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Depending on where you live, you may experience problems with predators endangering your livestock. One of the easiest, and most rewarding, ways to combat these dangers is by getting a good, reliable, livestock guard dog. One such breed, that so happens to be our favorite, is the Karakachan.
What Is A Karakachan?
The Karakachan, sometimes called a Bear Dog, is a Bulgarian dog breed bred with the intent to be a flock and herd protector. They can grow to be quite large, some males topping out at 135 lbs. They possess a delicate and gentle personality for their pack, which can include the flock they protect and their owners. Additionally, they consider their family and flock as a part of their territory and will defend them ferociously, even against much larger predators.
Origin & History
As we mentioned above, the Karakachan is a Bulgarian breed. They are a very close relative to many other shepherding dogs in neighboring countries such as Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey.
Karakachans are one of the oldest breeds of, not just livestock dogs, but canines, in general. Named after the nomadic Karakachan, also known as Sarakatsani, people of the Baltics, their strict breeding practices have ensured this breed has remained, relatively, unchanged over several centuries.
The breed also has historical and cultural significance. It has appeared in a variety of Bulgarian literature by authors like Yordan Radichkov, Georgi Raitchev, and Yordan Yovkov. It is also seen as a sign of honor, sometimes being gifted from political figures to other leaders as a sign of respect.
What Are They Used For?
Despite their delightful demeanor and excellent shepherding capabilities, the Karakachan remains fairly uncommon. It is most popular is parts of Europe and the US, but is not as popular as some other herd protecting breeds.
They excel as livestock protector dogs. They will defend your goats, cattle, horses, or any other animals you place in their charge. They have earned the nicknames “Bear Dog” and “Wolf Dog” because they are willing to attack much larger predators to keep their herd safe.
In addition to farm use, historically they have been used as border guard dogs in Bulgaria. They also make fantastic, albeit quite large, pets.
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What Do They Look Like?
Karakachans have long, muscular, and slender bodies with broad backs. Their heads are large and boxy with a rounded forehead.
How Big Will A Karakachan Get?
Karakachans can get to be pretty large. The males can grow to be between 25 and 30 inches at the shoulders and weigh anywhere from 90 pounds up to 135 pounds. The females are not quite as big but still large. They will usually stand between 23 and 28 inches at the shoulders and weigh between 80 and 125 lbs.
Here is a size breakdown between males and female:
|Height At The Withers||Weight|
|Male Karakachan||25 to 30 inches||90 to 135 lbs|
|Female Karakachan||23 to 28 inches||80 to 125 lbs|
The Karakachan’s coat comes in two lengths; short or long. Short coats are usually under 4.5 to 5 inches while long coats are anything above 5 inches. Regardless of length, their fur is straight and stiff with a thick undercoat.
Karakachans are typically dual or tricolored with some variation of spots. For example, the boy above, Angel, has very large white spots on top of a black coat. The girl in the first image on this page, Buffy, is a darker brindle color. The full list of colors are:
- pied (white patches)
How Is Their Character?
So, what is a Karakachan like? How do they behave? Do they have any particular quirks you should be aware of?
Temperament & Personality
For the most part, this breed is pretty laid back. If their flock is safe, they will spend much of their time napping, albeit with senses that allow them to wake up at any threat.
They are very alert when patrolling their territory. When they spot an intruder, they will let out a few, deep barks to alert the flock of potential danger as well as a warning to the stranger.
They are gentle with their flock, as well as with their owners. They are not overtly aggressive towards people but are definitely suspicious of those they do not know. One must earn their trust before they can get near the herd.
Like many big dogs, they do not seem to understand their size and will not think twice about trying to lay in your lap.
How Are They With Kids & Pets?
When given proper socialization and training as a puppy, these dogs are great with kids and pets. As we mentioned, they are gentle giants and seem to consider their owners as part of their flock.
However, if not given adequate training, they can be overbearing at times. Even when they mean well, their sheer size can be dangerous to small children or pets.
How To Care For Your Karakachan
If you plan to add a Karakachan to your homestead, here are some tips on how to properly care for them.
Food & Dietary Needs
As you may have already guessed due to their size, these dogs can eat quite a bit. Not only are they large, but they are also working animals. Constant patrolling works up an appetite and burns a lot of calories.
You will want to get them a high quality dog food that is specially blended for large breed dogs. Large dogs need a different balance of nutrients than small, or even medium, sized dogs. You want a recipe that is designed to accommodate their size, age, and activity level.
Generally, there are feeding instructions right on the bag. This is usually a good starting point for your dog. When you start them on their new food, you will want to monitor their weight and body condition.
If they are either gaining or losing weight or their body condition starts to suffer, you will want to change their portion sizes accordingly. You can always discuss the specifics of your dog with a vet. You can also use this handy body condition chart at home.
If you have one of these dogs as a livestock protector, you will not likely need to go out of your way to exercise them. They will get plenty of exercise on their own while patrolling and watching over their herd.
If you have one as a pet, be aware that they are working dogs and thus need a lot of exercise. At a minimum they will need 60 minutes a day and plenty of room to run.
Are Karakachans Easy To Train?
Karakachans can be stubborn when it comes to training. They are intelligent, but not always motivated to obey commands. We think that is likely due to the need to be independent while patrolling.
However, if started at a young age and properly socialized, they can be trained. It will just take some time and a lot of patience.
Because the Karakachan people have such strict breeding practices, the Karakachan dog has not had the same health problems that plague many designer breeds.
They will usually only have the same issues that bother other large dog breeds. Things like elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia, and bloat.
How long do Karakachans live?
Karakachans will typically live between 12 and 14 years. That is, of course, assuming they limit the number of bears they attack.
Karakachans have a pretty thick undercoat. This coat helps keep them insulated and warm in even the coldest climates. However, the thick coat can lead to skin irritation and even infection if not groomed regularly.
When the weather starts to get warmer, they will start to shed their undercoat. If not brushed out, it can mat, tangle, and knot up with their top coat. This can hold in moisture that can cause the above mentioned irritation.
We like to use a slicker brush to brush out their undercoat. Then a good, strong, combo brush to keep their natural oils evenly spread throughout their coat. We also really like this comb to work out knots and mats, when we find them.
Speaking of their own natural oils, you do not have to bathe them as often as you would think. Dogs create their own oils that help to nourish their coat and skin. Bathing too often will wash those oils away and can dry them out. Giving them a bath once every few months, or as needed, is all they require.
You can get a set of nail trimmers, if you like. Depending on the terrain they may keep their nails worn down on their own.
This breed is generally content to keep to their area, assuming their territory is not too small. If they do not have enough room to properly exercise and run, they may start to look across the fence.
They do need good, strong fencing. As we mentioned, they are an intelligent breed and, if motivated, can find a way over, under, or even through a fence or gate.
We recommend a fence that is at least 48″ tall and made with woven wire. Honestly, you can use the tips discussed in goat fencing (and here) and apply them to your Karakachans.
Making sure they have plenty of room and, hopefully, proper training will help eliminate most of the fencing issues that can arise.
A few other similar breeds in both size and function are:
- Caucasian Ovcharka
- Central Asian Ovcharka
- Moscow Watchdog
- Saint Bernard
We love our Karakachans! They are honestly, some of the best dogs we have ever owned and they keep our animals safe and secure. If you are able to add one to your family, you will not regret it.
Until next time…
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Although our genetics test doesn’t show that our dog, Rev, is a Karakachan (because they don’t test for that breed) we believe him to be at least part Karakachan. They came back with Great Pyrenees/Malamute mix with other smaller breeds represented as well (labrador, bulldog, beagle and chow) We rescued him about 3 yrs ago, and discovered that there are at least two farms nearby that breed them, so perhaps he came from that stock. He’s about 110lbs, black/white – and stubborn as all get out. He’s the sweetest, but when it comes to walk time, he heads out in a different direction every day and is very adamant about which route he wants to take – we feel like this is his way of patrolling the area, making sure to visit at least one area of his range per day. He fits just about everything you’ve described above as far as physical and personality traits, and we love him dearly!