It is well-known, that any aboriginal breed, with the beginning of breeding in kennels, undergoes inevitable changes. The "kennel cultivated breed", taking the basis of the natives, can essentially differ from original representatives. Not only the appearance of animals undergoes changes, but also the type of behavior, dog's mentality and character, too. Caucasian Ovtcharka is not an exception. Though the planned work of creation new breed lasts on the average half-century, the distinctions between aboriginal dogs and those created as a result of cultural cultivation are already obvious.
These distinctions are caused by different conditions of life, other functions of dogs, different climate, another type of food etc. The time will show, how this situation will affect the long history of the breed. It makes no sense to compare these two dogs, trying to choose the best one - obviously each one is good on it's place. Summarizing, we should define, that there are two different Caucasian Ovtcharkas in modern Russia - dogs of kennel cultivation and aboriginal, often called by people Caucasian Wolfhound (Wolkodav).
Researching the modern population of the Caucasian Ovtcharkas the Pyatigorsk Kennel Club in 1998 - 1999 undertook a number of expeditions and local shows in the regions of Krasnodar, Caucasian Mineral Waters, Stavropol, Cherkessk, Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkariya, Vladikavkas, Northern Osetia, Dagestan. More than two hundred dogs were examined, photographed, measured and described.
This article and chapter are based on these studies. Natural habitat areas of aboriginal Caucasian Ovtcharka in Russia are Stavropol, Krasnodar, Karachaevo-Cherkessiya, Kabardino-Balkaria, Northern Оsetia-Alania, Checheno-Ingushetiya, Dagestan, part of Kalmykia. This huge territory is equal to several European countries, with a various landscape from mountains to steppes and half-deserts, with accordingly different climate - from continental up to deserted, populated by not less than four five thousand aboriginal Caucasian Ovtcharkas (estimation was made before the second Chechen war, which is still going). Without any doubt, all these dogs belongs to one breed, or, we may say, breed group, characterized by a common origin and purpose, having similar physiological and behavioral features, which are fully inheritable. These dogs were cultivated by centuries-old national selection for protection of home and cattle against large predators and cattle thieves.
Try to imagine life in the mountains more than 100 years ago, and realize,what did the cattle means to the household. Severe climate, no fertile grounds, only tiny fields of terraces which are constantly cleared from stones, on which soil is dragged in the baskets from the plains far below, and then swipe away by flows and avalanches... The crops in the short mountain summer could give some corn, barley and reddish. The stone dwellings - SAKLIA- barely save from colds and did not contain any riches, may be some silver or copper female ornaments, passed from mother to daughter, and some clothes. Real treasures of those times were cattle, basically, sheep, giving food, clothes, and fuel. Therefore, saving and preserving cattle, the man saved life to itself. And the main assistant of the man, sharing his hard life and even harder struggle for a survival, was a watchdog, capable to struggle with the basic enemy of the cattle - with the wolf. The major requirement for aboriginal Caucasian Ovtcharkas was their ability to protect sheep from predators and thieves, considered at this moment by the dogs as large predators.
On Caucasus from old times till now part of the year sheep and the dogs spend on foothills of gigantic Pasture ridge, where in the spring and autumn the juicy grass grew, and at winter there is not much snow and is warm enough to let the sheep find the remains of grass. But at the end of spring, when the sun burns out the grass of winter pastures, the cattle roams up to the Woody Ridge, trough the line of woods to the Alpine meadows. There, in the highlands, lie pastures of inevitable beauty, with rich high grass, with honey smell of flowers bordered by the snow tops of Rocky Ridge. Climate here is sharply continental, the sun in the afternoon can heat air up to +50 c (120 F-E.Z.), the shadow is given only by rare bushes and large stones, and at night temperature may fall to 0 C (30 F). When everything is covered with snow frost. The high grass well masks the predators - in the mountains of Caucasus predators are the bears, coyotes, but mainly wolfs. Therefore peoples of Caucasus called their dogs Wolkodav -wolfhound - and the name "sheep-dog" was never used. Here, on the Alpine meadows, sheep and the dogs spent almost half of the year, up to the middle of November, here is a birth place of the puppies and here the primary selection was made, here the young dogs matured, passed their formation and education. It is obvious, that the selection of the dogs was based on working qualities and was very rigid, the stakes were too high, and dogs were put away ruthlessly, easier speaking, all that show too much cowardice or aggressiveness towards the man, physically unsound or weak were shot, leaving the place for strongest. By centuries shepherds chose the smartest animals as assistants, capable to understand a situation on only one sight of the man, independently estimate circumstances and to make the decisions. Distances, on which the sheep are spread, make impossible all voice commands, therefore dogs accustomed to work independently. The man with his methods of selection initially was the dominant leader of the pack for dogs; disobedience was punished immediately and cruel - by death. This breed of dogs was formed on the one hand - in conditions of a complete recognition of authority of the man and was rigidly adjusted to his requirements, and on another - the circumstances of life dictated to a dog necessity for acceptance of the independent decisions, developed wisdom and ingenuity. During the years nature and man formed the unique shape of these dogs, and their internal world, leaving the most rational. The large, massive head of Caucasian Wolkodav with strong jaws is capable to seize and to keep a predator. Strong body with relief muscles, with faultless anatomy of limbs and strong joints provides an ability of long trails on the mountain terrain. Deep and wide chest testifies of large volume easy and free breath. Rich short coat do not get wet, allowing to sleep outside. The overwhelming majority of aboriginal Caucasian Ovtcharka have a rich rough not long coat with dense, almost felt undercoat, that practically does not change dog's appearance depending on a season. Such coat itself is well cleared of dirt and pings that prevents traumas. The long coat in conditions of a continental climate could in the afternoon get wet, and at the night turn into ice, so the dog may freeze to the ground and injure itself awakening. Therefore shepherds did not like excessively longhaired dogs. Even aboriginal Caucasian Ovtcharka with extra heavy coat do not have those large manes, or rich tail or limbs feathering. Character of these dogs includes the best dog qualities: fearlessness and strength, spitefulness to another's and complete submission, fidelity and love to the owner and his home, endurance, unpretentiousness, almost silent behavior. Desire to be always near to the owner is imprinted in their mind as a duty. CO is athletic by a nature, having large physical force and counterbalanced temperament. Magnificent health, internal nobleness and natural intelligence are harmoniously bound in this wonderful animal. Usual daily trails are around 20 kilometers, and sometimes may increased two - three times. COs are living year round without any shelters, with a minimum of food and water. The CO diet for centuries was the same, as monotonous meals of the shepherds - sheep cheese, corn pita, and only occasionally - meat. Nevertheless, the surprising natural mechanism has adapted CO to take a maximum from this minimum of food. The severe life inevitably has made CO ascets, seeing their task - to bear the duty of protection in any weather and with minimum reward - as normal life. It is natural for them in the winter to sleep on snow, during snowstorms completely disappearing under snow, but jumping out at slightest danger. They do not complain on absence of food, do not elicit it, with Spartan patience perceives everything - all pain from wounds, cold, famine, thirst, and only eyes - clever, almost human, look at you with century patience, overturning your soul. It is clear that to sustain such life, to subordinate everything to fulfillment of their duties, to stay alert at every time, momentarily estimate any conditions, not to give up to a panic and not leave the post under any circumstances could only individuals with very steady character. Certainly, for centuries only the physically healthy animals were preselected, but the main selection was made by more important thing - by the strength of the dogs spirit and mind, that's where true advantage and greatness of this breed began. The strength of spirit determines all other advantages: fearlessness, boldness, endurance and unpretentiousness, patience to a pain and deprivations. On this strength of spirit sheepherders chose the assisting dogs, it defines a place of each dog in a pack. Never physically strong dog with weak spirit will take a leaders place, will not dominate. All other features - weight, color, size and form of a head, bone index etc. never to be compared with this basic advantage of character. Therefore pack leader can be not the most healthy and large, sometimes can even be injured, and it may not attract nobody's attention, do not bark unnecessarily, but maximal strength of spirit, strong nerves gives him a place of the leader.
Selection of the dogs, suitable to the further job, began with their birth, and those chosen certainly are the strongest and viable puppies. Sometimes choice was made by tying up the bitch on a distance from the puppies, and who managed to reach her - survived. We saw a bitch, who herself divided the litter in two parts - stronger and weaker, and fed them on turn. At attempts to mix them she persistently carried puppies to their groups, and the first meal, all best went to strongest. The regular puppy education begins at month - month and a half. From the litter bitch chose the strongest puppies, and begin training them elementary attacks and protection. From this chosen by the bitch puppies grew up the best Caucasian Wolkodavs. Usually they are quiet and patient, capable silently sustain any punishment, not whimpering or escaping. Such puppy does not rush with barking and growling on any passer-by, it is not afraid of unfamiliar loud sounds, do not gather the tail. In puppy games it is the last to join the play, it is difficult to get him started, but he is difficult to stop, until validity is restored in the way he understands it. Even in puppy age, aboriginal puppies shows independence and strong character. Certainly, the most suitable environment for puppy education is a pack with the established hierarchy and determinate duties for everyone. Here in numerous halfgames-halffights the art of fight is indefinitely perfected, the necessary skills are got, and the place of each dog in hierarchy is cleared. At the moment of danger an alarm raise up, as a rule, bitches and youth. Barking at the enemies and, if necessary, accepting fights, they are trying only to chase the enemies away, not pursuing them far. Usually wolfs, too, put in front of the attack youngsters to distract the dogs, only trying their forces. Most skilled fighters try at this time to take off some sheep from the cattle, to chase them as far as possible. Therefore the dogs had appropriate tactics of behavior: most skilled Wolkodavs are observing all around, usually having chosen for this purpose a height or simply large stone, and get involved in fight only when bitches and youngsters does not cope. The fight with a predator begins with impact by a breast knocking down opponent from legs, simultaneously follows lightning bite in the area of a neck, which blocks long and sharp teeth of a predator, then follows sharp jerks by a head with jaws clashed. To weaker or smaller predators such reception usually breaks a backbone, equal in strength and sizes opponent has to take the fight or run away. Certainly, against different predators dogs have different methods of attack and protection. At collision with a bear, which in mountains of Caucasus reaches the large sizes, the dog will lose, or will be simply killed by impact of a paw. In such cases the dogs work together, trying to frighten and chase bear from the cattle and to attract attention of a shepherd with a gun. The wolfs too does not like direct contact with the dogs, they feels good Ovtcharkas and tries to bypass such cattle. The dogs in real life seldom fight the wolfs directly - their overall objective is not an individual victory above a predator, but safety of the cattle.
By behavior of young CO in fight the sheepherders judged his suitability to the further job, paying thus attention in the first and only place to the character. Excessive aggression in brawls, short and light bites, cutting impacts of teeth, gathered tail and sneered teeth were immediately rejected as inherent to the wolf style of fight, showing attributes of cowardice and uncertainty in itself. The physical strength of the wolf is about equal to it's opponent - a dog. Wolfs advantage is having sharper and longer fangs, often called sabers, with which he literally cuts the sheep. But the wolf is coward in character, it is more cautious than dogs, and only hunger can force it to enter the fight with Wolkodav. With equal physical strength wins the one with stronger spirit, therefore selection of dogs was always carried out very rigidly. Displaying the teeth to the opponent is seen as attempt to protect itself, and translates as: " Look at me and my terrible teeth and be frightened, because I am already afraid ". The dog, strong and sure in it's force, never demonstrates the weapon near opponents nose. Even worse display of cowardice was considered switching the aggression on other objects: sticks, stones, or on the owner. The aggression to the owner was not tolerated by definition, since shepherds and their dogs were together round the clock and the year round, and the dogs live free. The interrelations of dogs and man were based on special trust, respect and love. The man as main leader of the pack get the feeling of safety and calmness, and in exchange he cared about the dogs, share his food and treated their wounds. A dog, which growled or rushed on the owner, was destroyed on the spot, in this case, no sentiments were possible, and are not possible nowadays. Shepherds till now conducts selection practically by the same rules, simply and sensibly explaining them: " I do not want to wake up as a beggar ". Rejected was not only cowardice and uncertainty in itself, but also excessive fighting drive, aggressiveness to other dogs, as an attribute of excessive exitability. No doubt, that fighting drive is a necessity to these dogs, but to rational extent. Too often skirmishes, constant struggle for leadership brings confusion to harmonious work of a pack, withdraw it's attention from a main objective: the protection of a livestock, hence, is undesirable. As sheepherders say: " When two dogs are fighting too often, one of them has to be shoot ".
The majority of aboriginal CO have shortly docked tails. It was done on the Caucasus from ancient times and, despite common opinion, not for greater convenience in fight with predators. On the contrary, in fight the tail helps to keep balance. The explanation is much more simple. In the winter COs sleeps, covering noses from the frost with a fluffy tail. Some shepherds believe, then in this position dogs smells the predators not as good, as dock-tailed ones. And then the tails are cut. Among aboriginal CO sometimes there appear dogs with naturally born short tails. The legends say, that exactly this dogs are real Wolkodav. Shepherds always welcomed short-tailed puppies in the litter, very much appreciated them in breeding. Some of this dogs are known to us. They really became famous for their working qualities, and have given numerous and viable posterity. The same old tradition, as the docking of tails, remains on Caucasus the tradition to leave dew claws, which are considered as an accessory of ancient bloodlines. Such fingers can be from one up to three on every paw, not causing any serious inconveniences to the dogs. Very much conditional for aboriginal CO is also the concept of bite. The matter is that selection of dogs with scissor bites never was of any importance in real life. At all times shepherds first of all paid attention to the size of teeth and strength of jaws of dogs, ignoring bite, and even now most of them does not know this word. For shepherds "good bite" is one, when the dog does not release the jaws possibly longer, keeping a predator. For Caucasian Wolkodav strong grasp is vital necessity. Certainly, the placement of teeth in the jaws should not affect the vital functions of the dog. However, in real life it is not vitally important, how the incisors are located: scissors, reverse scissors, or in underbite. It is necessary to note interrelation of bite with length of the muzzle. More often scissor bite can be seen at dogs with elongated muzzle, with narrowed and weakened bottom jaw. At short-muzzled dogs with the well pronounced chin, massive jaws you can meet most likely level bite or dense underbite, however at correct position of other teeth and fangs. It is important to note that during life bite of Caucasian Wolkodav can vary. At young dogs, we usually see scissor bite, however numerous fights results in extension of lower jaw ligaments, and bite changes to a level or even undershot bite. Such change of a bite usually does not result in destruction of teeth, we examined old dogs having a level bite and the complete set of teeth. Fine or medium-sized teeth at weak jaws are subject to the greatest degree of wear and tear or loss.
Formation of Caucasian Wolkodav takes time. Puppies in natural environment, competing for food, rather slowly gain weight, have no those heavy bones, visually bone structure seems to be even lighter due to absence of hair on the legs, growth may be slower when dogs are teething, however with sufficient feeding dogs can grove up to year and a half, sometimes two years. By 3,5-4 years the period of formation of these dogs comes to an end. Weight of the adults varies from 40 up to 80 kgs, the sexual type is expressed well, males are higher, heavier built than bitches, with larger heads. Height for males - from 64 to 84 см, for bitches - from 62 up to 75. Too light-boned and tiny, as well as excessively large and heavy dogs do not meet the basic tasks of the breed, for they lose both in tournament training fights, and in fights with the predators. The large height and weight first of all are non practical, since requires a lot of food for maintenance, in addition the dogs need more heavy skeleton, stronger joints and ligaments, bigger animals also suffers from lack of thermoregulation in sharply varying temperatures, not even talking about the main task - to operate the body during fights. All known on Caucasus best Wolkodavs had average height from 70 up to 76 см, large heads with volume from 60 up to 67 см, average bone structure (paw from 14 up to 16 см), but very volumetric, opened breast (from 100 up to 110 см). At a first sight on this dog the strongest impression is not it's size, but the soundness of structure, you feel, that you are looking at a creature with strong personality, even stronger muscles and nerves, and balanced temperament. The life expectancy of CO is 10 to15 years, depending on intensity of work. Aging, this dogs does not lose their appeal. On the contrary, at 6-7 years these dogs look much better, than in young age. In advanced years these dogs are only less active, but still are showing, if necessary, speed of reaction, force and fearlessness. Males are breeding up all their lives, and sometimes die, not having lived to birth of their puppies. Bitches are normally whelping to 8-9 years. However best for whelping is considered the age of 3-6 years. The amount of puppies in litters are 2-18, normally bitch nurses 6-8 puppies. Usually in natural conditions CO becomes sexually active at 1.5 years, in this age they usually mates. This is supposed to be the optimum age for pairing of the aboriginal CO. It was noticed, that later pairing results in passive behavior of studs and refusals, sometimes aggression of bitches.Such earlier pairing results in faster maturing both bitches and males, not rendering any negative consequences. The pairing at such dogs occurs independently after very beautiful love ritual and most often without any assistance. It is interesting, that males usually attempt to get bitches precisely in time and only once. Attempts to make "control mating" can meet resolute rebuff from the both animals. Probably, severe life and complete submission all itself to the job did not leave to dogs much time for pleasure. The bitch usually chooses the partner for itself, and not every male can be chosen. Sometimes the bitch chooses one male for life, completely ignoring all breeding plans and intentions of the owner.
Coloration of aboriginal CO is very different, among them it is a lot of white, fawn, gray, red, brindle in different variations, and spotted dogs. Often spotted dogs have scattered spots on paws and muzzle, many light-colored dogs, except for white, have well expressed black mask. In all colors there is good pigmentation of nose, lips, nails. The conformity of color of a cornea of an eye with basic coat colors is marked also. Among aboriginal CO very rare can be seen light-eyed dog with dark coat, practically there are no genetically weakened pigmentation, like gray or blue eyes in combination with same eyelids and lips. Sometimes there are met brown noses and lips with red coat. One of the clear advantages of aboriginal CO is their movements: easy, elastic, magnificently balanced, without slightest pushes on a vertical and horizontal. It is necessary to note a difference in an anatomic structure of dogs from mountains and plains. Herding the cattle in mountains, where the relief is cut strongly, where pastures are rather small and rich by grass, where it is enough water (at summer time the glaciers of Rocky Ridge are melting) formed the type of dogs with rough constitution, massive skeleton, relief muscles, large heads, rich coat. The body of this dogs is short and compact. The dogs of mountains often are jumping through obstacles, running up the hills, what is possible only galloping with short body and strong back legs. The dogs from plains every day should pass greater distances, moving with cattle in search for food and water. These dogs have more stretched format, shorter wool. They move, basically, trotting, saving energy thus quick enough to keep in pack. The angles of back legs of such dogs are a little smoothed. It is almost impossible now to speak about different interbreed types of aboriginal CO. The century of high speeds has mixed everything, and now there are no large distinctions between dogs living in different places. Still some differences can be seen. For example, the dogs in Northern Оsetia and Kabardino-Balkariya looks alike, and differs from the dogs of Dagestan and Karachaevo-Cherkessia. If one will look at the map of region it becomes clear. Extended border with Georgia, common crossings and pastures makes the types of these dogs close to those in Georgia. This first type are dogs of strong and rough constitution, often white or light colored, compact, powerful, often shortcoated, with large bear heads, short muzzles, well developed cheekbones, skintight lips. Sometimes among them we can meet more hairy dogs, but without expressed manes, almost without feathering on back legs. Dog from Dagestan are large, tall animals of a strong and strong – rough type of the constitution, short or middle-haired. In Prikaspian lowlands we may see shorthaired dogs of stretched format, with higher legs, with correct heads, well developed, but without strongly visible cheekbones, longer lips, with straitened angles of back legs, showing in movement free, shortened trot. Some similarity of such dogs to the Central Asian Ovtcharkas can be explained both by geographical neighborhood, and by similar conditions, in which such dogs lived. And hot climate of half-deserts, requiring evaporation of a lot of a moisture, caused the development of long lips. Among them there are many spotted and light-colored dogs having, as against the Central Asians, deep black mask. In mountain areas of Dagestan we can meet, as well as in mountains Оsetia, powerful compact long-haired dogs with the perfectly developed corners of back legs.
In recent years opinion was developed, that aboriginal COs are the product of crossbreeding with the Central Asian Ovtcharkas and with dogs of other breeds, including fighting dogs.. The refutation of this opinion is the standard of breed for the Caucasian Ovtcharka from year 1936 and further, which describe short-haired dog with docked tail. Such opinion thus is the result of a changing style of last decades for long-haired CO and complete oblivion of short-haired type. The possible facts of cross-breeding with fighting dogs can not render essential influence on breed as a whole, since such cross-breeds lose their working qualities. Now there is a revival of traditions of shepherding, the cattles are growing, and growing is a demand for the working dogs for their protection. Life in ХХI century has not excluded predators, as well as cattle thieves. And up to crossbreeding with the Central Asian Ovtcharkas, the events occur just vice versa - short-haired Caucasians are not bred to CAOs, but CAOs wery often have in their family trees aboriginal Caucasian Ovtcharkas. There are a lot of reasons here: non-recognition of aboriginal Caucasian Ovtcharkas, complexity of obtaining fresh breeding material from the states of Central Asia, decrease of general literacy among breeders and experts, not able to determine precisely belonging short-haired dogs to the specific breed. This situation is well proved by occurrence in show rings for the Central Asian Ovtcharkas a plenty of dogs with fenotypical attributes of the Caucasian sheep-dogs, like deep black masks, earlier not seen in this breed.
Important user quality of aborinigal Caucasian Ovtcharcas is that they are rather easy in any age to change the owners. These dogs first of all are devoted to their duty of protection the territory, and only then to the owner. With the new owner they will serve as well as with old. This ability of CO is widely used, when dogs are easily transferred from one cattle to another. Summarizing, it would be desirable to note, that the peoples of Caucasus know and like their dogs, concern them as one of the national treasures. The general level of population of aboriginal COs in last decade (1990-2000.EZ) has grown strongly, now it is not necessary to go to high pastures to find breed representing animal, they can be seen in private houses and estates. The general height of dogs has increased, now often enough we can meet dogs higher than 80 см, with a wide volumetric breast, massive beautiful head and excellent movements. Bitches also became higher, to 70 cm and above. These dogs are still have not lost their actuality, still bearing their hard service. Breeding lines are founded on best and most glorified representatives of Caucasian Wolkodav: on Borz, Old Butus, Albars, Gabo, Barbos, Limon, Bandit, Hod, etc. These dogs spent many centuries near the man. It would be good to believe, that so will be forever.
Northern Caucasus, Pyatigorsk
Translated from Russian by E.Zelenyk
Copyright SOBAKAclub, 2002