Ingenious to this region, the Macedonian shepherd dog is perhaps the most characteristic embodiment of the rough yet breathtaking Macedonian landscape. With thick fur, and independent disposition, it perfectly symbolizes the formidable mountain terrain. Known by many names, its origin can be tracked to the Sar Mountains, where this gorgeous animal has been a livestock guardian for what seems to be an eternity.
The Sarlaninec, as Macedonians call it, is a molosser type mountain dog. Solidly built, these large breeds descent from a common ancestor. Now present throughout the Balkan Peninsula, the breed itself has originated from the steep pastures of Shara Mountain. Geographically shared between Macedonia, Serbia and Albania, the name and origin has been somewhat of an issue.
Formerly known as the Illyrian shepherd dog, the Sharplaninec is also called the Yugoslavian shepherd dog, Sharplaninac, Macedonian shepherd dog and Serbian shepherd dog. All names, however, point to the same standard of breed, now officially recognized by the FCI under the FCI-Standard Number 41 – Yugoslavian Shepherd Dog – Sharplanina.
The breed is a symbol of national pride, being put on the back of the 1 Denar coin – the Macedonian currency. It is an animal so familiar to Macedonains, and their history, that small children would often hear stories about Sharko (the diminutive nickname most commonly used).
Nowadays, you can hardly immerse yourself completely into the Macedonian countryside without seeing a beautiful Sharplaninec. They are most common around Sara Mountain, but also on the neighboring mountain terrain of Bistra, Korab, and in fact the entire northwestern region of Macedonia. The country has around 20 official kennels, but you can find many breeders in the rural terrain around Mavrovo and Galicnik.
The puppies are especially beautiful, looking clumsy and cute, like small balls of fur.
The origin of the Macedonian shepherd dog
While the theories find the ancestor in the Tibetan Mastiff, who was brought to the northern Balkan region during the great migrations, some breeders tend to disagree.
Greek and Roman sources, dating from several centuries before the migrations, explicitly mention a certain breed that has lived in this region for many centuries back.
Aristoteles would describe the magnificent hound from Epirus, as mostly dark, with a coat that is thick and long. Fearless, robust, with a big head and lion’s mane…
It is believed therefore, that the Tibetan Mastiff brought perhaps a slight change in the ingenious breed, but most of what we known as the Sharplaninec today must date even further back.
The people from the Sharplanina region, mostly thanks to the topographical setting, have always cared for large herds of sheep, allowing this massive breed to transfer working genes from one generation to another, ultimately shaping his character.
Sharplaninec – Appearance
The Sharplaninec is a large, gracious, and strongly built canine. Comparative to its height at the withers, the body is slightly longer, yet very proportionate. The front legs account for 55% of its height, allowing for a gracious looking alert posture. The head, strong and large, features a powerful and dark muzzle, with floppy ears and somewhat of a mane.
His size is well above the average, and his robust body is covered with a thick, long and coarse coat. Dense and about 4 inches in length, the coat can be rough or smooth. The tail is long and strong, carried in a slight curve like a sabre.
The color of the fur is not always consistent when comparing different dogs. They are usually sable with darker overalls on the head and back with an undercoat that is paler. Mostly solid in color, Sharplaninec dogs can be iron grey, fawn, or almost black. They can feature a brighter gradient of grey, and sometimes even white.
The stride, according to the FCI standard, is long and elastic. At gallop, the Sharplaninec appears to be somewhat clumsy, but his jumps are usually long, covering plenty of ground. The average height, for males, is 62 cm, and for bitches 58 cm. The weight, for male dogs in good working condition should measure between 35 and 45 Kg, and for female between 30 and 40 Kg.
The temperament of the Macedonian shepherd dog
Before continuing further, a brief clarification regarding the name… While the official standard recognizes this breed as the Yugoslavian shepherd dog, most of the other varieties are commonly used throughout the Balkan Peninsula. Local customs and tradition oblige me to refer to this magnificent breed as Sharplaninec, and Macedonian shepherd dog, while other people from the Balkan would use Sharplaninac, or Yugoslavian Shepherd dog.
Professional breeders from the region would acknowledge each linguistic variation, without complaints or remarks. The most highly recognized shows, not surprisingly, take place in either Serbia or Macedonia, and there is no official dispute over the name of the breed.
The temperament of Sharplaninac is also defined within the FCI standard. We will talk about it in layman terms, from field gathered research, describing our first hand impression with this magnificent animal.
The Sharplaninec is independent – it won’t submit to the owner, but rather choose its master. Loyal, reliable, and incorruptible, this shepherd dog is a desired temperament archetype.
Calm and reserved, it is very protective but never snappy. Devoted to its master, highly territorial and always alert, it is the ideal shepherd dog. A pure breed specimen will be gentle, serene and calm when around small kids and smaller dogs, but consistent and firm training is of utmost importance to ensure compliance. It is known that the Sharplaninec dog is especially reserved until the danger presents itself, when he becomes a formidable foe.
Highly intelligent, they are susceptible to training, and guarding large flocks without the supervision of their master.
What you need to know about the living conditions
Originating from vast pastures and high altitude mountain terrain, the Sharplaninec does not fare well in urban areas, especially apartment life. With an all-weather coat, this breed is very content to live and sleep outdoors.
The character, on the other hand, demands an active outdoor life. The ideal living conditions would be found on a farm, perhaps with a flock to protect.
If you are keeping him outside of the farm environment, the dog needs to be taken for a regular walk, and have a reasonably large area where he can spend most of the day. Once again, apartment life is not recommended.
The breed has a usual life expectancy of about 11-13 years, and no significant health problems would manifest when the dog is properly cared for.
Having a densely coated fur, the occasional brushing is highly recommended. However, the breed is capable of self-hygiene and would often clean its own coat, both skillfully and graciously. In the lack of a herd, the Sharplaninec is the perfect bodyguard for small kids, staying reserved but alarmed in the possible case of danger.
The bark is deep, loud, and quite heavy, so neighbors might complain. If you are not around, make sure to lock the gate or present an obvious sign that you are keeping a large breed dog. You won’t like for a stranger to come by, wandering in your yard, when you are not around.
The working life of the Sharplninec
The first military employment came from the Yugoslavian army back in 1928. Army officials noted that the breed can excel at a variety of tasks, but they used it as a guardian dog first and foremost.
Before that, the breed has been watching over herds of sheep for centuries back, and professionals argue that this is the most suitable task for this gracious animal.
The stubborn and independent nature requires early socialization, with the intent to avoid, or at least control aggression and weariness of strangers.
Today, the Sharplaninec is used by the military of Serbia, as a guardian dog in formidable mountain regions. In Canada and the US, on the other hand, the breed is tasked with defending against and controlling coyotes – a working tradition that began during the mid-seventies when successful exports have been carried out.
If you undertake one of the many Macedonian outdoor adventures, and ask locals in rural areas about the Sharplaninec, you’ll hear about their feats of guarding against, and sometimes even killing wolves. A grown Sharplaninec, as they say, would never abandon his herd.
The next time you visit Macedonia, make sure to organize a local guide who will introduce you to one of this gorgeous animals, preferably in the rural setting of the western mountainous belt. You can also attend a local show, and see the Macedonian shepherd dog in his full glory.