The Bucovina Shepherd Dog is a livestock guarding breed native to the Carpathian Mountains of northeast Romania. The Bucovina Shepherd Dog was initially bred to protect flocks of sheep from the bears, lynx, wolves, and human bandits that inhabit its mountainous home, but in recent years, the breed is used primarily for person and property protection as well as family companionship. The breed is rapidly spreading in popularity in its native Romania, where it is among the best known of all dogs. However, the Bucovina Shepherd Dog has not yet achieved popularity outside of its homeland and is considered a very rare breed elsewhere. The Bucovina Shepherd Dog is also known as the Bucovina Sheepdog, Bucovina Shepherd, Bucovina Mountain Dog, Bucovina Wolf Dog, Bukovinak, Ciobanesc de Bucovina, Dulau, and the Capau (the spelling Bukovina is often used as well). The Bucovina Shepherd Dog is not to be confused with either of Romania’s other two livestock guarding breeds, the Mioritic/Barac and the Carpatin/Zavod.
The Bucovina Shepherd Dog was developed before written records were commonly kept of dog breeding, and has bred by mostly illiterate farmers in one of Europe’s most remote regions. As a result, virtually nothing is known with certainty about its origins. What is clear is that the breed was developed almost entirely within the mountainous region of Bucovina, and that it was well established when the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed the region in the 1700’s. There is some dispute as to what group the Bucovina Shepherd Dog properly belongs in. Many believe that the dog is a type of Mastiff, also known as Molossers, Dogues, and Alaunts. Although each breed is different, Mastiffs are characterized by their massive size, strong protective instincts, great strength and power, short dense coats, brachycephalic (pushed in) faces, and European or Near Eastern ancestry. Although their development remains one of the most intensely disputed aspects of canine history, it is generally agreed that Mastiff’s were spread across Europe during Roman times. Some examples of Mastiff/Molosser-type dogs include the English Mastiff, Saint Bernard, Dogue de Bordeaux, Great Dane, and the American Pit Bull Terrier.
In recent years there has been a realization that many breeds of European and Near Eastern livestock guarding breeds actually predate the Roman Empire. These dogs are large and powerful but lack the brachycephalic faces of true Mastiffs and typically have medium to long coats which are almost always primarily white in color. Most breeds are limited to mountainous regions. Researchers have named this group the Lupomolossoids, which roughly translates to Molosser-like wolf dogs. The breeds most commonly classified as Lupomolossoids include the Great Pyrenees, Maremma Sheepdog, Kuvasz, Komondor, Akbash Dog, and Tatra Mountain Sheepdog. The Bucovina Shepherd Dog almost perfectly fits the definition of a Lupomolossoid, as it is a large and powerful livestock guardian, native to a mountainous region of Europe, has an elongated wolf-like head and muzzle, and has a long, primarily white coat. In the opinion of this author, the Bucovina Shepherd Dog is almost certainly a Lupomolossoid rather than a true Mastiff.
There are three general lines of thought regarding the Bucovina Shepherd Dog’s original ancestry. The most commonly held claims that the breed is the descendant of pre-Roman dogs. The Romanian people who bred the Bucovina Shepherd Dog are generally thought to be descendants of the Dacians, a Thracian tribe who occupied what is now Romania prior to the Roman Conquest. The Dacians were known to be highly skilled dog breeders, who bred dogs for war, herding, guarding, and hunting. Many claim that the Dacian dogs are the primary ancestors of the Bucovina Shepherd Dog, just as the Dacian people are claimed to be the primary ancestors of the Romanians. This theory is probably the most likely. If the Bucovina Shepherd Dog is a Lupomolossoid, it almost certainly predates the Roman Era. Additionally, mountainous regions such as Bucovina usually have dog populations that change very little over time, as can be seen in the Pyrenees, Alps, and elsewhere in the Carpathians.
Other theories hold that the breed first entered Bucovina during Roman Times. During the Roman period of occupation, thousands of Roman immigrants flooded Dacia to take advantage of its vast mineral wealth, almost certainly bringing along their dogs with them. Additionally, the Roman Army was always accompanied by several breeds of dogs, primarily the Molossus which was used in battle and the Roman Cattle Droving Dog that drove the massive herds of livestock necessary to feed the legions. Although there is much dispute, these Roman dogs are widely believed to have been of the Mastiff-type. If the Bucovina Shepherd Dog is a Mastiff, it was probably introduced by the Romans.
Another possible ancestry for the Bucovina Shepherd Dog holds that it was brought to Bucovina by nomads from the Steppes. Bucovina is located on the border of the steppes and has repeatedly been invaded by nomads from the grasslands, including the Huns, Magyars, Mongols, Tatars, Cumans, and Turks. Interestingly, most of these peoples possessed dogs which are incredibly similar in appearance and use to the Bucovina Shepherd Dog including the Hunnish Aftscharka, Magyar/Cuman Kuvasz and Komondor, and the Turkish Akbash Dog and Anatolian Shepherd. It is very possible (and in fact probable) that any or all of these peoples brought their dogs to Bucovina where they either became the ancestors of the Bucovina Shepherd Dog or at least impacted its development.
However the Bucovina Shepherd Dog was developed, it became widespread throughout the region. The breed was used to guard the flocks of sheep and goats kept by the region’s Romanian inhabitants, who were commonly referred to as Vlachs, Rumanians, Wallachians, Transylvanians, and/or Moldovans prior to the 19th Century. Until the early 20th Century, the Carpathian Mountains were one of the wildest and least developed regions of Europe, and in many ways continue to remain so today. The Carpathians are one of the last strongholds of Europe’s large land predators and have retained sizable populations of brown bears, lynx, and wolves, populations that were many times as large prior to the 20th Century. The Bucovinans needed a dog that was large and powerful enough to fight bears and wolves, with the courage to take one without hesitation. The dog also had to be willing and able to do battle with armed humans, as bandits and invading armies swept through the Carpathians on a regular basis. The Bucovina Shepherd Dog developed these traits and several others necessary to do its job. As the breed was left alone with its flocks for many hours, and sometimes days, at a time, it needed to become an independent problem solver. The dog also had to be capable of surviving the often freezing conditions found on the steep slopes of the Carpathians, as well as other elements such as wind and rain. The Bucovina Shepherd Dog became very cold tolerant and resistant to the elements as a result.
Romania in general and Bucovina in particular remained one of the most rural and agrarian regions of Europe until the 20th Century. Much of this was due to the fact that most of Romania was under foreign occupation from the 1300’s until the 1800’s. For many centuries, Bucovina was contested between the Ottoman Empire and Poland-Lithuania, but came under complete Austro-Hungarian domination in 1774. The Austro-Hungarians were some of the first to make detailed records of the region, and included mentions of the Bucovina Shepherd Dog. This is the first solid proof of the breed’s existence, but it was possibly already present thousands of years earlier. Austro-Hungarian rule saw a massive wave of Ruthenian/Ukrainian migration into northern Bucovina. This immigration would be a major cause of conflict between Romania, which became fully independent from the Ottoman Empire in 1877, and the Russian Empire, which controlled most of Ukraine. This dispute would eventually lead to Bukovina being split between Soviet Ukraine and Communist Romania. The rural nature of Bucovina protected the Bucovina Shepherd Dog. The breed was a virtual necessity for shepherds well into the 20th Century, allowing the breed to maintain its appearance, temperament, and working ability almost unchanged.
However, change would eventually come to Romania. Throughout the 20th Century, Romania has gradually become more urbanized and industrial. Countless thousands of Romanians have migrated from the countryside to major metropolitan centers. Many of these new urbanites and suburbanites chose to bring their beloved Bucovina Shepherd Dogs with them rather than leave them behind in the Carpathians. This had two major effects for the breed. The first major impact was that the Romanian population at large was introduced to the breed for the first time. The second major impact was the discovery that the Bucovina Shepherd Dog not only made an excellent livestock guardian but a dedicated personal and property protection animal and a devoted and gentle family companion as well. Romanians across the country began to keep the breed for protection and companionship increasing its population and visibility. The dog became especially valued as the 20th Century came to a close. The brutal Communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu came to an end in 1989, in the midst of a national outbreak of violence. The 1990’s and early 2000’s saw a long period of social unrest and heightened crime across Romania, which greatly increased the demand for guard dogs. The Bucovina Shepherd Dog was one of the primary beneficiaries of this demand, and was especially popular because it was known to be exceptionally gentle and safe with the children of its own family in addition to being a dedicated guard dog.
The Bucovina Shepherd Dog was bred exclusively for working ability until well-into the 20th Century. As a result of Western European influence, a formal standard was written for the Bucovina Shepherd Dog in 1982, the first of its kind for the breed. The breed was granted formal recognition with the Romanian Kennel Club (Asociatia Chinologica Romana or ACR), which formally updated the standard in 2001. These changes were made to ensure that the breed’s standard complied with the rules of the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI), which granted the breed provisional acceptance in 2009.
Although the Bucovina Shepherd Dog is continuing to grow in popularity in its native Romania, it remains virtually unknown elsewhere. In recent years, a few breed members have made their way to other nations, but have not yet firmly established populations. It is unclear whether or not any breed members have made their way to the United States, but if so it has only been a few isolated individuals. The breed is not currently recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), the United Kennel Club (UKC), or any of the larger American rare breed registries, nor does it appear that will change for the foreseeable future. Unlike most modern breeds, a very high percentage of Bucovina Shepherd Dogs remain working animals. Some breed members still guard sheep from wolves and other predators in the Carpathian Mountains, but a sizable majority is now employed as personal and property guardians. The Bucovina Shepherd Dog is increasingly being kept primarily as a companion animal, and that may be where the breed’s primary future lies.
The Bucovina Shepherd Dog is very similar in appearance to a number of other large mountain dog breeds, but exhibits more coloration and is more lightly built than most. This breed is large to very large in size. The average male Bucovina Shepherd Dog stands between 26¾ and 30¾ inches tall at the shoulder while the average female stands between 25 and 28½ inches tall at the shoulder. The breed’s weight is determined by its height but most weigh between 70 to 120 pounds. Much of the Bucovina Shepherd Dog’s body is obscured by its long and thick hair, but underneath is a very muscular and powerfully built dog. Although the Bucovina Shepherd Dog is very powerful, it is considerably less thickly constructed than a dog such as a Great Pyrenees. The tail of the Bucovina Shepherd Dog is relatively long and quite variable in appearance. Many dogs have a straight tail, while others have a curve that ranges from very slight to an almost complete loop, though the tail should never curl over the back.
The head and face of the Bucovina Shepherd Dog are quite large and powerful, without looking out of proportion to the size of the dog. The wide head is almost totally flat on top. The muzzle and face are quite distinct from each other and connect at an almost 90 degree angle. The muzzle itself is quite wide although it tapers substantially towards the end. A scissors bite is preferred, but a level bite is also acceptable. The lips of this breed are relatively tight fitting, although some are slightly pendulous. The eyes of this breed are small for the size of the head, set obliquely, and are brown or hazel in color. The years of the Bucovina Shepherd Dog are v-shaped and hang down close to the sides of the head.
The coat of the Bucovina Shepherd Dog is long, dense, thick, straight, and harsh to the touch. Most of the body is covered with hair that is between 2 and 3½ inches in length. The hair is considerably shorter on the head, face, and fronts of all four legs. The coat is longer on the neck where it forms a prominent mane, on the tail which looks bushy, and on the rear of all four legs, although not to the extent which would be considered feathering. The vast majority of Bucovina Shepherd Dogs are primarily white in color, with patches of black, brown, sand charcoal, and/or brindle of varying sizes. Most dogs have patches of a single color, but there are exceptions. Dogs of this color usually have small specks of color on their legs, which is perfectly acceptable. Occasionally a solid black or solid white Bucovina Shepherd Dog will be born. These colors are acceptable but greatly disfavored.
The Bucovina Shepherd Dog has a temperament typical of a large livestock guarding breed. The breed is famous in its native country for its calm and even temper. This dog tends to form very close attachments to its family, to whom it is intensely devoted. This breed is renowned in Romania for its dedication and intense loyalty. While this breed can be quite affectionate, it tends to be somewhat reserved. The Bucovina Shepherd Dog has an excellent reputation with children. When properly socialized, breed members are usually very gentle with children and often form close friendships with them. Bucovina Shepherd Dog puppies may not be the best choice for very young children as they are likely to bowl them over in their youthful exuberance. Because this breed tends to be very dominant and highly protective, it would be a very poor choice for a novice dog owner.
Although very attached to its own family, the Bucovina Shepherd Dog is usually unfriendly with strangers. This breed has been bred as a guard dog for centuries and perhaps millennia and is inherently suspicious of strangers. Proper training is of the utmost importance for this breed, because it will allow it to properly discern what is and what is not a true threat. When properly socialized, most breed members will be accepting of strangers, although they will usually be aloof and wary of them. Individuals that have not been properly socialized are likely to view any stranger as a potential threat and may develop aggression issues as a result, which can be extremely severe in a dog of this size. The Bucovina Shepherd Dog is not only highly protective but also extremely territorial and alert, making it an excellent watchdog whose booming bark is said to scare away wolves and bears. This breed also makes an excellent guard dog who will not allow any intruder to enter its territory unchallenged. This breed strongly prefers to deter an intruder with threats but is willing to resort to violence if it deems necessary. In Romania, the breed is known to fight wolves, bears, and armed assailants to the death, and a Bucovina Shepherd Dog would go to any length to prevent physical harm from coming to a family member.
The Bucovina Shepherd Dog has a mixed reputation with other animals. If raised with other creatures from a young age it will generally consider them members of its pack and become highly protective over them. However, most breed members are highly aggressive towards strange animals. This breed has a very high prey drive and will almost certainly attempt to attack and kill other animals, and bring its family home “presents” of dead animals if left alone in a yard for any length of time. In particular, this breed tends to be highly dog aggressive. Bucovina Shepherd Dogs exhibit high degrees of most forms of dog aggression including territorial, prey driven, dominance, possession, and same-sex. Training and socialization can greatly reduce issues, but cannot eliminate them entirely. Some breed members seem to actively go looking for fights, and even those that do not will essentially never back down from a challenge. Owners must be aware that this breed is capable of severely injuring or killing essentially any other dog with little effort. This breed is best kept as either an only dog or with a single member of the opposite sex.
Although considered highly intelligent and an excellent problem solver, The Bucovina Shepherd Dog is regarded as being difficult to train. This dog wants to be its own boss and do its own thing. This is a breed that will regularly challenge its owner’s authority and quickly take control of the situation if it sees an opening to do so. For this reason, owners of these dogs must maintain a constant position of dominance. This breed also tends to be extremely stubborn. If a Bucovina Shepherd Dog decides that it is not going to do something that is often the end of that. This does not mean that this breed is impossible to train, far from it. It does mean that training a Bucovina Shepherd Dog will take significantly more time and effort than most breeds and that it may never be fully obedient.
The Bucovina Shepherd Dog is one of the most energetic breeds of its size. This dog was bred to roam the mountains for countless hours with its flock. As a result, breed members need substantial amounts of exercise. This breed should receive 45 minutes to an hour of vigorous physical activity every day, but would ideally be provided substantially more. The Bucovina Shepherd Dog greatly enjoys long walks, but really craves an opportunity to wander a safely enclosed area freely for long periods. If this breed is not provided a proper outlet for its energy, it will surely find one on its own which can result in major behavioral problems such as extreme destructiveness, constant barking, hyper activity, over excitability, and aggression. Although this breed can adapt to urban life if provided proper exercise, it is much better suited to homes with large yards, preferably on acreage. The Bucovina Shepherd Dog is not a breed that craves a job, but is a tireless worker that is probably happiest when given livestock or property to protect. All that being said, Bucovina Shepherd Dogs that are provided the proper exercise and stimulation tend to be extremely stable dogs whose attitude and temperament are very even.
As one might expect from looking at the dog’s coat, the Bucovina Shepherd Dog has substantial grooming requirements. While this dog should only require professional grooming if its owners want to shave it in the summer months, it needs to be thoroughly brushed either daily or every other day. Because of the length of the coat and the size of the dog, owners can expect at least an hour or two of coat maintenance every week. This breed is also a very, very heavy shedder. Bucovina Shepherd Dogs shed both a tremendous amount and almost constantly and can completely cover furniture, clothing, and carpets with long white hair with a harsh texture that can make them very sticky and difficult to remove. This shedding gets much worse when the seasons change and the dog replaces most of its coat.
It does not appear that any health surveys have been conducted on the Bucovina Shepherd Dog which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements about the breed’s overall health. In fact, there is almost no information available about the breed at all. It is probably fair to say that because this breed is so large that its life expectancy is considerably less than smaller breeds. However, it is also probably fair to say that it is in significantly better health than most breeds of similar size because it was bred exclusively as a working dog in very harsh conditions until the last 30 years and has largely been spared the worst modern dog breeding practices.
Because skeletal and visual problems may occur in this breed, it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring. It is highly advisable to request that breeders show any OFA and CERF documentation that they have on a puppy or its parents, which essentially all reputable breeders will have.
Although it is unclear what conditions are predominant in the Bucovina Shepherd Dog, some of the most common concerns among dogs of similar size, usage, and coat type include: