The Russian Bear Dog is a livestock guardian breed also known as the Caucasian Shepherd or the Caucasian Ovcharka.
A large breed, they weigh up to 170lbs and stand at around 30 inches tall at the shoulder.
As a guarding dog they are loyal and loving to their families, but wary of those they don’t know.
What’s In This Guide
- Russian Bear Dog FAQ
- The Russian Bear Dog At A Glance
- Bear Dog Training And Care
- Pros And Cons Of Getting A Russian Bear Dog
With his massive size and stunning good looks, this is certainly a big bear of a dog with a personality to match.
Russian Bear Dog FAQs
Below are our readers’ most popular and frequently asked questions about the Russian Bear Dog.
- How much does a Russian Bear Dog cost?
- Is the Caucasian Shepherd dangerous?
- Is the Russian Bear Dog legal in the US
- Are Caucasian Shepherds good family dogs
Breed At A Glance
- Purpose: Livestock guardian and watchdog
- Weight: Up to 170lbs
- Temperament: Confident and protective, wary of strangers.
Russian Bear Dog breeders are usually very picky about where their puppies go.
Russian Bear Dog Breed Review: Contents
- History and origins of the Russian Bear Dog
- Fun facts about Russian Bear Dogs
- Russian Bear Dog temperament
- Training and exercising your Russian Bear Dog
- Russian Bear Dog health and care
- Coat and grooming
- Russian Bear Dog price
- Do Russian Bear Dog make good family pets
- Rescuing a Bear Dog
- Raising a Russian Bear Dog puppy
History and original purpose of the Russian Bear Dog
The Russian Bear Dog’s original name is the Caucasian Orchavka.
Orchavka is a Russian term meaning ‘shepherd dog’. And Caucasian signifies the birthplace of this breed.
The Caucuses are a region comprising of mountains and expansive hilly plains.
Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia all have regions in the caucuses.
This dog has only recently been fully recognized in the western world; it was first recorded in the AKC’s foundation stock service in 1996.
Yet a love of the Russian Bear Dog is fast becoming established in the West.
The AKC breed standard lists the country of origin for this dog as Russia. As a result the term ‘Russian Bear Dog’ is commonly used, but this is possibly erroneous.
The breed occurs throughout the Caucasus region and its history is not limited to Russia.
In fact it is possibly even more closely linked with countries like Georgia and Armenia.
Working Caucasian Shepherds
The Caucasian Shepherd is a working dog that still finds itself in active use today.
Unlike many of the sheepdogs we’re familiar with, it was not traditionally used to herd sheep.
But to guard livestock from potential dangers.
Typically this danger does not come in the form of humans, but wolves.
A brave guardian
Wolves roam freely in the Caucasus and regularly take down unguarded sheep. Large, tough dogs are required to protect them.
This is the reason Russian Bear Dogs have been bred to be so big, brave and strong.
Livestock guardian dogs often work in teams, as a group of dogs stands a much better chance against a wolf.
Russian Bear Dog appearance
Protecting flocks from wolves in some of the coldest regions of the world requires, thick weatherproof fur.
And the Caucasian Shepherd has a magnificent coat to protect against the elements.
The massive mane together with the dog’s huge size, creates an almost primal impression.
When it comes to fighting wolves thick fur is also an added protection against injury.
And in a fight every inch in height and pound in weight counts.
Caucasian Shepherd size
The Caucasian Shepherd cuts an imposing figure and stands upwards of 30 inches tall at the shoulder.
Height does vary with sex though, and females tend to be a little shorter.
You can find out about general puppy development stages here!
Russian Bear Dogs pack some muscle to back up their tall stature, with the AKC specifying that males should weigh at least 110 pounds.
Fun fact: Russian Bear Dogs can grow as big as a tiger!
In January 2018 British newspapers featured a Russian Bear dog named Fluffy.
At just ten months old Fluffy, who had been picked up as a stray, already weighed around 100lbs.
Fluffy was expected to double her weight over the next few months.
It was reported that this would make her about as heavy as some female tigers!
They may be as big as a tiger, but are they as fierce? What are Caucasian Shepherds personalities like?
Russian Bear Dog temperament
Like several other large guard dog breeds their reputation precedes them.
And there are some concerns about the suitability of the Caucasian Shepherd dog temperament in a urban domestic setting.
The shepherds who bred them needed these dogs to be calm and gentle with them and their flock, but able to aggressively repel intruders.
Dogs would have been present while shepherds raised families, so would need to be good with the children as well as fulfilling their duties as guardians.
Indeed Caucasian Shepherds are reputed to be very loving towards their close family.
Yet very intolerant of strangers.
Are Russian Bear Dogs Dangerous?
Any large powerful breed with strong guarding instincts has the potential to be dangerous.
Especially in inexperienced hands or if not properly supervised.
The Russian Bear Dog is no exception
Aggression in dogs is strongly linked to fear and mistrust. And of course in the foothills of the Caucuses, it’s not an issue for a dog to mistrust strangers.
The shepherds that own such a dog may rarely come across other people while herding their sheep, and they’re also unlikely to wander into other dogs.
The only dog-like creature they are likely to come into contact with is a wolf, and shepherds have good reason to coach aggression in this circumstance.
It is challenging for a dog like this to adapt to the kinds of situations we expect pet dogs to accept without fuss.
We can overcome this mistrust of strangers to an extent through training and socialization.
Russian Bear Dog Training and Socialization
It’s obvious to most of us that a big strong dog needs to be well trained in order to be a well behaved canine citizen.
We’ll look at the importance of choosing the right training methods below. But first let’s consider perhaps the most important process that any puppy ever goes through.
Russian Bear Dog Socialization
Raising any large dog is invariably more of a responsibility than raising a much smaller one.
A small dog might injure somebody, but a large powerful dog like the Ovcharka has the potential to do much worse.
It is therefore of paramount importance that we do everything in our power to make this dog confident, tolerant, and gentle.
Socialization is the first thing you should think of when you bring any puppy home, and the way you go about this will have the biggest impact on your dog’s future temperament.
Very young puppies are usually fearless. They begin to be scared of unfamiliar people and experiences at around twelve weeks old.
Taking your dog out into public while he’s still a fearless puppy and exposing him to people and dogs will have a tremendous impact on how he sees strangers and strange dogs.
Lots of positive new experiences, will go a long way in cementing his confidence.
Without this extensive introduction to lots of people and dogs, a bear dog may view everyone unfamiliar as a threat.
With a powerful and naturally wary dog like the Caucasian Shepherd socialization is not just important. It is vital.
Russian Bear Dog training
Training should also be started early, provided modern methods are used.
Advocates of ‘traditional’ punishment based training should be wary of attempting these methods with a dog of this size or power.
Aside from the ethical dilemmas presented by hitting your dog, it’s important to avoid getting into a physical struggle with a large puppy. He may one day realize just how big and strong he is.
Luckily there’s an alternative, one that doesn’t pit you and your dog in a physical contest (a physical contest most of us would lose).
By using positive reinforcement based training, you can obtain results faster in a way that doesn’t make your dog nervous.
Russian Bear Dog exercise
Overweight dogs in general experience higher instances of diabetes and live shorter lives.
So it’s important to keep a bear dog in great shape.
On the other hand, giant dogs need special care when being exercised, to avoid putting undue strain on their joints. So it’s important not to over-exercise puppies.
And a Caucasian Shepherd will appreciate a significant amount of outdoor time and he won’t be averse to a bit of bad weather!
However, this is not an excuse to chain this dog up outside. Close contact with humans and freedom to move around, is essential.
Feeding a Russian Bear Dog
A dog that can weigh over 150lbs will get through a serious amount of food each week.
And it’s important that the food is high quality.
Like all big dogs, Caucasian Shepherds need to grow steadily and slowly on food specifically designed for giant breed puppies
Caucasian Shepherd health
No matter how well fed and exercised your dog is, there will be times when he gets sick.
When it comes to health the Caucasian Shepherd’s recent working history has ensured that the breed has a good basic structure.
But like most purebred dogs the Caucasian Shepherd is prone to a few inherited health issues.
Hip dysplasia is a problem in many larger breeds.
It’s an inherited condition that causes poorly formed hip joints. This can be made much worse by rapid growth, too much bodyweight, and inappropriate exercise in young puppies
In dogs with hip dysplasia, their malformed hips put extra stress on their joints, leading to long term pain and reduced activity.
A study of dogs in Croatia found that 43% of Caucasian Shepherds x-rayed had the condition. The resulting effects of hip dysplasia will invariably be made worse by the considerable weight of this breed.
Testing breeding stock helps to reduce the risk of hip dysplasia being passed on to puppies.
Both of a Russian Bear Dog puppy’s parents should have good hip scores to reduce the chances of him suffering too.
Caucasian Shepherds also suffer more frequently with eye problems than some other dogs.
Ophthalmic conditions including cataracts and uveitis can arise later in life.
Your puppy’s parents should both have clear eye tests, carried out through the Canine Eye Research Foundation, within a year of his birth.
Grooming a Russian Bear Dog
That impressive coat takes some looking after. Long fur can easily get matted if not groomed thoroughly and regularly
Many adult dogs don’t like being groomed and their owners struggle to keep thick fur from turning into a mass of tangles that have to be cut out.
Matted fur isn’t just unsightly, it can interfere with a dog’s vision and at his rear end it can become soiled and smelly.
The secret is to start grooming from the very beginning when your puppy is tiny.
You’ll need to do this before he gets so big that it becomes impossible!
While some dog do have to be euthanased due to painful hip problems, In most cases matted fur and even eye and hip problems are not likely to dramatically shorten your dog’s life.
Russian Bear Dog lifespan
Large dogs tend to have a shorter lifespan than older ones and the maximum you would expect a Russian Bear Dog to live is around 12 years
Buying hip and eye tested puppies will improve your dog’s quality of life
The biggest factor that you can control affecting longevity is obesity.
To help ensure your dog lives as long as possible, you will need to make sure that he or she stays slim.
So, we have covered quite a few different aspects of Russian Bear Dog care, temperament, health, and training needs so far.
And perhaps you now think you are ready to own one of these magnificent giants?
Caucasian Shepherd breeders
This breed has been well known in the west for long enough now that finding a breeder shouldn’t be too difficult.
Finding the right breeder however is always challenging.
You can contact ethical breeders via
- the Caucasian Working Dog Club of America
- Caucasian Shepherd Club of America
- the Caucasian Ovcharka Club of US
- United Kennel Club
Going through a reputable club will help to reduce the risk of buying from a puppy mill or irresponsible person that has not selected and tested their breeding stock carefully
Your breeder must produce certificates for both parent’s hip scores and eye exams.
You must also ask to see the parents to gauge their temperament and general health.
The parents will probably not be overly-friendly in the way you might expect of a Labrador for example.
But they should be comfortable in your presence and have a clear bond with their owners.
Russian Bear Dog puppy
Getting a new puppy is exciting and fun.
It’s also hard work!
The Russian Bear Dog owner needs to get stuck in straight away, and hit the ground running.
They’ll be balancing the need to get their puppy socialized with the need to keep them safe from diseases.
With most puppies this means carrying them into social situations.
No mean feat with a puppy this size!
You’ll find lots more information in our Puppies Section about socialization and training.
Here are some important links:
Successful first time bear dog owners will often have an experienced mentor.
Usually their breeder. But always a person experienced in raising and training a large guarding breed dog.
Russian Bear Dog price
A Russian Bear Dog puppy will cost between $1000-$2000 to buy.
Caucasian Shepherd price will vary from breeder to breeder. And we’ve seen puppies advertised for anywhere from $500 to $2000.
Be wary, however, of suspiciously cheap dogs. It’s likely that breeders offering cut price puppies will have provided cut price care.
The purchase price is just the beginning.
The Russian Bear Dog cost in the long run will include vets bills, so you might end up paying more for a cheaper pup.
Don’t forget to factor the following major expenses into your budget
- Pet Insurance
- Good quality puppy food
- Annual vaccinations and vacation boarding fees
- Strong, dog proof fencing around your yard
Do Russian Bear Dogs make good family pets
The Russian Bear Dog, if extensively socialized and expertly trained, could live as a family pet.
But the there are many breeds that are better suited to family life.
However, we urge caution. This magnificent dog really isn’t suited to anyone not experienced with large protective breeds.
If you really want to get involved with the breed, it’s usually best to start by helping out a breeder or volunteering at a rescue center.
If you are attracted to giant breed dogs, there are other large breeds that are more suitable family dogs.
Check out our sections on:
Pros And Cons of Getting A Russian Bear Dog
Let’s sum up by looking at the pros and cons of the Russian Bear Dog
- This rare and proud breed will certainly be beautiful to look at and a talking point with your friends. You could well have the coolest dog in town
- Your Russian Bear Dog will protect your home and family from intruders
- The Russian Bear dog needs to be trained by a competent and experienced person
- His heavy coat needs regular and thorough grooming
- Pet insurance premiums are likely to be higher than average
- Your food bill will be higher than average
- The breed needs regular exercise and time outdoors.
- Your property needs to be securely fenced or your dog will wander off
- If you fail to socialize and train your dog properly he could become a serious danger to your friends and to innocent visitors to your home
And it is for this last and most important reason that most good Russian Bear Dog breeders will take quite a bit of convincing that you are the right owner for one of their puppies.
Rescuing a Russian Bear Dog
One way to get that experience and to eventually bring home a Russian Bear Dog of your own, is to volunteer at a rescue center for the breed or for other large breed dogs.
Most rescue centers are grateful for volunteers who are willing to clean out, feed and even exercise, their dogs.
Practical experience with these breeds is vital if you are to become knowledgeable enough to make a success of owning one. And may eventually enable you to adopt a bear dog of your own.
Russian Bear Dog Breed Rescues
A list of breed rescue resources in USA, UK, Australia and Canada
Esquire Caucasians (USA) is a breeder involved in rescue
This German Shepherd rescue (UK) occasionally takes in Caucasian Shepherds
You can contact the Caucasian Ovcharka Rescue (USA) via their FB page
Are you ready for a Russian Bear Dog? Are you already a proud owner? Tell us about your dog or your hopes for one, in the comments below
- Ostavel et al. The first experience of livestock guarding dogs preventing large carnivore damages in Finland
- Stanin, Prevalence of hip dysplasia in dogs according to official radiographic screening in Croatia
- Kristen, RETROSPECTIVE STUDY ON THE PREVALENCE OF UVEITIS IN DOGS
- Ring, Livestock guarding dogs: their current use world wide
- Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behavior and welfare E. F. Hiby
- Gough A, Thomas A, O’Neill D. 2018 Breed Predispositions to Disease In Dogs and Cats. Wiley Blackwell
- O’Neill et al. 2013. Longevity and Mortality of Dogs Owned In England. The Veterinary Journal
- Duffy D et al. Breed differences in canine aggression. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 2008
This article has been extensively revised and updated for 2019