Guardian until Death
One cynologist says that he is ”a dog with Serbian mentality” and another calls it ”spirit of the mountain”. Very smart and brave, balanced and proud, with an inborn feeling for righteousness, requests education and refuses training, requests consistency and refuses capriciousness, requests meaning not reward, fulfills his duties with his life. He will never retreat just because he has low chances of winning a fight. He will stay with his man, with touching devotedness, even when everyone else leaves him. He is not a modern pet, doesn’t stand chains and unfreedom, he’s incorruptible

By: Vesna Vujaklija
Photo: Dragan Bosnić, ”Uvac” Nature Reserve, Radovan Milinović

Shepherds’ legends and experiences bring us stories confirming that fighting till death to defend their master and his flock is a life call, purpose and fulfillment for a Šarplaninac (Yugoslavian Shepherd Dog). It is obvious that this dog, when confronted with an enemy, is not led by a survival instinct as most animals are: he is led by the instinct of dedication to his task and protecting his master. Confronted with an enemy, a Šarplaninac doesn’t run away, doesn’t retreat and doesn’t tuck his tail between his legs. On the contrary, he boldly enters the fight, and accepts the risk of injury or death till the end.
Those who have seen such a death of their dog testify that the last minutes are very distressing. A man feels as if a worthy hero is before him, filled with pride because of a responsibly fulfilled assignment, a friend with love, not tears in his eyes. They say that it’s not a dying animal, it’s a guardian angel saying goodbye.
”I was lying in my cabin, it was already nighttime. Before falling asleep, I heard sounds which made my blood run cold – wolves. I was dumbstruck and immediately thought about my Šarov. Where are you now, my dog, you were scared and ran away! Before I became aware of my fear, while the wolves were still approaching, from the darkness and silence I heard the sound of a sudden jump, then growling and fighting. That night, my Šarov became a true Šarplaninac, a hero with one killed wolf in his career. The rest of the wolves retreated.”
This story is not an exception, it’s more than common. That’s how Šarplaninac dogs are initiated: in baptism of fire.
The story about the frozen Yugoslav National Army soldier saved by an unknown Šarplaninac can be found on internet.
”He was approaching slowly, looking straight into my eyes. He felt my fear and exhaustion. He waved his tail gently while approaching, stopping whenever he felt that I was retreating in fear. When he lay over me, I felt the warmth of his fur, bones, his body. He was skinny, starved, surely didn’t eat anything for days. We stayed there on the ground until my uniform, frozen from the cold, turned into wet rags… Approaching voices woke me up. I was saved. And the dog, whom I owe my life to, slowly walked away when the soldiers arrived. I didn’t have the time to embrace him, to feed him, or tell him anything. I’ve never seen him again.”


Šarplaninac was a national dog of Yugoslavia. He was officially registered in the World Canine Organization already in 1939 in the Kingdom, first under the name of Illyrian Shepherd Dog. In 1957, the name was changed into Yugoslav Shepherd Dog. In 1994, he was transferred from the group of shepherd dogs to guard dogs and defense dogs. Today, the World Canine Organization knows him simply as a Šarplaninac.
At the time of socialist Yugoslavia, upon the order of Josip Broz Tito himself, as they say, the export of this breed was forbidden until 1970. The Yugoslav Army used him as their official military dog. He guarded strategic military objects, warehouses, prisons and barracks, hunted down deserters and intruders.
Yugoslavia is gone. Šarplaninac has existed before it, so it exists after it as well. This national dog has been officially gifted to Russian president Putin during his recent visit to Serbia.
Experts state that the ancestors of Šarplaninac arrived from Asia in the prehistoric times. It is assumed that the breed originates from mixing the Tibetan Mastiff with Assyrian fighting dogs and Epirus’ molossers, during the migration of Paleolithic peoples towards continental Asia and Asian peoples to the Mediterranean. People have always taken their flocks with them and guard dogs always accompanied the flocks. In the area of the Šara Mountain, the dogs mixed with local breeds. The geographical isolation of the area, with widespread raising sheep and severe continental climate, gave birth to the breed we have known for centuries as Šarplaninac.
Šarplaninac is a noble dog, with a genetic matrix of a watchdog and responsible guard. He attacks burglars and intruders, but manifests his best features primarily in working circumstances, in a natural environment, when he guards the flock and the shepherd. His job is not to guard riverboats, villas, garages, ”porches”… (Other breeds are for such guards, mostly German, such as Doberman or Rottweiler.)
Šarplaninac is not a pet in the modern sense of the word. Nothing about him is artificial. Of all the granules sold as expensive dog food, he prefers pork greaves. When lovingly nourished, this dog is calm and stable. He seems inert, until a reason for moving appears, until he senses danger. Then he becomes fast as lightning and skillful. He never behaves as if ”unleashed”. He will run when he has to; otherwise he prefers lightly walking long distances, curiously sniffing everything around him. He must be free in moving in his territory and regularly taken to long walks in urban environments. If provided living conditions normal for his breed, he remains an easily predictable and reliable friend.
”A Šarplaninac must live outside. He needs space to run and develop properly… It is a dog who loves freedom! Although satisfied when he can spend an hour or two in his master’s family and be petted, a warm room isn’t his environment and he will soon ask to go out”, tells Radovan Milinović, dog breeder from Temerin.


He is not demanding and has a modest appetite. He doesn’t want chocolate, sweets and spaghetti, like most pets. He is a real carnivore, not an omnivore. He takes food only from his master and only in the place determined for feeding. His bowl and the place he ate from it first is carefully guarded and respected forever. He will never relieve himself near it, not even when weak or sick. Even when starved, he will never greedily swallow the food he receives; he’ll always first carefully sniff the offered feeding. He’ll never eat more than to satisfy his hunger. When he does, he happily leaves his bowl to other members of the pack, birds or other small animals. However, while he eats, he only tolerates the presence of his feeder, who must be tactic and calm.
He doesn’t see food as a reward. A common method of trainers is to reward the animal with a snack for a well-accomplished assignment, but it doesn’t work with the Šarplaninac. This dog considers food only as food; he treats it with dignity and gratitude. He can endure a long time without it and it’s not a replacement for anything else. The place he chooses to spend the night is always near the house doorstep. The house entrance is the place of his duty. He is awake during the night and rests during the day.
”He is very intelligent, independent, reliable, incorruptible, tactical and calm, loyal to the family and eternally distrustful to strangers. Gentle and patient with youngsters of any species, especially human”, describes the breeder. ”Overprotective, feisty but not aggressive, incorruptible, endlessly loyal to his master. (…) He must be treated in a fair, convincing and consistent manner. He sees his master primarily as a friend.”
There are numerous experiences of shepherds who entrusted their flocks for several days to their Šarplaninac. They did an impeccable job. Without any human supervision. I personally met Meda in Grbalj, who took a flock of about fifteen sheep to pasture every morning by himself, guarded them and defended them from jackals, and brought them home around half past six p.m. He was alone with them the entire day. Even if he wanted to, the sheep owner cannot walk through the coastline bushes, which the sheep enter in search of food. However, Meda can. The sheep owner said he couldn’t take better care of the flock himself: ”There’s no one better than Meda.”
A Šarplaninac is misunderstood very often, so the virtues of his character turn into severe shortcomings. Only those who don’t know the breed well consider him unpredictable. On the contrary, when you get to know him, he is very predictable.
”He is stubborn, but not disobedient. He is a partner on the assignment, not a slave or robot. A man must be honest and sincere with a Šarplaninac, he must have a strong character – both self-confidence and consistency. Only with such a human, the dog gives its best: calmness and dignity, loyalty and tenderness. Perhaps it sounds weird, but a Šarplaninac has a feeling for justice.”
Others said about him: ”If someone endangers you or something yours, a Šarplaninac won’t hesitate to prevent it, even if it costs him his life. He won’t think of himself, not a bit, just how to help you.”
Cynologist Srđan Udovički says that the Šarplaninac is ”a dog with Serbian mentality”.
Another expert in this breed calls the Šarplaninac ”the spirit of the mountain”.
There is some profound truth in it.


There are about eight main types of this breed.
Murdža is iron-gray, usually with a dark mask, sometimes bright, skinny, lighter than other types. Karabash is the most common type in the area the breed originates from (Šara Mountain), wheat-yellow, with an expressed dark mask. The name karabash is of Turkish origin and means ”black head”. Merdžan (pearl in Turkish) is white, always without any mask. Medov (medovan) is one of the shortest, but has a particularly strong skeleton and very large head. Zlatan (skender) – Golden – is the largest, people say that today it exists only in the south of Slavic Macedonia. Zelenduh (zelendušan) – Green Ghost – is one of the types believed to have disappeared, because it hasn’t been seen for a long time. Karaman is entirely black. According to the standard, this type is not a real Šarplaninac, but shepherds consider him member of the breed due to his character and abilities.
Upon the arrival of Turkish invaders and stronger penetration of Albanians, the way of breeding dogs has largely changed. According to the traditional code of local Slavic inhabitants, different types were never mixed. Shepherds took good care to prevent it. Everything else was left to natural selection. However, then came neglecting and mixing of all types. From a deeply respected animal, the dog turned into a tool for guarding flocks. Turks considered dogs as dirty and unholy beings. Albanians only cared about the external working features of dogs. Some elements were irreversibly lost and Šarplaninac dogs will never be as they had been six or seven hundred years ago. However, as it is today, it is still a wonderful dog!


The Šarplaninac is very brave, smart, stable, balanced, with a calm temper, proud, dominant, cautious, distrustful of strangers. He has an inborn feeling for protecting his territory, for guarding and defending. He is independent and has the power to bring decisions independently.


Meaningfulness of an Order
Contemporary dog breeders train dogs to blindly obey their masters. That’s not the right way of communicating with the Šarplaninac. He rather needs education. The moment a Šarplaninac loses the meaning of an order, especially if expressed with tension and anger, he will simply ignore it. Not because he doesn’t understand it, but because he refuses it.


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