The Ukrainian Shepherd, more commonly known as the South Russian Ovcharka or the South Russian Shepherd, is a gorgeous dog that’s part of the herding dog group. They’re a relatively large breed that packs a ton of lively energy and active temperament.
Many say that this breed is like the typical Russian—strong, robust, dominant, and extremely resistant to strong weather.
Although now classified as a shepherd dog, Ukrainian Shepherds are excellent guard dogs due to their fierce and protective nature. Their strength and stamina allow them to patrol their territory for hours on end.
Despite Ukrainian Shepherds being a lovable breed, taking care of them do pose several challenges. Is the Ukrainian Shepherd dog suited for you and your family? Let’s find out.
History of Ukrainian Shepherd Dogs
The origin of Ukrainian Shepherds isn’t set in stone.
Some sources claim that they were a natural descendent of the local shepherding dogs native to Ukraine and Russia. At the time, the zoologist, Leonid Pavlovich Sabaneyev, described these dogs as Russian Shepherds or Russian wolf-killers.
The FCI, however, believe that Ukrainian Shepherds only became well-known after immigrating to Russia, and were actually imported from Spain and other European countries. This fact is mentioned in the XXVI volume of the complete collection of the Russian Empire laws.
As time passed, these cross-breed dogs became widespread in the southern regions of Russia. As such, these dogs were known in Western countries and Europe as the “Ukrainian Shepherd” or the “Russian Shepherd.”
Whatever their history, one thing is for certain; Ukrainian Shepherds are a direct descendant of wolves. Along the way, they were crossed with several local shepherd dogs and sighthounds.
It’s thanks to these sighthounds that the Ukrainian Shepherds have such an impressive speed and a strong will to hunt, protect, and guard.
The Ukrainian Shepherd’s Almost-Extinction
Traditionally, these dogs were used to protect and patrol livestock herds from fearsome predators. However, as many farmers moved away from animal production and preferred planting instead, the Ukrainian Shepherd’s existence was under threat.
In the early 1920s, a man by the name of Professor Brauner took it upon himself to restore the Ukrainian Shepherd’s breed. His efforts were shortly rewarded, and by the early USSR period in the1930s, the first official standard of the breed was approved.
Now, Ukrainian Shepherds are among some of the top favorite breeds in Europe. Not only because they’re beautiful, but because they’re exceptionally loyal towards their owners. Furthermore, they make excellent guard dogs!
An Introduction to the Ukrainian Shepherd Dog: Appearance, Temperament, Personality, and More
Despite their cute, non-threatening, fluffy appearance, Ukrainian Shepherds are some of the world’s largest and most powerful herding dogs. They’re fierce, dominant in character, and increasingly distrustful of strangers.
As such, those who are planning to own Ukrainian Shepherds must be firm, consistent, and confident in their commands. These dogs WILL respond negatively to nervous activity. They’re not for the faint of heart, or for timid or passive owners.
Ukrainian Shepherd Appearance
The Ukrainian Shepherd is of above-medium to large size, with a moderately long body. Underneath his rugged exterior, he has a hefty bone structure and well-developed muscles.
He has a pair of small, drop-down ears that sit on top of a long head, and ends with a large, black nose. His chest is deep and broad. As for his tail, it’s relatively short and covered in thick fur.
His body is covered in a coarse, shaggy, weather-proof coat that’s usually 4 to 6 inches in length. Underneath the topcoat lies an undercoat that’s dense and thick to protect him from harsh climates. The texture is often described similar to that of a goat. Oftentimes, his fur covers his eyes.
Ukrainian Shepherds come in a variety of colors, with white being the most common. Others include fawn and grey.
Ukrainian Shepherd Height and Weight
Similar to any other dog breed, male Ukrainian Shepherds are larger than females. According to the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI), males stand no less than 25 inches, with the average being 25-27 inches.
As for their weight, male Ukrainian Shepherds must weigh no less than 77 lbs. On average, males weigh about 100-110 lbs.
On the other hand, females must stand no less than 24 inches, with the average being 24-26 inches. They should weigh no less than 66 lbs. Average female Ukrainian Shepherds weigh about the same as their male counterparts, 100-110 lbs.
Ukrainian Shepherd Personality
Before I met and learned more about the Ukrainian Shepherd, I figured he was similar to the Bearded Collie; strong, gentle, and a little clumsy. I couldn’t have been farther from the truth. As they say, never judge the book by its cover, especially when it comes to dogs!
The Ukrainian Shepherd is a working dog through and through. For this reason, it isn’t surprising that they’re defensive and highly protective of their family and the territory they live in. They’re quite dominant and wilful, as well.
Because these dogs are used to working without their owners or other humans by their side, they’re extremely independent. Thus, they tend to be some of the most undemanding dogs alive. They can easily entertain themselves, and oftentimes rarely seek human companionship.
Ukrainian Shepherd Temperament
Ukrainian Shepherds are strong-hearted, courageous, and dominant. They rarely show signs of fear. If not properly socialized and handled when young, they can be impetuous, nervous, or even aggressive.
This breed is only suitable for experienced owners that have a natural authority and a firm hand. If these dogs feel that their owners are weak, they’ll try to overtake the leader in the “pack” and defy them. They’re descendants of wolves, after all, so this behavior is to be expected.
Ukrainian Shepherd With Children
Ukrainian Shepherds are relatively patient with children. Despite that, they do need to know them well before fully trusting them. Therefore, these dogs are more suited for bigger children, preferably teens, who are well instructed and well informed on how to care for a dog.
Nonetheless, they’re not usually unnecessarily aggressive. Children of all ages should be safe around Ukrainian Shepherds. However, as is true with other large dog breeds, it’s best to keep children supervised around them.
Caring For Ukrainian Shepherd Dogs
Ukrainian Shepherds are considered a medium to high-maintenance breed. They don’t require anything overly special during their maintenance. Despite that, taking care of this breed does pose a few challenges along the way.
Ukrainian Shepherds are to be groomed like any other long-haired breed.
Because Ukrainian Shepherds sport a long coat, it needs a fair amount of maintenance to be kept clean and healthy. Depending on the dog’s lifestyle, whether he’s kept as a shepherd dog or an indoor guard dog, the level of grooming differs.
Nonetheless, it’s best to regularly brush their coat at least once a week to prevent extreme tangles and matting. They shed moderately during their high shedding season, typically in spring, and tend to get fairly dirty when playing outside.
Most Ukrainian Shepherds are white in color, which makes dirt and/or mud even more visible. As such, it’s recommended for them to be bathed weekly or bi-weekly, as long as their coat is properly maintained in between.
Make sure to use gentle dog shampoo and conditioner when bathing your Ukrainian Shepherd, to ensure his coat’s longevity and softness.
Many owners prefer to take them to professionals to ensure they’re thoroughly brushed, trimmed and cleaned. Try to take them to be cleaned in the groomers at least once a month or two.
Like any other breed, Ukrainian Shepherds need their nails trimmed on a semi-regular basis. Once a week or twice a week is sufficient.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), it’s time for a nail trim when their toenails “just about touch the ground when he or she walks.”
Along with nail clipping, oral hygiene is equally important. Regularly brush the teeth of your Ukrainian Shepherd, preferably 4 to 5 times a week, if not regularly.
Make sure to always brush his teeth to avoid gingivitis, receding gums, and tooth loss. Give him access to plenty of chew toys, as well, to keep his teeth healthy.
Ukrainian Shepherds are incredibly intelligent and independent. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, they often require professional training.
Training them isn’t hard, per se, but their strong-willed nature means that even when fully trained, they’ll still make decisions unless firmly told otherwise.
Many owners believe that they’re “almost impossible” to train by themselves. But don’t let that deter you. The truth is, Ukrainian Shepherds aim to understand the rigors of training quite quickly, if only to go about their day sooner. They pick up things fairly fast, as well.
So as for trainability, I’d say it isn’t too easy nor too hard. It’s more in the medium-range difficulty.
Here are some tips to help train Ukrainian Shepherd dogs:
- Ukrainian dogs can be stubborn and/or hardheaded, so you need to extend your patience when training them.
- Assert your dominance with obedience training. A firm hand is necessary when training these dogs.
- Be confident but not overly aggressive. Punish if you must, but don’t do it too often as it might deter or anger your pup.
- Teach your pup to be more welcoming towards other animals or people.
- Train your pup as early as possible to avoid running into behavioral issues down the line.
Ukrainian Shepherds are high-energy dogs, meaning they need a regular exercise routine to keep them happy, healthy, and behaved. It’s best to give them lots of space to run around and play, whether it be with a companion or by themselves.
These dogs require a little over an hour of daily exercise. This includes walking, running, and playing fetch.
Common Health Concerns Found in Ukrainian Shepherd Dog Breed
Ukrainian Shepherds are generally healthy dogs. Nonetheless, they’re predisposed to several health conditions that include:
Bloat or Gastric Torsion
Like many other large dog breeds, Ukrainian Shepherds are susceptible to bloat or gastric torsion.
The term “bloat” is often used to describe two different medical conditions: gastric dilatation (GV), where the stomach fills with gas. And gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), which causes a twisted stomach in addition to being filled with gas.
This medical condition is quite serious and may cause potentially life-risking health issues. This includes little to no blood flow in a dog’s stomach lining, a tear in the wall of his stomach, and shock.
Treatment entirely depends on how severe the dog’s bloat is. In both cases, it requires immediate medical attention before it worsens.
The symptoms of bloating includes:
- Excessive drooling
- Visibly hard, swollen stomach
- Retching repeatedly without nothing coming up
- Stretching with his front half down, and rear up
- Looking anxious, uncomfortable, or in pain
Hip dysplasia occurs when a dog develops a deformity of the hip as he grows. The hip fails to grow uniformly during puppyhood, resulting in laxity or looseness of the joint, followed by degenerative joint disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis (OA).
This skeletal condition is hereditary and especially common in larger dogs, including the Great Dane, Saint Bernard, and, of, course, the Ukrainian Shepherd.
The good news is, hip dysplasia is entirely treatable. Treatment options differ depending on severity, but the most common is lifestyle modifications, physical therapy, and, in more severe cases, surgery.
Symptoms found in hip dysplasia include:
- Decreased activity and range of motion
- Reluctance to rise, jump, run, and climb on stairs
- Lameness in the hind leg
- “Bunny hopping” gait
- Stiffness ‘
Just like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia results from various abnormalities in the development in the elbow joint. Currently, it’s unknown what causes the disorder, but it’s said to be hereditary.
Most Ukrainian Shepherds live normal lives even with elbow dysplasia. Others, however, do require surgery to allow them to live without pain. It isn’t a fatal disease, but it does cause pain to those who suffer from it.
- Swollen, puffy elbows
- Front paws pointing at a strange angle
- Less enthusiasm to walk and play, even refusing at times
- Limping or stiffness
Aortic stenosis is a congenital heart condition common in large dogs. This heart disease is characterized by the narrowing of the heart’s value and/or its surrounding arteries. As a result, it obstructs normal blood flow, forcing the heart to pump even harder.
In severe aortic stenosis, surgery and/or beta-blockers may be required. But in more common, milder cases, owners must avoid intense exercise and other dietary and lifestyle changes.
- Exercise intolerance
- Shortness of breath or increased panting
Osteoarthritis is a condition characterized by the progressive deterioration and loss of function of the dog’s joint cartilage. It commonly occurs in older Ukrainian Shepherds.
The cause of osteoarthritis ranges from cancer to infections. It’s extremely painful for dogs and will limp more and more as the pain increases. In severe cases, joints audibly grate together when the dog moves.
Treatment typically begins with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or steroids. Surgery is an option, as well.
The symptoms of osteoarthritis commonly include:
- Difficulty getting up
- Reluctance to run, jump, and play
- Sounds of pain when petted or touched
- Loss of muscle mass
- Difficulty posturing to urinate or defecate
- Accidents in the house despite being potty trained
- Irritability or changes in behavior
Ukrainian Shepherd Lifespan
A Ukrainian Shepherd’s life expectancy is about average for a dog, ranging from between 9 to 11 years.
As follows are some of the most frequently asked questions about Ukrainian Shepherd dogs:
No, they’re not hypoallergenic dogs. If you’re prone to allergic reactions, it’s best to look at Poodles, Terriers, Afghan Hounds, and Irish Wolfhounds instead.
Ukrainian Shepherds shed moderately. They do, however, shed heavily once a year, in spring. While there’s virtually nothing we, as dog owners, can do to stop a healthy dog from shedding, we can absolutely reduce it.
Simply brush your Ukrainian Shepherds regularly and you’re golden.
You can, but it isn’t recommended. These dogs need plenty of space, and a fairly large fenced backyard to play in daily.
In Europe, predominantly in Ukraine and Russia, Ukrainian Shepherd dogs are well-loved and treasured. Many owners love keeping them as guard dogs, mainly because they’re so fiercely protective of their home and family.
There’s no denying that these dogs are adorable and fluffy, but don’t let their deceptive appearance fool you. In reality, they’re some of the most dominant breeds alive. Plus, they’re independent and require little human interaction.
Despite that, they’re still quite affectionate and playful towards those they trust. Once he gets to know you and your family, expect a life-long protector and friend who always has your back, no matter what.
Now let’s answer the most important question of all: Is the Ukrainian Shepherd for you?
If you’re an experienced dog owner who’s looking for a challenge, absolutely!
Do keep in mind, however, that Ukrainian Shepherds are high-maintenance dogs. So before getting one yourself, make sure you have enough time to train them thoroughly and take care of them throughout their lives.
Forrest is a lover of dogs, the wild outdoors, deep mysterious conversations… and coffee. He is the owner of several websites, including Canine Weekly. He resides in Austin, Texas.