Tornjak

Height: 23-30 inches
Weight: 60-110 pounds
Lifespan: 12-14 years
Colors: Piebald, black and white, white and chocolate, red and white
Suitable for: Families with a large amount of space, those looking for a laidback watchdog
Temperament: Calm, tough, easygoing, decisive, tenacious, peaceful

A dog that’s native to the countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, the Tornjak is a large sheepdog that could well have been the inspiration for the sheepdog from “Looney Tunes.” These dogs have a switch inside them: loving and peaceful with their families, then ferocious guardians when predators arrive.

In fact, there’s an old saying in their homeland that goes, “A Tornjak guarding his flock is a fair match to two wolves.” That should give you an idea of what these dogs are capable of when the situation calls for it.

They also make fantastic pets, though, and adopting one would be an excellent decision for many families. However, many people don’t even know these dogs exist, so hopefully, this guide will leave you better-informed about these wonderful pups.

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Tornjak Puppies — Before You Buy…

Tornjak puppy
Image Credit: Adrijanna, Shutterstock
Energy
Trainability
Health
Lifespan
Sociability

Tornjak puppies are so fuzzy, they look out of focus. These big, adorable floofs are sure to melt your heart from the first minute you see them, especially since they’re as clumsy as they are cute.

While many people never actually encounter Tornjak puppies, those who do almost always fall head-over-heels in love from the first moment they lay eyes on them. As a result, there has been many a Tornjak puppy brought home without much forethought involved.

Fortunately, that rarely turns out to be a disaster. These dogs are fairly calm and low-maintenance, so adding one to your household won’t take over your entire life.

Still, you should do your due diligence before getting a Tornjak. While they’re an easy breed to own, they’re not for everyone. They can get quite big, and they need plenty of room to stretch their legs out, so apartment dwellers may want to find another breed.

Then again, if you ever see one of them as a puppy, you might find yourself willing to give up the apartment just for them.

What’s the Price of Tornjak Puppies?

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to buying a Tornjak puppy. The bad news is that these dogs are extremely hard to track down, as breeders are few and far between. The good news is that despite their scarcity, the breed isn’t especially in-demand, so their price shouldn’t be exorbitant.

Most Tornjak puppies go for somewhere between $800 and $1,200, which isn’t cheap, but it’s more reasonable than many other rare breeds.

The difficulty isn’t so much affording one of these dogs as it is finding them. There aren’t many breeders in the U.S., so you may have to travel to pick yours up. Expect to spend time online tracking down a reputable breeder.

While you’re doing your research, find out what you can about whichever breeder you’re considering. Check their references, and see if there are any reviews out there about their dogs or business practices. Fortunately, since these dogs are so rare, you won’t likely run into backyard breeders.

You can try to find one at your local pound or through rescue groups, but it’s unlikely you’ll find one there. You’ll almost certainly have to go through a breeder.

Tornjak
Image Credit: Amir Bajric, Shutterstock

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3 Little-Known Facts About Tornjaks

1. This is an old breed.

These dogs date back to the times of the ancient Romans, who would use these dogs for hunting, in war, and for entertainment in the gladiatorial arena.

As a result, even though they’re rare outside their homeland, we know quite a bit about Tornjaks, including what to expect from their temperament and health. This isn’t a breed with many unknowns about it.

2. Tornjaks almost went extinct in the 20th Century.

These are working dogs through and through, but the need for sheepdogs declined precipitously in the 20th century. This caused the breed to flirt with extinction toward the latter half of the century.

Fortunately, in the 1970s, several Bosnian and Croatian breeders made concerted efforts to save the breed. They kept the bloodlines pure, as there were still enough surviving Tornjaks that they didn’t need to throw other breeds into the mix.

Today, while Tornjaks aren’t exactly common, they’re not on the verge of extinction either.

3. They have distinct markings — and for a good reason.

Tornjaks are multi-colored, with white serving as the base. They have patches all over their body, although the most common places are the neck, legs, and head.

The reason that they have these markings is to distinguish them from wolves in the middle of an attack. That allows the shepherd to open fire on predators without risk of hitting the dogs in the process.

Of course, given the Tornjak’s fierce reputation for holding off predators, we’re not sure that they’d need the help.

Tornjak
Image credit: F.S, Shutterstock

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Temperament & Intelligence of the Tornjak

You might expect a dog that’s capable of fending off wolves and bears to be ferocious and aggressive, but that’s not the case with Tornjaks. These are laidback, loving dogs, and it takes quite a bit of effort to get them riled up.

They’re emotionally needy with their families, and they hate to be left alone, but they’re fairly indifferent toward strangers. This isn’t a breed that’s likely to run and jump on you the first time you’re introduced.

Tornjaks are smart as whips, which makes them easy to train. They pick up on new commands easily, and their people-pleasing personalities ensure that you won’t have to spend hours trying to convince them to do something new.

However, they have long memories, so they’re not likely to forget any mistreatment. As a result, offering plenty of positive reinforcement is always the proper way to interact with them.

All in all, Tornjaks are extremely easy dogs to own, and they’re a great option for novice owners.

Are These Dogs Good for Families? 👪

Tornjaks make great family pets, as they’re easygoing and patient around children. They’re not high-strung, but they can run for days if your kids want to play, giving you the best of both worlds.

They’re sturdy animals, so kids can run into them and climb all over them with little fear of injuring them. They’re patient enough to allow that sort of behavior, but you should curb it all the same, as you don’t want them losing their temper if your kid hurts them accidentally.

They’re not prone to unprovoked aggression, but they can respond violently if they feel their families are in danger. That makes them fantastic guard dogs, but you may need to monitor them if your kids often have friends over who like to roughhouse.

They’ll guard more than just your kids, of course. They’ll protect your stuff too, and if you live on a farm or ranch, they’ll consider it their farm or ranch. That means your livestock and other gear will come under their protection.

You will want to give them plenty of room, so they’re best-suited for houses with big yards or rural areas where they can roam. They’ll likely feel too cramped in an apartment to enjoy themselves, although they may not make their displeasure readily apparent.

Does This Breed Get Along with Other Pets?

Generally speaking, Tornjaks get along well with dogs and other pets. They don’t have a strong prey drive, so they’re not likely to chase after your cat, and they love to play, which means they’ll welcome other canines into the house.

However, these dogs are protective of their families first and foremost. That means if any animal shows any sort of threat or aggression toward their humans, a Tornjak will put them down without a second thought.

As a result, they should be completely fine with animals they’ve been raised with, but they may need monitoring around strange creatures. You’ll need to watch them closely at the dog park.

Fortunately, while they’re intolerant of aggression toward their people, they’re not inherently jealous, so they won’t attack an animal for seeking out your attention. As long as the other animal stays on its best behavior, everything should be fine.

They’re completely fearless when it comes to doing their duty, so if you take them for a hike and come across a bear, don’t be surprised when your Tornjak refuses to back down.

Tornjak
Image credit: Simun Ascic, Shutterstock

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Things to Know When Owning a Tornjak

Tornjaks are easy dogs to own, but they have many quirks that set them apart from other dogs. Your experience with other breeds may steer you in the wrong direction when dealing with a Tornjak, so it’s best to do your research before bringing one home.

Everything from their dietary requirements to their exercise needs can be counterintuitive, making these dogs tricky to figure out at times.

The information below should hopefully take some of the mystery out of Tornjak ownership, giving you a leg up on owners who grab one of these furballs as puppies under the mistaken impression that a dog is just a dog.

Of course, every pup is an individual, so while this information should be true for the vast majority of Tornjaks, don’t be surprised if your particular pooch throws you a few curveballs.

After all, there’s nothing that would be more typical of a Tornjak than being an atypical Tornjak.

Food & Diet Requirements 🦴

We almost always recommend high-protein diets for dogs, as they provide readily available energy without causing excessive weight gain. Tornjaks, however, are one of the few breeds that will likely do better on a low-protein diet.

The reason is that throughout their history, these dogs were forced to survive on protein-restricted diets. They’ve grown accustomed to it, and now, giving them too much protein will actually lead to a variety of health problems.

That being said, while you should restrict the amount of protein that you give them, it’s still important to feed them high-quality meat. That means looking for lean cuts of meat or organs instead of animal by-products, which are usually made with scraps that no one else wants.

Check the ingredients label to make sure it uses exceptional fruits and veggies, like kale, spinach, and broccoli. Avoid foods like corn, wheat, and soy, as these are used by manufacturers to keep costs down. However, they’re filled with empty calories and can be hard for dogs to digest.

Tornjaks are prone to obesity, so portion control is a must. Don’t let them free-feed, but ensure that they eat a restricted diet and get plenty of exercise.

Exercise 🐕

For the first year or so of their lives, a Tornjak’s exercise needs are minimal. As puppies, they’re perfectly content to just lounge around — and you should let them because you don’t want to put too much strain on their developing joints.

You’ll also want to limit how much they climb stairs in the first year of their life. Too much stair climbing can ruin their joints, so if you have a multi-level house, you’ll have to figure out a way to keep them on the ground floor until they mature.

Once they’re older, they’ll be able to run all day — but they’re still content to laze around if that’s what you prefer to do. That means you can take them out for an hours-long hike or just go for a short stroll around the block, and they’ll be fine either way.

Still, you should give them as much exercise as you can, as it’s good for their mental health and prevents obesity. These dogs are smart, so obedience competitions or agility training may be good fits for them

They’re not overly fond of water, though, so swimming may be out. That’s a shame because it’s a great, low-impact way to tucker a dog out.

Tornjak
Image Credit: Simun Ascic, Shutterstock

Training 🎾

Training a Tornjak shouldn’t be too difficult. These dogs are intelligent and eager to please, so they’ll pick up on what you’re trying to do almost immediately. They’re also willing to do the same thing over and over if it makes you happy, and they’re not as prone to boredom as other smart breeds.

You don’t necessarily need to bribe them with treats to convince them to obey you either. They’re perfectly happy to follow orders if all it earns them in return is a bit of praise and a pat on the head.

Be careful not to punish them if they misbehave, though. They respond best to positive reinforcement, and if you lose their trust, you may never regain it. They have long memories, which comes in handy during training but can work against you if you get on their bad side.

Socialization is just as important as training and should be started just as early. You have a limited window in which to introduce them to new stimuli in a positive manner, so try to make sure they have plenty of varied experiences before turning 9 months old or so.

Try to introduce them to new people and animals especially. You don’t want them to be nervous or suspicious of strangers, so getting them acclimated to newcomers is extremely important.

Grooming ✂️

Tornjaks were bred to spend long hours outdoors watching over flocks. They’re accustomed to cold weather and will happily curl up in the snow without getting cold, as they have long, thick coats.

All that fur requires maintenance, though, and these dogs shed frequently. It’s especially bad if you keep them in a hot climate, but as long as you brush them regularly, you should be able to keep things under control.

Still, you might want to have a professional groomer give them a haircut during the summer, as that will keep the dog more comfortable and your furniture less fur-covered. They don’t need bathing often — every few months should do it — and they’re not usually fond of the water, so expect to have a rodeo on your hands.

Their nails should be trimmed as needed, but if they spend a great deal of time outdoors, they may file them down on their own. Their ears also need to be cleaned regularly to prevent infection.

Beyond that, all they really need is regular tooth brushing, so don’t neglect it.

Health Conditions 🏥

Most large-breed dogs are prone to a whole host of health conditions, but that doesn’t seem to be true for Tornjaks. These are typically healthy dogs, provided that they’re fed and cared for properly.

You will need to be careful not to put too much stress on their joints, though, so don’t overfeed them and don’t force them to do a great deal of jumping. They may struggle if their diets are too high in protein as well.

Minor Conditions
  • Skin and coat issues
Serious Conditions
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Obesity

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Male vs Female

Males and females of this breed are typically similar, although males can get quite a bit bigger. Females mature faster, so they may be easier to train, especially in the early years.

For the most part, though, everything you need to know about Tornjaks applies equally to both genders.

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Final Thoughts

While Tornjaks may not be the most popular breed on the planet, they deserve more attention than they get. These are healthy, lovable dogs that are extremely easy to own, making them wonderful companions for owners of any skill level.

They do need quite a bit of space, though, and can be overprotective if not properly socialized. You’ll need to spend a great deal of time introducing them to a variety of stimuli as puppies.

If you take proper care of them, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better dog than the Tornjak. Unfortunately, however, given their rarity, you’ll likely be hard-pressed to find one in the first place.


Featured Image Credit: Ivan Kebe Photography, Shutterstock