Unearth the Enigmatic Origins of the Mighty Sarplaninac Breed!

Nestled deep in the rugged Šar Mountains, spanning the southern part of Serbia (Kosovo’s side) and Northern Macedonia, a breed of dog emerges from the mists of time, embodying a lineage that dates back centuries.

The Sarplaninac (pronounced shar-pla-nee-natz), often referred to as “Šarplaninac” or “Šarac,” is a remarkable canine guardian with a history as majestic as the mountain ranges it calls home.


The origin of the Sarplaninac remains an enigma, as no one can definitively confirm it.

Some claim it descends from wolves, while an alternative theory points to the Black Tibetan Mastiff.

However, based on my research and the literature I’ve explored, the most likely ancestry of the Sarplaninac can be traced back to the Molossian dog.

The Molossian dog breed first emerged in Epirus around 1200 BC.

These dogs were not only used for guarding flocks of sheep and goats but also for defending human settlements and fortifications against attackers.

Additionally, they were employed in warfare, assaulting enemy military units on battlefields. [1]

The migration of people from the East brought these dogs to the Balkans, and genetic modifications and the shaping of the Sarplaninac dog breed began in the fourth century BC during the reign of Alexander the Great (336–323 BC).

He employed them to confront his adversaries.

Russian sources indicate that the Caucasian Shepherd also has roots in the Molossian dog.

An intriguing commonality between the Sarplaninac and the Caucasian Shepherd is the prohibition of a completely black coat!

Nevertheless, despite their striking similarities, these breeds exhibit some distinct differences.

The First Dog Show 1926

Author:  Dipl. Eng. Boris Špoljarić

Cynological Judge

At the First International Dog Show in Ljubljana, held on September 8 and 9, 1926, a group of dogs known as “kraški ovčari” (as mentioned in the catalog) participated.

Two males were exhibited, namely Mrko and Turko.

Here are the details: Mrko (JRSp 29 IO-1, sire Marko, dam Pikola, born on May 15, 1924, bred by Pavle Vodopivec from the village of Petelinje near St. Peter on Kras (today’s Pivka), owned by the “Golovec” kennel (Ivan Pestotnik) from Ljubljana, receiving a grade of very good.

As for Turko, the information is as follows: (JRSp 30 IO-2, sire Tabor, dam Griva, born at an unknown time; bred by Ivan Pozar from the village of Volcje near St. Peter on Kras, Pivka, owned by Branko Bezjak from Ljubljana, receiving a grade of excellent.

Due to the needs of the royal army, dogs were brought from the Šar Mountain in 1928, as evidenced by a photograph taken somewhere at the foot of this mountain.

The picture includes 9 individuals: Captain Kasidij (the third person from the right), a military veterinarian (the sixth from the right), the veterinarian’s wife (next to the captain), while the others are Albanians from Bitola, along with 10 Sarplaninac dogs (Zov, 273/1994; B. Špoljarić, 2012/2013).

“Mirna” Dog Kennel

The Yugoslav Canine Club became a member of the International Canine Federation (FCI) on May 10, 1929, announcing the Illyrian Shepherd breed (R. Orban, 1958).

Franjo Bulc (1901-1979), a veterinary doctor who worked as a district veterinarian in Tetovo and Gostivar between 1925 and 1930, became a member of the Club of Sports Dog Enthusiasts in Ljubljana in 1924 and began breeding Illyrian Shepherds in the “Mirna” kennel.

For breeding purposes in the Šar Mountains, he selected dogs and brought them to the village of Mirna in Dolenjska, where he lived.

At the Second International Dog Show in Ljubljana, held on May 19 and 20, 1929, seven Karst Shepherds were registered.

The show included the evaluation of five specimens, as well as two dogs not listed in the catalog, one of which was the male Karamashi I (JRSp 58 IO-10, unknown parents, born on November 15, 1926, originating from the Šar Mountain, unknown breeder, owned by the “Golovec” kennel, with a rating of very good (A. Šuster, 1938).

In September 1929, a dog show was held in Vienna, where four Karst Shepherd participated.

The male Sar (JRSp 57 IO-9, unknown parents, born on June 15, 1928, originating from the Šar Mountain, unknown breeder, owned by the “Mirna” kennel of Franjo Bulc), received an excellent rating and won the title of Vienna Champion (A. Šuster, 1938).

This was the first exhibition of Illyrian Shepherds outside the borders of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

The male Dečko Mirnski (JRSp 158 IO-22, sire: Karamashi JRSp 59 IO-11, dam: Cura JRSp 65 IO-13, born on April 3, 1932, bred by the “Mirna” kennel of Franjo Bulc, owned by the “Osoje” kennel of Steve Sinko from Škofje Loka) is the Illyrian Shepherd that became the first international and Yugoslav champion.

His sire was Karamashi II (JRSp 59 IO-11, unknown parents, born on April 10, 1927, originating from the Šar Mountain, unknown breeder, owned by the “Mirna” kennel), and his dam was Cura (JRSp 65 IO-13, unknown parents, born on May 2, 1929, originating from the Šar Mountain, unknown breeder, owned by the “Mirna” kennel), as mentioned by A. Šuster (1938).

From the information provided, it can be concluded that this is a Sarplaninac breed raised in the Drava Banovina.

Preparing for the Standard

In order for the Illyrian Shepherd breed to be internationally recognized, a standard had to be developed.

Therefore, on March 19, 1936, the Club of Sports Dog Enthusiasts (KLSp) issued an invitation for the First Meeting of Illyrian Shepherds.

The event took place on April 5, 1936, in the pavilion of the Dolničar restaurant at the Ljubljana Fair.

According to the invitation, the information collected would be used to create a standard for the Illyrian Shepherd following FCI rules.

The judging panel at the event consisted of Dr. Ivan Lovrenčić (1878-1952), with Dr. Josip Ceruder and Teodor Drenig (1890-1977) as judges.

Thirty dogs (17 males and 13 females) were evaluated at the show.

Analyzing the results, the following can be deduced:

The “Kinološki Glasnik” (1937), the magazine of the Canine Club in Belgrade, featured a photo of the “Šarplaninski ovčarski pas” (Sarplaninac) in the service of our army, taken at a military celebration (parade) in Niš.

The exact date of the parade is unknown, but it can be assumed that it took place in 1936-1937.

The picture includes a group of soldiers with Sarplaninac dogs that were used in the military. [2]

The Illyrian Shepherd (1937 – 1957)

This breed, officially known as the “Illyrian Shepherd,” holds a unique place in canine history.

It was recognized by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (F.C.I.) in 1939 as breed number 41 under the name “Illirski Ovcar” (Illyrian Shepherd Dog).

The choice of this original name harks back to the geographical region I am writing about, which was once the Big Illyria.

Within the Illyrian Shepherd breed, there were two distinct types, Type A and Type B. The higher type hailed from the Šar Mountains, while the lower type originated from the Karst Plateaus.

However, the Yugoslavian Federation of Cynology did not favor the idea of two types within the breed and aimed to classify them as two separate breeds.

In 1957, the Sarplaninac officially received a new name, becoming the “Yugoslavian Shepherd Dog Sharplanina” and in 1968, the Karst Shepherd was registered as a distinct breed.

Sarplaninacs played a significant role in the Yugoslav People’s Army as official working dogs!

Military training centers for dogs and dog handlers made substantial contributions to the popularization, preservation, and development of the breed. [3]

FCI Standard N 41 (1970)

The current standard for the Sarplaninac breed was approved by the FCI (Fédération Cynologique Internationale) in 1970, with a significant contribution to its standardization made by Prof. Dr. Slobodan Pavlović (1912 – 1994) from the Yugoslavian Federation of Cynology.

He was a doyen of Serbian and global cynology!

Born in Smederevo on July 23, 1912, Dr. Slobodan Pavlović completed his primary and secondary education in Smederevo.

He pursued his higher education in veterinary science at Alfort (near Paris), where he earned his doctorate in 1935, becoming the youngest Ph.D. in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia at the time.

From February 1946 until his retirement, he worked at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Belgrade.

Dr. Pavlović initiated his work in cynology even before World War II when he became interested in the native breed of the Sarplaninac shepherd dog.

Through the application of scientific methods and statistical analysis of collected data, he formulated the standard for this breed, which was subsequently accepted by the Yugoslav Cynology Association (J.K.S.) and later by the International Cynological Federation (F.C.I.).

Throughout his career in cynology, he served as the longtime leader of the Pedigree Book of the J.K.S., and on the international stage, he was a member of the F.C.I. Bureau, representing the interests of the J.K.S.

He also served as the president of the Standardization Committee at the F.C.I. for ten years.

I suggest you watch the following video(s) and listen carefully to what Mr. Pavlović said about Šarplaninac.

Change the subtitle from Hungarian to English (Auto Translate)!

Strict Export Ban Until 1975!

Regrettably, Sarplaninac exports from Yugoslavia were strictly prohibited until 1970.

Due to this stringent ban, these majestic dogs did not find their way to America until 1975, when the very first Sarplaninac was laboriously transported down the mountain slopes by a mule and introduced to the country. [4]

In 1977, the exportation of this breed became somewhat more common, although they remain relatively rare in the United States.

Over the years, Sarplaninacs have consistently demonstrated their effectiveness as livestock guardian dogs!

However, it’s only in recent times that their popularity has seen a notable rise.

Sarplaninac As Livestock Guardian Dog

As a member of the livestock guardian breed, the Sarplaninac is a shepherd’s dog with a singular mission – to protect what is entrusted to it (herds, property, the owner, and their family).

The way it performs its protective functions (monitoring and control) attests to its pastoral nature. [5]

What sets these dogs apart is their psychological balance, self-assuredness, and courage.

They can stand their ground against far more powerful predators, but their intent is to deter further attacks!

Over time, wolves have developed tactics aimed at separating guardian dogs and providing an opportunity for the pack to attack the herd, led by the alpha male.

In such circumstances, the best guardian dogs are those who stay with the herd and obey their shepherd’s commands.

The Sarplaninac’s innate qualities make it a formidable protector, ensuring the safety of both livestock and those who care for them.

Its unwavering courage in the face of danger is a testament to its unwavering commitment to its role as a livestock guardian.


Since 1993, the reverse side of the 1 Macedonian denar coin features the image of a Sarplaninac!


I hope you now have a clearer picture of Sarplaninac’s history.

I’ve tried to arrange the most interesting events chronologically, while the temperament and other breed characteristics are not the subject of this research.

The fact is that the best Sarplaninacs are in the Balkans!

That’s why I believe that “Yugoslavian Shepherd Dog Sharplanina” is the most accurate name for the breed at this moment.

The best name would be “Sarplaninac Shepherd Dog.” However, this leads to unnecessary discussions between owners/breeders from Serbia, Macedonia, and Albania.

This doesn’t mean that Bosnia, Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia don’t have excellent Sarplaninacs! On the contrary, they have great dogs!

Some of them are very successful at dog shows and present the Sarplaninac as this breed deserves.

Thank you for your time and attention in reading this article.


My name is Alen Stefanovic, and I am the founder and administrator of the website "Awesome Sarplaninac". As an economist-trade manager, and web designer, I have a passion for the Sarplaninac breed (number 1 dogs for me). My father has been breeding these dogs since 1990, and through the website, I aim to share valuable information about nutrition, care, and training for both puppies and adult dogs. Whether you're a new or experienced owner, you'll find plenty of helpful tips and resources on the site. Welcome to "Sarplaninac FCI 4302", and I wish you a pleasant stay.

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