Karakachansko Kuche, Karakachan Dog, Karakachan Hund









The Karakachan belongs to a very old breed of livestock guardian dogs, most likely descendants of the shepherd dogs of the old Thracians and later mixed with dogs of the proto-Bulgars, who came from central Asia to Europe.
The Karakachan people selected this dog type because it matched the need they had for a livestock guardian and because they could mold the type into a specific breed for their specific purpose. For those very excellent work qualities, this breed was also used on a large scale by Bulgarian shepherds. The historical record proves how this Karakachan breed was used by past shepherds whose sheep herds numbered about 12000 individual animals. Under Turkish rule, family or clan groups consisting of 20 to 30 families all together owned 10,000 to 16,000 sheep. In order to guard these enormous herds effectively and efficiently, shepherds needed no less than 100 dogs.

At the head of these family groups was a wealthy Karakachan (Tschelnik in Bulgarian), who managed the herds as well as lead the families. On average, the Tschelnik had 1000 to 2000 sheep under his charge. At the same time, the shepherds and their herds continued their nomadic practice, crossing enormous distances. They travelled from Bulgaria to the warm Aegean Sea coast, where the winter weather was warm and rainy and where the sheep could take advantage of winter meadows. During this time period, the Turkish empire flourished. But when the empire floundered, nomadic shepherds could no longer maintain their traditions, hemmed in by the formation of new state borders.


shepherd staff with woodcarving of the Karakachans



several forms of staff ends


The Karakachans accommodated much of their culture to a nomadic way of life. They lived in circular huts made from a braiding of foliage and branches. To secure his sheep, each shepherd used a distinctive staff with a hook at one end that was decorated with woodcarving. This staff also served as a source of protection for the shepherd.
Another key source of protection was the presence of the Karakachan dogs. These dogs were assimilated into the shepherd's family at a young age and given the status of a family member. The dogs ate the same white bread (Kar. Psumi) that the shepherds ate. This bread was composed of bran mixed with rye flour, although pure rye and barley meal was considered preferable. Whey was added to the bread dough and turned into a paste. Karakachan dogs were fed twice a day and ate approximately one kilogram of bread per day. Meat was never given to the dogs because shepherds did not want a dog making an association between meat and sheep or humans. Along with bread, the dogs also were given a mush of bran and barley meal. When cheese was prepared, dogs also got whey to drink. (Whey contains milk acid, milk sugar, carbohydrates and minerals, and very high-quality although a minor amount of protein. It is 94% water, virtually no fat.


pronged collar for dogs' protection


The Karakachans demanded two tasks of their dogs. First, they had to guard the huts; second, they had to guard the livestock. Dogs guarding the huts patrolled a territory of 1 to 2 kilometers. When wolves, bears or people approached the huts, the dogs started to bark and did not let the intruder approach. These dogs were called "Kopakoschkila". At night, the dogs had small huts at their disposal. The livestock herds were usually accompanied by male Karakachan dogs. By the particular sound of the barking, the people could often discern the visitor's species.

Livestock guardian Karakachans were given different names at various points in their lives. Pups were called Kar. Kutrâk. Yearlings were called Kar. K'tavi. At three years of age, the dogs had matured into true livestock guardians called Kar. Skila, Skilja. And at this age, they were also capable of fighting wolves.
To provide an extra advantage in a wolf fight, the livestock guardian dog frequently wore a collar with sharp prongs (Kar.hanaka) with the prongss turned outward. These collars were bought from Gypsies.



translated and edited by Leslie Rugg