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The History of the Sharplaninec

For more details on various epochs in the history of the Sharplaninec, please follow the corresponding links or select an era of interest in the History menu.

The mighty Sharplaninec is a breed of true antiquity and probably the oldest genuine molosser in the world. Modern scientists agree today that these legendary guarding dogs are indigenous to the territory of Macedonia and Southern Serbia, specifically the Sar mountain range in natural southward extension into Mavrovo and the northern Pindus mountains. Dogs of this general phenotype have existed in the region since the Neolithic, when first agricultural civilizations discovered sheep farming and established lifestyles of fixed transhumanceFixed Transhumance describes vertical seasonal livestock movement, i.e. to higher pastures in the summer and to the lower valleys in winter. The herders themselves have permanent homes in the valley. with an implicit need for big and courageous guarding dogs. This created a new selective regime on domesticated village dogs, yielding a  fundamentally distinctive gestalt that remained nearly unchanged in the Sharplaninec ever since. By the time of the bronze age and explicitly during the era of Alexander the Great, the revered sheep guarding dogs of this region have been noted for their unsurpassed loyalty and bravery. Aristotle writes in “History of Animals”, Book IX, 350BC, “Of the Molossian breed of dogs, such as are employed in the chase are pretty much the same as those elsewhere; but sheep-dogs of this breed are superior to the others in size, and in the courage with which they face the attacks of wild animals”. Indeed, the molossers of the Balkan peninsula quickly acquired an outstanding reputation as being such extraordinary canines that by the time of the Roman Empire, these massive gladiator dogs of the amphitheaters were consistently referred to as Molossians. Ultimately, their esteemed status further accelerated their spread throughout the known world, where they have undoubtedly influenced many of the native dog types. While many of those relocated dogs subsequently  underwent substantial permutations, the sheep dogs of the original mountain ranges maintained true to the steadiness of their respective local ecosystem. Well into medieval times, the Sharplaninec is said to have been repeatedly exposed to wolf blood. This was primarily carried out to maintain that certain untamed core of these dogs, but also to improve the breed's overall health. Residual manifestations of such recurrent hybridizations with East-European wolves are for example the unusually large teeth of Sharplaninec dogs, which set them apart from most other dogs, as well as late maturity and periodically prolonged  heat cycles in female Shars that can last 9 to 12 months. During the 500 years of Ottoman oppression, the turks likely brought their own dogs with them, which occasionally interbred with the local breeds, but more often than not forced the villagers to keep their own working livestock guardian dogs in strict isolation within the respective boundaries of their Christian villages. This segregation along ethnic lines in turn resulted in the strict breeding separations with dogs of varying phenotype. In the early 1900s, the ruling Serbian army decided to recruit these ferocious sheep guardian dogs from the Macedonian mountains and employ them as reliable guards and war dogs for the military. Once again, these dogs were revered for their bravery and strength. In 1931, a Slovenian cynologist and dog enthusiast named Franjo Bulc selected several specimens from Macedonia, which he at the time considered to be exemplary specimens, and brought them to Ljubljana. Originally, these giant dogs from Macedonia were mainly intended to improve the diminishing numbers of the smaller Slovenian Kraski Ovcar, as they were initially falsely considered to be of the same breed. Together with the Krasevac, the Sharplaninec was officially registered in 1939 under  the incorrect and in retrospect very misleading name “Ilirski Ovcar” (Illyrian Sheepdog). Beginning in 1947, they were systematically bred in professional breeding farms such as the Cattlebreeding Cooperative in the village of Gari on Stogovo mountain. After World War II, these phenomenal dogs eventually sparked the interest of the Yugoslav Army, which even promoted them as national icons. The renowned military kennel “Marshal Josip Broz Tito” methodically bred and utilized them as very capable service dogs. The Sharplaninec dogs were in fact of such importance that until 1970 it was absolutely illegal to export these dogs out of the country. It wasn't before 1975, when the first Sharplaninec puppy was brought down from the mountains on a donkey's back to be exported to the United States. In 1995, the United Kennel Club officially recognized the Sharplaninec as a pure breed in the United States. In 1996, the FCI breed standard was changed once again to include a slight name change, mainly to pay tribute to the breeds Macedonian origin. Today the breed is rightfully known as Macedonian-Yugoslav Shepherd dog – Sharplaninec.

Arx 2007

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