Russian Prison Guard Dogs – The Legendary Caucasian Ovcharka
The Caucasian Ovcharka’s bloodlines carry the influence of the Molasser, an ancient Mastiff who is often depicted in Roman art wearing a thick collar and spikes and looking fierce. FCI says that dogs of the same type as the current Ovcharka have been used in the Armenian Army since at least the 1st century BCE.
This influence can be seen in many domestic breeds today, including the English Mastiff and Rottweiler and St. Bernard. The modern Caucasian Ovcharka, like many domestic breeds, was given its first written breed standard in 1930. It was also first displayed at a German dog show around the same time as the Trans-Caucasian Ovtcharka. This breed was large and muscular with thick coats. The “Kavaskaya Sokoka,” a lighter breed with shorter hair, was also popular.
The current name for the breed was not adopted until 1970 when the Soviets created an “official” breed type within Russian Kynological Federation. The standard was changed, and the three types of a breed recognized today were divided according to their coat type: long, short and intermediate.
The AKC accepted the Caucasian Ovcharka into its Foundation Stock Service in the United States in 1996. Both the AKC as well as the FCI classify them as a working breed.
A Patrol and Prison Guard Dog – Working in Russia’s Depths
One of the many breeds that helped patrol the Berlin Wall in Germany during the 1960s was the Caucasian Ovcharka dog. These dogs were nearly 7,000 strong when the wall was torn apart in 1989. They were then placed with shrewd breeders across Germany. German breeders try to preserve some of the dogs’ more aggressive personality traits while keeping their intelligence and protective instinct intact. According to the Caucasian Ovcharka working dog club of America, breeders from other countries want to “soften” the breed’s temperament. This is creating controversy among dog lovers on both sides.
The Caucasian Ovcharka’s popularity has remained constant in Russia for almost a thousand years. This breed is still popular as a show dog, livestock guard and can be used extensively in military and prison guard duties.
Russian military guards and prison guards train their dogs rigorously. Both guards and dogs spend hundreds of hours training their dogs. This is done to build a trusting working relationship and a fearless dog that does its job without anxiety. The pups are socialized from the age of nine weeks. They will soon find themselves in dangerous situations requiring fear and aggression. They may be required to work at night and exposed to loud noises such as gunfire or prisoners shouting. The most aggressive behavior in each situation is the one that gets the most points.
It is not new to think of the Caucasian Ovcharka being used as a service animal. Their jobs changed dramatically from livestock guard to prison guard during Stalin’s reign.
Stalin’s plans could only have been realized by literally enslaving his people. Stalin had gulags, also known as prisons, built in the Russian Empire’s taiga. Many of these were located in the Siberian frozen hell. A 1940s book about forced labor camps reveals that dogs like the Caucasian Ovcharka were taught to hate anyone wearing ragged, torn clothing. Poor souls were forced to live with an intimidating animal like this. There was no escape.
However, times have changed, and Russian prisons can now house real criminals. While the Caucasian Ovcharka’s prey drive is still important, intelligence and health are key factors in this job selection. The Ovcharka can distinguish between prisoners and prison guards and between its family members (including animals and humans) and strangers. While they can be expected to strike prisoners at will, they must also maintain their composure and give their handlers the time to evaluate the situation before they jump in. A nervous or weak-minded dog is not suited for prison guard duty.
Russian Guard Dog Extraordinaire – The Caucasian Ovcharka Is Unmatched
No matter how many people are in the show ring, the Caucasian Ovcharka will always be a guardian. Although their job title has changed from protecting livestock in the mountains to protecting people in various capacities, they remain intelligent, assertive, and courageous animals. It should be treated with respect and taught to respect other animals and people of all sizes. According to the Caucasian Ovcharka Working Dog Club of America, Ovcharkas cannot receive enough socialization or training. These powerful dogs must be taught basic obedience before six months old. This includes sit and stay with distractions as well as proper healing and leash walking.
It is hard to believe that the Caucasian Ovcharka can ever be socialized and trained enough. These dogs can be loyal companions and guardians if they are properly trained and handled.