The Caucasian Shepherd Dog
(Գամփռ, գելխեղդ/գայլխեղդ; Çoban iti ; კავკასიური ნაგაზი) is a breed
that is popular in Armenia
, and other countries where shepherds need strong protection for their flocks and properties.
A well-bred Caucasian Mountain Dog should be a healthy, strongly-boned, muscular and even-tempered Moloss
Excessive softness or vicious temperaments are considered serious faults for the breed. Generally healthy and long lived, hip dysplasia
and occasional heart problems are known to occur. The ears of the Caucasian Ovcharka have traditionally been cropped
, although some modern dogs can be seen unaltered. The preferred show
-types are the long-coated grey dogs with some white markings. Black or black-and-tan dogs are not acceptable in the show ring. The minimum height is 24.5 inches
with no upper limit.
The breed has two types: mountain and plain. Plain dogs have a shorter coat and appear taller as they are more lightly built. Mountain types have a heavier coat and are more muscularly built. The breed's weight range is 99–154 pounds (45–70 kg.) and the height range is 25–28 inches (64–75 cm.).
Powerful and massive, the Caucasian Ovcharka can be a difficult breed for an inexperienced owner, because it respects and obeys only those that it deems superior to itself. They are good with children, but will not see them as their masters. The dog develops a strong bond with its owner but will rarely be submissive; this is truly a thinking dog which relies on its own instincts, sometimes even disregarding its master's directions in certain situations. A breed with a very quick reaction time and lightning-fast protection reflexes, it has even been unfairly described by some as somewhat of a "loose cannon". With proper care, handling and training, this is a well-behaved and obedient family companion.
Take care to ask the owner before touching as these dogs are not 'big teddy bears' to be run up to and cuddled. A well behaved Ovcharka will merely take a step back and avert their head; this is a good behavior as these dogs are not Golden Retrievers in their temperament towards everyone.
Ovcharka—a.k.a Caucasian Shepherds—blend in with the sheep they guard. A pack of wolves (3 or 4) will attack the sheep, not noticing the Ovcharka. The thickness of the coat prevents the wolves from biting through. They are loyal to their duty in protecting their flock and family and will stand by and defend through any circumstance. They are often misrepresented as being dangerous and violent, when they are not unless there is a threat or a perceived threat to family and home.
Located between the Black Sea
on the West and the Caspian Sea
on the East, the Caucasus
mountain range represents a true melting pot of various cultures due to a number of nations calling it their home through the ages. Today these influences are still strong and a rich source of cultural wealth of the region, as well as numerous political conflicts. Encompassing the territories of Armenia
, the Caucasus mountains are also home to one of the oldest living Molosser
breeds, Caucasian Mountain Dog. There is a great variety of types among the Caucasian dogs depending on their home region, but due to the ignorance of many Westerners and strong national appetite of Russian
and pro-Russian dog fanciers worldwide, a single typeis favored in the show rings and literature, at the expense of other breed variants. The exotic-sounding misnomer Ovcharka is very popular in the West, thanks to the efforts of the Russian Kennel Club
, even though it translates to "Sheepdog, Shepherd or Shepherd Dog". The Caucasian Ovcharka is one of three recognized Russian sheepdogs, the other two being the bearded South-Russian Sheepdog
and the controversial Central Asian Shepherd Dog
Although its first official Western Show-Ring appearance was in the 1930s in Germany, the Caucasian Mountain Dog has existed since ancient times and, like many Eastern Molossers. The Armenian Gamprs are seen as a variant of the Caucasian Mountain Dog but the Gampr comes in two distinct varieties, both of which are believed to be much older than the modern Caucasian and Central-Asian Sheepdogs. Some believe that the Caucasian Mountain Dog was a result of crossing the mountain Gampyrs with the spitz-type dogs in ancient times, but this theory, although not without merit, is not very popular.
The main Russian bloodlines can be traced to Moscow
, Nizhny Novgorod
, and Saint Petersburg
, even though there are many different Caucasian strains still found in the Caucasus mountains. In recent years, the term "aboriginal" is being used to describe older, non-show mountain bloodlines.
Even though most dogs in the Caucasus are working hybrids between various types, there are still some distinguishing characteristics among regional variants.
- The Georgian dogs are divided into the large, longhaired and often multicoloured Mkinvartsveri Kazbek type and the slightly smaller wolf-grey Nagazi dogs of medium-length coat with longer muzzles, but there is also a separate breed known as Tushetian Nagazi or Georgian Caucasian Sheepdog in Georgia, which represents the original Georgian population of the breed, with the pure white dogs being the most valued.
- Daghestan dogs are tall, wide-headed and athletic, short-haired and multicoloured.
- Astrakhan type is found in the Kabardino-Balkarian region and is believed to be a cross between the Russian show type and the old Circassian and Kazbek dogs, but Balkarian Molossers are also rooted in the Sarmatian Mastiff.
- The Turkish Caucasus dogs are divided into four types, those being the Garban, the Akhaltsihnske type, the Circassian variant and the Kars Dog.
- The large, short-muzzled, shorthaired fawn, brown, red, with or without white markings and extremely vicious Garban (Gorban) was developed from the Kars and the Kangal, as well as other Turkish dogs being crossed with the Armenian and Kazbek types.
- The Akhaltsihnske type was created from Garban crosses with the Georgian Nagazi variant and possibly Turkish Akbash, resulting in longhaired, lightly built solid-coloured white, fawn and grey dogs. The Circassian variant is believed to be a result of crossing the Kangals with the Cherkes dogs introduced to Turkey after the Russian-Circassian wars.
- The Kars Dog is a variety closely associated with the Kars province of modern Turkey and is today seen as a separate breed. The Armenian Gamprs are smaller than the Georgian dogs and are shorter-necked and squarely built, and come in a variety of colors.
- The Azerbaijan Volkodav variant also comes in two types, with the longhaired mountain and short-coated steppe dogs both being smaller than Georgian and Armenian types, always having black masks.
- A result of matings between the dogs of southern Kavkaz with the Sage Mazandarani and the Kars Dog of Turkey, the Iranian Sage Ghafghazi is a lean, powerful and richly coated mastiff, used as a caravan protector of the Shahsavan nomads, who have been breeding it since the 17th century. These Iranian Caucasians come in a variety of colours, both solid and bicoloured.
- There is also a rare shorthaired Kavkaz mastiff, known as the North-Caucasian Volkodav, which is on its way to receive a separate breed recognition.
Even the legendary Alaunt, the breed considered to be the key progenitor of all bulldog breeds, is also descended from this Caucasian stock of mountain dogs.
As mentioned above, most working Caucasian dogs are hybrids between established types, as well as some lines of the Central Asian dogs, in effect making the Russian show type appear to be a superior-bred dog in the eyes of the West. There are two types, the working strain in the east and the show dogs in the west. The fighting strains of the Caucasian Ovcharka can contain blood of some European breeds, from mastiffs to American Pit Bull Terriers and Bandogs, but these crosses are a minority in the breed. The Caucasian Molossers were used for centuries to protect properties, guard livestock, kill wolves, hunt bears and for many other duties, but today and especially in the West, they are employed as companion animals and watchdogs. Most prized as a property guardian, the Caucasian Ovcharka are good protectors. The Caucasian Mountain Dog is a low activity dog, seemingly lethargic when not working, but agile and convincing when it feels its family is threatened. Although certain strains are more vicious than others, all Caucasians are very territorial and dog-aggressive, needing early and careful broad socialization, as well as firm, but never forceful, handling. This breed can be a family dog, if well trained and socialized.