Caucasian Ovcharka

Champion Caucasian Ovtcharka
A Trip to Makhachkala in 1993

by Lidiya Morozova and Tat'yana Ivanova

The bus carried us along the road from Makhachkala to the north, past the Sulak River, to one of the "kutans". A kutan is a hamlet, where the shepherds spend the winter with their large flocks of sheep. The winter pastures extend along the coast of the Caspian Sea up to Kalmykiya. The beginning of June is the time that the large flocks are driven to their summer pastures in the mountains. It was just before we arrived at the Sulak River, when on the sides of the road we encountered one of the flocks. The sheep were lying down peacefully, while some donkeys and horses stood alongside. Here also the shepherds had lain down to rest. Only the large dogs were working, they walked slowly around the flock. We were struck by their business-like behavior, a certain awareness of the work and the clear-cut division of the latter. They were not held to the sheep by any leashes but by a responsibility for the safety of the flock. I cannot find other words to communicate what we saw. We left the bus and walked towards the flock. The dogs, there were four of them and they were all males, gathered together in a pack and, with muffled growls and short bounds, began to make lunge-like attacks in our direction, as if warning us not to come too close to the sheep. The appearance of the dogs was so resolute that not one of us risked moving further.

Two bitches, to whom initially we had paid no attention, remained immediately beside the flock. They watched us attentively and distrustfully. The local population calls these dogs shepherds or wolfhounds. It appeared that they were tied to people by firm threads and had taken onto themselves some of man's labour.

This was a collective in which every one knew their place and responsibilities, and no one had to be reminded of anything. The conscious work of the dogs, their independence and the confidence of their behaviour provoked enormous respect towards them.

But it was painful to be aware that so little was being done to preserve this breed, obtained as a result of many centuries of selection by nature and by man.

Now as to the purpose of our trip to Makhachkala. Not far from the city, attached to the Caspian Farming Enterprise for Fur Animals there had been set up breeding kennels for working dogs, in which Caucasian Sheepdogs were held. They carry out guard duties on the Farming Enterprise. The Head of the kennels, Gadzhi Khabibov, who has loved this breed from his childhood years, was possessed by the desire to help revive its former state and fame. The Director of the Farm Enterprise Magomed [Mahomed] Guseinov and the Chief Livestock Specialist Mogamed Abasov share this desire, natural to anybody who is not indifferent to and is worried about the national property of man. However, why did these enthusiasts turn for advice to Leningrad, located almost 3000 km from the native land of the Caucasian Sheepdogs?

The fact is that in Leningrad, for more than 30 years, systematic breeding work has been conducted with Caucasian Sheepdogs. The start to this work was laid by the formation of the "Lensovnarkhoz" [Council of the National Economy of the Leningrad Economic Region], when a School and Kennels for Working Dogs were set up, which combined in one unit all of the kennels in the city, that were using dogs for guarding various locations. The Head of the School and Kennels was N. N. Chernyshov, an expert of All-Union category, who made a valuable contribution to the cause of the establishment of the native breeds of dogs in our city. Several trips to the Caucasus were organized and Caucasian Sheepdogs were purchased. The School and Kennels had the right to pedigree breeding. After the reorganization of the Lensovnarkhoz and the liquidation of the School and Kennels, the breeding of Caucasian and Mid-Asiatic Sheepdogs was transferred to the Club for the Breeding of Working Dogs of the DOSAAF [All-Union Voluntary Society for Assistance to the Army, Air Force and Navy of the USSR].

For this reason evidently the specialists from Leningrad had been invited to Makhachkala, so that they could evaluate the stock of dogs in the kennels of the Farm Enterprise and assist in setting up the pedigree work with the breed. A team of experts from the Leningrad Club for the Breeding of Working Dogs of the DOSAAF went to Makhachkala, made up as follows: Chairman - expert judge of Republic category and Manager of the Caucasian Sheepdog Breed L. V. Morozova, and members - S. S. Dmitrieva - Deputy Manager of the Caucasian Sheepdog Breed and T. M. Ivanova - expert judge of All-Union category. We were to evaluate the stock of Caucasian and Mid-Asiatic Sheepdogs in the kennels of the Farm Enterprise and to give recommendations on the possibilities for utilizing them for pedigree breeding. Besides this, we wished to evaluate, in our free time, dogs belonging to private owners in Makhachkala and Buinaksk and in the regions adjoining these cities. In all, we were able to examine about 50 Caucasian Sheepdogs and therefore the rest of this account will be devoted to these.

The first thing that strikes one is the huge diversity of the structural types of the dogs, the considerable differences in stature, in the skeleton and in the coloration, which varies from white to dark gray and brown. We scarcely ever encountered a dog with a spotty coloration. Among the animals examined by us there were several long-coated dogs, though we mainly encountered dogs with an intermediate type of coat or the short-coated forms. Among the short-coated dogs were those with an upstanding, bristling coat and dogs with a smoothly pressed coat.

All of the animals shown to us were in very good condition, in spite of the fact that many of them were shedding, which they usually endure with some difficulties. There were few dogs with a high level of the external features. In the animals that we examined the following faults were most frequently encountered: lightish [as opposed to massive] muzzles and elongated lower thighs. Local inhabitants with whom we had the opportunity to talk said that there remained very few dogs of the old type, and that on the whole the animals had lost their former massive structure of the skeleton and head, and had become smaller and lighter. Nevertheless, the measurements which were carried out by S. S. Dmitrieva revealed a pastern girth of 14 cm and a withers height of 70 cm in some individual dogs.

Great diversity was found in the head types and lines. In many dogs the head had a somewhat elongate form. The greatest impression, however, was created by the flat upper part of the skull and by the absence of a clear-cut transition from the forehead to the muzzle. It is appropriate here to present the data on the head profiles, obtained in 1936 and 1937 in a study of Caucasian Sheepdogs from the mountain zone in the Northern Caucasus. In all, 673 dogs were studied. In the adult males 69% had a straight profile of the head, 15.1% - with a slight stop, 15.9% - with a stop. In bitches these values are, correspondingly, 67.9, 26.1 and 6%. The values for the orbital fissure comprised: in adult males 84.5% with an oblique section and 15.5% with a straight section; in bitches, correspondingly, 52.5% and 47.5%.

In the projected standard of the Caucasian Sheepdog of this experimental station there is cited the ratio of the length of the forehead to its width at the cheekbones as equal to 113:100, and of the length of the head to the length of the neck as 125:100. According to our notions, these forms of transitions from the forehead to the muzzle are also preserved today. In the dogs which we were able to examine a scissors bite was found and in only one male was an overbite found.

We also had occasion to examine two fully grown Mid-Asiatic Sheepdogs. The great diversity of the intrabreed types of the two breeds makes it difficult to determine the affinity of every individual to the specific breed. The principal differences between the dogs of these breeds is expressed first of all in the character of their behaviour.

It is difficult to photograph the dogs, especially beside the flocks, if they are not being held. They watch very distrustfully as the lens of the camera is pointed at them and after the click of the shutter they turn away and even move away.

By tracing the origin of individual dogs from the words of their owners and some local connoisseurs of the breed, it is possible to establish the effect on the stock of some of the dogs used in the breeding. It is obvious that a male named Borza played a considerable role here. He was a multiple winner of dog fights. It was namely in his progeny that the pastern girth was as much as 14 cm. Distinguished by the massive nature of their structure and by their external features are the progeny of Zoika, a daughter of Borza's sister. For this reason one may speak of the possibility of setting up lines and families of the better dogs of Dagestan here. It is very important to preserve the purity of the blood of these dogs.

Of course, carrying out pedigree breeding and stocktaking here is extremely complicated, since at the present time in Dagestan there is no club for the breeding of working dogs. The bulk of the dogs are located with the constantly roving flocks of sheep, which are located at considerable distances from one another. The names of the dogs are repeated over and over again, which makes it even more difficult to orient oneself in the origins of the animals. For this reason, it is necessary to introduce a some form of marking of the dogs for organizing a pedigree stocktaking.

The Caucasian Sheepdog is essential to the shepherd. Living together with the latter, the dog carries out a considerable portion of the shepherd's work. The shepherds love these dogs but this love is severe, without the endearments that are sometimes so typical of dog owners living in the large cities. During the course of the last several tens of years, with the change in the conditions of life of the shepherds, and with the introduction of fire-arms and electrical illumination, less attention has begun to be paid to the dogs, their numbers have dropped and their quality has been reduced. However life persistently shows how great is the role of the dogs living with the flocks of sheep. All the shepherds speak about them with respect. At night it is the dogs who carry out the work of the shepherds, allowing the men to rest. Among the dogs are encountered some individual, especially quick-witted animals, who may select a place that is most suitable for watching over the flock. All of the shepherds note that the bitches work better, with greater responsibility.

When we arrived in the kutan, the sheep were located within an enclosure and the dogs were walking freely over the area and even approached us. But as soon as the flock was released from the enclosure and moved towards the house of the shepherds, it was the bitch who lay down between the flock and the house and watched every one of our movements. The bitches are better at sensing a wolf, and it is they who organize the work of the male dogs. When a wolf appears the male dogs bunch in a pack, while the bitch chases the wolf directly towards them. Unfortunately there are few bitches with the flocks, one or two in all.

With each flock we saw one male of the German Sheepdog breed. The shepherds, in comparing the work of the Caucasian and German Sheepdogs, stated that the German Sheepdog did not display the responsibility that was found in the Caucasian Sheepdog. When at night the shepherds lay down to sleep, the German Sheepdog would lay itself down with them. During the day, however, the German Sheepdog herded the sheep and as a shepherd it did the work of three.

With the presence of the German Sheepdogs with the flocks the danger of cross-breeding arises. With free mating however, a male German Sheepdog could scarcely beat a male Caucasian Sheepdog in a fight over a bitch. In the flock situation a dog is valued not for its external appearance but for its work. Thus, we were shown with pride a dog who had been a victor in dog fights, but it was extremely difficult to call it a Caucasian Sheepdog. The shepherds do not like to show their dogs to strangers, since they are afraid of being robbed. Theft of dogs is not rare here and it is difficult to keep a good dog.

In the cities the people keep the dogs mainly for fights. Usually they bring them to the flocks at an age of about a year and a half. Although the Koran forbids using dogs for entertainment, there are many fans of dog fights. If a dog does not prove its worth in fights it is returned to the flocks or chased out into the street. It sometimes happens that such a dog is simply killed. In Buinaksk we had occasion to see a most beautiful specimen of a Caucasian Sheepdog named "Chernaya pantera" [literally "Black Panther"]. After it was defeated in a fight the owner chased the dog out of his yard and now this most beautiful animal of its type is roaming around the city. The shepherds also conduct dog fights. They consider that such encounters train the dogs to fight with wolves. Only the male dogs participate in the fights; as a rule these are dogs of the same age and with the same physical data. The fights are not to the death. A dog is considered to have lost a fight if it stops resisting, begins to squeal, bares it teeth having wrinkled its nose and, gnashing its teeth, begins to snap, without making any grip. The winner of the fight retires with his tail held high. In this context, as a rule, there are few wounds on the dogs; only one or two holes - traces of the powerful canine teeth.

The shepherds do take a stand against excessive dog fighting. When they find out about such cases with dogs that have been taken from the flocks to the city, they expect these to be returned to the flocks. The life of the dogs with the flocks is filled with meaning, it is free and independent. Dogs that were born and grew up with the flocks and were then brought into the city, tied up on a short chain, become bored and refuse food for a few weeks. In the city we saw a year and a half old male dog which had been brought in from the flocks. At the first opportunity it is drawn towards domestic sheep, places its head on their back and does not want to go away from the sheep.

Of course it is necessary to make use of every opportunity in order to do everything to preserve the purity of the breed and to reconstruct its previous external features in the regions where the Caucasian Sheepdog is being principally employed. This task is extremely complex, taking into consideration the specific nature of the living conditions of the shepherds. It is necessary to take into account the experience of the work with this breed in the twenties and thirties. At that time the introduction of a zoning scheme for the breeds was planned, in order to prevent cross-breeding. We have already mentioned that in Makhachkala we saw some Mid-Asiatic Sheepdogs, which closely resembled the Caucasian Sheepdogs in their type. We consider that it would be more reasonable to employ the Mid-Asiatic Sheepdogs for work with flocks in their own homeland, on the other side of the Caspian Sea, and that in Dagestan only the Caucasian Sheepdogs should be used. The breeding of these breeds should be carried out in the direction of increasing the differences between them.

In the thirties the State Dog-Breeding Program moved away from kennels in which the dogs were held in cages. There had been taken into account the sad case of the "Askaniya Nova" breeding kennels, when the dogs that had been raised in the latter proved to be incapable of working with the flocks. Then there appeared the pedigree nurseries which conducted the stock-taking of the dogs in the neighbouring regions. In the breeding kennels there remained only the empty cages, the bitches with pup and the puppies up to an age of two to three months, on the attainment of which they were transferred to the flocks.

In our times, with a similar organization of the pedigree work, the opportunity arises to accomplish the purposeful selection of a group of dogs, to introduce some form of marking and a complete inventory of the stock born. The bitches recover better after whelping and the pups develop better in freedom, when they are kept with the flocks. The adult dogs with the flocks and, above all, the mother-bitch pass on their experience to the pups. In this way proceeds the training of the young dogs, their working qualities are maintained and develop.

Today it is extremely necessary to find institutions that are interested in organizing the pedigree work with the native breeds of sheepdogs in the regions where they are principally distributed and employed.

(c)1994 Lidiya Morozova and Tat'yana Ivanova

Caucasian Mountain Dog