Here’s a dog that’s been sort of mislabeled: the Black Russian Terrier is not actually a terrier, but a working breed and a hodgepodge of other dogs that passed through Russia some time during or after World War II. Dogs that may have contributed to its development include the Airedale, the Giant Schnauzer, the Rottweiler, the Newfoundland, the Caucasian Ovtcharka and other breeds.
The Black Russian’s purpose initially was to serve as a military guard for the Soviet Army; since then, his strong guarding instincts have helped protect families all over Europe. He goes by different names across the continents: in France he is known as the Terrier Noir Russe, and in Germany he goes by Schwarze Russische Terrier. And the Russians still have a number of alternate names for him: the Chornyi, the Tchiorny Terrier, the Russian Bear Schnauzer
Whatever you call him, he was placed in the working group when the AKC acknowledged him in 1984 — again, because that category more appropriately fits his heritage, temperament and skill set.
During World War II and some of the Cold War years, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics owned and operated The Red Star Kennel for the purpose of breeding and training military dogs. The breeding stock came from several of the countries the Russians took over after the war, East Germany in particular. The dog was bred to work hard in the harsh climate of Russia and its surrounding countries. Little thought was given to the dog’s appearance.
The Red Star Kennel was the sole breeder of Black Russian Terriers until 1957, when a few puppies were sold to outside breeders. These breeders had the goal of blending in good looks while retaining the breed’s strength and capacity to work. In time, these efforts proved fruitful. The strong, capable and better-looking Black Russian Terrier soon began popping up elsewhere in the Soviet Union; he was seen in St. Petersberg, the Ukraine, and Siberia. It was only a matter of time before the first European sighting of the Black Russian Terrier, in Finland, and later in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and both Germanys. Later he went transcontinental, traveling to the United States, Canada, Australia and other nations where people seemed to fancy him. Full recognition from the American Kennel Club came in 1984.
Males should stand between 27 and 30 inches; females, between 26 and 29 inches. The dog has a double coat with the undercoat softer than the slightly wavy body hair. For showing, the only acceptable color is sold black or black with a scattering of gray hairs. Again, purebred dogs that don’t make it to the show ring can lead wonderful lives as a family companion and/or working dog.
The Black Russian Terrier is highly intelligent and responds very well to training and socialization lessons. Originally bred to guard and protect, he is deeply loyal to his family (even waiting outside a closed door for a cherished family member to emerge), and he is not particularly welcoming to new people. He thrives on family activities and is patient even with family’s smallest children (females especially exhibit this trait). It is common for Black Russian Terriers to sleep in or just outside the children’s room, a protective presence.
Like all dogs, Black Russian Terriers need to be walked, but most do not have a high energy level and are comfortable with life in a house or an apartment. To make sure your Black Russian is getting the most out of his play time, find safe dog toys and include your children in the game. Or, the whole family can take a walk after dinner.
The concern with exercise, even though only a modest amount is needed, has a deeper implication. If left alone and bored repeatedly, the Black Russian Terrier can develop separation anxiety and become destructive. It really doesn’t take much to keep this dog quiet and happy; make the effort! And if you are away from home a lot, you might want to consider a cat, as there are very few dogs that do well when their people spend long hours away from home.
There are many estimates on the life expectancy of a Black Russian Terrier; sources say they can live anywhere from nine to 14 years. As a large, deep-chested breed, they can be prone to bloat, so read up on the symptoms of that condition and watch your dog closely as he eats. He is also prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, and has been known to develop hyperuricosuria (a condition that can cause bladder and kidney stones) and juvenile laryngeal paralysis/polyneuropathy, which affects the nerves (starting with those in the larynx); it affects breathing and can be fatal even in young dogs.
The “show groom” for the Black Russian Terrier is a major undertaking that will require the help of a professional groomer, at least the first few times. Most Russians, though, are family dogs and can get stay neat and tidy with the “pet groom,” which consists of brushing once or twice a week, bathing and clipping twice a year (this style will NOT require a professional groomer), and ear care. If you see clumps of hair about the house, you are not brushing the dog enough. Brushing should be enough to eliminate all loose hair. Ear care with an inexpensive ear cleanser will prevent the development of harmful bacteria and keep your dog’s ears itch-free and comfortable.
The “beard” around your dog’s mouth and chest may need more frequent bathing than the rest of him, because it comes in contact with food and water. In these cases, wash only the beard. Resist any temptation to bathe the entire dog more than twice a year unless absolutely necessary. Doing so will subject him to skin dryness, itching and allergies.
The Black Russian Terrier Club of America (http://www.brtca.org) has a Rescue page on their site. They are open to working with people who want to rehome a Black Russian Terrier or people who want to adopt one.