The Caucasian Shepherd, also known as the Caucasian Mountain Dog, Caucasian Ovcharka and by many other names, is a pure breed that is one of the oldest Molosser dogs. Although the origins and history of this breed are unclear, and the name suggests that they herd rather than guard, they are still maintained in the Caucasus Mountains (which spans Armenia, Azerbaijan, Daghestan and Georgia) and adjacent regions as a guard dog that fends off jackals, wolves and bears.
The history of the dog continues to be hotly contested, and it is not unusual to find remarks in blogs and book reviews about the breed that are as vehement as the dog's behavior. As such, there remains a basic confusion about the dog's beginnings, and the murky history is only slowly being cleared. There are those who state the breed comes from ancient cross-breeding between wolves and regional dogs, and those who claim that Mastiff-Spitz cross-breeding produced the Caucasian Shepherd, and then there are those who claim the ancestor to the Caucasian Shepherd is almost certainly the product of the Tibetan Dog and the Molosser Dog.
The Caucasus Mountains were the natural wall over which trade between the Near East and the region now known as Turkey with Russia was carried out, and on a larger scale, Europe and Asia; it was this latter aspect that is thought to have allowed a gift from the East to be brought to the region more than 3,000 years ago, and that from that gift was eventually bred the Caucasian Mountain Shepherd some 2,500 years ago.
This naturally aggressive dog is well-known for its size, ferocity and dangerous devotion to those to whom it has been taught to obey. Despite their genetic tendency to violence, a strain of the breed was successfully trained in the U.S.S.R. to be a show dog as well as a guard dog to factories and military facilities even as the main breed type remained in traditional service in Georgia. Perhaps the breed's most infamous task may have been when some 7,000 Caucasian Shepherds were employed to prevent people from crossing the Berlin Wall during its three decades of sordid service. A century and a half earlier, in his 1845 book The Dog, William Youatt wrote that the Molosser dog was "trained to war as well as the honors of the amphitheater…[and] had one redeeming quality—an inviolable attempt to their owners."
There are several strains of the Caucasian Shepherd, and they are all identified by the region from which they come; even then, there may be types within a regional variant that are identified by size, length of coat hair and/or the size of the muzzle — and then there are rare strains. It can all be easily confusing for those who are not native to the area, and there have been accusations that the simplification of the dog's breed name (and the variations that require a significant knowledge) has further confused what is and is not a Caucasian Shepherd. Because of this, we'll avoid attempting to identify these many and sundry strains and the regions and traits by which they are identified.
In any case, the Caucasian Shepherd has been employed for thousands of years as a guardian of sheep, cattle and the people and property that owned the flocks, and they remain in use in the same places for the same purpose. They were and are dangerously loyal — a factor that was highly appreciated by those who took their herds into the mountains where predators, weather and other humans were a constant threat.
Although the Caucasian Shepherd is becoming well-known outside its native region and Russia, the breed was only allowed to be exported from the Soviet Union in 1987 (two years before the very wall that some of them were guarding was torn down), and by 1988, the first Ovcharka had arrived in Finland. The Caucasian Shepherd was recognized by the FCI in 1984, by the UKC (as the Caucasian Mountain Dog) in 1995, and as the Caucasian Ovcharka by the AKC in 1996.