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Karst Shepherd

Nicole Cosgrove

June 18, 2021
The Karst Shepherd is a large purebred from Slovenia bred to be a livestock guardian and mountain dog. It is an ancient breed and is fact Slovenia’s oldest dog breed and has been declared a natural treasure. It has a life span of 10 to 12 years and is also called Kraški ovčar, Kraševec, Karst Sheepdog and Istrian Sheepdog.
The Karst Shepherd at a Glance
Name Karst Shepherd
Other names Kraški ovčar, Kraševec, Karst Sheepdog, Istrian Sheepdog
Nicknames Karst
Origin Slovenia
Average size Large
Average weight 55 to 93 pounds
Average height 21 to 25 inches
Life span 10 to 12 years
Coat type Double, long, dense
Hypoallergenic No
Color Dark grey, silver grey, fawn
Popularity Not a registered member of the AKC
Intelligence Average
Tolerance to heat Good
Tolerance to cold Very good
Shedding Average – some hair will be around the home
Drooling Average to above average – some slobber and drool more when drinking
Obesity Average – measure its food and make sure it is well exercised
Grooming/brushing Average – brush twice a week
Barking Occasional – should not bark all the time
Exercise needs Active dog so needs active owners
Trainability Moderately hard – experience helps
Friendliness Good to very good
Good first dog Moderate – best with experienced owners
Good family pet Good to very good with socialization
Good with children Very good with socialization
Good with other dogs Moderate – socialization and training is essential as is supervision
Good with other pets Good with socialization but does have high prey drive
Good with strangers Good with socialization but wary
Good apartment dog Low – needs space and at least a large yard
Handles alone time well Low – does not like being left alone for long periods
Health issues Somewhat healthy, some issues include hip dysplasia and cancer
Medical expenses $485 a year for basic health care and pet insurance
Food expenses $260 a year for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats
Miscellaneous expenses $255 a year for miscellaneous items, toys, license and basic training
Average annual expenses $1000 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,000
Rescue organizations Check local shelters and rescues
Biting Statistics None reported

The Karst Shepherd’s Beginnings

The Karst Shepherd is named from the area it comes from, after the Karst Plateau that is in both Italy and Slovenia, though the Karst landscape actually goes further into Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. A karst is an area made from limestone that has caverns, sinkholes, underground streams and fissures caused by erosion. The dog breed could mostly be found though in Istria in Croatia and then northern Slovenia. Its ancestors worked with shepherds and the breed was first mentioned in written records dating to 1689.

Its origins are murky and any thoughts on its first development are just opinions or guesses. There is some suggestion it dates back to Roman times, some say from the Pompeii dog and some say from the Caucasian Shepherd. The most popular theory though is that it comes from the Greek Milos that the Illyrians brought with them to herd their sheep and that it then bred with other local dogs. With the arrival of World War I sheep breeding dropped and so the need for shepherd dogs dropped also. The numbers of the Karst Shepherd dropped significantly and the breed came close to extinction.

New Lease on Life

The breed was saved thanks largely to the efforts of an artillery officer called Teodor Drenik who was also a Slovenian dog breeder. During the period between World War I and II, and then after the second world war too he worked on the breed. Thanks to him it was registered in 1939 and at first was called the Illyrian Shepherd. That was reversed in 1955 and then it was registered again in 1968 this time as the Karst Shepherd. It has gained some international recognition too from the FCI and the UKC for example. It was made a Slovene Natural Treasure and is still today used as a sheepdog but is also valued for being a friendly and loving companion.

Karst Shepherd

The Dog You See Today

The Karst Shepherd is a large dog weighing 55 to 93 pounds and stands 21 to 25 inches tall. It is compact and solidly built dog with a straight back and is a bit longer than it is tall. The tail is sabre like with a wide base and then a little hook at the tip. When at rest it carries its tail low and when alert or moving it is raised to around back level. Its neck is strong and it has a deep chest and broad back. The coat is double, dense and long. It comes in a grey or sandy color and can have a dark facial mask. The coat is shorter on the front of the legs and head and longer on the back of the ears and around the neck. It is even longer around the back of the legs.

It has a noble shaped head with a rounded skull and a medium length muzzle that starts broad and then tapers. The nose is broad and black and it has black lips and a scissor bite. The eyes are set wide apart and are dark brown and almond shaped. The eyelids are black and its ears are medium length, hang down flat against its cheeks are v shaped and set high.

The Inner Karst Shepherd


The Karst Shepherd is a strong willed, intelligent and protective dog, it can be a good companion with good socialization and training but it is very distrustful of strangers. It makes a good watch dog and guard dog, it will alert you to anyone approaching or breaking in and will act to defend its territory and its family. With that family it is loyal, affectionate, and is especially devoted to the owner who socializes, trains and works with it. It can form very strong attachments with them and that can make re-homing harder so make sure this is the dog you want.

The KS is a reliable and hard working dog, it is brave and has an independent nature that can mean it has its stubborn moments. It has a dominant nature and that combined with its need to be busy and its willful side means it is best with owners who are experienced. If being kept as a working dog it will work tirelessly to protect its flock from predators and thieves. It tends to have a cheerful nature but it needs to be treated as a partner not a subordinate.

Living with a Karst Shepherd

What will training look like?

Training is important when you are a dog owner, all dogs need to have at least basic obedience training even if you are not taking it any further. With the Karst Shepherd it will take some experience and firm and strong leadership to make sure it understands you are the pack leader. Keep things positive but set clear rules that you are consistent about adhering to. Earning its trust will form a close bond between you so avoid being harsh, scolding or even physical punishments. Rewards and praise it and use treats to motivate it. Make sure you start early socialization as well, it is something this dog really needs to be a good family companion. Introduce it to different people, places, situations, sounds, animals and so on so it learns how to properly react to them and to recognize real threat.

Karst Shepherd

How active is the Karst Shepherd?

Karst Shepherds are active dogs and are not suited to apartment living. They need space and a yard or even some land to roam on and play on. If it is not kept as a daily working dog it will need a couple of long brisk walks a day. It can join you once trained for jogging, cycling or hiking for example. It also needs daily play sessions with you and some regular time off leash to run where it is safe to do so. This is certainly a dog suited to rural life not urban and it needs active owners.

Caring for the Karst Shepherd

Grooming needs

This dog will need regular brushing to keep its coat healthy, twice a week usually to take care of things like debris and tangles. Use a firm bristled brush. It sheds an average amount so expect some hair around the home. Give it a bath just when needed using a dog shampoo only. Do not set a regular bathing routine, it can damage the natural oils it needs in its coat.

You should also check the ears for infection signs once a week, like a bad odor, redness, irritation and then clean them by wiping the parts you can reach. Use a damp cloth or cotton balls with dog ear cleaning solution. Do not use cotton buds to clean inside the ears, it can damage their hearing and cause pain. The nails should be clipped when too long. Some dogs wear the nails down naturally but if this is not the case use dog nail clippers or scissors to keep them trimmed. Avoid clipping too far down though as there are blood vessels and nerves in the lower sections. When you cut too far down and hit the quick of the nail you can hurt your dog and cause a fair amount of bleeding. Brush its teeth two to three times a week to look after both teeth and gums.

Feeding Time

The Karst Shepherd will eat about 2½ to 5 cups of a good quality dry dog food a day that should be divided into at least 2 meals to avoid bloat. Things that can affect how much it eats are its activity, metabolism, age, health and build. Make sure it also has access to fresh water.

How is the Karst Shepherd with children and other animals?

This is can be a good dog with children with good socialization and when raised with them. It can be playful with them and loving but may need supervision around small children as its play may knock them over accidentally. Care needs to be taken around other dogs as it can be territorial. It can learn to accept other non-canine pets, socialization can help in some cases, and being raised with them too, but there are still no guarantees.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

These dogs has a life span of 10 to 12 years and is generally healthy though there can be issues such as hip dysplasia and malignant hyperthermia.

Biting Statistics

Dogs attacking people and causing bodily harm in North America over the last 35 years have been reported and gathered into a set of statistics. In them there is no mention of the Karst Shepherd. It is not an aggressive dog unless it is protecting its flock, home or family. There are not a huge number of these sheepdogs though in North America so it is less likely to appear in stats like this. While all dogs have the potential to be drawn into something, or to even just have an off day which can lead to unfortunate events, there are things you can do to limit the potential though not completely prevent it 100% of the time. Make sure you train and socialize your dog, that it gets the activity it needs and that it get mental stimulation too. Also make sure it gets the level of attention and affection it needs.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

The Karst Shepherd puppy will cost around $1000 from a decent and trustworthy breeder. This is likely to be a pet quality dog, if you want something from a top breeder prices do go up even higher. Avoid using less trustworthy means like backyard breeders, puppy mills and pet stores. Another option for people who do not have to have a pure bred is to check out local shelters and rescues. It is true you are more likely to find mixed dogs and less likely to find puppies, but there are plenty of deserving dogs that need loving owners and homes. Adoption costs around $50 to $400.

When you have selected the dog you want to bring home there are initial costs to think about. Your Karst will need some items and a proper health check when you bring it home. Items includes things like a crate, carrier, collar and leash, bowls and such. These will come to about $190. Then there will be vaccinations to do, deworming, a physical examination, blood tests, micro chipping, spaying or neutering and these will cost another $290 or so.

Annual ongoing costs will have an impact on your finances so should also be understood as well. Taking care of basic health needs like flea and tick prevention, shots, pet insurance and check ups will come to about $485 a year. Basic training, miscellaneous items, license and toys are another $255. A good to great quality dry dog food and dog treats will be about $260 a year. This gives an annual starting figure of $1000.


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The Karst Shepherd is a great sheepdog and guardian, it is hard working, determined, protective and brave. It is not the best dog to keep just as a companion as it does best when it has a job to do. In experienced hands with good socialization and training though it is loyal and affectionate still and can be a good companion but needs to be kept busy and active.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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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