Nature Field Note
ABSTRACT: A few months ago, I visited a monastery high up in the mountains of Guria. There, I met one of the largest breeds of dog in the world: the Caucasian Shepherd. Although some people say the dogs are very aggressive, and a few even breed them for fighting, the one I met was a gentle giant.
INTRODUCTION: If you take a look at the country of Georgia on a map, you will see a band of mountains along the northern border. These are one half of the Caucasus Mountains. They are called the Greater Caucasus Mountains. The other half lies just below Georgia, and is called the Lesser Caucasus Mountains. The Caucasian Shepherd gets its name from these mountain ranges.
Caucasian Shepherds were bred by prehistoric mountain dwellers, the ancestors of Georgians, Armenians, Azeris, Russians and Turks. They were bred for protecting livestock like chickens, cows, goats and sheep from thieves, but more often, from wolves. The prehistoric people of the Caucasus Mountains wanted to protect themselves from these very dangerous mountain-dwelling predators, so they created an even fiercer animal. The Caucasian Shepherd is able to fight off wolves, but there are also stories about them fighting off bears. They are said to have the head of a lion and the body of a bear. See what you think when you look at the two pictures!
What does this creature or plant look like?
The Caucasian Shepherd comes in a few different shapes, many different colors, but one size: huge. When they stand on their hind legs, they can be as tall as a person, and they are even thicker! They are covered in dense furry hair that protects them from the cold. In the winter, it’s okay to leave this dog outside. They don’t get too cold.
How did I feel when I saw it?
My host sister was afraid, but the animal was very gentle. I was entranced by its size and its kind attitude. I learned from a friend that this dog was actually afraid of children! It would become uncomfortable and leave if it saw children, retreating back into the monastery gates.
Where does it live?
This breed of dog is common across the three caucus countries of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, as well as in Russia. Now though, many cosmopolitans are adopting the Caucasian Shepherd because the puppies are very, very cute. Unfortunately the Caucasian Shepherd is not suited for apartment life and can become very unhappy if it is not able to work as it did in the mountains.
How does it use its environment to survive?
The Caucasian Shepherd has coexisted with human beings for thousands of years. In exchange for protection, humans gave it food, shelter and security.
What can harm this creature? Are we worried about it?
There is a delicate role that domesticated animals have to play when coexisting with humans. To coexist, domesticated animals must fulfill their expected duties without giving the humans they live with too much trouble. For a dog that is bred to defend and be aggressive towards enemies, including wolves, bears, other dogs, and other humans, maybe you can see how this becomes difficult.
The Caucasian Shepherd is becoming more popular in other countries, particularly for its fluffy looks and friendly face. Perhaps you were even thinking about what it would be like to have one of your own. But the Caucasian Shepherd has been bred for a life outdoors. When a Caucasian Shepherd must live in an apartment or a house without a yard, this intelligent, energetic dog can become agitated, anxious and aggressive. Often these animals will end up in an animal shelter. Because they have learned bad habits, they aren’t adoptable. If they are lucky, they have ended up in a ‘no-kill’ shelter, but if not, they have only days to find a loving home. Luckily, in Georgia, these dogs are well adapted to their lives and happily continue to help shepherds of the Caucasus Mountains!