Black Russian Terriers

The Black Russian Terrier was created by the Russian army for use as a guard dog in climates with extremely cold temperatures. They started with a Giant Schnauzer and crossed him with other breeds that included the Airedale, Rottweiler and a dog called the Moscow retriever. The result was a large black dog with a protective temperament and a healthy dose of suspicion toward strangers. He is a giant breed and weighs 80 to 145 pounds.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

Only if you are willing to put in the time he needs daily for socialization and training as a puppy and exercise and attention throughout his life. The Black Russian Terrier is smart, but like any dog with a working background, he is an independent thinker. You must begin early to teach him to think of you as his leader. The BRT is not an appropriate choice for a first-time dog owner.

It's important to give him a job to do, from his daily training exercises to participating in a dog sport such as agility, obedience, rally or tracking. If you are outdoorsy yourself, consider getting training for the two of you for search and rescue work. Black Russian Terriers are active and athletic, and they enjoy long walks, jogging and hiking, always on leash. Plan to take yours for at least a 20-minute walk twice a day, at a good pace.

Be aware that a Black Russian Terrier can be messy to keep. His beard will drip water after he drinks and will need to be cleaned after meals. You may also need to wipe down walls or furniture if he shakes his head before you can get to him with a towel. His coat picks up all kinds of dirt and debris, which is then deposited throughout your home. At night he snores. Loudly. Those traits are balanced by his love of family and strong desire to be close to them. Don't choose this breed if you don't want a black shadow following you around.

A proper Black Russian Terrier is calm, but with strong guarding instincts, able to discriminate between situations that call for protective action and those that don't. He doesn't come that way automatically, though.

Early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent a Black Russian Terrier from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase a Black Russian Terrier puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people, before they go off to their new homes. Continue socializing your Black Russian Terrier throughout his life by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local shops and businesses.

Begin training as soon as you bring your Black Russian Terrier puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size. Use positive reinforcement training techniques such as praise, play and food rewards, combined with a nothing-in-life-is-free program that requires him to "work" for food, treats, toys and playtime by first performing a command such as sit or down.

The Black Russian Terrier thinks for himself, but he learns quickly and will respond to kind, firm, consistent training. Don't make him repeat the same action over and over again. He's smart and becomes bored easily, so keep training sessions short and interesting or he will wander off to find something better to do.

The Black Russian Terrier is best suited to a home with a large yard surrounded by a solid fence that is at least five or six feet high. Do not rely on an underground electronic fence to keep him contained. The shock it provides is nothing to this tough dog, and he won't let it deter him from leaving the yard if that's what he wants to do. Black Russian Terriers have a high prey drive and will chase other animals, but if they are brought up with them they can learn to live peaceably with indoor cats or smaller dogs. They are gentle and tolerant even with small children, but because of their size, they must be supervised so they don't accidentally knock toddlers over.

The Black Russian Terrier's coat doesn't shed much, but it does develop mats and tangles if it isn't thoroughly brushed once a week. Professional grooming every six weeks is advised. Other grooming requirements include cleaning the ears and trimming the nails as needed, and bathing him when he's dirty.

While you might think of him as an outdoor dog, nothing could be farther from the truth. Black Russian Terriers are guardian dogs, devoted to their people. A Black Russian Terrier should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, but when the family is home, he should be in the house with them. Chaining a Black Russian Terrier out in the yard and giving him little or no attention is not only cruel, it can also lead to aggression and destructive behavior.

Health Issues Common to Black Russian Terriers

All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don't walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

Black Russian Terriers have some health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren't cautious about whom you buy from. They include orthopedic problems such as hip and elbow dysplasia and eye diseases, including cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy. They may also be prone to bloat, or gastric torsion.

The Black Russian Terrier Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a BRT to achieve CHIC certification, he must have OFA certification for hips and elbows, an OFA cardiac evaluation and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. You can check CHIC's website to see if a breeder's dogs have these certifications.

Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$6,000
Elbow Dysplasia High $1,500-$4,000
Cataracts Medium $1,500-$5,000
Bloat High $1,500-$7,500

5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Black Russian Terrier Puppy

Finding a good breeder is more important than finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. A breeder referral list can be found on the website of the Black Russian Terrier Club of America.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Black Russian Terriers aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Black Russian Terrier can live to be 10 to 12 years old, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.

Puppy or adult, take your Black Russian Terrier to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Black Russian Terriers

Pet insurance for Black Russian Terriers costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because they are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat. Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Black Russian Terriers are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your dog is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.