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Bulgarian Shepherd Dog

One of the most valued and oldest European working breeds, the Bulgarian Shepherd Dog is related to a number of Molossers, from the dogs of Tibet and Central Asia to the mighty shepherds of the Caucasus, Turkey and the Balkans. Believed by some to have roots in the original Thracian livestock guardians, the breed was developed by the proto-Bulgarians, who introduced their own working dogs from Central Asia to the territory of modern Bulgaria in the 7th century. Some influence of other Balkan breeds helped establish the early type and the Bulgarian Shepherd Dog has been consistently bred following strict working requirements for centuries. With the introduction of the Karakachanskoto Kuche to Bulgaria by the nomadic Sarakatsan people and its acceptance by the Bulgarian sheep herders, the Bulgarian Shepherd Dog finally evolved into the legendary breed it became known as for years to come.

Unfortunately, this also resulted in the disappearance of the true Karakachan Dog and its name being improperly used for the Bulgarian Shepherd Dog. These two breeds are NOT the same, but many authors have been perpetuating this myth for quite a few years now and the incorrect use of the Karakachan name is unfortunately widespread, even among some Bulgarian Shepherd Dog fanciers. The pure Bugarsko Ovcharsko Kuche is a true national treasure in its country and has achieved a legendary status for its noble personality and fantastic working qualities. The culture of livestock breeding has had a long tradition in Bulgaria and these majestic dogs have played a crucial role in preserving the herds that oftentimes numbered over 12000 animals. By employing up to a hundred dogs to protect their livestock from wolves and other predators, the proud shepherds have successfully maintained their lifestyle and culture for many years. Moving these enormous herds, the Bulgarian herdsmen and their dogs spent their summer months in the mountains, where they protected their grazing "Tzakel" sheep from wolves, while in wintertime they would stay in the Black Sea coastal regions.

These powerful guard dogs could be found in many areas of Bulgaria, with minimal appearance differences between regional types, but the most famous dogs are said to have been developed in the Stara Planina, Pirin, Rila and Rhodopes mountainous regions. Like in Serbia, Greece and other neighbouring countries, the Bulgarian herdsmen sometimes cut one of the dog's ears off, based on ancient traditions and superstitions. A working Bulgarian Shepherd Dog was always fitted with a "Hanaka", a spiked collar designed to protect the dog during the fights with wolves and bears. The traditional practices encountered in Bulgarian rural parts display a very special relationship people have with their dogs. The dog enjoys the status of an equal to humans, if not an even higher one. When the shepherd's family has dinner, it is the dog that eats it meal first, followed by the humans and only then the livestock get fed. Another interesting detail about the traditional upkeep of the Bulgarian Shepherd Dog is its diet, which is a purely vegetarian meal, comprised of wheat, oats, milk and water, with absolutely no meat. Some fanciers believe that it is this very practice that helped the Bugarski Goran to evolve into a calm and reliable worker, instead of a bloodthirsty beast that has traditionally been bred for in some other cultures for guarding duties. Like its closest cousin, the Bosnian Tornjak, the pure Bulgarian Shepherd Dog is also a remarkably long-lived canine, sometimes reaching over 20 years of age, without losing any of its working abilities. Its trainability and imposing size made this impressive Moloss a popular breed with the Bulgarian Army in the first half of the 20th century, but it was mostly used for its primary duties of protecting farms and guarding livestock.

After the 2nd World War, with the near-extinction of wolves and nationalization of property, the need for large numbers of working dogs has diminished and in the 1960's the Communist government ordered massive exterminations of sheepdogs all over Bulgaria that lasted for 20 years. Only a limited number of dogs survived, mostly those specimens still employed by the government-controlled farms and in the remote rural regions of Bulgaria. During the tumultuous times of social change in the early 1990's, the government disbanded their farms and ordered the elimination of their working dogs yet again. In the mountains, the herdsmen tried to preserve their prized shepherd dogs, but were eventually forced to introduce other breeds into the bloodline of the Bugarsko Ovcharsko Kuche, with hopes of keeping the breed alive. During the last decade of the 20th century, commercial breeding of the Bulgarian Shepherd Dog resulted in some controversy, although it was initially done for noble reasons of saving the breed.

By reportedly using St.Bernards, Caucasian Ovcharkas, Bosnian Tornjaks, Sarplaninacs and Central Asian Ovcharkas in their breeding programmes, some breeders have created bloodlines possessing uncharacteristic physical and behaviour traits, all under the guise of promoting their national breed, while incorrectly using the Karakachan name. A number of Bulgarian Shepherd Dog historians and enthusiasts have been questioning the motives behind these practices and are concerned about the breed's future. Still, there are knowledgeable and dedicated breeders to be found, whose only interest is the preservation of the original Bulgarian Shepherd Dog, with the emphasis on old values, such as working abilities, personality and true type. The breed received official national recognition in 2000.

The Bugarsko Ovcharsko Kuche is a massive, muscular and immensely powerful Molosser, strongly-boned, very agile and remarkably fast. Fierce and committed enough to confront and kill a wolf, this wonderful working dog also possesses extraordinary intelligence and the ability to distinguish between real and false threats, making it a reliable watchdog and property guardian. Easy to train and devoted to its master, the Bulgarian Shepherd Dog makes a lovely family companion, but it requires early socialization, due to its strong territorial instincts and unfriendly attitude towards strange dogs.

The coat is long, harsh and thick, fully weatherproof and relatively easy to take care of. In the past, all colours were common, since the shepherds bred their dogs for working qualities only, but modern breeders are promoting a single type, based on recognizable appearance standards, which is the fluffy, white dog with black patches. Although this is the preferred and most common colouring, other varieties can still be found within the breed. The average height is around 28 inches.

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