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Illyrian Shepherd Dog Temperament: Work Comes First

The Illyrian Shepherd Dog temperament is fascinating. This is an ancient guardian livestock dog (GLD) that takes her work very seriously.

She is said to have a gentle and calm demeanor. However, she does not make the best family pet.

When she’s called on to protect her charges, she can be ferocious.

What's the Top Illyrian Shepherd Dog Temperament and Personality Traits?

1. Intelligent

The Illyrian Shepherd Dog is a very intelligent, thinking dog.

2. Intuitive

In her guarding duties, the Šarplaninac she makes quick, but not impulsive, decisions. She trusts her instincts, and with good reason.

3. Independent

The Illyrian Shepherd Dog temperament is loyal to her master. However, she is never blindly obedient. She has her own ideas of proper behavior, and she is true to them. She can be very stubborn.

4. Reliable

This ability to make decisions and her inner sense of duty make her an extremely dependable shepherd and/or guard dog.

5. Calm

The Illyrian Shepherd Dog temperament is often called serene. She is relaxed until she senses a threat. She is gentle with children and other dogs.

6. Fiercely Protective

Her protectiveness is one of the hallmarks of the Illyrian Shepherd Dog temperament. This is not surprising considering her traditional role of guarding livestock.

In spite of her calm demeanor, she can be fierce in confronting predators in her work.

When she doesn’t have a flock to protect, she will guard her family and try to herd them from any danger she perceives. She is protective of her entire territory.

7. Courageous

This dog will face wolves and even bears without fear. She will fight to the death if necessary when protecting her flock or her human family.

8. Devoted

The Illyrian Shepherd Dog is devoted to her flock and intensely loyal to her family. She is all business, though. The Illyrian Shepherd Dog temperament is not affectionate.

9. Stranger-wary

She is suspicious of strangers. This Illyrian Shepherd Dog trait is naturally suited to guard dog duty.

10. Hardy

The Illyrian Shepherd is a robust breed. Her thick double coat is weatherproof. She is used to living and sleeping outdoors on farms.

11. Agile

The Illyrian Shepherd is sure-footed from working in the mountains where she originates. She can easily jump fences.

12. Work Ethic

This is also a defining trait of the Illyrian Shepherd Dog temperament. This dog is all work and little play.

Other Illyrian Shepherd Dog Names

Because of the complicated political history of its homeland, this dog has many names and nicknames.

  • Šarplaninac.
  • Šharplaninec.
  • Illyrian Shepherd.
  • Yugoslavian Shepherd Dog—Šarplaninec.
  • Jugoslovenski ovarski pas-Šarplaninac.
  • Macedonian Shepherd Dog.
  • Serbian Shepherd Dog.
  • Charplaninatz.
  • Charplanina.
  • Šar planine.
  • Šar planina.
  • Ilirski Ovča.

Illyrian Shepherd Dog History

The Illyrian Shepherd has a complicated geographic history. It is an ancient breed that originated in the mountains of Serbia and northwest Macedonia (both once part of Yugoslavia). This area was once called Illyria by the Romans.

The Illyrian Shepherd is a Molosser-type breed that Serbians call Šarplaninac. The Macedonians call it Šarplaninec. Both names mean “dog of the Šar Mountains.”

In 1939, the breed was recognized by the Yugoslavian Kennel Club as the Illyrian Sheepdog. It was one of two dogs with that name. (The other is now called the Karst Shepherd.)

In 1954, the two dogs were separated into separate breeds. The Šarplaninac became the Illyrian Shepherd. In 1939, the FCI recognized the breed under the name Yugoslav Shepherd Dog.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union (and Yugoslavia), Macedonians asked for a name change. They wanted both countries of origin to be reflected in the name.

In 1954, the FCI officially changed the breed’s name to Macedonian-Yugoslav Shepherd Dog—Šarplaninac (Srpsko-Makedonski Ovčarski Pas).

Its official name today, according to the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI), is the Yugoslavian Shepherd Dog–Sharplanina. It is most commonly called simply Šarplaninac.

The Yugoslavian Army uses her as a military dog. The Serbian military still uses these dogs as guard dogs in mountainous areas.

At one time, Yugoslavian law did not allow the Šarplaninac to be exported from the country. After the law was lifted in 1970, North American property owners began importing them.

Their primary use has been to control coyotes. It is now becoming a popular livestock and property guarding dog in both the US and Canada.

The Šarplaninac was recognized by the FCI in 1963 and the United Kennel Club (UKC) in 1995.

Illyrian Shepherd Dog Training

Don’t let the Illyrian Shepherd Dog’s gentle demeanor fool you. She is a hard-core working dog through and through. She can be ferocious when the situation calls for it.

Though she is loyal to her master, pleasing that person is less important to her than doing her job.

She is a self-confident dog who trusts her instincts. Her job involves spending days alone with her flock. She often has to make decisions with no human supervision.

She needs a trainer who knows how to work with this dominant, independent nature. This dog needs to be trained with 100% consistency and firmness.

Until you earn her respect as a pack leader, she will not trust you to make the decisions.

She also needs strong socialization. She is very suspicious of strangers and needs to learn how to respond appropriately to them. Considering the nature of her work, you may never be able to control this completely.

Though she is known to be gentle with children, she is not the best choice for families looking for a pet.

She is also not a good choice for an inexperienced dog owner. A trainer who does not understand how to work with this dog will not be able to control her.

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Illyrian Shepherd Dog Appearance

General Appearance

The Illyrian Shepherd is a large dog. She’s muscular and heavy-boned. She has two dense coats. The hair of her outer coat is generally about 4 inches long.

Illyrian Shepherd Dog color can be just about any shade of white, gray, tan, or nearly black. The color is typically several blended shades of one of these colors. She has feathering on the belly, legs, and tail that makes her look larger than she is.

She has a rounded skull. The ears are medium in size, folded and V-shaped. Her eyes are almond-shaped and can be brown or amber. Her nose is wide and black. The muzzle is broad.

Her neck is medium in length with longer hair. She is deep-chested with straight, sturdy legs. Her long tail is thick and bushy.

Illyrian Shepherd Dog Size

Average Illyrian Shepherd Dog weight is 77 to 79 pounds for males and 66 to 88 for females.

Illyrian Shepherd Dog height averages 24 inches for males and 23 inches for females.

Illyrian Shepherd Dog Health Issues

The Illyrian Shepherd is a very healthy breed with no breed-specific health conditions. However, there are a few that you should look out for that many breeds can be prone to.

  • Allergies. Just like humans, dogs can have allergic reactions to environmental or food allergens.
  • Bloat. This is otherwise known as gastric dilatation volvulus. This occurs when the dog’s stomach twists around itself, causing a blockage. It is considered a medical emergency.
  • Ear infections, as above. The long, pendulous ears are an ideal moist and humid environment for yeast and bacteria.
  • Hip dysplasia. This is a malformation of the ball-and-socket joint of the hip. It can cause lameness, arthritis, and severe pain. It’s not uncommon in large dogs or working breeds.
  • Elbow dysplasia. A malformation of the three bones of the elbow, or front leg. It can also lead to arthritis and severe pain.

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Illyrian Shepherd Dog Lifespan

The life expectancy of this breed is about 11 to 13 years.

Caring for the Illyrian Shepherd Dog

Illyrian Shepherd Dog Grooming

This dog is an average shedder. Her long coat needs to be brushed a few times a week to prevent matting. She needs more frequent brushing during molting season. Illyrian Shepherds are used to living outdoors and do not need regular baths.

She does need her ears checked and cleaned regularly. Like all dogs, she also needs her nails trimmed and teeth brushed on a routine basis.

Illyrian Shepherd Dog Diet

This dog has no special dietary needs. A good-quality dry food should be fine. If she spends her time working, you may want to consider a high-performance food, but check with your vet first.

Illyrian Shepherd Dog Exercise

This breed has a high exercise need. If she is working on a farm, this will take care of itself. If not, she will need a fairly long walk or jog every day.

This is an outdoor dog that needs wide-open spaces. She would not do well in an apartment or with city living. She needs a rural area with room to run and does best when she has a job to do.

Finding an Illyrian Shepherd Dog

Buying an Illyrian Shepherd Dog from a Breeder

We found several North American Illyrian Shepherd Dog (Šarplaninac) breeders online, some with upcoming litters and one with available puppies at the time of this writing.

Though this is still a fairly rare breed, it is possible to find one in the US or Canada. Illyrian Shepherd Dog price is about $1200 plus shipping. Some breeders are willing to ship Illyrian Shepherd Dog puppies.

Vetting the Breeder

Be very careful in choosing a breeder. You will want trustworthy recommendations.

Search for Facebook groups and user forums. Many breeders and dog lovers join groups like these to connect with other owners.

This is a great way to be sure you aren’t buying your Illyrian Shepherd Dog puppy from a puppy mill or backyard breeder.

Puppy mills are notorious for raising puppies in horrible conditions. They have no concern for the health or welfare of the puppies or the parents.

These people overbreed the mothers. They also inbreed, which causes problems with the puppies and damages the genetic soundness of the breed.

These dogs are very likely to have health problems. You may be perpetuating serious genetic health conditions in the breed. You may also see Illyrian Shepherd Dog behaviors that aren’t “true to type.”

And you will almost certainly have a poorly adjusted dog on your hands.

Responsible breeders only breed healthy dogs. They will offer you a health guarantee. They will even offer to take the dog back if you ever need to surrender it for any reason.

Puppy mills will offer no guarantees at all.

Illyrian Shepherd Dog Rescue/Adoption

If you would prefer to find an Illyrian Shepherd Dog for adoption, you may have to wait a little longer. An online search at the time of this writing found no North American rescues.

You may be able to locate a rescue with the online contacts mentioned above. Try adoption sites such as puppyfinder.com and adoptapet.com.

You might also leave word at any local shelters that you are looking for a Šarplaninac.

If you’re able to find one at a rescue or shelter, you will most likely be adopting an adult dog. Rescuing an adult has some advantages over buying a puppy.

It will be neutered or spayed. It will likely be housebroken and may be microchipped.

Best of all, you would have the joy of providing a loving home to a dog who needs one.

Is the Illyrian Shepherd Dog the Right Breed for You?

The Illyrian Shepherd is a fascinating breed, but they need to be placed in a home that’s a good match for them. A farm where they are given a job to do is the best possible situation for a Šarplaninac.

They also need a very firm, consistent leader. Even then, they are not likely to ever be completely obedient.

A Šarplaninac has the makings of a good family dog, but she would need a job to do as well. Even then, it would take a lot of time and effort on your part to make it work.

Unless you have a job for the Illyrian Shepherd Dog to do, there are better choices for a family companion.

But if you can meet this dog’s needs and respect her independence, the Illyrian Shepherd Dog temperament could make her a good choice for your family.