With a name like the Russian Bear Dog, the image that comes to mind is
either terrifying or the epitome of a cuddly companion. In reality, your mind will be made up depending on how you come into contact with this beautiful beast. To friends and family they are loyal, loving and gentle. However, if you are deemed to be an intruder and a threat to family – the Russian Bear Dog can be very dangerous.
Before we go any further, to avoid any confusion, the bear dog has been called a few different names in its time, as it has got more popular throughout the world. Some of the most popular include:
- Caucasian Mountain Shepherd
- Caucasian Ovcharka
- Caucasian Shepherd
- Caucasian Shepherd Dog
- Caucasian Mountain Dog
However, if you look around hard enough, you will also find the dog called these names as well: Caucasian Mountain Dog, Russian Mountain dog, Caucasian dog, Russian Caucasian dog, Kavkazskaya Ovcharka, Caucasian Volkodav, Caucasian sheepdog, and Caucasian Ovtcharka.
Confusingly, even the United Kennel Club (UKC) and the American Kennel Club (AKC) can’t agree on a name, with the former choosing Caucasion Ovcharka and the latter the Caucasian Shepard Dog. Interestingly, the name Caucasion Ovcharka actually means ‘sheep dog’ in Russian.
Whatever name you have for it, this breed is one that deserves respect.
Below, we’ll go into more detail about this dog and how you should prepare if you’d like to own one.
What is a Russian Bear Dog?
The Caucasian Ovcharka is a mastiff- type breed, one of the oldest around actually. There is a fair amount of variation between regions of this breed, but the official pedigree standard coincides with the Georgian, Nagazi, shepherd. The dogs from this region are known to be the strongest and have long hair, which is considered the best aesthetically.
The first records of the Russian Bear Dog come from the Caucasus mountains, somewhere between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. This is a tough part of the world where the dogs were needed to protect livestock like sheep, cows, and goats, from predators such as wolves and… you guessed it, bears.
Because of this, over the years the dogs were bred to be protective, fearless and have extreme power.
The below video shows the capabilities of a Russian Bear Dog
The Russian Bear Dog: A Brief History
The precise roots of this breed are not known for certain, however there are a few potential candidates. To narrow it down slightly, experts all agree that this species heralds from south-east Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia – otherwise known as the Caucasus region.
The primary focus for breeding of these dogs was for protection of livestock, the shepherds needed help with guarding their sheep and goats. Interestingly, unlike other sheepdogs from all over the world, these dogs aren’t used to herd them, just protect from predators.
Wolves were the main worry of the shepherds in the region where the Russian Bear Dogs were first bred. As such, they had to be big and strong enough to be able to handle themselves against their wild cousins. As a precaution, usually there would be multiple dogs protecting the flock. After all, wolves are mainly pack animals, so it makes sense for the Russian Bear Dog to have had some friends backing it up as well.
The tricky part of this breeding process is that having an aggressive, strong dog might actually harm your flock as much as the predators you’re trying to protect them from. To counter this, strong loyalty was a characteristic they focused on bringing out in the breed. This meant that, because the dogs were brought up alongside the sheep, and the relatives of the shepherd, it knew they were friends and were to be protected. Even to this day, in the Caucasus region, the Caucasian Shepard Dog is used to protect sheep.
Alongside that, the species has also proved itself to be great guard dogs. During the Soviet communist era, the Russian Bear Dog was used to patrol the Berlin wall and also to guard the Soviet Gulag camp prisons. In fact the dogs were held with such esteem, they were used to create new Soviet dogs through breeding. Some of these include the Moscow Waterdog, Black Russian Terrier, and the Moscow Watchdog. The Russian Bear Dog that is showcased at events is a combination of the variety of regions that it came from, however the Georgian strand takes prevalence, and was actively bred within the Soviet kennels.
People do try to raise them as a pet for their family, but one really needs to be kept busy with a job. Alongside that, this breed really needs to be trained by an experienced handler.
These days the breed is officially recognized by the below organizations:
- ACA = American Canine Association Inc.
- ACR = American Canine Registry
- AKC/FSS = American Kennel Club Foundation Stock Service® Program
- APRI = American Pet Registry, Inc.
- CKC = Continental Kennel Club
- DRA = Dog Registry of America, Inc.
- FCI = Fédération Cynologique Internationale
- NAPR = North American Purebred Registry, Inc.
- NKC = National Kennel Club
If you are serious about owning a Caucasian Mountain Dog, it’s vital you know how to look after and care for these beautiful companions.
What is the Russian Bear Dog’s Temperament?
As always, so much comes down to individual characteristics, training and socialisation. However, because the breed is so well suited to guard dog duties, there is a bit of a reputation around the temperament of the Russian Bear Dog.
The shepherds who bred these dogs needed it to be able have two different sides to its personality. Firstly, around their flock and family, they had to be friendly, gentle, and calm – they really are very loving of their immediate family. On the other side of this, the dogs would have to be aggressive to fend off predators and threats.
Breeding this duality is difficult because it is hard to teach a dog what is a genuine threat, misunderstandings are common throughout life. Some of the negativity associated with ‘protective’ dogs is because they are acting out of fear or distrust. In the Caucaus mountains, this was less of a problem because the amount of people you would see would be far less and the chances of threats much higher. However, in an urban environment the setting has vastly changed. That is why training and socialising from as early as possible is vital.
What are the nutritional requirements of the Russian Bear Dog?
The old adage of, ‘You are what you eat’, rings true with this breed. What they are fed, particularly as a puppy, has an enormous effect on their lives.
It can take up to 2 years for a dog of this stature to complete growing. So for this period, they should be eating food for puppies. Remember to always take a look at the ingredients before giving your puppy anything. Ensure they get the correct ratio of calories and calcium in high quality food. Bigger dog breeds in particular need the correct amount of calcium when puppies and younger – this is because they are susceptible to hip and elbow dysplasia.
Note that excessive amounts of calories and calcium are also issues for puppies of bigger breeds. Rapid, erratic growth can cause their bodies to not form properly. This makes the odds of them developing problems with their skeletons in later life.
In its adult life, again a high-quality food is recommended, to keep fulfilling the dietary requirements. Many owners are known to supplement their dog’s food with some glucosamine to address the common issues of joint and bone disorders that are common in this breed.
What is the Russian Bear Dog Weight?
Even compared to other big dog breeds, these dogs are massive. Their official measurements are 58 – 76cm, (that’s 23 to 30 inches) from the shoulder. But of course, the stories will always say they can get much bigger. Their official weight is from 45 – 77 kg (that’s 99 to 170 pounds), as with every species there are some exceptions, with some bear dogs making it up to 90kg (200 pounds).
These figures are for the males of this species, which tend to be a bit bigger than their female counter parts. Even so, the female Ovcharka is still a large dog that can cause just as much damage.
Over the years, it will be interesting to see how this breed develops. Up until this point, their size has been bred to allow them to fend off wolves from the flock. The dogs needed to be strong and fit, but not weighed down by a frame that is overly large.
A potential negative for the future, as the dogs get more domesticated into houses as pets, size might be a breeding feature that gets pushed. The negative effect of this is a potential impact upon the dogs’ joints and skeleton.
The hard cold winters of the Caucasus mountains meant that the Russian Bear Dog needed a coat that would keep it warm through all the seasons. As such this breed has a double coat, meaning there is a lot of hair to care for.
The exact amount of grooming you will have to do will vary from season to season, where difference in hair length can be dramatic. During the spring they will have to be groomed more, when their thick winter coat is being shed.
If you happen to have a short-haired Caucasian Shepard Dog, you could brush it 2 – 3 times over the week outside of spring. Unfortunately, with the longer haired dogs, it will need to be a daily occurrence.
However tempting it might be, this is not a breed that should be shaved. Shaving can cause all sorts of problems for double coat breeds, including hair loss. The coat, contrary to what you might think, cools the dogs in the summer, as well as keeping warm in the winter. If you don’t have time to brush your pooch, it’s recommended to use the services of a groomer.
Without regular grooming, you will end up with a mountain of dog hair in your house or garden. Further to this, the Caucasian Mountain Dog’s hair can get matted and tangled if not groomed. In not too long a time, this can become almost impossible to get rid of without shaving – which brings on the problems listed above.
How much exercise does a Russian Bear Dog need?
On the scale of things, this dog has a moderate level of activity. This equates to roughly an hour of exercise a day. Because of the size and power of these dogs, it’s extremely vital to keep your pet on a leash. If one turns aggressive when it is off the lead then there is a high probability that another person or animal could get hurt.
On this point, you also must make sure you can control your dog whilst it is on the lead. If this is something you can’t do, our advise is to exercise within your backyard. Another point to think about here is ensuring your garden is properly enclosed. Because of the breed’s size, you’ll need a fence that is more than 1.8 m (that’s 6 foot) tall.
One final reason to keep your dog exercised regularly is because of how intelligent they are. Without stimulation from plenty of exercise, they can become bored which can lead to destructive and dangerous behaviour. In light of this last point, to recap, you’ll need to be exercising your Russian Bear Dog every single day to keep them happy, healthy, and a pleasure to be around.
What are the best environmental conditions for a Russian Bear Dog?
This is an extremely tough breed that is used to extreme temperatures. During the winter, mountains where they would live were covered with thick snow. During the summer, the temperatures could get very high. The Caucasian Shepherd would live outside year round.
The Russian Bear Dog: How to Train
To be very clear, this breed of dog requires an experienced trainer, because even people who have many years of dog training under their belt can still come into trouble with this breed.
It’s almost an ironic situation, the very traits that were desired when breeding this type of dog, are the ones that make it hard to train. It’s well known that characteristics such as: independence, protectiveness, guardianship and intelligence, can make the challenge of training more difficult.
If we think about it for a second, they were needed to protect livestock out on the mountainside. Sometimes, this would be well away from their owner, they had to make a decision on the spot, with no commands whatsoever. This independent thinking is exactly what’s needed for the mountains, however it makes training that much more of a battle.
When training, it is also vital to think about what type of training this breed will respond to. They do have an aggressive streak within them and training does not want to bring this out in them. For instance, a violent, forceful approach can make them aggressive towards most people. To reiterate, this is not the breed of dog that should be allowed to become aggressive.
If you are going to train a Russian Bear Dog, you have to start as early into it’s life as possible. This means you will have the most time to imprint into them who can be trusted and what strangers should be considered dangerous. At this stage, you also need to instill into them a trait that will look to you for a command when faced with a stranger and if they are a threat or not.
As was touched upon higher up in the article, getting your dog used to a lead is vital. Leash training must be undertaken while a puppy because they are small enough for you to still control them. Here are a few handy leash training techniques from the American Kennel Club:
Training Your Dog to Walk on a Leash
- Introduce him to the collar or harness and leash.
- Teach a cue. Introduce your puppy to a sound cue that means “food is coming.”
- Make him come to you. While he’s on his way to you, still wearing the leash and collar, back up a few paces and then reward when he gets to you.
- Practice inside. Now that your puppy understands how to come to you, practice walking a few steps in a room with little distraction.
- Take it outside. Finally, you’re ready to test your puppy’s skills in the Great Outdoors.
The benefits of getting your dog well trained on a leash is that you can then take it out to get an understanding of the wider world. This socialising will help your dog to not get startled and feel threatened as much, reducing aggressive and unwanted behaviour,
Health Problems That Are Common
Just like humans, every dog will experience some form of health problem in its life. However, some breeds are known for suffering from certain ailments. Life out in the mountains is hard, so the Russian Bear Dogs were also bred from healthy dogs. Because of this, compared to a lot of breeds, they are fairly healthy.
That being said, there are two prevalent issues this dog may come into in its lifetime.
With so many large dog breeds, hip dysplasia is a common issue, one of the main reasons is because of the dogs rate of growth as a puppy. If the dog grows too quickly, the bone doesn’t have time to form correctly. This can be somewhat counteracted by using the correct nutrition for your pet, however, the problem is also a genetic one that will begin to surface as your dog gets older.
There was a scientific study in Croatia, that x-rayed Caucasian Shepards, finding that 43% of them had Hip Dysplasia.
What is hip dysplasia?
This is when the joint in the dogs hip doesn’t fit together correctly anymore. The hip joint is a ball, when dysplasia happens, this ball no longer sits in the socket correctly. This will cause a dog to not be as mobile as it previously was and will probably limp. Unfortunately, it is also quite painful and can’t be treated very well.
In a similar vain, elbow dysplasia is another issue that the Caucasion Ovcharka can get. This is on the front legs, in the elbow joints. Again this will cause the dog to have mobility issues, with some deal of pain as well.
Another issue that is seen fairly commonly in the Russian Bear Dog breed is [cataracts]. Cataracts impact a dog’s eyesight by covering the lens of a dog’s eye. The scale of impact from cataracts can vary, in the worst case scenario a dog will be completely blinded by them. However, some dogs will have very small cataracts that don’t particularly impact their sight.
Cataracts can be countered slightly, however once they have developed in the eyes of your pet, the only option available is to have a surgery to remove them.
Now that the dog is recognised as a pedigree in multiple countries, the breed might be bred to keep in line to certain expectations for how they should look – which may have a negative impact on health.
Russian Bear Dog: FAQ
There are a lot of questions around the Russian Bear Dog. Below is a compilation of the most common questions and their answers.
Is it true that bears were hunted with the Russian Bear Dog?
Well this is a question that is hard to confirm the answer for, however there has been accounts of people saying that bears were hunted with these dogs. If this was true, the practice certainly wasn’t a widespread or very common one.
As part of their role on the mountainside, protecting livestock from predators like wolves and bears, the Caucasion Ovcharka would have come into conflict with bears. So with this in mind, it’s not too far to imagine them being used for hunting.
Are Russian Bear Dogs used to guard Russian prisons?
The simple answer is: yes. Moving on from their origins slightly, this is one of the modern applications for this breed. It’s not difficult to see why. The prisons train the dogs, who are specially selected, from a young age to consider the guards to be family and the prisoners as threats to their pack. If there is a prison riot or an escape attempt, these dogs could make seom hardened criminals think otherwise.
What is the lifespan?
With the correct care, they can live between 10 – 12 years.
How good are Russian Bear Dogs as pets?
For what the majority of people look for in a pet, the Russian Bear Dog is not good. There are exceptions to this rule, however the sheer strength and character of these dogs means that as pets they can be difficult to control. If you have a job for them, like guarding your property, on the other hand, they can excel. But as family pets, particularly around children, you should be extremely careful.
Should I crop my dog’s ears?
Traditionally as a flock guardian, these dogs would have had their ears cropped to prevent repeated injury and pain from fights with predators. However, this is not needed if you have your dog as a pet or where the chances of injury is much less.
How much do Russian Bear Dogs cost?
As with so many breeds, the price varies depending on pedigree and lineage. These dogs are quite rare and also very skilled – meaning they can fetch for a large price. On the lower end of the scale, you might be able to buy one for as low as $500, if you want a guard dog.
However, if you’re looking for a pedigree, the price soon rockets to $4000. With this you should be able to get a dog for breeding or taking to shows. In the middle of these two prices, around $2000, you should be able to get a well bred puppy.
Where should I find a Russian Bear Dogs for sale?
If you want a Caucasian Shepard, it is so important that you buy one from a reputable breeder. To say that again, it is so important that you buy one from a reputable breeder.
Below are some steps for understanding if the person you are buying from is a good breeder of Caucasian Ovcharka or not.
Research Their Background
This is the first screening stage, you find someone who has puppies for sale. Run a search on them online and see what comes up, the results might stop you pursuing it any further.
One of the recommended places to start your search in America would be the UKC or AKC. Breeders can register themselves as breeders of Russian Bear Dogs, meaning you can find a list of people to start your search with.
This next point shouldn’t be a clinching point, however, if a breeder has a website that can be viewed – it’s a good sign. If they do, you can then review how professional they look. Again, you can find quality breeders who don’t have websites or their site is poor, but in general a good website is a nice indicator for how they run their business.
The information on the website should preferably tell you lots of information about their experience and knowledge of handling the breed. Try to understand how long they have owned / bred / worked with the Russian Bear Dog. Because they need an experienced handler, if you find the right person, they will have know how to socialise puppies and advise you on the task.
Visit the Kennels or Home
You should be able to know what living conditions the puppies and parents have been living in. It gives you the opportunity to see how the dogs are brought up and see what facilities the breeder has.
It’s important to note the health of the animals there, whilst also asking questions about the puppies’ parents and relatives. What are their personalities like? Are there are known family health issues? Every dog will have it’s own unique personality, however a lot of a dogs personality will be inherited from its parents.
Ask In-depth Questions
As touched upon above, make sure to ask the breeder plenty of in-depth questions whilst there. This is to make sure they have a good knowledge of the breed and they have experience handling and breeding them.
Some example questions could be:
- What type of nutrition will my Russian Bear Dog need across the different stages of its life?
- Is there a recommended puppy training plan?
- Can they recommend any grooming tools or tips?
- If I need to find out more information, where can I go to find it?
- What certifications do the parents have? Can they provide certificates for the parents eye exams and hip scores?
- How old are the puppies when you wean them?
- Do you follow a puppy socialising process?
- If I can’t look after my dog any more, what do I do?
This is all basically to figure out how decent a breeder this person is. If they are also assessing you for your ability to look after this dog, that’s a good sign. A quality breeder isn’t just trying to sell their puppies, they want to give their dogs to the best homes where they will be most happy.
If after all this, you think you’ve found yourself a reputable breeder, you need to pay a deposit and prepare your house for your new dog.
What are the pros and cons of having a Russian Bear Dog?
As always, sometimes a simple list is needed to weigh up your options if you want a Russian Bear Dog, but aren’t sure if it’s right for you. Below you’ll find a list of the advantages and disadvantages.
- Great when there is a job – like guarding
- They are rare and beautiful
- Very loyal to people they know and family
- Genetic health of breed is fairly strong
- Exercise needed is moderate
- Requires an experienced owner
- Can be very hostile to people that they don’t know
- Families with children should avoid
- Training is a challenge
- Needs a big exercise space, like a yard
- Has to be groomed frequently
To summarize, if you can give this dog a job like protecting your property and you are able to keep up with a smart, free spirited dog, this could be for you.