The Tatra Shepherd dog, or Polski Owczarek Podhalański, is a stunning pure white flock guardian from Southern Poland. The breed is extremely independent and was originally used to protect sheep from predators in the Highlands of Poland. Similar to the Sarplaninac, it is calm, cool and collected around family but can switch into protector mode at the drop of a hat. It is a hard worker but weary of strangers. They are courageous, tough and trustworthy canines that are loyal until the end.
1. It Is An Extremely Rare Dog Breed
The Tatra Shepherd dog is a very rare breed with only approximately a few thousand in existence in the entire world. Here is the current number of Polski Owczarek Podhalańskis registered in the worldwide database.
According to statistics, only around three hundred puppies are produced every year from approximately fifty litters. Those numbers are likely growing as more and more interest spreads in Europe and North America.
Even with the increased popularity, only a small number of breeders operate in the United States. They face roadblocks since the breed is currently not recognized by the AKC.
Most of their dogs are registered with the FCI from the country they came from, but any forthcoming litters won’t be able to since there is no association with the Federation.
Chances are you won’t be seeing one of these amazing Polish Sheepdogs anytime soon.
2. They Are One Of Only Five Breeds From Poland
While 49 dog breeds originated from America, only 5 hails from the country of Poland. At one point, during the turbulent history of the land, Polish breeds were teetering on the brink of extinction.
A collection of breeders, dog enthusiasts and the Polish Kennel Club joined forces to revive these five breeds following World War II. Four of them are officially recognized by the FCI.
5 Polish Breeds
- Polish Greyhound
- Polish Hound
- Polish Hunting Dog
- Polish Lowland Sheepdog
- Polish Tatra Sheepdog
The majority of these breeds were used for herding and protecting flocks of sheep. The others were used for hunting purposes.
3. They Wear Metal Collars With Spikes For Protection
Similar to the Majorca Shepherd dog which wears a handmade wooden collar, the Tatra Shepherd dog wears a custom collar. Except the Polski Owczarek Podhalański takes it one step further sporting a metal collar with spikes.
As livestock guardians, they often encounter wolves in the mountains of Poland while protecting their flocks. During a fight, the wolf will normally attempt to bite the neck.
The spikes on the collar prevent the wolf from clamping down and penetrating the dog’s neck. There is a story of a dog named “Dunaj” who is said to have survived many encounters with wolves throughout his lifetime.
Without the collar, his demise may have come much earlier.
4. A Tatra Shepherd Dog Saved 600 Sheep From Drowning
There are several amazing stories surrounding the Polish Sheepdog. One of them involves “Dunaj,” the dog we previously mentioned.
Dunaj was an incredible Polish Shepherd who protected Baca Jan Staszel Furtek Starszy. He was on duty watching over his flock in the Bieszczady Mountains when a storm hit. The thunderstorm brought tons of rain threatening to wash all of the sheep into the river.
Baca and his junior shepherds tried to revert the sheep but were unsuccessful. Dunaj however, was able to do what the others couldn’t.
Dunaj with its aggressive posture and loud barking managed to turn the sheep back from the river,Podhalan.pl
Unfortunately, the story had a heartbreaking ending. Baca’s twelve-year-old son, Wojtek, drowned in the river. Dunaj went on to survive many a battle and lots of storms until finally meeting his end when he was poisoned by an unknown man.
5. They Almost Went Extinct During World War II
The destruction of World War II unfortunately wiped out a lot of the Polish dogs. But some of them defied the odds with one source even calling them the breed that “refused to die.”
Because they lived in remote parts of the mountains, some were able to survive the carnage. The first post war dog show took place in Zakopane, a town south of Poland in 1954.
A total of 120 dogs had been located in the region following the war. Following the show, The Polish Kennel Club established a new standard for the breed.
Years later in 1957, the first purebred litter was documented. They were born in a coastal town called Leba. Dr. Danuta Hryniewicz runs the breeding center which to this day is in Podhale. His foundation stock for the new puppies were produced in 1935.
In 1967, just over a decade from facing extinction, the Tatra Shepherd dog was officially recognized as a breed by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale.
6. Their White Coat Helps Them Blend In With Sheep
During ancient times, shepherds would purposely breed dogs to have a white coat. This served a couple of different purposes.
Firstly, the sheepdog would blend in with its flock of sheep making it hard for the predator to pick out. This would give them the advantage when a threat would pursue.
Secondly, the color would help the shepherd recognize their dog amongst any predators. This could be difficult to tell from long distances in the mountainous region.
There are several livestock guardian breeds who sport the white coat for this reason.
Other White Coated Breeds:
- Anatolian Shepherd
- Great Pyrenees
- Kangal Shepherd
- Maremmano-Abruzzese Sheepdog
- Romanian Miortic Shepherd
- Slovak Cuvac
7. The Breed Was Originally Called “Liptok”
Before the breed was called Polski Owczarek Podhalański it was referred to as “Liptok.” The name was derived from the area of Slovakia known as Liptov.
This was before borders were built separating Poland from Slovakia. Following World War I, both countries began to develop their own distinct breeds.
The Two Organizations Were:
- The Polish Association of Pedigree Dog Breeders
- The Society of Working Dog Breeders
A man by the name of Maurycy Trybulski was the force behind establishing the first Kennel Club in Poland. His writings had a big impact on animal breeding in Poland. He even created a magazine that was titled “Purebred dogs and their breeding in Poland.”
The Tatra Shepherd dog of modern times is used for companionship or as a guard dog. But they are not for the inexperienced. They can be proud and somewhat stubborn. To manage the breed, it will take a confident, strong willed person who can consistently enforce the necessary training.
While they are great with children and fiercely loyal, they aren’t for first time dog owners. These devoted animals are much better suited for someone who is familiar with livestock guardian breeds.
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