Black Russian Terrier: The Black Pearl of Russia

By Linda Cole

The Black Russian Terrier is one of the world’s youngest breeds, created in the 1940s. Nicknamed the Blackie, BRT and the Black Pearl of Russia, this breed was developed to fulfill a specific need for Russia and her people at a time of rebirth and reinvention. Because the history of the breed is relatively new, how it was created is well documented.

World War I and II had a direct impact on European countries that sustained major damage to the people, environment, wildlife and domesticated animals. Many purebred dog breeds were reduced to very low numbers and were only able to recover when breeders searched out quality dogs to use in rebuilding programs after WW II.

Periods of distemper outbreaks took its toll on dog breeds. Russia also had to deal with the Revolution in 1917-1918 and economic issues. All of these events caused many purebred dogs in Russia to suffer immense losses, and many breeds in this country were on the verge of becoming extinct. But there was a need for working dogs, so a breeding program was developed to create a breed from the few purebred dogs left in the country, and from imports of other breeds.

The program was established at the Red Star Kennel in the 1930s. Colonel G. Medvedev of the Central Military School of Working Dogs was given the task of developing a working dog that would meet the needs of the military. His team included breeders and geneticists. Their goal was to create a working dog that was powerful, intelligent and adaptable to the harsh Russian winters.

Breeding began in earnest after WW II. Using the few working breeds left in Russia, breeders cross-bred the Giant Schnauzer, Moscow Retriever, Rottweiler and Airedale Terrier to create an entirely new dog breed, the Black Russian Terrier. The BRT had a stable temperament, was large and intimidating, wary of strangers, protective and had the endurance to run up and down fence lines in their guarding duties and chase down intruders when necessary.

The Blackie went to work alongside soldiers patrolling the borders and rail crossings. They guarded prisons, gulags and military installations. These dogs were intended to be part of Russia’s national security force. The Black Russian Terrier was the perfect working dog for the job he was bred to do. During the 1950s after the closing of the gulags, the Russian military didn’t need as many dogs, so they began to sell puppies to the public. Private breeders made some changes to the BRT’s breeding and added Newfoundlands, Great Danes, Caucasian Sheepdog, Eastern European Shepherds, Borzoi and other European breeds to create better stability and improve the breed. By the time they were done, 17 different breeds were used to get desired characteristics consistently.

The Black Russian Terrier is a well muscled, powerful large breed dog that can weigh 80 to 140 pounds and stand 26 to 30 inches. Because of his size, strength and stubborn attitude, this breed isn’t a good dog for first time owners or those who don’t know how to take the lead role. He needs consistent and positive leadership along with proper socialization and training to keep him from becoming overly suspicious of new things and people. The dogs are very athletic and need a daily exercise routine that includes at least two 20 minute brisk walks or some other type of physical exercise. This dog needs a job to do and can excel at military and police work, tracking, sledding, retrieving, search and rescue, agility, rally, Schutzhund, skijoring and other dog sports.

The BRT is an intelligent breed that is quick to pick up commands and learn new things – until he gets bored. It’s important to make learning fun for this breed, but in short training sessions. He responds well to food rewards, but he needs to work for his CANIDAE treats, toys or playtime. Training should begin as soon as you bring a puppy home, otherwise you can end up with a willful pet that’s difficult to control.

The “Black Pearl of Russia” is calm, loyal, brave, confident and very protective of their family. They get along well with children, but should be supervised around any small child. A high prey drive can pose a danger to small pets, and don’t plan on keeping a Black Russian Terrier contained with an invisible fence. This tough dog will run right through the shock and keep on going, especially if he sees an animal to chase. He doesn’t do well left outside by himself and needs to be inside with his family. The breed isn’t a true terrier, and joined the AKC family in 2004 as a member of the Working Group.

Photos by Seongbin Im

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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