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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
The Caucasian Ovcharka, with his dense double coat and furry tail, is a flock-guarding dog who hails from the rugged Caucasus Mountain region between Europe and Asia. His job there is twofold: Protect sheep from wolves, as well as guard property.
The Caucasian Ovcharka is believed to be a rather ancient breed: His hardy ancestors likely lived over 2,000 years ago.
The Caucasian Ovcharka is best suited to a home where he can put his livestock-guarding skills to good use, although he can also be a great show dog or a domestic companion. The Ovcharka bonds strongly with his family—including children and other pets—and he takes his role as their guardian very seriously. With people he knows, the Ovcharka is steady, sweet, and kind. When it comes to strangers, he’s suspicious—and he may be aggressive towards unfamiliar dogs. Light sleepers beware: The Ovcharka has a tendency to bark at night, alerting you to possible dangers.
While his protective nature may be attractive to some people, the Ovcharka is not an ideal match for novice dog owners. He’s smart, but also an independent thinker, so he needs someone who can guide him with firm, loving, and patient training. Talk to his trainer about instituting a nothing-in-life-is-free program, requiring the puppy to “work” by performing a command before he receives meals, toys, treats or play. And note that Ovcharka puppies are inveterate chewers, so don’t give them the roam of the house until they’ve reached maturity.
The adult Ovcharka has a low activity level, so he can live in small quarters, such as an apartment or condo. However, he prefers a home with a large yard enclosed by a solid fence that’s at least five feet high. This is a territorial breed, so he must learn boundaries. When his family is home, the Ovcharka should be indoors with them — despite his good guarding skills, if you keep your Ovcharka chained in the yard, he will become aggressive and destructive.
It’s believed that the Caucasian Ovcharka has been around for more than 2,000 years, and he may be related to the Tibetan Mastiff or the Anatolian Shepherd. The large, shaggy dogs guarded flocks from predators, as well as protected owners and property.
In 1990, an Ohio-based couple, Stacey and Russell Kubyn, imported the first Ovcharkas into the United States, and formed the Caucasian Ovcharka Club of America a year later. The United Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1995. In 1996, the Ovcharka became an American Kennel Club Foundation Stock Service breed. The dogs have been eligible to compete in events, such as obedience and rally, since 2008.
The Ovcharka is a guardian breed with a serious and protective temperament. Although he has an innate distrust of strangers, he’s gentle toward people he knows. The Ovcharka is incredibly loyal to his family — but fierce in their defense. However, when there’s nothing to guard against, he’s laidback and compliant, expressing a sweet attitude toward his loved ones.
This intelligent dog has an independent nature, so you need to train him with patience, firmness, and consistency — never use harsh words or heavy-handed techniques. Properly trained Ovcharkas have earned obedience and Canine Good Citizen titles, and some are even therapy dogs.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
The Ovcharka is generally healthy, but the breed is susceptible to hip dysplasia and cataracts. At a minimum, ask the breeder to show evidence that your Ovcharka’s parents have hip evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), as well as eye clearances from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF).
Careful breeders screen their dogs for genetic disease, and only breed the best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy can develop one of these conditions. In most cases, he can still live a good life, thanks to advances in veterinary medicine. But it’s still important to choose a reputable breeder, and insist upon seeing independent certification that a puppy’s parents have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding.
And remember that you have the power to protect your Ovcharka from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping him at an appropriate weight is a simple way to extend your Ovcharka’s life.
The Ovcharka has a double coat composed of an undercoat and a topcoat. The undercoat is soft and fine, while the hairs of the outer coat are long and coarse. (An Ovcharka’s coat should never feel soft or appear wavy.) When it comes to length, the coat can be long, medium or short. Dogs with long coats have a mane that surrounds the neck, as well as extensive feathering on the hind legs and on the tail, which looks thick and fluffy. Dogs with medium-length coats don’t have quite as much of a mane, and they have less feathering on the rest of the body. A short coat, the least common type, has no mane or feathering.
To keep an Ovcharka’s double coat healthy, brush him thoroughly up to twice a week. Once a year, the Ovcharka goes through a heavy shed, known as blowing coat. During this time, warm baths and frequent brushing will help the old coat shed faster, reducing the amount of hair that will end up on your floor, furniture, and clothing. The rest is routine care: Clean his ears and trim his nails as needed.
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.
Selecting a respected breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. Reputable breeders will welcome questions about temperament and health clearances, as well as explain the history of the breed and what kind of puppy makes for a good pet. Don’t be shy about describing exactly what you’re looking for in a dog—breeders interact with their puppies daily and can make accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
Lots of breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags to look out for: multiple litters on the premises, puppies always being available, having your choice of any puppy, and being offered the option to pay online with a credit card. Breeders who sell puppies at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. 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.
To start your search, check out the website of the Caucasian Ovcharka Club of America (COCA), as well as the breed contacts highlighted on the American Kennel Club’s site. Select a breeder who has agreed to abide by COCA’s code of ethics, which calls for members to work toward reducing hip dysplasia, as well as sell puppies using a proper sales contract and a guarantee.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of an Ovcharka puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, the sex of the puppy, the titles that the puppy’s parents have, and whether the puppy is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. Be patient: Females generally produce one litter a year, plus Ovcharkas are rare in the United States. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life. If you put as much effort into researching your puppy as you would when buying a new car, it will save you money in the long run.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Ovcharka may better suit your lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a good deal of time and effort before they grow up to be the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training, and he’ll 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 an Ovcharka 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 Ovcharkas 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 an Ovcharka. 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 Ovcharkas love all Ovcharkas. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Caucasian Ovcharka Club of America's rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Bulldog 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 an Ovcharka home with you 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 dog. 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 Ovcharka, 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, take your Ovcharka 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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