sheepdog is completely native to the Steppe country of Russia and that there is evidence to suggest that they were a well established presence by 1790. Others stick to the belief that the dogs originally were imported from Austria and Europe to serve as flock guards. However, the Austrian dogs of the present day are smaller and without the strong guardian tendencies which are part of the nature of the Ovtcharka.

Regardless of the origin, the chief responsibility of this large and fierce dog is protect the flocks from predators. These predators include the wolf and bear and mountain lions. The territory that it will establish for itself is as great as the distance within its range of scent and surrounding the flock of sheep, usually Merino Sheep. The Merino Sheep tend to maintain themselves together in a flock or group, the Ovtcharka will patrol the outer edges of the flock ceaselessly and with great persistence. It is a large and active breed with punishing jaws and great strength of body. For many centuries the South Russian Sheepdog has maintained a presence amongst the sheep herds almost without intervention or human training of any sort. Often the dogs were born within the flock and grew up within the flock, brought up by the dam and taught by the dam the job of flock guard. Human shepherds were there for the necessary food and care but other than that the dogs took the job of sheepdog or more accurately flock guard quite seriously and quite on their own.

The dog at a minimum is 26 inches tall at the withers and there is no limit or maximum to the height as far as the standard of the breed. Weight is usually 110-130 pounds. The Ovtcharka has a dense woolly coat which is usually quite unkempt. They are impervious to extremes in the temperatures and the coat is quite weather resistant. The coat is long and of equal length on all parts of the body including the legs and tail, which hangs down to below the hock and curls slightly at the end. The face also has long hair and is bearded with a heavy fore lock which will cover the eyes if not groomed. Ears are relatively short and lop and also covered with a dense coat. The dog has a muscular and athletic body, massive but not coarse, well angulated for extra agility and speed. It is indeed a dog which can run nearly as fast as the wolf and has great power.

The Ovtcharka is not a family dog. They are strongly independent and behaviorally are much like a wolf. They are protective and wary of strangers when living within a family and will treat their human family much as if they were the flock. This is a dog with a restless nature, a dog with an alert attitude and extreme sense of loyalty which will naturally translate into very protective behaviors if it is a member of a human family. Consequently anyone who owns a South Russian sheepdog must be an alpha person and capable of being the pack master. For some years the Ovtcharka was on the list of the dogs registered as members of the Miscellaneous Class of the American Kennel Club but this was not continued for lack of interest. However the South Russian still has many admirers in the United States and there are several breed clubs which hold their own events. The Ovtcharka is on the registry of the F.C.I. and the Kennel Club of Great Britain.

Michael Russell

Your Independent guide to Dogs

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