Owczarek Podhalański – what do you know about this dog? Posted by on Oct 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

The home of these big white dogs are not the Tatra Mountains.. Their origin is found in the high plains in the northern region of the Polish Carpathians, the endless sheep pastures. This landscape is called Podhale and it is as the name does not say “in” but “the mountains”.

The meaning of the word Owczarek in english is not sheepdog, but the diminutive of Owczar = shepherd, and means “little shepherd “, or shepherd called “sheep boy “.

Image by Jarosław Pocztarski on

Image by Jarosław Pocztarski on

A Polski Owczarek Podhalanski, translated into English, is a Polish shepherd from Podhale mountains “.
The Tatra mountain dogs belong to the group sheepdogs and more specific the mountain- or guarddogs. Large and strong, with hanging ears, they have a naturally thick heavy coat, suitable in any kind of wheather and powerfull enough to defend their flock against any opponent.

This kind sheepdog exists since living memory, more specific in the regions of the Eurasian highlands, stretching from the Pyrenees in the west to the Himalayas in the east.
The silvergray coat for herding the goat (Sarplaninac), the colorful cows Bernese Mountain Dog), black dogs for the yaks (Tibetan Mastiff), the white sheep (Pyrenean Mountain dog, Kuvasz, Maremmer, Cuvcac, Tatra), golden for spotted goats and sheep (Estrela Cao).
The white coat of some shepherd dogs is explained by the Swiss scientist Conrad Gesner.

A cattle – and/or sheepdog must be strong, powerful, brave and bold, an awesome whine and bark, and the same color as the sheep or cattle.

Thus cattle or sheep are not afraid of him
The wolf does not notice him between the flock.
The shepherd does not confuse him for a wolf and kill by mistake.

Thus over the years several regional dog breeds arose in the Eurasian mountain regions. Allthough they look different, their work was and is the same everywhere. Their work is not gathering sheep on command of the shepherd, but they move alon with the herd as they grew up amidst them, they see it as their pack, always following and monitoring. They defend their herd against predators through thick and thin.
Originally, the dog came along with the nomads who settled in the vicinity of the Tatra mountains where mountain slopes and valleys (Podhale) were used to graze their large herds. These large white dogs are the ancestors of our Tatra Mountaindog or Owczarek Podhalanski. The dogs were and still are of great aid to the shepherd, particularly in the areas where wolves, brown bears and lynx live and were good protectors are a prerequisite for this form of farming in the area. Dogs have not only an incredible sense of smell, they also have a very good ear and excellent sight in the dark.

The shepherds of the High Tatras are very proud of their dogs who are strong, agile and intelligent enough to scare of a brown bear so that he takes a run and chasing a wolf pack to get back the spoils.

The Tatra Shepherd belongs to Canis familiaris inostrancevi group of dogs, which gives origin to many pastorał and molossoid breeds – strong, long coated, well boned and drop eared. The Tatra Shepherd is one of so-called „mountain dogs” descending from the Tibetan mastiff. Its ancestors were brought into Europę with nomadic tribes of Huns and Awars (IV-VI century AD) that settled in Hungarian Plains. Dogs of this type were later bred by the shepherding tribe of Wallachians, who eventually settled in the Tatra Mountains in the XVth century.

The Tatra Shepherd is a close relative to some other dogs, known in the mountainous areas of Europę – in the Carpathians, Alps and Pyrenees, e.g. the Slovakian Chuvac (Slovensky Cuvac), Maremmano-Abruzzesse and Pyrenean Mountain Dog. Similar dogs can befound also in Tibet, Caucasus and Mongolia and they all share sim­ilar characteristics, common with the Tibetan Mastiff.

The Tatra Shepherd is undoubtedly an old, local breed, which primary use was flock guarding, and not herding. Isolation and selection for working qualities eventually produced dogs of good size, strong, resistant, courageous and stable, and aggressive when pro-voked. Their traditional colour was pure white, for white dogs can be easily distinguished from predators. Originally the breed was called „liptok”, the name coming from the Slovakian area of Liptov. It was not before establishing borders between Poland and Slovakia when both breeds started their separate development. The first attempts of planned breeding were undertaken after World War I by the two exist-ing organisations: Polski Związek Hodowców Psów Rasowych (The Polish Association of Pedigree Dog Breeders) and Towarzystwo Miłośników Psa Służbowego (The Society of Working Dog Breeders)} mainly thanks to dedicated work of prof Maurycy Trybułski. The first standard was drawn in 1937 after the first show and breed surrey which took place in Zakopane, in the heart of the Tatras, on September 3rd-5th.

The outbreak of the War in 1939 ceased all those attempts; however, the breed survived it in its native areas. Shepherds: Jan Staszel Furtok Sen., Władysław Krupa, Jan Naglak, Stanisław Molek, Józef Majerczyk Kasper, Władysław Stasik, Błażej Floryn Kamieńcowy, Władysław Bachleda Curuś and Józef Kalata were all breeding Tatras during the War.

After the War the local branch of the re-stablished Związek Kynologiczny w Polsce (The Polish Kennel Club) in Cracow was the first to show interest in the breed. Professors: Teodor Marchlewski, Jadwiga Dyakowska, Zygmunt Ewy, Antoni Żebracki, dr Jan Robel, Stanisław Madeyski and Lubomir Smyczynski, Marian Szymandera, Rudolf Kryspin, Emil Okarmus, Zygmunt Danek and Tadeusz Siemianowski were all involved in surreys and studies on the breed, while dr Derezinski was searchingfor typical specimens in Zakopane and in the mountains.

In May 1954 the first post-war show and assessment took place in Zakopane, with some 120 dogs entered. The vast majority of them worked with sheep. After the show and meeting a new standard was drawn.

This standard was eventually accepted by FCI on August 29th, 1967 (number 252a). Smali changes were introduced in 1973 and 1985 (252b). The current breed standard comes from 1988 (June 8th).

The first pedigree litter was born in 1957; interestingly, it was bred in the coastal town of Łeba by dr Danuta Hryniewicz, whose foundation stock dates from 1935. Nevertheless, the breeding centrę has been and still remains Podhale.

The breed club was founded in 1981 and for many years its chairman was dr Derezinski. His dedication and knowledge of the breed is unsurpassed. There are several breed clubs abroad: in Holland, Belgium, Germany and USA as well as breed sections in the bigger club.

Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)

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About the Author: Kasia

My name is Kasia Scontsas. I grew near Lublin, Poland and moved to Warsaw to study International Business. I have passion for languages: any languages! Currently I live in New Hampshire. I enjoy skiing, kayaking, biking and paddle boarding. My husband speaks a little Polish, but our daughters are fluent in it! I wanted to make sure that they can communicate with their Polish relatives in our native language. Teaching them Polish since they were born was the best thing I could have given them! I have been writing about learning Polish language and culture for Transparent Language’s Polish Blog since 2010.


  1. Susan Kramer:

    Steill confused after reading. What is the difference between this dog and the Great Pyrnees?