The history of the Illyrian Sheepdog
THERE IS A LEGEND…
A Serbian legend says that once upon a time hunters found forsaken wolf cubs. They kept those that could drink like dogs and killed those that sipped. Then they interbred the puppies with house dogs.
But legends will remain legends. According to the historical sources, shepherds came to what is now Sharplanina mountain zone, where the Sharplaninec or the Illyrian Sheepdog comes from, at the turn of antiquity and the modern period when they migrated from Asia to Europe. They probably brought with them large sheepdogs. The most original of them is supposed to be the Tibetan Mastiff.
In various mountainous places where dogs lived and worked for people, various breeds developed. They have many similar features thanks to the common origin but there are a lot of differences, too – mountainous regions were very isolated and local people fostered different traits in their dogs. And so the Pyrenean, Caucasian, Pamir and Illyrian Sheepdogs were bred.
A PUPPY AS A GIFT
The Sharplaninec developed in its native isolated country for two thousand years. The world started discovering it at the end of the last century. The great Austrian cynologist F. B. Laska wrote at that time: “These dogs excel with their intelligence a great vigilance which is remarkable for a dog. They are used to protect sheep against wolves and thieves.” He also noted these dogs were interbred with wolves.
How did he characterize the Sharplaninec?
“It is loyal to his master and friendly to the people from the house where it lives and to those it knows. It is very distrustful and dangerous to strangers. It has a good memory, does not seek fights and fights very bravely with prospective petty thieves. It can be a good and reliable friend to the person who can handle it well. It is remarkable that these dogs are very tidy.”
He also notices it was very difficult to get a good dog from the shepherds. A puppy from the best dogs was given only to the best friend for an extraordinary deed.
THE KNIGHT WITH A GENTLE HEART
If some are afraid of big dogs today because it is easy for irresponsible people to abuse them, we have to realize one thing:
Large sheepdogs have lived in Europe and Asia for thousands of years and were it not for them, people would be hardly able to protect their property and flocks of sheep against bears, wolves and other beasts, including human thieves. Flocks of thousands of sheep could be protected only by these dogs. The text written by the Austrian cynologist Laska was used by his fellow-countryman Hans Räbera in his encyclopedia and it holds the truth. And it does not matter if the dog protects a family¨ and house of a master in the Czech Republic or flocks in its native country. The Sharplaninec is not only fearless; it can also give an immense love to its master and his family. Only those who keep a Sharplaninec understand how deep the loyalty of a dog can be. In its homeland, it is even called the knight with a gentle heart.
For its bravery and other features, the Sharplaninec is used in the army in its native country. The soldiers took notice of the dog during the WWI when the Serbian army was looking for a suitable dog similar to the Alsatian dog. Today, the Yugoslav army keeps both Alsatian dogs and Illyrian Sheepdogs. They know very well why their security guards use mainly the Sharplaninec.
The Sharplaninec is also called the Illyrian Sheepdog. Originally, it was registered at the FCI under this name since Illyria was the name of its homeland. In 1956, the standard of Sharplaninec was registered according to the new name of its origin – the Sharplanina mountain zone between Macedonia and Monte Negro. It was not allowed to export these dogs until the 1970s. The Yugoslavs considered them as their “national treasure”. After this embargo was overruled, the Sharplaninec spread all over Europe and North America.