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Karakachan Dog

One of the oldest breeds of the region, the Karakachansko Kuche is a close cousin of other Balkan Molossers and Turkish breeds. Some believe that the Karakachan Dog is a descendant of old Thracian Wolfdogs, while others trace its roots to Central Asia and the mastiffs of Tibet, but the breed is in reality a regional subtype of the greater Sylvan breed. A number of fanciers link this breed to the rare variety of Turkish working dogs, known as Karayaka, possibly due to its name meaning "Black Runaway" in Turkish. The Karakachan Shepherd is the breed of the nomadic Sarakatsan people, a Hellenized Vlach population which had brought it to South-East Bulgaria centuries ago from Thessaly. With the migrations of the Sarakatsan herdsmen, these dogs could be seen in many regions of the Balkans, from Greece and Macedonia to Serbia and Romania, but it is Bulgaria where the Karakachansko Kuche has kept its name, even though it isn't its native breed. A small number of Karakachan dogs can reportedly still be found in Turkey, but their purity is questionable, with the majority of specimens being suspected of having been crossed with local sheepdogs. It should be noted that even in Turkey, the Bulgarian Shepherd breed is sometimes falsely referred to as the Karakachan nowadays, just like in Bulgaria.

The breed was well-accepted in some regions of Bulgaria and the Karakachansko Kuche has traditionally been used to move and guard livestock covering great distances. While Bulgarian cattle herders oftentimes employed over a hundred native Bulgarian Shepherd Dogs to protect herds of ten thousand sheep, the Sarakatsan herdsmen kept smaller packs of dogs and generally had smaller herds of sheep. Alongside the Bulgarian Shepherd Dog, the Karakachansko Kuche was also used by the Bulgarian Army prior to WW2, which is where the confusion regarding the Karakachan name started, according to some sources, since the military didn't make a distinction between the breeds it employed. This rugged livestock protection dog has been bred by the Sarakatsan shepherds and villagers for ages, but during the Cold War years its numbers dwindled. The Sarakatsan minority was discriminated against under the Communist rule in Bulgaria, during which time their herds were taken away from them and so without livestock to protect, their valued Karakachan Sheepdogs were reduced to being property guardians and by the late 1960's the leftover stock was assimilated into the Bulgarian Shepherd Dog breed. On a number of occasions over the next 20 years, the Bulgarian government ordered the extermination of the Karakachan Dogs, employing hunters to shoot hundreds of "useless" sheepdogs all over the country, a campaign that didn't only hurt the Karakachans, but also native Bulgarian breeds, including the magnificent Bulgarian Shepherd Dog.

Originally uniform black and with wavy or curly hair, the breed's appearance has somewhat changed over the years, due to crossings with the Bulgarian Shepherd, but also other dogs, such as the Shipka Sheepdog, Illyrian Goran, Bukovina Shepherd, Hellenikos Poimenikos, Bosnian Tornjak, Homolian Sheepdog and its closest relatives, the Macedonian Karaman and the Serbian Sylvan, as well as other breeds from neighbouring countries, resulting in a great variety of colours and sizes. Breeding programmes aimed at reviving the Bulgarian Shepherd Dog during the 1990's have also sparked some interest in the Karakachan Dog, but the original Karakachansko Kuche is reportedly no longer found in its pure form and is considered to be yet another extinct Molosser. The breed's memory lives on, but there is some controversy in Bulgaria today regarding the incorrect use of the Karakachan name for the increasingly and deservedly popular Bulgarian Shepherd Dog breed. A small number of surviving specimens is believed to still exist in some rural regions, but many of these examples are believed to be working crossdogs. Agile, resilient and driven, this ancient Molosser is an excellent livestock protector and a fantastic property guardian. The Karakachan Dog has a massive head, with a powerful muzzle and large teeth. Well-boned and muscular, this rugged working breed has a lean body, with a straight back and a fairly short neck. The chest is deep and wide, with strong, sturdy legs.

The coat is dense, harsh and slightly wavy, sometimes curly, although modern examples can also be seen with flat coats. Uniform black has traditionally been the preferred colouring, but black-n-tan and dark brown dogs were also common, with many of them having small white markings. Examples having greater amounts of white on their bodies should have clearly marked black or black-n-tan patches on the head. Although indicative of crossbreeding, light fawn and predominantly white dogs do exist, but their lighter physical build and smaller size can still be used to distinguish them from the Bulgarian Shepherd. Not as tall as some other mountain dogs of the Balkans, the average height for the Karakachansko Kuche is around 24 inches.

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