Croatian Sheepdogs, known also as Hrvatski Ovkars, first came to the region now called Croatia, in the 7th century. A working sheep and cattle dog, the breed was brought by the Croats (a South Slavic ethnic group) who settled in the area during the historical period known as the Great Migrations. These dogs lay claim to being the country’s oldest native dog breed and have dwelled primarily in the plains of Slavonia for centuries.
Written records of the Croatian Sheepdog date back as early as 1374. Dr. Stjepan Romic, a professor and veterinarian, discovered these early documents stored in the archives of the Djakova Diocese. (A diocese is a district governed by a bishop.) The earliest, authored by Bishop Petar of Djakovo, identify the breed as “Canis Pastoralis Croaticus”. His writing provides the history of how and when the Croatian Sheepdogs arrived in Croatia. He described the dogs in detail, writing that they possessed wavy, somewhat long coat hair and prick ears, and stood approximately eighteen inches tall.
The Djakovo Diocese also contained archived records from 1719, written by Bishop Petar Bakic; from 1737, written by Andreas Keczkemety, an administrator of the church property; and 1752, by Petar Kukic, Minister of Djakova. In 1854, Franjo Beric of Djakova, a veterinarian, also wrote about them. All of these documents recognize these dogs as “Canis Pastoralis Croaticus”; in all of them the breed description is consistent, indicating that the Croatian Sheepdogs have remained stable in appearance and characteristics since at least the latter part of the 1300s. Today’s breed specimen still matches the description of the breed of the 14th century, with one slight difference. The modern dogs are a bit bigger than their ancestors; this single variation is generally attributed to their improved nutrition and less stressful lives.
Other information about the breed found in the archives, include testimonies and descriptions their outstanding ability to herd sheep and cattle. The documents also reveal that, despite the Croatian Sheepdog’s modest size (for shepherd dogs), they were skilled and strong enough to be used for driving herds of pigs to oak forests in the fall, and even to herd horses from Djakovo’s stables.
Croatian Sheepdogs are able to both drive and gather livestock. Their intense style of herding involves sticking closer to their stock and driving them harder than some other types of shepherd dogs. They will grip a rogue animal they are tending, but generally cause it no injury. They often run on the backs of their sheep in order to get where they need to be to control the flock. They are undaunted by large bulls, bringing back any that stray, forcing individuals into obedience.
The Croatian Sheepdog is so hardwired for the work of herding, that puppies start to learn their jobs at three or four months of age, when they are placed alongside a mature dog to be mentored. The puppy works alongside the seasoned canine, and by the time the young dog has reached six months of age, it is able to work on its own.
Farmers who own Croatian Sheepdogs attest to the dog’s ability to know and single out each and every head of cattle, by hearing its name. These dogs are always on the alert for a hand signal, head nod, or verbal command from the shepherd, which they will obey regardless of any danger. They are even known for being so attuned to their owners that they can anticipate the next command before it has even been given. These dogs work independently, but once their tasks are done, they prefer to stay right next to their owners.
Even though the breed has remained virtually unchanged in appearance and working characteristics for centuries, it was not until 1935 that a systematic breeding program for Croatian Shepherd Dogs was developed. Dr. Romic, considered the “father of the Croatian Sheepdog” began the program with three dogs: Garavusa Gara (female), Buda, and Sojka. His work resulted in winning official recognition for the breed thirty-four years later. On March 16, 1968, the Yugoslav Kennel Club adopted the breed standard, which was accepted by the Federacion Cynologique Internationale (FCI) on April 23rd, 1969; that same year the FCI officially recognized the Croatian Sheepdog. In 1969, the Croatian Kennel Club (CKC) registered 130 Croatian Sheepdog females, 72 males, and classified more than 30 of their ancestors. The breed is now recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC), as well.
Today Mawlch Kennels in Croatia, owned by husband and wife team Alen and Sara Marekovic, is known for producing exceptional Croatian Sheepdogs. Mr. Marekovic is president of the CKC’s Agility Committee and has conducted numerous agility seminars. He has served as an international agility judge in his home country of Croatia, as well as in Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Finland. The Malwch Kennel dogs and offspring are found in the lines of the top Croatian Sheepdogs around the world.
Alen Marekovic’s dog Drava Certisa or “Cita” (female) has participated six times in Agility World Championships (AWC). At Cruft’s 2008, she won first and second place awards in the International Triathlon events and third place in International Agility. Cita, who is also known for her great temperament, produced one of today’s most sought after stud dogs of the breed and a working agility dog, Malwich Grom. His father, Apolon, was a member of the 2003 Croatian Agility Team. Currently Malwich Grom is owned by Jasna Sen of Slovenia.
Con Maige Kennel, in Zagreb, Croatia, is FCI registered and owned by Tanja Janes. The name of the kennel comes from an Irish legend and means “hound of the plains”. Ms. Janes chose the name because Croatian Sheepdogs are true dogs of the plains, having originated in Slovania, the lowlands of Croatia.
Ms. Janes’ dog Miska Certisa (female, born 1999), is an outstanding Croatian Sheepdog; she was an AWC Champion in 2005 and placed third in the Search and Rescue (SAR) World Championship that same year. In 2006 she was on the Croatian Sheepdog Large Agility team that won the gold at the AWC. At three months of age she participated in obedience demonstrations in dog shows and trained for search and rescue. Since then she has competed in obedience, agility, and sheep gathering (the latter with Alen Marekovic); unfortunately a knee injury in 2007 now limits her to obedience competitions only. According to her owner, Tanja Janes, Miska is a natural retriever. The most impressive example she cites of Miska’s retrieving proclivities is her habit of collecting fresh eggs, putting them in a basket, and bringing them to Ms. Janes.
In 2006, Miska was mated with Mawlch Grom, producing a litter of three, all with outstanding working abilities: Kaj (male), Kal (male), known as “Rudi”, and Kisa (female). Rudi is still owned by Tanja Janes; Kaj is owned by Zsuzsa Veres of Hungary, and Kisa is owned by Polona Bonac of Slovenia. At the First Croatian Sheepdog Working Championship, held in Zagreb, Croatia in November of 2009, Miska and her three offspring all competed. Miska won the Championship, Area Search, and Veteran Agility. Kisa won Tracking and Rudi won Obedience and Protection. Most of the dogs competing at the event were from Croatia and Slovenia, but Slovakia, Hungary, Japan, and Finland were also represented.
Tarja Uuskivi and Tommi Raita-aho of Lempaala, Finland, own Tuus Kennel. The couple became enamored with the Croatian Sheepdog while attending the AWC in Helsinki in 2000. They saw the breed in action and began a lengthy search to find a puppy. They found one through Alen Marekovic’s homepage and, ironically, found out that it was Alen Marekovic’s own dog Cita, who had so impressed them in Helsinki.
In February, 2002, they imported their first Croatian Sheepdog, an eight week old girl whose official name was “Biba”, bred by Branko Simic of Bjelovar, Croatia. Tarja and Tommi call her “Puubi”. Puubi has been shown seven times and is the first Croatian Sheepdog to win the title of Finnish Agility Champion. She has won District Championship in Agility as an individual in 2007 and 2008. She also won the same award as part of a team in 2007. She won the First Choice Cup in 2007. Puubi participated in Finnish AWC qualifications and Finnish Championships in 2008. She was mated to Mawlch Grom, giving birth to a litter of nine.
The Tuus Kennel has had two litters of Croatian Sheepdogs, in 2006 and 2008. Their dogs all compete in agility competitions. The Tuus Kennel’s stated goal is to breed Croatian Sheepdogs in Finland who are healthy, working dogs, with good temperaments.
The “Nice of You to Come By” Kennel in the Netherlands, welcomed the first litter of Croatian Sheepdogs born on Dutch soil, on December 8, 2010. The litter consisted of four females and two males. The parents are Mawlch Seka, known as “Kahlen”, female, born 2006 (bred by Alen Marekovic), and Kaj Con Maige, the son of Mawlch Grom and Miska. Kahlen earned the titles of International Champion World Winner in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Kaj Con Maige is the Master of Hungarian Agility and qualified for the AWC for 2011.
In France, the “Du Chant Du Duna”, which translates to “The Song of Duna” Kennel, is owned by Isabelle Coquinot. She breeds Croatian Sheepdogs on her farm located approximately sixty-two miles south of Paris, between Loiret and Essonne. On her website she tracks the numbers of Croatian Sheepdogs in France. According to her statistics, forty-one members of the breed were born in France, about thirty-four of which are registered. At least seven Croatian Sheepdogs in France were imported; four of those are registered. Ms. Coquinot also owns a dog from Mawlch Kennels, named Mawlch Gidan.
While Croatian Sheepdogs are not well known outside their own country, they have picked up quite a following in Japan, thanks to Katsumi Imamura, a fifty-one year old Japanese man who saw his first Croatian sheepdog in 2007. After witnessing the breed competing in the agility competition he claims he “was immediately fascinated by the energy of the dog. I concluded that I must have a dog like that”. Katsumi Imamura explains that the Croatian Sheepdog reminds him of the long-extinct Japanese Sheepdog, which was reputed to give humans “secret energy”.
In 2008 Mr. Imamura began importing Croatian Sheepdogs into his country. It was not long before the Japanese began to share the same awe for the breed as Mr. Imamura. In Japan, the Croatian Sheepdog has been dubbed “fu-rin-ka-zan”, or “wind-forest-fire-mountain”, which means: “…moves swiftly like the wind, quiet as the forest, attacks fiercely like fire, and is invincible, like the mountains”. This designation comes from the 16th century when it was used to describe the Japanese warlord, Takeda Shingen and his powerful military.
Mr. Imamura owns a male Croatian Sheepdog named Rutvica, which he bought from Tanja Janes of Con Maige Kennel. He also owns Mawlch Cres (male, born 2007) which he calls “Kro”, whose parents are Cita (dam) and Apolon (sire), of Mawlch Kennels. He also has a female named Pocky. In 2009 at the First Croatian Sheepdog Working Championships, Mr. Imamura’s Mawlch Cres achieved a 10th place ranking in the Large Agility category.
In their homeland, Croatian Sheepdogs are no longer concentrated in Slavonia, a fertile region, bordered by three rivers and consisting of plains, low lying hills, and a few sparse forests. These lowlands, once dominated by sheep and cattle, have become mostly crop land and the remaining herds of livestock are confined in barns. The Croatian Sheepdog’s skills are no longer needed and the breed has largely disappeared from the region. Fortunately, the modern Croatian Sheepdogs retain stable population numbers, in part because the native breed has been relocated to areas of the country where its herding skills can still be used. Also, as times have changed, the breed is often owned strictly as a companion dog or family pet.
Croatian Sheepdogs excel in all dog sports, but most notably in agility. They are considered the top breed in the sport, which emerged in 1978 and is fast becoming one of the most popular canine competitions in the world. In agility competitions, the dogs not only have to be the fastest but also to make the fewest errors. It requires dogs to follow handlers’ cues as they complete a timed obstacle course, in which they jump through tunnels, weave around poles, slaloms, and more. Croatian Sheepdogs are naturally suited to such challenges because of their speed, coordination, jumping ability, fearlessness, and their ready response to owner signals and commands. Croatian Sheepdogs naturally love both the opportunity for vigorous exercise and the intense bond required between trainer and dog. Croatian Sheepdogs are also trained in, and excel at, obedience competitions, tracking, search and rescue operations, and as devoted family pets.
Croatian Sheepdogs are a medium to medium-small, muscular breed. The height of male and female dogs should be 16 to 21 inches. The weight for both genders should be between 29 and 43 pounds. The body shape is slightly rectangular, as the length of the dog’s torso should exceed its height by about 10%.
Their coats have a base color of black; a few white hairs mixed in are tolerated. Small white markings are permissible on throat and forechest; also permissible, but not desirable, are small white markings on toes or legs. No white markings on the head, body, or tail are allowed. In a dog show, if a Croatian Sheepdog has white legs up to its pasterns, it will count unfavorably.
Croatian Sheepdogs have double coats. Their undercoat is dense; their outer coat is wavy to curly, somewhat soft, but never wooly. The length of the outer coat is between 2 ¾ inches and 5 ½ inches long. The hair on the foreface is always short. The hair on the outside of their ears is short, but inside the ear it is long. The forelegs have longer hairs down to the pastern on the backsides, which feathers. On the hind legs, the hair has distinct feathering from the hocks up to the buttocks. Short hair on the head and legs are distinctive characteristics of Croatian Sheepdogs.
Their fox-like heads are lean and wedge-shaped and almost eight inches in length. Their slightly rounded skulls may have a distinct occiput. The skull tapers toward the nose; the stop is slightly pronounced and the cheeks are rounded. The ratio of the muzzle to the skull is 9:11. The Croatian Sheepdog’s lean muzzle is neither squared off nor pointed. When viewed in profile, the nose ridge is straight and an extension of the wedge-shaped muzzle. Their black noses are in line with the nose ridge.
Their medium sized eyes are almondAmong experts, the use of Almonds, or Almond derived products in pet food appears to have been met with mixed reviews. While some feel that there is no issue and that the .... shaped and range from chestnut brown to black. They are set horizontally, with a lively expression in them. Eyelid rims are dark colored and tight, fitting close to the eyeballs. Their medium sized ears are triangular shaped and set somewhat to the side. They may be erect or semi-erect, although erect ears are preferred. Ear cropping is not allowed. Their lower jaw is well developed; they have a strong, complete set of teeth and the mouth closes over them in a scissors bite. The outer lip pigment is black; lips are close fitting and the corner of the mouth is tight.
The neck is moderately long, muscular and well rounded. It rises just above the back line; both the upper and lower lines of the neck itself are straight. The skin on the neck has no dewlap and is covered with dense hair. The transition from neck to shoulders is gradual and the withers are not pronounced.
The line from the neck to the forechest is straight. Their chests are deep, broad, and of medium length. Ribs are sprung, with the forechest somewhat pronounced. The short, muscular back is straight. There is a slight tuck up in the belly; the full, sturdy loin is also short and firmly coupled. The dog’s broad, muscular croup slopes down slightly.
Croatian Sheepdogs’ tails are set medium high and covered with thick, long hair. In repose, their tails either hang down or are carried level with the back. When alert, they carry their tails above the back line. Some dogs of this breed are born with either a short tail or none at all. Their tails are usually docked quite short; adult males of this breed have docked tails about one and one half inches long. If left natural, their tails tend to curl over the back.
The Croatian Sheepdog’s forelegs are medium long; when viewed from the front they are straight and parallel. The upper arm is proportionately short; the muscular forearm is long, with light bones. Their pasterns are short, indistinct and not entirely vertical. Their hind legs have medium angulation; when viewed from behind, they are parallel. They have long lower thighs and low set hocks. The well muscled upper thighs are medium wide; the hocks on the hindquarters are distinct and well angulated.
They have small, strong feet that are sort of rabbit like; the hind feet are somewhat more elongated than the front. Their well knit toes have firm cushions; toenails are black or gray colored. Dewclaws are removed. The Croatian Sheepdog moves in a brisk trot, with a medium long stride.
Croatian Sheepdogs are athletic, agile, alert, and intelligent. This high energy breed loves to work and has a strong need for human companionship. They make good family pets as long as they are given enough exercise and attention.
Their fearlessness and devotion to their owners has been characterized as loyalty to the “point of self destruction”, as they will obey commands without concern for danger. They learn to “read” their owners’ signals and body language so well, they often anticipate their owners’ next command or move. This breed tends to obey only the one person with whom he or she has a primary relationship; it can take time for an older sheepdog to adjust to and work with a new owner. This breed will work independently, but when the task or job is complete, the Croatian Sheepdog wants to stick close to his or her owner and will expect attention, in return.
This breed requires a great deal of time and attention from their human owner or family. If these emotional needs are not met, your dog will begin to exhibit unwanted behaviors. Croatian Sheepdogs get along well with children, but they should be socialized from puppyhood with people of a variety of ages. Getting them comfortable with children and people outside their family will help alleviate this breed’s tendency toward shyness. Their loyalty to their owners, along with their instinct to guard their flocks, makes them suspicious of strangers and excellent watchdogs.
They are dominant dogs, but any aggressive tendencies can be easily tamed through proper training. If you have other dogs in your household, early socialization and proper training will curb the Croatian Sheepdog’s instinct to take charge of them. Croatian Sheepdogs are known for being very responsive and easy to train, as long as you begin early in the dog’s life. This breed needs a firm, but sensitive trainer; one who is strong and consistent, but never rough or harsh, even in tone. Croatian Sheepdogs are intense dogs that bark when they are excited, which happens a lot. Given time and training, however, they can be weaned of their propensity to over bark.
They need a daily pack walk where they are required to heel beside or behind the person holding the lead. This routine is crucial for your dog’s physical and mental health. It also serves to maintain the “pack order”, that is, to reinforce every day that you are the alpha leader.
If you, or your family, do not enjoy a physically active lifestyle, you should not even consider owning one of this breed. Croatian Sheepdogs are bred over centuries for vigorous, outdoor work. They are docile inside the home, but they must get a great deal of outdoor exercise, or they will become frustrated, difficult to manage, and even destructive. While many are no longer used for farm work, Croatian Sheepdogs enjoy participating in, and excel at, all dog sports.
Croatian Sheepdogs can adapt to apartment life, provided that they get enough exercise. However, they are better suited to a home with an enclosed yard or to life in the country.
Croatian Sheepdogs are bred for work, not for their appearance. Therefore they require only minimal grooming. They need only occasional brushing and combing to remove dead hair. These dogs shed an average amount.
Their weather-resistant coats repel water and dirt, so wiping them down with a damp towel should be enough to keep your Croatian Sheepdog clean, most of the time. Only bathe your dog when absolutely necessary, and then always use mild soap. Too much bathing and/or the use of harsh shampoos can strip the dog’s skin and coat of natural oils that keep them healthy and protected.
Croatian Sheepdogs are generally healthy dogs. They have no known breed-specific genetic issues. In fact, they have developed resistance to many diseases. You can expect your Croatian Sheepdog to live about thirteen to fourteen years.