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Croatian Sheepdog

Nicole Cosgrove

June 18, 2021

The Croatian Sheepdog is an ancient herding breed native to Croatia where it has lived mostly on the Slavonia plains for hundreds of years. It is also called Hrvatski ovčar and Kroatischer Schäferhund and is Croatia’s oldest dog breed. It has a life span of 12 to 14 years and is a hard working, athletic and adaptable breed. As well as being talented herding dogs it is also able to do well in various different canine sports and is popular as a companion dog. However as it does have a strong will it is best suited to experienced owners.

The Croatian Sheepdog at a Glance
Name Croatian Sheepdog
Other names Hrvatski ovčar, Kroatischer Schäferhund
Nicknames None
Origin Croatia
Average size Medium
Average weight 29 to 43 pounds
Average height 16 to 21 inches
Life span 12 to 14 years
Coat type Wavy to curly, dense
Hypoallergenic No
Color Black, also have some white markings.
Popularity Not a registered member of the AKC
Intelligence Good to very good
Tolerance to heat Good
Tolerance to cold Very good
Shedding Average – will be some hair around the home
Drooling Average – some but not a great deal
Obesity Average – track its exercise and measure its food
Grooming/brushing Low to average – brush once or twice a week
Barking Occasional to frequent – training to stop it on command may be a good idea
Exercise needs Very active – needs active owners
Trainability Moderately easy though can have stubborn moments
Friendliness Very good to excellent
Good first dog Moderate – needs experienced owners
Good family pet Very good to excellent with socialization
Good with children Very good with socialization
Good with other dogs Good to very good with socialization
Good with other pets Good with socialization, best if raised with them
Good with strangers Moderate – needs socialization as is wary of strangers
Good apartment dog Good – can adapt to apartment living with enough time outside but does best in a home with a yard
Handles alone time well Low – does not like being left alone for long periods
Health issues Quite hardy a few issues though may include work-related injuries, patellar luxation and arthritis
Medical expenses $460 a year for basic health care and pet insurance
Food expenses $145 a year for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats
Miscellaneous expenses $220 a year for toys, license, basic training and miscellaneous items
Average annual expenses $825 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,000
Rescue organizations None breed specific – check local shelters and rescues
Biting Statistics None reported

The Croatian Sheepdog’s Beginnings

The Croatian Sheepdog’s ancestors were brought to the region now known as Croatia in the 7th century by the Croats who settled in the area. It lived on the plains of Slavonia and there were kept as sheep and cattle dogs. The first written records of the breed are in the late 1300s when Petar, Bishop of Đakovo wrote a description of the breed, from which it has not changed much to today! It was revealed in further records from the 1700s that its name back then was Canis pastoralis croaticus or Croatian Sheepdog!

Descriptions of their abilities reveal that despite being just medium-sized they were strong enough and skillful enough to be used to herd pigs and even horses. They were used to both drive and gather sheep and cattle and they tend to stay closer to the animals they are herding and drive them harder. If there is a rogue sheep or cow it will grip them hard but not cause injury and they are even known to ride on the back of the sheep! Even large bulls were not a problem for them. Puppies worked alongside adults to learn the job so that by the age of just 6 months it would be able to work on its own. They were and still are raised to respond to various signals from farmers from hand signals to verbal commands. Some are known to be so good they are able to anticipate orders before they come. While they were bred to be hard working and somewhat independent when the day was done they were also bred to be good companions.

New Lease on Life

For years the dog was known only in its native country but in 1935 Professor Romic started a breeding program to start to work towards FCI recognition which would open the breed to the world. Romic is known as the father of the Croatian Sheepdog for his work on the breed. In 1968 the Yugoslav Kennel Club gave the breed recognition and adopted the breed standard and after 34 years the FCI gave the breed recognition in 1969. The Croatian Kennel Club in 1969 saw the registration of 130 females and 72 males. Over the years since then it has seen some movement to other countries, Europe and Japan especially and further. It is recognized by the UKC but does not yet have full recognition from the AKC. In its home land it is no longer concentrated to that region of Slavonia, in fact it has mostly disappeared from there. It has been moved though to areas where its herding skills are still used, and it is more popular as a companion dog so its numbers are stable. As well as doing well in sporting events it is also kept for search and rescue, in tracking and does well at obedience competitions.

The Dog You See Today

The Croatian Sheepdog is a medium-sized dog weighing 29 to 43 pounds and standing 16 to 21 inches tall. Its tail is docked in places where that is stilled allowed but when left natural curls over the back of the dog and has long and thick hair. A small number are born with short tails. It has a moderately long neck that is strong and no dewlap. Its back is straight and short and its chest is broad and deep. The belly slightly tucks up and it has straight front legs and strong more open angled back legs. It has somewhat rabbit like feet that are strong and small and nails are grey or black. The coat is weatherproof, with short hairs on the legs and head and longer hair that is wavy to curly elsewhere. The outer coat is fairly soft and the undercoat is dense. It is always a base color of black but can also have some white markings.

It has a lean and wedge shaped head with a skull that is a little rounded. Its muzzle is slim too and is rounded at the end with a black nose and close fitting supple lips that are also black. It has rounded cheeks and eyes that are almond shaped, medium sized and can be brown or black. Eye rims are dark and eyelids are close fitting. It has medium-sized triangular ears that are set to the side of the head and can be semi-erect or erect though the latter tends to be preferred in show dogs. There is no ear cropping.

The Inner Croatian Sheepdog


These dogs are intelligent, keen, energetic and alert. It will act as a good watchdog, letting you know by barking when someone strange is approaching, or someone is breaking in. It is an occasional to frequent barker so training may be needed to control that on command. It is hard working and committed when engaged in the task you have set, but is also very affectionate and loyal. It needs companionship from its human owners and it does not like to be left alone for long periods. It tends to bond closely with one owner in particular and will obey that owner over other family members. In fact older sheepdogs can take some time to form new bonds with new owners so make sure you are certain about this dog.

With strangers Croatian Sheepdogs tend to be wary and socialization is needed. If it is not given some basic obedience training too it can become destructive, hard to live with and noisy. It tends to be a fairly docile breed and eager to please too. It will stay close to its owner even in the home and if you do not want your dog needing that kind of attention from you look to a different breed. It is a great family pet when it gets enough attention and exercise to burn off its energy. It is fearless and able to read its owner’s body language very well. Some times they can lean towards being shy so socialization is important to give it confidence and curtail this.

Living with a Croatian Sheepdog

What will training look like?

Training the Croatian Sheepdog should be easy if you have experience, and even moderately easy if you have less of that. Just be patient, firm and consistent with it. Often it can learn with less repetition making it quicker to train than some other breeds. It is intelligent and it is eager to please but as with most sheepdogs it does have an independent side that can make it have some stubborn moments. Make sure you also start socialization early too so that it learns appropriate responses to different places, sounds, people, animals, situations and so on. Avoid being harsh or using physical punishments. Keep it positive, offer treats to motivate it and encourage it. You may find it barks more early on in the training so include a command to control that.

How active is the Croatian Sheepdog?

The Croatian Sheepdog is an active breed and will need active owners. It is especially important to make sure it gets enough mental and physical stimulation if it is not being used as a working dog. It does well at dog sports like agility, showmanship, tracking, flyball and herding events. Training them for these is a good way to keep it healthy mentally and physically. It can adapt to living in an apartment if it gets out enough but a yard for it to investigate in is a good bonus. It has a lot of stamina and endurance so can go for a long time. As well as making sure it gets 2 long walks a day, it should also have daily play time with you. A few times a week it should also get safe off leash time somewhere it can run. If this dog does not get enough activity it can have behavior problems and it can become quickly frustrated when it has too much energy to burn.

Caring for the Croatian Sheepdog

Grooming needs

These dogs are easy to groom and will be good with a brush or two a week to keep its coat healthy. It does shed an average amount so be ready for some hair around the home. Thankfully their coats are weather-resistant and are good at repelling water as well as dirt and debris so most of the time all you need to do to keep it clean is give it a wipe down with a damp cloth. Sometimes when that is not enough you can give it a bath using a dog shampoo. Make sure you do not bathe too frequently as that strips its natural oils, as would using a non canine shampoo to wash it with.

Its ears should be checked once a week for signs of infection like redness, a bad odor, sensitivity and such. At the same time you can wipe them clean using either a damp cloth or a dog ear cleanser solution. Do not use a cotton bud to insert into the ear as real and permanent damage can be done and it can hurt your dog. Brush its teeth two to three times a week at least for good oral hygiene. The nails should be trimmed when they get too long using proper dog nail clippers. Do not cut too far down the nail as there are blood vessels and nerves in the lower section. Cutting there will hurt and cause bleeding.

Feeding Time

It will eat about 1½ to 2¼ cups of a good quality dry dog food a day, split into at least two meals, along with fresh water. Things that will affect the amount it eats include its size, age, health, level of activity and metabolism rate.

How is the Croatian Sheepdog with children and other animals?

The Croatian Sheepdog is very good with children especially with good socialization and if raised with them. It can be loving and affectionate, and kids are a great way to get both of them to let off some energy in the yard together! As with many sheepdogs it has a tendency to try and herd them though so socialization and training will be needed to curb that. Teach children how to touch and play nicely with them too. It should get along well with other dogs and with other pets with socialization too.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

They have a life span of 12 to 14 years and are a healthy and hardy breed. Usually visits to the vet are for work related injuries. Other things that could come up include eye problems, bloat, cryptorchidism, difficulty birthing, arthritis and patellar luxation.

Biting Statistics

When looking at reports of dogs attacking people and doing bodily harm in the US and Canada over the last 35 years there is no mention of the Croatian Sheepdog. It is not a people aggressive dog but seeing as there are very few dog numbers in those places it stands to reason we do not see it appear in these kinds of statistics. While you can never guarantee a dog (of any breed) is 100% safe at all times there are ways to lessen any kind of incident. Train and socialize it properly, exercise and stimulate it, give it the attention it needs and feed it well. When bred and raised well a dog is more trustworthy, and a lot happier.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A Croatian Sheepdog puppy will cost around $1000 for a decent dog from a trustworthy breeder and possibly even more if you are looking for show dog breeders and show dog standards. Unfortunately there are a great number of dishonest and cruel breeders out there in most breed types so make sure you are not dealing with one of these puppy mills, backyard breeders and even some pet stores. If you are not desperate for a puppy and are not dead set on a purebred another option is to look to local shelters and rescues where many dogs are separate for new and loving owners. Give one of them a forever home and it will give you companionship, love and joy. Adoption fees tend to run from $50 to $400.

When you have found your new best bud there are some things you need to get for it. A crate, carrier, bedding, leash and collar, bowls and such will cost you another $200 at least. Also once it is home it should be taken to a vet for an exam and some tests and such. Things like spaying or neutering, micro chipping, deworming, vaccinations, blood tests and a physical exam for example which will cost another $270 at least.

Ongoing costs to care for your dog will have another impact on you, this time your finances. Basic health care like flea and tick prevention shots and vet check ups along with dog insurance will cost you at least $460 a year. Feeding it a good quality dry dog food and doggy treats will be another $145 or so a year. Then other miscellaneous costs like basic training, license, miscellaneous items and toys for example is another $220 or so a year. This gives an annual starting figure cost of $825.


Looking for a Croatian Sheepdog Name? Let select one from our list!

The Croatian Sheepdog is not an easy dog to find out of Croatia and some places in Europe and Japan. However if you do intend on getting one still it will certainly be a rewarding dog to have around provided you have time for it, as it is a needy dog. It is best suited to owners who are experienced and are active, and that can be singles, couples or a family as long as it is well socialized and trained. It is intelligent, loyal, affectionate and even devoted to you, you will always have a companion in this dog.

Featured Image Credit: Damir Kutlesa, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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