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Sam Clark, Animal Photography
The Black Russian Terrier is a guard dog who is devoted to his family. Bred to be suspicious of strangers, he needs training to discriminate between situations that call for protective action and those that don’t.
Despite the word Terrier in his name, the Black Russian Terrier is a member of the American Kennel Club’s Working Group.
The Black Russian Terrier was created by the Russian army for use as a guard dog in climates with extremely cold temperatures. He is a giant breed and weighs 80 to 145 pounds.
These days, the Black Russian Terrier still performs his job as guardian but primarily in a family environment. As a member of the American Kennel Club’s Working Group, he can also be a show dog. The Black Russian Terrier has many positive attributes, but he is not the easiest dog to live with. If you want the calm, protective dog, be prepared to do a lot of homework, put in plenty of daily effort training and socializing, and offer exercise throughout his life. The Black Russian Terrier is smart, but like any dog with a working background, he is an independent thinker. You must begin early if you want to teach him to think of you as his leader. The BRT is not an appropriate choice for a first-time dog owner.
Be aware that a Black Russian Terrier can be messy to keep. His beard will drip water after he drinks and will need to be cleaned after meals. You may also need to wipe down walls or furniture if he shakes his head before you can get to him with a towel. His coat picks up all kinds of dirt and debris, which is then deposited throughout your home. At night he snores. Loudly. Those traits are balanced by his love of family and strong desire to be close to them. Don’t choose this breed if you don’t want a black shadow following you around.
The Black Russian Terrier’s coat doesn’t shed much, but it does develop mats and tangles if it isn’t thoroughly brushed once a week. Professional grooming every six weeks is advised. Other grooming requirements include cleaning the ears and trimming the nails as needed, as well as bathing him when he’s dirty.
While you might think of him as an outdoor dog, nothing could be farther from the truth. Black Russian Terriers are guardian dogs, devoted to their people. Chaining a Black Russian Terrier out in the yard and giving him little or no attention is not only cruel, it can also lead to aggression. A Black Russian Terrier should have access to a securely fenced yard, but when the family is home, he should be in the house with them.
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This dog is a Cold War creation, developed in Moscow after World War II for military and police work. His breeders started with a Giant Schnauzer and crossed him with other breeds that included the Airedale, Rottweiler, and the Moscow Retriever. The result was a large black dog with a protective temperament and a healthy dose of suspicion toward strangers.
Less than two decades ago, the BRT was seen only in small numbers at European and Scandinavian dog shows, but in 2004 he was recognized by the American Kennel Club as its 151st breed. Today the Black Russian Terrier ranks 135th among the breeds registered by the AKC.
A proper Black Russian Terrier is calm but has strong guarding instincts. He’s able to discriminate between situations that call for protective action and those that don’t. He doesn’t come that way, though.
Early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent a Black Russian Terrier from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of new developments and people. Purchase a Black Russian Terrier puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to different household sights and sounds. Continue socializing your Black Russian Terrier throughout his life by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, to meet friends and neighbors, and on outings to local shops and businesses. These experiences will help your puppy become a calm, sensible adult dog.
Black Russian Terriers are active and athletic, and they enjoy long walks, jogging, and hiking (always on leash!). Plan to take him for a 20-minute walk twice a day, at a good pace. It’s important to give a BRT a job to do, from his daily training exercises to participating in a dog sport such as agility, obedience, rally, or tracking.
The Black Russian Terrier is best suited to a home with a large yard surrounded by a solid fence that is at least five or six feet high. Do not rely on an underground electronic fence to keep him contained. The shock it provides is nothing to this tough dog, and he won’t let it deter him from leaving the yard if that’s what he wants to do.
Black Russian Terriers have a high prey drive and will chase other animals, but if they are brought up together, they can learn to live peaceably with indoor cats or smaller dogs. They are gentle and tolerant with small children if they are brought up with them, but because of their size, they must be supervised so they don’t accidentally knock toddlers over.
The Black Russian Terrier thinks for himself, but he learns quickly and will respond to kind, firm, consistent training. Don’t make him repeat the same action over and over again. He’s smart and becomes bored easily, so keep training sessions short and interesting or he will wander off to find something better to do. Use positive reinforcement training techniques such as praise, play, and food rewards combined with a nothing-in-life-is-free program that requires him to “work” for food, treats, toys, and playtime by first performing a command such as "sit" or "down."
Begin training as soon as you bring your Black Russian Terrier puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don't wait until he is six months old to begin training, or you will have a headstrong dog on your hands. Get him to puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, after he has had at least one set of puppy shots, so you can start building a strong working relationship.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know a bit about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Black Russian Terrier, look for one whose parents have approachable personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit diseases. Run from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed has no known problems, or who isolates puppies from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the regularity with which they occur in her lines.
Black Russian Terriers have some health conditions that can be a concern, such as urinary tract stones.
The Black Russian Terrier Club of America -- the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States -- participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a BRT achieve CHIC certification, he must have hip and elbow evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), an OFA cardiac evaluation, and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. Breeders must agree to have all test results -- positive or negative -- published in the CHIC database. You can check CHIC’s website to see if a breeder’s dogs have these certifications.
Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs vet checked is not a substitute for genetic health testing.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Black Russian Terrier at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
Regular grooming is essential for the Black Russian Terrier’s handsome good looks. Expect to bathe your dog every two to three months. The wiry coat should be brushed twice a week to prevent tangles.
The rest is basic care. Nails should be trimmed once a month and ears checked every week. Regular tooth brushing with a soft toothbrush and doggie toothpaste keeps the teeth and gums healthy.
Because the Black Russian Terrier is not a common breed, it is likely some professional groomers will not know exactly how to groom him, especially when it comes to hand stripping (shortening the coat by using a razor-like comb). An experienced breeder is probably the best resource for learning how to groom the breed.
It is important to begin grooming the Black Russian Terrier when he is very young. An early introduction teaches this independent dog that grooming is a normal part of his life and to patiently accept the grooming process.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a quality breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy and will have completed all the certifications necessary to screen out health problems. She is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with. They will come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you plan to provide. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, discuss what health problems affect the breed, and explain the steps she takes take to avoid problems. Remember, breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical.
Look for more information about the Black Russian Terrier and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Black Russian Terrier Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the BRTCA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to obtain recommended health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy or whether your credit card will clear. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include over-availability, multiple litters on the premises, a choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Quickie online purchases are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
The cost of a Black Russian Terrier puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment and come from parents with health clearances and conformation (show). Ideally, the breeder should have working titles to prove that they are quality specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Black Russian Terrier might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up. An adult Black Russian Terrier may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com can have you searching for a Black Russian Terrier in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Black Russian Terrier s available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Black Russian Terrier. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Black Russian Terriers love all Black Russian Terriers. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Black Russian Terrier Club of America can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Black Russian Terrier rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Black Russian Terrier home for a trial to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Black Russian Terrier, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter, or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, a breeder purchase or a rescue, take your Black Russian Terrier to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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