The Ovcharkas - What Are They?

Alisa's puppies (born on January 23, 2004).
Alisa with puppies

D.N. Rassokhin


  1. Introduction
  2. Origin
  3. Physical Characteristics
  4. Behavior
  5. Assorted Photos
  6. Clubs and Breeders in the US
  7. [NEW!] English-Russian Dictionary of Dog Terms


The word "ovcharka" (often spelled "ovtcharka", or "owtcharka"; pronounced "uhf-'chAr-ka") is a Russian word meaning something between "livestock guardian dog", "shepherd's dog" and "sheepdog". In the Russian language "ovcharka" is used as a suffix in the names of many working breeds, including those that are not native to Russia, such as the German Shepherd Dog (nemetskaya ovcharka), Belgian Sheepdog (bel'giyskaya ovcharka), and many others. This may be somewhat confusing to a non-Russian reading Russian publications on dog breeds. The Ovcharkas native to Russia and/or the countries of the former Soviet Union include the following four breeds: the Caucasian Ovcharka (also known as: Kavkazskaya Ovcharka; Caucasian Shepherd or Sheepdog), Central Asian Ovcharka (other names include: Sredneaziatskaya Ovcharka; Central Asiatic Ovcharka; Central Asia Shepherd Dog; Middle Asian Ovcharka; Mid-Asiatic Sheepdog), South Russian Ovcharka (also referred to as Youzhnorusskaya Ovcharka or South Russian Sheepdog), and the East European Ovcharka.


The Caucasian and Central Asian Ovcharkas are ancient breeds belonging to the Asiatic type of dogs akin to the Tibetan Mastiff. Both breeds were originally bred by the shepherds for the protection of their livestock against large predators, such as wolves and leopards. The Caucasian Ovcharka comes from the Caucasus (both its mountain area, and the adjacent plains), which is the territory of the following modern states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia. The Central Asian Ovcharka originated in Central Asia, the huge region stretching from Caspian Sea in the west to the Pamirs in the east, and from the border between Russia and Iran and Afghanistan in the south to South Siberia in the north. Six modern countries - Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Russia - currently share that territory.

The ancestors of the South Russian Ovcharka arrived in the steppe regions of South Russia, the Crimea plains, with the flocks of Merino sheep from Spain in the 18th century. Those relatively small sheepdogs soon drew the attention of the local shepherds. However, despite  the dogs' outstanding ability to herd the flocks, they had a weak constitution making them vulnerable to predators, such as the steppe wolf, and the severe Russian climate. Yet, the steppe wolf was not so dangerous after all; most importantly, the local landowners wanted the dog to be able to protect their flocks, property and the game on their land against the much more serious threat of the Crimea Tartar thieves and poachers, who usually made their raids mounted. The canine newcomers from Spain were mixed with the Deerhound, Irish Wolfhound, and the dogs of the Tibetan origin. This crossing resulted in the large, rapid and agile dog that excelled in two different jobs: it could both help the shepherds to herd the flocks, and guard the livestock, property and game against the predators, thieves and poachers, even from the horsemen.

The Caucasian, Central Asian, and South Russian Ovcharkas were later bred and perfected in the Soviet Union in the state-run kennels for the needs of the Army and the police, as well as the plant and warehouse security and livestock protection work. All efforts have been made to preserve the outstanding working abilities, strength and beauty of these breeds.

Unlike the Caucasian, Central Asian and South Russian Ovcharkas, the East European Ovcharka is a relatively young breed. Its direct ancestor was the German Shepherd Dog, which was introduced in Russia in 1904. In 1924 the German Shepherd Dog was chosen to become the main service breed in the Soviet Union for the needs of the Red Army and Stalin's Gulag, to guard millions of people sent to Siberian prison camps. However, the German Shepherd Dog of the original type did not fully match the Army and Gulag's requirements. Dogs with greater stamina, resistance to cold weather, stronger bite and better ability to fight people were needed. The careful breeding program was successful and resulted in the breed later called the East European Ovcharka. Although this breed remains one of the most popular working breeds in its native land, it is still not widely recognized outside Russia and often not distinguished from the "overgrown" German Shepherd Dog. Unfortunately, at the present time, no official standard exists for this breed; nor are carefully planned breeding programs followed by the clubs and breeding kennels, so the future of the East European Ovcharka is uncertain.

Physical characteristics

The Ovcharkas are powerful dogs of large or giant size. The Caucasian and Central Asian Ovcharkas have a powerful bone structure and a massive head. Compared to the first two Ovcharkas, the South Russian Ovcharka has a lighter build and is a little leggier. When shorn of its wool, it looks remarkably similar to the Doberman Pincher. The East European Ovcharka has sturdy, muscular, slightly elongated body with a solid bone structure.

Breed Height in withers (in) Weight (lb.)**
Dogs Bitches Dogs Bitches
Caucasian >25.6* >24.4* 132-198 88-143
Central Asian >25.6* >23.6* 121-176 88-143
South Russian >25.6* >22.8* 88-132 77-99
East European*** 26.3-27.6 23.6-25.6 90-154 80-120
*Lower limit. Upper limit is not set by the standard.
**Approximate figures. Weight is not set by the standards.
***At present time, there is no official standard for this breed.

The Caucasian Ovcharka has a long or medium-length coat with a well- developed undercoat. The most typical color is agouti gray. Other colors are allowed, except for red-and-white, solid black, black- and-tan, and solid brown. Ears are cropped short, and this, along with long fur on the sides of its head, gives the dog a bear-like appearance.

The Central Asian Ovcharka has a short, dense, close- lying coat with well-developed undercoat; it is said that burrs do not stick to it. White, black, gray, fawn, reddish fawn and brindle colors are most common. Its ears are usually cropped, and the tail is docked.

The South Russian Ovcharka is covered with a very long, dense and slightly wavy double coat, which should be white or cream. Its ears are small and covered with long fur.
The East European Ovcharka has a short, close-lying and very dense double coat, which is black, black-and-tan, gray, or fawn, with no white spots allowed. Completely white color is permissible. Its ears are erect and set high.


All the Ovcharkas are well-balanced and even-tempered, suspicious of and aggressive toward strangers. However, the temperaments of these four breeds have a lot of features that make these breeds remarkably different from each other.

As already noted, the Caucasian and Central Asian Ovcharkas were bred to protect the livestock from large predators, often with no man's assistance, rather than to herd the flocks under the supervision of the shepherd. (Read this real-life story!) This work made them very intelligent (as it comes to problem solving and making decisions) and, at the same time, very independent and strong-willed; they (esp., the Caucasians) are not easily trained for obedience. Typical of these two breeds is a somewhat low activity level with an ability to instantly "explode" in the minutes of danger. Such a dog can look like a large phlegmatic lazybones to an intruder, until he comes too close to the dog and it's too late to run away. This interesting feature stems from the fact that more active dogs with higher "energy consumption rate" would not have survived in the conditions of the harsh weather, hard work and scarce feeding, under which these breeds developed.

The East European Ovcharka's personality originates from its past as a herding dog: it is very intelligent, obedient and easily trained. As a guard dog, it can display its fine reflexes, lightning-quick attack and an ability to differentiate between "good" and "bad" guys.

The South Russian Ovcharka's personality combines the features of both a livestock guardian, and a herding dog. The experts say that South Russians are similar to Dobermans not only in their build, but also in the temperament: it is very intelligent, energetic and impetuous. Being more submissive to its master than the Caucasian and Central Asian Ovcharkas, the South Russians still sometimes display too high aggressiveness toward other animals and people, which the owner should be prepared to deal with.

Assorted pictures of Alisa

Alisa's mugshot

Alisa would make an excellent hunting dog for big game; unfortunately, hunting big game with dogs is illegal in Pennsylvania, so I can only take Alisa with me when hunting squirrels and coyotes.

Clubs and Breeders in the US

Anna Frumina with CAO

My Central Asian Ovcharka Alisa RUSDOG was bred by Anna Frumina. Need more info? Visit this site again, I am going to update Anna's contact info soon. You can also send me an email (see contact info below).

All pictures in this site are digitally watermarked and some of them are copyrighted by Webster Publishing. If you want to use any, ask me first!

(C) Dmitrii N. Rassokhin [Email] | This text is a part of Dmitrii Rassokhin's website. | Last modified: July 26, 2004