A Suburban Farm of 6th Happiness.

Polish Tatra Sheepdogs

If you saw part of this text  elsewhere, please be aware it was due to a misunderstanding.   The journal editor professionally retracted it in the next issue. I retain the copyright to the text and images here, so if you wish to reference it for another article, the correct form is: Alan diGangi, http://fithfath.com/farm/polish-tatra-sheepdogs , accessed on [date you access this page]. (Date is important as this page is a work in progress)  Thank you!

ANNOUNCEMENT!   We have our first litter of Tatra Puppies!  Please follow our Facebook Page to stay up to date with photos and adoption info.

Our Tatra sheepdogs (male and female) in the snow.

Our Tatra sheepdogs (male and female) in the snow.

We have two Polish Tatra Sheepdogs, Mikołaj and Jadwiga.  We originally got Mikołaj as a livestock guardian dog for our sheep and poultry, and of course, as a pet, but by 6 months he was showing interest in other work.  Without any training, or exposure to other disability service dogs, he assessed a situation when someone fell, by nuzzling them for a response, and then doing what is known as a ‘brace’.  Bracing is where the dog holds a position that allows the person to help themselves up.  He also began to alert in advance of seizures- both to the person affected, and to others in the household.  He would also lie beside the person so that they would be less likely to hurt themselves when thrashing about during the seizure (called seizure response).  Response is not difficult to train in a dog suited to Service Dog work, but predicting and warning of a seizure isless common and believed to have a genetic componant.   After this, we began training him to be a full fledged Service Dog!

When our second Tatra, a female, also showed the same inheritable abilities, we decided that given their excellent health, it would be a shame not to breed them both to preserve a breed close to my cultural heritage, and hopefully perpetuate the ability in the line to both predict and respond to seizures.

Puppies will be assessed, to the best of our ability, for their potential as livestock guardians, disability service dogs, or simply as pets.  We plan to keep a pup to train as Mikołaj’s replacement when he retires, and the rest will be placed with whom they seem to be the best fit.

May Update: ALL pups have demonstrated awarenes of a change in the person before a seizure starts, and they began doing this when the trained adults were not present for them to simply “mimic”.  In other words, they have inheritted the ability to predict seizures, and now we begin the task of shaping and training their ability into helpful behaviours (such as who, when and how to alert as well as how to protect the person from phsycial harm during the seizure, among other tasks such as helping to re-orientate the person after they come too, fetch medication, etc..  As we have selected our new Service dog prospect from the litter, please contact us if you are interested in the remaining littermates as either LGDs, SDs, ESA, or in appropiate situations, as a pet.


About the Polish Tatra Sheepdog / Shepherd dog

Polish Tatra Sheepdogs are one of the rarest breeds in the US and Canada, with estimates around +/-300 in North America, and only a handful of breeders.

They are also known as also known as: Owczarek Podhalanski, Polish Mountain Sheepdog, Polish Mountain Shepherd Dog, Polish Highland Sheepdog (distinct from the Polish Lowland Sheepdog), the Tatra Shepherd Dog, and other such variations.   All Tatras are pure white, with dark eyes, noses and foot pads.  They are large and strong.  Males are about 26– 28 inches and 100 to 130 pounds. Females are slightly smaller: 24-26 inches and 80-110 pounds.  They have longer lifespans than expected for many large dog breeds, as well as a relatively low incident of genetic disease, including hip dysplasia (no breed is completely free of genetic diseases, but good breeding practices can reduce the occurance and severity of them).  They are ‘close lipped’, so do not drool the way some large dogs do (eg: Saint Bernards, Newfoundlands etc).  Their coats need very little attention which is a bug plus for my arthritis!

The breed is also unique in that they have been bred to be both livestock guardians (sheepdogs), as well as herding dogs (shepherds), leading people home through mountains during snow storms, and as carting dogs and sleigh dogs- as a result they have a wide range of skill sets to fill a nitch in for people with disabilities.  For example, they are able to pull shopping carts and wheelchairs, assist a person in standing up, and following directive commands the way herding dogs do.  Being in charge of a flock of sheep or goats, they have had to develop the ability to work either alone or in cooperation with a pack to solve problems without human instruction, to be alert and protective, as well as sympathetic and gentle.  Besides disability service work, they have been used in Polaish Border patrol, search and rescue, police and guide dog work.

300 dogs, only a handful of which are in breeding programmes, makes the preservation of this breed a very serious issue.  At one time, there were two clubs for the breed, but one closed and the other refuses to accept the registrations of the closed one; this is a great blow to the future of the breed’s health.  Exact numbers are unknown, but it would be likely the breeding population has been effectively halved.   As any population genetist will tell you, this is a monumentally harmful thing to do to a population, especially one that is already so small!

Although breeders in North America can import dogs or semen from overeas, there are several problems with this.  Firth, most dogs are in Poland, with a small group in the Nederlands.  There is a language gap between most breeders on either side of the ocean, and perhaps for this, and other reasons, only a relatively small number of kennels are interested or able to communicate effectively with English speaking breeders and go through the required work to ship the dogs or semen.  This puts a strong limit (and thus strong artificial selection) on the dogs being brought into North America to breed.   These may be very good dogs, but when only a few individuals are over-represented in a growing population, the population becomes quickly inbred.  Unrelated animals may actually be closer related than brother-sister matings in healthy, random bred populations.   Fertility goes down, genetic health problems increase in frequency, and complete extinction may be the end result- something no one who loves the breed wants, but something that some of the most influencial fanciers, and thus anyone new and wanting to be accepted, is afraid to talk about.

Another problem is that we cannot see the kennel and the parents (or sperm donor) in person, before purchase- something very important when making selections.  There is for example, no way for us to evaluate a dog’s ability to detect seizures for our own breeding programme, forcing us to “breed blind”, potentially setting us back- not because they are bad dogs, but because they do not meet our personal needs.

Finally, and more important to the breed and those that love it, is that the breed in Poland (where most of these dogs are found) did a research paper on their breeding population and found that it is over-represented by a small number of dogs from a few kennels.  In otherwords, they are seeing the early signs of a genetic bottleneck, created by ‘popular sires’ (popular kennels and bitches as well, but the sire syndrome is best known in the dog fancy as they can be bred to many many more females than the other way around).  Their proposed solution was to import from other countries with Tatras that would be less related to theirs.   Unfortunatly, by arbitrarily dismising half our breeding population as unregisterable and thus, not breedable by a ‘responsible’ breeder, combined with the solution of “import from Poland” (further impacted by only being able to deal with a very few kennels willing to sell overseas), we are putting ourselves in a position where we will be unable to help breeders in the homeland of our beloved dogs- in fact, importing dogs from us could actually set them further behind.

Currently, the breed appears fairly healthy…. but as history shows, dog breeds can crash very quickly, especially when the breeding population is small, and actions that go against good sound scientific knowldge about population genetics is ignored in favour of outdated Victorian traditions.  We must take action now, before it becomes too late.

Our female Tatra with our Babydoll Sheep.

Our female Tatra Sheepdog dog with our Babydoll Sheep (a ‘miniature’ breed).

Suggested Links:

Articles I have written:

  • The Bravest Tatra (coming soon)
    A short piece on a Tatra dog that fought with the Polish Home Army during WWII.
  • How Mikołaj helped Jadwiga Speak
    A memoir about Tatras, WWII Polish Exiles, Family, Life and Death.

Other Tatra Specific links:

Livestock Guardian Dogs in General:

Dogs in General:

  • Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour
  • Basic Manners for Dogs.  from the Animal Farm Foundation.
    https://animalfarmfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Basic-Manners-ebook.pdf The above booklet covers positive reinforcement training methods, explaining why this method works and how to use it.  Many examples are given on training common commands such as sit, stay, heel, etc.  They use the example of “Yes” as a verbal positive reinforcement, but any consistantly used word, or short phrase, given as praise will work as well.   We use “Good [Dog]”.
    It should also be noted that many LGD’s can quickly become bored with repetative training sessions.  LGD’s are smart and practical dogs.  They don’t see the point in repetition, especially if they feel they have other jobs to focus on, like watching over your other animals, or your household.  “I already showed you I can do this command, why are you making me do it again?” they seem to be thinking, and they may wander off to do what they think is more important.  This should not be seen as rebellious, or an inability to learn the lesson.   As a person who grew up with various so called learning “disabilities” (In other words, a different learning style from the average student), I know this well.  Just as when understanding teachers gave me the freedom to study in my own way, if you approach training an LGD from the standpoint that they learn “differently” from more common breeds like Labs, the result will be that of quick and effective learning, as well as less stress and frustration for you as a trainer.  Perhaps this is why training an LGD, which everyone insisted to me was much more difficult than training other kinds of dogs, actually clicked with me, and I find it easier than trainging non-working dogs.  For example, instead of practicing ‘sit’ 10 times in a row, we might do ‘sit’ only 2 or 3 times, but repeat this again several times through the day.  After a command is learned, we help the dog remeber it by  periodically having them do several unrelated commands in one short session for a treat.   “Sit.  Laydown.  Roll over.  Up.   Spin.  Gimmee Paw.   Other Paw.  Both[paws].  Kiss.  Good boy!” (gives treat).  Sometimes we do this in the morning, or when out with friends- they love to ‘show off’ how smart they are; they view it more as a game rather than as a teaching drill.   Vary the order of the commands to keep them on their toes and to prevent them learning to do a sequence of behaviours by rote, rather than understanding each as a seperate command.

Photo Gallery

Mikołaj (Male Tatra, born Oct 2009)

Mikołaj, our Polish Tatra puppy at 3 months Mikołaj at +/-3months Mikołaj dressed as a unicorn for Halloween Headshot of Male Polish Tatra Sheepdog Mikołaj, our male Tatra Sheepdog Polish Tatra Sheepdog in deep snow. Male Polish Tatra Sheepdog working as a Disability Service Dog for a woman (seated). Male Polish Tatra Sheepdog working as a Disability Service Dog for a woman (standing) Male Polish Tatra Sheepdog, standing on hindfeet, beside a human male, standing.

Jadwiga (Female Tatra, born April 2014)

Jadwiga, female Polish Tatra Sheepdog, running in the snow. Jadwiga, female Polish Tatra Sheepdog. Close up of her face while she is lying down. female polish tatra sheepdog standing with babydoll sheep and a buff orpington chicken hen.

Mikołaj & Jadwiga

Our two Tatra Sheepdogs playing. Polish Tatra Sheepdogs in the snow Male and female Polish Tatra Sheepdogs playing.  Male and female Polish Tatra Sheepdogs playing. Male and female Polish Tatra Sheepdogs playing. Male and female Polish Tatra Sheepdogs playing. Male and female Polish Tatra sheepdogs, walking side by side.  Polish Tatra Sheepdogs with Babydoll Sheep in the snow. Male dog is lying down. Female dog is standing.

Tatras in Literature and History

(coming soon)


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