History of SRO

“The South Russian Ovtcharka, so devoted only to the owners, is an extremely sensitive, strong, brave and unpretentious dog. It is very smart and so loyal to its duty that it has no mercy in attacking those who dare to approach his masters. It also protects the flock of sheep from the attacks of wolves, often facing them alone”

It is well accepted in literature that the formation of SRO occurred in the nature reserve of Askania Nova when it was in the hands of the Falz-Fein family. Before discussing what this family has done for the SRO breed, it is necessary to take a step back.
The creation of Askania Nova began in 1828 on a land that formerly belonged to the Crimean Khanate (Turkish-Mongolian term indicating a political entity ruled by a khan). This area was the state of the Crimean Tatars and passed from the hands of the Ottoman Empire to the Russian Empire in 1773. The new political situation in Crimea meant that many Crimean Tatars migrated to areas that still belonged to the Ottoman Empire. Those who, however, remained, including pastors, ended up without work and were therefore forced ask the new rulers for it.
In 1856 the land on which Askania Nova would stand was sold to the governor of Tauris, F. Fein, whose daughter married the son of the former owner of the land in respect of payment of the sale. Thus the Falz-Fein family was born. It’s in this period, in fact, that in Askania Nova the improvement of the breed, that would become the SRO, started.

The fact that the Crimean Tatars have lived and worked in the reserve is also witnessed by the middle name of the reserve, Chaplygin. This term is, in fact, very similar to the name which the Turks (Ottomans) gave to this area, Ulken Chopli, which literally means "big overgrown lake".Another clear evidence that the breed was formed in the reserve is a photo taken from a book written by the Falz-Fein in 1930, which was titled “Askania Nova”. The picture shows a shepherd kneeling on a field flanked by two SROs. The inscription below the image reads "Shafpudel, genannt Baraki" which translates to "The pastor calls the Barakis". In 1992, Bushakov (Russian scholar) said that Baraki meant "dogs with a long and shaggy coat, endowed with agility and quickness, regarded among the best hunting dogs”. This definition well describes the South Russian Ovcharka.
In the early twentieth century, the breed became well known and, while not yet having a defined name that set it apart, its members began to appear in expositions abroad. Future prospects for the race, in short, seemed rosy and promising, but that soon changed quickly. The hardest blow was dealt to race in the '20s. By order of the Government of the USSR a wide scale campaign was carried out for the creation of skins in the south of Ukraine. In a short time, 40.000 dogs were killed. Only when the breed seemed on the verge of extinction, some miraculously survived specimens made their appearance in an exposition in Kiev. The experts not only recognized that these specimens were part of the breed, but finally decided to give it a name, "South Russian Shepherd Dog ".
For a brief period, then, the SROs went through a new phase of prosperity and began to appear again in expositions outside Ukraine (Nuremberg, 1930) where they earned a strong consent. In 1939 the first breed exposition was even organized in Simferopol, Ukraine. However, historical events that a short time later involved the whole world, changed the destiny of the breed again. During the Second World War, in fact, the property of Askania Nova was sacked and destroyed, the dogs were killed and their skins sold for laughable prices. The few which remained, being flocks of sheep and goats in Ukraine almost completely disappeared, were used as guard dogs in government buildings or particularly important structures like, for example, the airport in Kharkiv, the second most densely populated city of Ukraine.

In the following period, the breed had to face again the problem of repopulation and was forced to make use of crosses with other breeds which were similar in origins and phenotypes (Komondors, Bobtails and Caucasian Shepherds). This made the breed survive, but sacrificing some of the features described by the authors of the past. Many SROs, because of these crossbreedings, manifested physical details which had not been pertinent to the breed up until then: spotted coat, no hair on the head, weak mouth and legs, short and smooth coat, smaller structure, smaller limb bones , straightening of the angles of the joints, etc. Some of these features were then institutionalized by the breed standard in 1960 and, gradually, in subsequent standards. On September 30, 1983, the breed was recognized by the FCI and the standard officialized.

But what are the ancient origins that led to the birth of the dogs present at Askania Nova?
In the matter of this question, the literature is very heterogeneous. There are many theories, none of which seems to prevail over the others distinctly. We will report them below so that, however, you can get an idea on the topic:
  • 1st THEORY: according to L.P. Sabaneev, one of the biggest experts that were interested in the South Russian Ovcharka in the early 1900s, this breed derives from some prehistoric dogs, called Brudastov or Brudastya, which were spreading, in the past times, in the south Caspian Sea area. These dogs, over time, accompanied their masters in the great migration towards the North-West to reach the areas of the Caucasus, Black Sea and the Balkans. It’s by the very words of Sabaneev that the Russian Shepherds from Askania Nova are described and related to the prehistoric dogs: “a typical shepherd's coat – of an ashen, gray, and dusty or straw yellowish color” and again “... It has the typical short skull of all the Brudastov, the same size, and, like some hunting dogs, it has a well developed occipital prominence ... "

  • 2nd THEORY: Mazalov in 1929 assumes that “the SRO is derived from a group of former shepherds". It is likely that he meant the police shepherd dogs in Crimea, or, as the local shepherd called them, the Baraki. Incidentally, the name "Barak" has reached our days in the legends of the Crimean Tatars. These people, on the peninsula, were unbeatable shepherds. Moreover, in 1875, it was also stated that the sheep, in the Crimea, were semi-nomadic in nature and that the flocks of the Tartars were protected from "big dogs with long coats "

  • 3rd THEORY: professor A. Brauner, in 1927, to describe the South Russian Ovcharka, writes: “On his head there are long hair, supported by his forehead, that cover his eyes. (…) Due to this type of hair, the head may appear larger and shorter, but it's actually a long and narrow skull, like a wolf”. This author, then, traces the origins of the SRO from the wolf. His theory seems to be also supported by the description of writer E.A. Markov that narrates:
    “At the end they responded to the distant voice of the shepherds which could be attributed to the wind. At that point we were surrounded by a pack of dogs. Dogs with a long and white coat, tall and skinny, barking furiously, turning in circles, jumping and biting the ground. They came to us through the embankment behind which we were staying with the horses close to each other in a surrounded group. The shepherds ran very fast and from afar they scattered the dogs with whistles, but their enthusiasm had already been low for some time. When we went to the shelter, we found those fearful dogs which remained around us, snarling, uttering stifled cries, drawing their bloodied nose up, and sniffing us and our horses with hostility. They were obedient to the will of their masters, and, until the last moment, it seemed that they were waiting for the signal to be able to pounce on us and devour us like rabbits... The dog - the greatest savior of herds and people. This shepherd dog is physically similar to wolves: they were not particularly big, but they were incredibly fierce, with long and thin legs, with a shaggy coat and very long mandibles. They were almost entirely white, but with bloodshot eyes. They are fierce and strong shepherd dogs, but they are also intelligent. They can disperse and form a chain around the flock to keep the wolves away and then gather together as if they were a single entity, listening to the master's voice. They learn all the nuances of the will of their master and obey him, despite their wild instincts, as pupils are well behaved in front of their teacher at school"(Markov, EL, 1866).

Thank you to youzhak.pedigrees.ru and ovchar.org for info and photos.

Sara Veggi 2010-2013