Breed Profile: Tornjak

Tornjaks are friendly, affectionate dogs when around family, but when working they are fierce guard dogs who cannot be bribed.

By: brian395
Tornjak dogs are livestock guardians. By: brian395

Breed

Tornjak

Group

Foundation Stock Service (Working group)

Physical Description

The Tornjak is a large, strong dog with a well-proportioned, square-shaped body. The nose is large and dark, and the dark eyes are almond-shaped. The medium ears are set high and are triangular in shape; they fold down and hang by the face. The long tail is covered with long hair and carried high during movement.

The dog’s double coat features long, straight and thick hair on the topcoat, and long, thick, woolly hair on the undercoat. The hair on the face is shorter with longer hair around the neck. Coat color is parti-colored, and white is typically the dominant color. Various solid colors that may appear on the coat include black, white and tan.

Male Tornjaks are between 25 and 27 inches tall, and their female counterparts are 23 to 25 inches tall. Weight ranges for males are between 77 and 100 pounds, while females weigh 61 to 88 pounds. The life span of a Tornjak is around 14 years or longer.

Origin

The Tornjak is a Croatian dog from Bosnia and Herzegovina with a large concentration of the dogs in Vlašić, the central part of the country. Actual written records of this breed date back to the year 1067, making them very rare dogs. The breed is thought to have descended from the Tibetan mastiff and was at one point called the Kanis montanus (translates to mountain dog). The Tornjaks we see today are said to be unchanged from the original dogs.

In 1981 the breed was recorded as Bosnian-Herzegovinian sheepdog – tornjak. The name was later shortened to Tornjak. The breed almost became extinct in 1972, and a few years later a breeding program started in 1978 revived the dogs.

The American Kennel Club added the breed to their registry in May of 2012 under the Foundation Stock Service. Once the breed rises in popularity in the United States, the dogs will be moved to the working group designation. The breed is not currently registered with the Kennel Club in the United Kingdom but may be recognized in other European countries.

Purpose

Tornjaks were used to herd and guard livestock. Some of them still perform these tasks today, while others are companion pets and guard dogs who may participate in dog shows.

Temperament

When inside the home, Tornjaks are friendly and affectionate with their family members. Barking is usually minimal indoors but can be frequent outdoors when they notice something new or different.

When in a working capacity, they are on high alert and confident, fearless, wary of strangers and cannot be bribed when on duty. They can be aggressive with people, animals and other dogs who are considered a threat to their property or family members.

They are smart dogs who learn quickly and can be trained, although compliance with obedience can vary. This is because the dogs are independent thinkers and used to assessing a situation to make their own judgments.

If they do not obey a command, it is not because they don’t understand it; they have simply assessed the situation and found it unnecessary to comply. They have long memories and retain a large amount of information.

Exercise Needs

This breed needs daily exercise in the form of brisks walks, running and play. Ideally they will have a large, secure yard or land on which they can run and roam. Because of their thick double coats, they can live outdoors in colder climates but will still require an area of shelter.

Tornjaks are not recommended for apartments because of they space they need.

This video shows the playful nature of the Tornjak, and you can see the difference in size from a 14-month-old Tornjak and two-month-old puppies:

Grooming Requirements

Brushing should be done several times per week and more often on outdoor or working Tornjak dogs to prevent the long coat from matting. After being outdoors, they should also be checked for insects or debris which may become lodged in the coat, paws or ears. Bathing can be done as needed.

Regular maintenance should also be performed as needed. This includes trimming the nails, cleaning the ears and brushing the teeth.

Common Health Problems

There are no notable genetic disorders common for the Tornjak.  A limited number of dogs have been examined and found to have mild forms of hip dysplasia, but is not common at this time. Some suggest limiting Tornjak puppies from climbing stairs until maturity as this activity might lead to joint issues later in life.

Is the Tornjak the Right Dog for You?

The Tornjak is an independent thinker developed to guard livestock and make decisions based on a variety of situations. They are intelligent dogs but may not always obey commands if they deem the commands unnecessary at the time. They do need a strong leader willing to train them and remain in command.

The guarding instinct is so strong in this breed that it is said they cannot be bribed when on duty. Although fearless and strong in their work, Tornjaks are excellent family dogs and are affectionate with their family members.

Grooming is minimal with daily brushing to keep the coat free of tangles, although outdoor working dogs may require a bit more attention because of debris and insects.

The only noted health problem is hip dysplasia, and even this notation is a small percentage of a sampling of dogs. There are no major genetic conditions that have been observed at this time.

Active families with outdoor space are the ideal environments for this breed. If you are looking for an independent dog with guarding instincts but affectionate with family members, consider a Tornjak for your next dog.

Adopt, Don’t Buy

Tornjaks are still considered a rare breed and are recorded in the American Kennel Club’s Foundation Stock Service, and the breed will remain listed there until more of the dogs are present and registered in the United States.

Because of their limited availability, finding a Tornjak will be difficult. If you contact a breeder, meet the dog parents first and look for signs which might indicate the breeder is not taking proper care of the dogs.

Additional Resources

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, is an author, poet and pet lover from Louisiana. She is the author of an award-nominated book, One Unforgettable Journey, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. She was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. She is also employed as chief operating officer for a large mental health practice in Louisiana. Kristine has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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