Polish Tatra Sheepdog Breed History

Owczarek Podhalanski - Polish Tatra Sheepdog Old StampI am trying to create the Polish Tatra Sheepdog breed history. As for now the task has not been an easy one. The only resources I had were different web sites on the internet and two books, one  from 1983 by Lubomir Smyczynski “Psy rasy I wychowanie” (Dogs, breeds and training) and recently acquired in Poland “Owczarek Podhalanski” by Anna and Miroslaw Redliccy.  The information I found is not totally consistent, but I tried to include all threads.  

Owczarek Podhalanski also goes by many names: Polish Tatra Sheepdog, Polish Mountain Sheepdog, Tatra Shepard, Chien des Tatras or Tatrahund and probably few others.
The origins of the Owczarek Podhalanski are not certain. The Tatra Mountain Dog is an ancient breed.  Some claim that he comes from Tibetan Mastiff.
As a member of the mastiff family belongs to livestock guarding dogs that include the Tibetan Mastiff, Spanish Mastiff, Komondor, Great Pyrenees, Kuvasz, Anatolian Shepherd, and many others.
Tatra, believed by some to be just a white variant of the  Sarplaninac taken to Poland by Wallachian traders from the Balkans, this is a much larger and heavier breed than the white dogs usually found in Yugoslavia, Hungary and the Czech/Slovakian regions, suggesting some Central Asian heritage as well. Originating in the Podhale area of southern Poland, the Tatra Dog is undoubtedly related to the Hutsul Dog, as well as to the Molossers of Greece and Turkey.
According to Lubomir Smycznyski book Owczarek Podhalanski belongs to the group of big, white pastoral dogs from European mountain and Hungarian Lowland (Kuvasz).When Smycznski wrote his book there were almost no difference in appearance between the Kuvasz and Owczarek Podhalanski. Later on due to the breeding efforts the differences started to appear according to the breed standards.
Polish Tatra Sheepdog is the only Polish Molosser.
Molossus a dog from Molossis land in Epirus.   Dogs from Molossis were mostly white. Their job was to protect the herd from the predators and to help the hunters. 
Podhale, Owczarek Podhalanski’s homeland, is situated in Southern Poland, between Nowy Targ and Zakopane.  The Tatra Mountains are very small, scenic mountains with rich tradition of mountain sheepherding.  
This native Polish breed is an outstanding mountain worker. The tail was used as a handhold while following the dog through rough and steep terrain.
Beside the traditional use as a livestock guardian, the Polish people often used these dogs for personal protection and as guard dogs in factories. Much like the people who breed them, Polish Tatra Sheepdogs are independent, self-sufficient and courageous. They are recognized for their attributes: heartiness, adaptability and bravery. Their personalities are more easygoing than most of the flock guardians, with irritability or cowardice being a fault. This may be due to the dogs' use for hauling carts among the dairy, horticultural and bakery trades. The same dogs may be used in the mountains during the grazing season and in winter brought to town to help with other chores.
Young dogs that show high intelligence were selected for police, military or guide dog work. Every dog served the people in some way, and was treated well in return. Even the dogs lacking in talent were kept for their wool, with the combings used for upholstery and fine woollens!
These dogs are very sturdy and enjoy being outdoors, no matter weather conditions, as they are accustomed to this lifestyle from herding and protecting sheep.
While defending the large herds of goats and sheep, the Tatra Mountain Dog would stay close to the flock, choosing not to go after the predators and leave the livestock without protection, showing great restraint and intelligence, which earned the Tatra the reputation of a thinking dog among the herdsmen. The Tatra Sheepdogs are usually used in a group of two or more dogs, which puts them at an advantage when confronting a pack of wolves. Instead of attacking the wolves too far away from the herd, the Tatra Mountain Dog would engage in a confrontation only when the predators moved in and the conflict couldn’t be avoided. By not leaving the flock and breaking up their pack, the Tatra Sheepdogs have a better chance of protecting their herd, as well as of killing a wolf.
Shepards used to favor white dogs to easier distinguish them from the bear or the wolf. In 1938 Wieland was the first one to describe Polish Mountain Sheepdog and he called him a pastoral dog.

A valued guardian and companion of sheep herders in the Tatra Mountains for centuries, this rugged Molosser managed to survive the 2nd World War, but then almost became extinct during the Communist rule, when the number of rural herdsmen, their flocks and their dogs declined drastically. By the 1960's, the fanciers of the Owczarek Podhalanski decided to do start a revival program, reportedly based on the careful selection of the best surviving specimens, but the modern Tatra Mountain Dog is more likely to be a result of planned mating with the Kuvasz, as is the case with its lighter cousin, the Slovakian Chuvach. During the mid-1970's, the breed was slowly becoming more common outside of its homeland and by the 1980's, Tatra Sheepdogs could be found in many European countries, as well as the United States. The breed was recognized by the U.K.C. in 1995 and although its population is modest in numbers, the Tatra Dog has a loyal following in America and around the world.
The Polish Tatra Sheepdog is a very rare dog. There is approximately 3000 Tatra Sheepdog in the world. The greatest concentration is still in Poland with approximately 600 Tatra Sheepdog; In Poland in some cases is still being used as a working dog mostly for looking after the sheep and as a guardian of rural homesteads.  Polish statistics of April 2001 mention 150 dogs still used with herds. During last decades, Tatra Sheepdog made its appearance in European countries, such as France, Germany, Holland and its getting more popular over the years. For example, in 2003 150 births were registered in France.
In United States there are approximately 300 Polish Tatra Sheepdogs. As in their country of origin, some are used to guard herds and protect them from coyotes and cougars.
In December 2003, the first breeding of Polish Tatra Sheepdog makes its appearance in Canada. That is in Quebec that the breeding Les Neiges de Kamouraska settles with seven dogs imported from Europe.
I know there are some Polish Mountain Sheepdogs in British Columbia and some in Ontario, but I do not have any detailed information.
My dog Maya comes from the Beata Dreksel kennel located in Guatemala. This kennel does not exist anymore as the owner moved back to Poland.
Author: Magda Luchter

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