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'Tornjak - A Breed Resurrected'
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nouvelles - 19/05/2006
Tornjak - A Breed Resurrected  -  Croatie

chien éleveurs chiens photos par Yossi Guy
A truly working breed is a rare sight in these high-tech times. Croatian and Bosnian enthusiasts have invested a lot of energy and knowledge into recreating one of their almost-extinct national breeds, the Tornjak – an excellent flock guardian – recently recognized by the FCI. A day in the life of a Croatian shepherd and his dogs.

Zlatko Mavrovic donned his feathered hat, put on his embroidered vest and just to be on the safe side pocketed his cellular phone. He picked a sturdy shepherd’s crook from several walking sticks leaning against the cottage wall covered in traditional wooden farm tools and deer heads. After taking a swig of his home-made plum liquor he gestured to his three black Croatian shepherds. The dogs, who had been sunning themselves lazily just seconds earlier, sprang into action and began to circle Zlatko's flock. The sheep started to move, rams, ewes and little lambs with long woolly curls, streaming from their large pen beneath the farmhouse into the lane leading out to pasture.

The three large Tornjaks stirred. They spread out, one leading the flock, checking the territory ahead, the others watching the flanks. As the flock stopped to graze every once in a while.the guardians found a vantage spot in the bushes, seemingly resting to preserve energy but at the same time on the alert for any danger that may arise in the wooded, hilly terrain.

One can never really know what danger lies in store for these sheep. Large and small predators, including foxes, jackals and wolves may be hungry enough to forage on the meek, defenseless animals and the little lambs in particular. This part of Croatia, due to conservation efforts, has its roving pack of wolves numbering several dozens of relatively large and sly animals.

As usual, when wild predators are reintroduced into their former natural habitat, they tend to upset the chicken, cattle and sheep farmers, due to their tendency to prey on readily available farm animals. The frustrated farmers then decimate these rare animals for fear their livelihood may be endangered. Modern conservation methods have therefore introduced these predators' natural enemies – fierce guard dogs.

So, in 1968, Sandor Horvath, a former journalist and present day expert on animal reproduction, took on the task of resurrecting the local flock guardian – the Tornjak. The breed had been neglected due to the cultural trend of modernization. The post-war generation had abandoned farming for more lucrative jobs in the city, decimating both flocks and dogs. Today's generation, including Zlatko, has returned to farms, fleeing the pressure of urban life, with an affinity for nature.

Although there are many flock guardians in various parts of the world, all bred for the same purpose, the motives for reproducing the Tornjak were dual. On the one hand, the Tornjak is able to negotiate the extremely varied geographical conditions in Croatia. On the other hand, the Croatians are extremely patriotic and proud of their national heritage from all aspects, including livestock.

To draw a picture of the Tornjak, Horvath visited the old farmers who remembered the breed from before WW2. He researched the various attributes of the breed and determined the makings of a good Tronjak, in his words it was “a combination of traditional beliefs and experiments with several generations.” He then searched remote mountain farms for specimens of the breed that had not been in contact with other breeds, locating some 30 dogs in total. When he found his foundation stock, four bitches and several dogs, he began the work of reproducing correct, healthy dogs.

“I did not want to bring outcrosses into the breed,” notes Horvath. He therefore had his work cut out for him, calculating the exact matings that would bring desirable results. “We now have over two thousand Tornjaks, and I am particularly proud of the fact that ninety percent of them are working dogs used by shepherds.”

From the coastal plain of Dalmatia with its treacherous marshlands, through rolling hills, large inland plains stretching into the horizon and steep, precipitous mountains – Croatian terrain is varied and sheep are taken to pasture in all these areas. The local shepherd dogs are aptly constructed to work these diverse regions.

There are several properties that characterize the Tornjak. It is not among the taller of the flock guards. Experts claim the ideal height is around 70cm with bitches a little shorter than males. This enables the dog to negotiate mountainous ground with relative ease. The Tornjak is a squarely built dog, with an additional 5-10% in length acceptable. One of its salient features is its tendency to amble. Horvath claims this type of gait is more suitable to steep hills than the trot and on our trek with the herd we noticed all the dogs walking appropriately.

The Tornjak is never completely white. It has a variety of patches and markings in a diverse range of hues – from black to yellow – each dog differing from its mates. These markings enable the shepherds to identify their flocks from afar, to tell the dogs from the sheep (white dogs blend in with the flock) and to discern them from wolves.

The large head is mastiff-like, with broad square skull and broad muzzle that should never be snipey. It is carried on a characteristically long neck allowing the dog to overlook the territory it guards even when lying down. The short coupled topline should be level, never sloping, roached or sagging. The large plumed tail is carried over the dog’s back, although not lying close to it, further expression of the short back but also serving as a “flag” that assists the shepherd in identifying his dogs.

However, beyond all the physical properties mentioned above, the Tornjak is relatively unique in its work. The dogs work in groups of three or more, depending on the size of the flock. They work on instinct, older dogs teaching the younger dogs by setting an example. The young puppies are socialized with the flock at birth, assimilating the sheep into their “family”. However, at the age of about five months they are separated from the sheep only to begin working when they reach adulthood.

When going out with the sheep, the Tornjak will first scout out the terrain. Upon reaching the pasture, the oldest of Zlatko’s three bitches (in itself a rare phenomenon because usually the dogs go out with the flock while the bitches remain on the farm) went down below the grazing sheep and around them to see whether any danger lay in store for them. After she was satisfied that her flock was not at risk she found a spot in the shade and lay down.

Suddenly, the dogs sprang up and ran down the slope to the fence of the abutting farm. The farm dog had burst into vigorous barking at the sight of a passing vehicle, triggering the Tornjaks to assure their flock’s safety. Again, they returned to higher ground, lying down but using their long necks to lift up their heads and scan the area.

One of the smaller sheepdogs came up to one of the Tornjaks and sat on its tail, a symbol of the strong relationship between the two breeds working together with their owner. It then invited the big dog for a short, friendly tussle and the two played together for a while.

Zlatko’s dogs displayed the amble typical of the breed. They went at a slow pace that would sometimes turn into a faster trot when required to flank the sheep. The three bitches are short coupled, according to Horvath, this is the most desirable type within the breed. There are two additional types, one a little longer in body with a sloping topline and tail that is carried low, and the other more of a mastiff type, heavy and slow moving.

The Tornjak is not a typical family pet, although some people do keep them as pets. They are zealous guardians, a bit wary of strangers. One may enter their territory upon receiving their owner’s approval but it is definitely not advised to try to leave without proper permission. They are very strong dog, both physically and mentally, and do not take well to the role of “servants”, preferring to be their human’s partners. The right person for a Tornjak is someone who is able to empathize with an intelligent creature than can solve problems.

Although Horvath and Zagreb Tornjak Club secretary Marko Vojic are quite proud of the fact that most Tornjaks are not house pets but actually practicing their traditional work, turnout at shows is quite adequate with breed specialties attracting several tens of dogs. The shepherds, however, cannot grasp the need to attend these affairs since they require their dogs for work.

“At the beginning, it was not easy to persuade local herders to accept our national breed for working,” noted Vojic. “With the help of government and EU Life Foundation funding, we were able to place approximately 280 Tornjaks with shepherds. The results spoke for themselves after farmers realized they could rid themselves of the predators and now they are willing to purchase puppies.”

Vojic explained the meaning of Tornjak, a name derived from the Croatian word “tor” meaning “sheep pen” and the entire name means “guardian of the pen” – an appropriate descriptive.

Horvath believes indigenous breeds, or inherited breeds in his words, are part of the cultural heritage of their country. He has taken an active part in reinstating breeds of cattle and is involved in other species of domestic animal recognized by the Croatian government, including horses, goats, sheep, poultry and even pigeons and bees.

“In the 70’s, I was sure I was looking at the last dogs in the breed, but now we have several thousands and my work is done,” says Horvath. “The breed is a living population, not just a written standard. The present standard accepted by the FCI is a preliminary standard based on cooperation between Croats and Bosnians who both have a claim to the breed. The standard is a convention and we can still discuss it and change it if necessary. The real thing is the gene pool and we can only serve it, not master it.”

The last of the lambs and stragglers arrive back in the pen. The dogs stroll back to their master’s doorstep and lounge at his feet. Zlatko brings out some local ham, bread, onions and the inevitable plum brandy and we all down a swig in honor of the resurrected breed.

(Translation : Dubravka Reicher, prof. Revised by Jennifer Mulholland and Raymond Triquet.)



FCI-Standard N° / / GB

ORIGIN : Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia


UTILIZATION: Herding and protection of livestock; farmyard guard dog.

CLASSIFICATION F.C.I.: Group 1: Sheepdogs and cattle dogs (except Swiss Cattle Dogs)

Section 1: Sheepdogs

Without working trial.


The almost extinct descendants of genetically homogeneous, native archaic types of shepherd dogs have been the foundation stock for the re-creation of the breed “Tornjak”. The dogs belonging to the original stock had been dispersed in mountain areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia and their surrounding valleys..

The major historical dates are the years 1067 and 1374. Written documents from these periods mention the Bosnian-Herzegovinian-Croatian breed for the first time.

The research about their historical and more recent existence and then a systematic salvation from extinction started simultaneously in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina around 1972 and continuous pure blood breeding began in 1978. Nowadays, the breed population consists of numerous, purebred dogs selected during a series of generations dispersed throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.


The Tornjak is a large and powerful dog, well proportioned and agile. The shape of the body is almost square. The bone is not light, but nevertheless not heavy nor coarse. He appears to be strong, harmonious and well balanced when standing and moving. His coat is long and thick.


The desired size is between 65 and 70 cm in males and between 60 and 65 cm in females. The body is square. The length of the body should not exceed its height by more than 8%.

The ratio between the length of the skull and the muzzle is 1:1.


Of steady disposition, friendly, courageous, obedient, intelligent, full of dignity and self confidence. Fierce in guarding property entrusted to him, cannot be bribed and is suspicious of strangers. Devoted to his master and very calm in his presence. Very affectionate towards persons living in his immediate vicinity. Learns quickly and keeps this in his memory for a long time, gladly performs tasks assigned to him. He is easy to train.


Elongated and wedgelike. It is a lupoid head. The ratio between the skull and the muzzle is 1:1.


The upper lines of the skull and muzzle are divergent. Supra-orbital arches are slightly visible. The hind part of the skull is elongated but not narrow. The area from supra-orbital arches to the occiput is flat. The occiputal protuberance is very slight.

Stop: Slightly pronounced.


Nose: Large with sufficiently wide nostrils. Should have dark pigmentation. Pigmentation in harmony with the colour of the coat. Depigmentation is not allowed.

Muzzle: Rectangular. The bridge of the nose is perfectly straight.

Lips: Tight fitting with dark pigmentation.

Jaws/teeth: Jaws are very long and strong. Complete scissor bite with full dentition.

Eyes: Almond shaped, close fitting lids, dark colour. Dark pigmentation on edges of eyelids.

Ears: Of medium size, triangular, folded and pendant, set rather high. Carried close to the cheeks. With shorter hair.


Of medium length, powerful, carried slightly low. Skin tight fitting. Long, abundant coat forming a mane.


Withers: Moderately developed.

Back: Short, taut, moderately broad and straight..

Loin: Connection between chest and croup is short and moderately broad; in females it is a bit longer.

Croup: Of medium length, broad and well developed.

Chest: Very spacious, deep brisket, broad and oval shaped. The lowest point of brisket reaches at least to the elbows. Never barrel shaped. Chest is strong, well muscled with moderately pronounced front brisket.

Underline: Belly well muscled. The underline is not tucked up but slopes up from the end of the brisket to the rear.


Long, set at medium height, very mobile. When relaxed it is hanging and in movement it is always raised over the level of the back which is characteristic of the breed. Abundantly coated with distinctive plume.


Strong and well angulated.


Strong bones, well developed, tight muscles. Parallel and upright when standing.

Shoulders: Of medium length, well laid back. The humerus-scapula angle slightly open.

Upper arm: Muscular and strong. Almost the same length as shoulders.

Elbows: Moderately close to the body.

Forearm: Strong bones, developed muscles, upright.

Metacarpus (pastern): Slightly sloping.

Front feet: Toes arched and tightly knit. Nails pigmented, dark pigmentation desirable. Resilient pads, hard and tight, dark pigmentation desirable. Front feet more developed than hind feet.


Strong and parallel. Upright when standing with adequate angulation. Knee well bent.

Upper thigh: Broad, strong, well muscled.

Lower thigh: Well muscled, strong, broad, of the same length as the upper thigh.

Hock: Firm, set a bit high.

Metatarsus (Rear pastern): Strong.

Possible existence of dew claws.

Hind feet: Toes arched and tightly knit. Na ils pigmented, dark pigmentation desirable. Resilient pads, hard and tight, dark pigmentation desirable.


The Tornjak is a trotter. Movement is well balanced, supple, long reaching, harmonious, with strong drive from hindquarters. In movement the backline is firm.


The skin is thick, well fitting all over the body.


HAIR: In general, the Tornjak is a long coated dog with short hair over the face and legs. The topcoat is long, thick, coarse and straight. It is specially long on the upper part of the croup, over the shoulders and the back it can be slightly wavy. On the muzzle and the forehead, up to the imaginary line connecting the ears, over the ears and on the front parts of legs and feet it is short. It is especially abundant around the neck (mane), dense and long over the upper thighs (breeches). It forms feathers along the forearms. With well coated dogs it is also especially abundant on the rear of hind pasterns. The tail is richly coated with very long hair. Winter undercoat is long, very thick and of nice woolly texture. Hair is thick and dense and should not part along the back.

COLOUR: As a rule the Tornjak is parti-coloured with markings of various solid colours. Usually the dominant ground colour is white. There may be dogs with a black mantle and with white markings most often found around the neck, over the head and along the legs. There may also be almost white dogs with only small markings.


Height at withers: Dogs: 65 - 70 cm

Bitches: 60 – 65 cm

With a tolerance of +/- 2cm


Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree.

- Bones too fine or too heavy.

- Head too fine or too coarse.

- Faults with ears (set on, length, coating).

- Pincer bite.

- Absence of 2 p2, 2 p3. Absence of more than 2 p1.

- Back too long.

- Roached or saddle back.

- Distinctively overbuilt dog.

- Faulty angulation.

- Elbows turned in or out.

- Kinky tail.

- Poorly coated tail.

- Hair of insufficient length.

- Dark mask.

- Weak feet.


- Aggressive or overly shy dogs.

- Lack of type (untypical dogs).

- Deviation of sexual type.

- Anomalies in colour and shape of eyes (wall eyes, vicious expression, different colour of eyes).

- Entropion, ectropion.

- Overshot or undershot mouth.

- Absence of any other teeth than those mentioned above as faults.

- Hair too short.

- Lack of undercoat.

- Tail carried laid over the back.

- Absence of tail.

- Solid coloured dogs.

- Albinism.

- Untypical distribution of colours over the body.

- Diversion from allowed height limits (tolerance included).

- Cosmetic treatment of dog or evidence of cosmetic or surgical treatments.

Any dog clearly showing physical or behavioural abnormalities shall be disqualified.

N.B.: Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.

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