An Overview of The Black Russian Terrier

The Black Russian Terrier is a majestic breed exuding power and presence and demanding respect. The breed was created by the Russian Red Star military kennel located in Moscow. The Russian Army began working on developing a multi-purpose military dog in the 1930s that would be part of their national security force. Attempting to create the breed was quite a challenge due to the slaughter of much of the purebred dog stock because of the Russian Revolution, World Wars and economic disasters.

The Red Star Kennel breeding program came to life after World War II when quality Giant Schnauzer and Rottweiler stock were brought back to Russia. The Red Star Kennel worked on selective interbreeding using Giant Schnauzer, Rottweiler, Airedale Terrier and Newfoundland breeds. In all, a total of 17 breeds and crosses were used to create the Black Russian Terrier. It was important to have a large breed that was not only reliable but highly trainable to many different situations. The dog would also have to be able to endure the harsh Russian winters. They were initially used by the military police at border crossings, prisons and military installations.

By 1956, the Black Russian Terrier was breeding true, and the Red Star Kennel released dogs to private breeders. The first breed standard was created by the Red Army in 1958, and was revised several times before 1981. In 1981, the Russian Ministry of Agriculture recognized the breed and it was internationally accepted by the FCI (Federation Cynologique Internationale) in 1984.

Black Russian Terriers first came to the United States in the 1980s. In 2001, the Black Russian Terrier was admitted to the Miscellaneous Class of the AKC and was accepted into the AKC Working Groupon July 1, 2004. The Black Russian Terrier Club of America ( is the AKC parent club.

Despite its name of “terrier,” which was transferred to the name of the breed from the name of the Red Star Kennel project, the Black Russian Terrier is not a terrier and has neither the structure nor movement of a terrier. Structure and movement resembling the “terrier type” would be a fault under the Black Russian Terrier standard.

The Black Russian Terrier was bred to guard and to protect, and it must possess the substance, size, agility and stability of temperament to perform this function. The desirable type for a Black Russian Terrier is a large dog with a balance between excellent substance and powerful movement without sacrificing one for the other. There are many adjectives that describe the character and temperament of the Black Russian Terrier. He is a calm, confident, courageous and self-assured dog. He is alert and responsive, instinctively protective, determined, fearless, and deeply loyal to family. He is aloof towards strangers and therefore does not relish intrusion into his personal space. Stability and working abilities are passed genetically and should be mandatory requirements for breeding stock.

Created for close work with humans, the Black Russian Terrier does not possess hunting instincts. The dogs are dedicated to and become very attached to their owners and families, and thus it is not a breed that can be left outside or isolated in a kennel.

The Black Russian Terrier is a robust, large and very powerful breed with males ranging in size from 28″-30″ and females slightly smaller. A large male will easily weigh 140 pounds. Because of its size, strength and natural protective qualities, early and continuing obedience and socialization will result in a well-rounded, stable and trustworthy companion. It is not a breed that should be purchased for children or left under a child’s supervision.

Black Russian Terriers easily respond to positive training and they are quite multi-talented. They excel in obedience, rally, agility, carting, weight pulling, protection, and other working dog sports. Black Russian Terriers with correct temperament are being used in many different working fields as military/police dogs, service dogs, therapy dogs and companion dogs.

The only acceptable color for the Black Russian Terrier is black. A small percentage of gray hairs (even in puppies) are allowed, as long as the gray hairs are evenly spread and there are no solid patches. As the breed is still young and a few of the foundation breeds were not black, there can be throw-back colors (such as black and tan, sable and fawn) from time to time (each parent must contribute a color gene). While these non-black colored dogs are not acceptable in any registries, despite their color pattern they have the same unmistakable Black Russian Terrier qualities and are loved by many Black Russian Terrier fanciers.

Health is very important in the Black Russian Terrier. As with many large breeds, hip and elbow dysplasia remain a health problem for the breed. Hyperuricosuria (bladder stones from high levels of uric acid) has also seen an increase in the last few years. Consciencious breeders worldwide are health testing and reporting results in an effort to produce healthy litters. The double coat of the Black Russian Terrier requires regular grooming. The natural untrimmed coat length varies from 1½” to 6″. While this is not a heavy shedding coat, weekly brushing and bathing and scissoring every four to six weeks are recommended to maintain a healthy manageable coat. More frequent beard washing may be required.

Sadly, the number of Black Russian Terriers in rescue has increased substantially as the public has become more aware of this fascinating breed, often seen only in pictures or on television before acquiring. Many dogs have been imported or acquired from unknown breeders. The dogs suffer from poor breeding and have genetic or other health issues. New owners have no idea of the size, cost, maintenance and training required for this breed. Their expectations of a black bear-type dog with a Labrador personality are short lived and they are not prepared to deal with the temperament and size of a very large untrained and unsocialized heavy coated working dog.

As a result, the dogs are abandoned or turned into shelters, often as young adults. Loved by people all over the world, the Black Russian Terrier is, indeed, a very fascinating breed. Emerging from the blending of many working breeds, the Black Russian Terrier has its own, unique image – incredibly beautiful and powerful, intelligent and loyal, these dogs are amazing companions, providing love, joy and protection to its owners.

It is the responsibility and obligation of the Black Russian Terrier breeders and owners to be careful stewards of this magnificent breed.

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