Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg has one, and so does Interior Ministry chief secretary Boiko Borissov. Saxe-Coburg calls his Karamana; it was a gift to him when he attended a gathering on June 8, dedicated to the Karakachan breed of dogs. The two are helping to promote the breed, a source of national pride in Bulgaria.
Sider Sedefchev and Atila Sedefchev tell what is so special about this dog.
The twelfth national exhibition of Bulgaria's Karakachan dog was held in Pernik at the end of April. One of the most exciting moments at the exhibition was the presentation of those dogs that had become mothers, because on them depends the future of the breed. The female Kusha from KaraKitan was named best dog at the exhibition. The prize for the best veteran was awarded to Sharo from Buren.
The Karakachan breed, found in Bulgaria, is very ancient, but hardly known abroad. As a dog used to guard livestock, its working qualities can be compared to those of the Central Asian Shepherd dog, but at the same time Karakachans are very unique.
The Karakachan dog is among the oldest existing breeds in Europe, selected for protection of livestock (mainly sheep), but also for guarding property. These dogs, as well as the other breeds of domestic animals with similar histories are very vital and adaptable to different conditions, Sedefchev said. This is a result of their development. Human intervention has guided this development without interfering with the dog's instincts. That is why such breeds are a link between their wild predecessors and the young cultivated breeds.
The Karakachan people and Bulgarian shepherds had a key role in shaping the breeding of these dogs. The breed owes its name to the Karakachans. During summer, they grazed their sheep flocks on the high Bulgarian mountains, but in winter they stayed in the Mediterranean part of Thrace and the southern Black Sea cost, making journeys back and forth to provide all-year-round grazing to their flocks.
We owe to the Karakachans and to their specific, conservative livestock breeding traditions the selection and saving of the most ancient and typical representative of all the coarse-wool, "tzakel" sheep and the most primitive breed of local horse. The genotype of the Karakachan dog is unconditionally also ancient and conservatively selected. Led by their needs, the Karakachan shepherds played the main role in the conservation of this livestock-guarding dog, which fits a number of specific requirements of nomad livestock breeding practice.
The origin of the Karakachan dog goes far back.
The Thracians, who are the first inhabitants of what is today Bulgaria, were known to have had numerous sheep flocks. These flocks were guarded by large long-haired local dogs. Later on, Asian fighting and livestock guarding dogs came to Bulgaria, following military campaigns and trade caravans.
In the sixth to the seventh century, the proto-Bulgarians settled on the Balkan peninsula, together with their livestock and dogs. These probably were large dogs, of a type still used for protection of livestock in the Pamir and Hindu Kush mountains. These large dogs took part in the forming of the Karakachan dog, which has since then been an integral part of livestock farming in the region.
In 1957 the communist government of Bulgaria nationalised farms. All the flocks, dairy farms and mountain sheep enclosures were taken from private owners. The period after 1957 nearly turned out to be disastrous for the breed. The regime was particularly hostile to the Karakachan dogs, and they came close to extinction, a threat that has not yet completely gone. The communist government launched an extermination campaign against them, to make life difficult for those remaining private farmers, and to trade in the dogs' pelts. In spite of cross-breeding with St Bernard, Caucasian and Central Asian ovcharka in some regions in the past 10 to 15 years, a number of authentic Karakachan dogs have been saved.
Nowadays these dogs are found in the Bulgarian mountains - Rila, Pirin, Rhodopes, Stara Planina, where they are used for protection of numerous flocks of livestock. Descend-ants of Karakachan dogs are also found in northern Greece and Macedonia, through which territories the Karakachans had passed.
The conditions in which the Kara-kachan dogs do their work are difficult and few breeds would manage such a task with confidence, given that a number of wolves and brown bears still inhabit Bulgarian forests.
The attitude of shepherds toward the Karakachan dogs has always been different than toward other dogs and other domestic animals. They were respected as members of the family. First they were fed, then the shepherd and his family, and last the rest of the animals. Karakachan dog food is vegetarian. A dog eats about 700 grams of ground oats and wheat, steeped with boiled water and mixed with a little milk. It is remarkable that with this strenuous life, these dogs reach an impressive average age of 18 to 20 years. When they are 10 to 12, they still work perfectly with the flocks. Some females produce offspring until 15 to 16 years old.
The working abilities and skills of these dogs are unthinkable without their impressive physical qualities. The process of selection has created an imposing dog. It is large and powerful, with harmonious body proportions. The height is 63 to 74 cm for males and 60 to 68 cm for females. The sex dimorphism is strongly expressed, which is a typical sign for primitive breeds. The breed is capable of travelling dozens of kilometres without exertion every day and can compete with wolves in speed.
The Karakachan dog head is massive and it is wide between the ears. The passage from the broad forehead to the mouth is slight. The shepherds prefer dogs with heavy, rough heads and large muzzles. Mainly this type of dogs has the necessary strength, boldness and skills to successfully oppose wolves and bears. They show perfect fighting abilities. In a fight they are exceptionally bold. Shepherds have known this and they always have chosen from the litter puppies with big, heavy heads and blunt muzzles. The ears of the Karakachan dog are middle size, with "V" shape and a rounded top. They are low set - at eye level. According to an old tradition shepherds cut one of the dog ears, believing that the dog hears better. The look of the Karakachan dog is exceptional. It is so sharp, wild and primeval, but at the same time intelligent and wise. In this look the firm and calm character of the dog is read. They are intelligent and able to outwit wolves.
Karakachan dogs are shaggy, with coarse, long and thick fur, which protects them from the winter cold and the sharp temperature changes in the mountains. In winter and spring the fur is richer and longer.
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