A Guide to Croatian Dog Breeds

Lauren Simmonds

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croatian dog breeds

September the 18th, 2023 – The much loved spotty Dalmatian might be the most famous of Croatian dog breeds, but this Disney star is far from the only one to originate from these shores.


As ridiculous as that sounds, as the name should give that away and it would appear obvious, many people don’t actually realise this. These popular clownish dogs which became famous for almost becoming Cruella DeVil’s coat are the most famous of Croatian dog breeds. While Pongo might be the most well-known Dalmatian of all, their history dates back a very long time, and there is an altar painting located in Veli Lošinj depicting what looks exactly like the Dalmatian dog we know and love today from back in the early seventeenth century. While you might know the Dalmatian for being famous firehouse dogs across the pond in the USA, the very first mention of the Dalmatian’s name was in the early eighteenth century in Đakovo. This continental Croatian town lies very far from the Dalmatian coast, and in the archives of the Archdiocese of Đakovo, the name Canis Dalmaticus is mentioned. Dalmatians are large, tend to suffer with several genetic health issues and can be a lot to handle. They are often cited as a lovable and intelligent but difficult dog which is high-maintenance and stubborn.



The Posavac (pronounced Posavatz) hound is originates from the Posavina region. Its name means “scenthound from the Sava valley” in English, and it is known for its bubbly personality and obedience. It is a very healthy breed which isn’t plagued with many genetic conditions. The Posavac is a very old breed of scenthound, with its current looks and colouration still very strongly resembling depictions of the hound made way back in the 1400s. Petar Bakic, the former Bishop of Đakovo, mentioned this breed among several other Croatian dog breeds back in the 1700s. These dogs are often referred to as a rare breed for those seeking a more unique type of dog. While sometimes kept as a pet, hunting associations are the best home for this breed, as while docile with humans, their strong prey drive and need to hunt game often makes them too much to handle for those simply seeking a furry companion.

Istrian hound


The Croatian countryside is full of game, and in centuries gone by, hounds were often seen sprinting through the thick forests in pursuit of foxes, rabbits, deer and boar. Istrian short-haired and coarse/wire-haired hounds don’t actually originate from the Istrian peninsula despite their name, coming from Dalmatia and parts of the Croatian Littoral instead. They were frequently used across Istria, however, and are an ancient form of scenthound. They’re so old in fact, that they’re widely considered to be among the oldest hounds bred in Croatia and the immediate region. The short-haired Istrian hound is smaller than the course or wire-haired type and was typically put to work in the mountainous Motovun area. Petar Bakic also described this breed in the 1700s, and in the modern day, Istrian hounds are very rarely (if ever) kept as pets. Their strong prey drive and primitive breeding makes keeping them as pets an extremely difficult task, and they’re still used for their original purpose – to hunt foxes and other game by hunting associations across the Istrian peninsula to this very day. Much like the Posavac and other kinds of hounds, Istrian hounds aren’t plagued with many genetic health conditions.

Croatian sheepdog/shepherd

The Croatian sheepdog (or shepherd dog) is typically jet black with a thick, course, curly coat. It sometimes has black and white markings and has reportedly not changed at all since the fourteenth century when it was believed to have first been created for herding purposes. Also described by Petar Bakic as Canis pastoralis croaticus, the oldest record of the breed dates back to the 1300s. Believed to have been introduced to modern Croatian territory during the Migration Period by those who were to become Croatian settlers, this breed was altered and continually developed for herding and driving needs as the centuries went on. Professor Stjepan Romic finally developed it as a breed in its own right in the 1930s.

Like all herding dogs, the Croatian Sheepdog is strong-willed and requires a lot of exercise and mental stimulation. It typically craves the companionship of its owner and other humans, while also possessing a very strong desire to work cattle or sheep. Centuries ago, this energetic and typically very disease resistant breed was used to drive groups of pigs into the oak forests of continental Croatia during the autumn months.


The brave, mighty Tornjak is a large, imposing livestock-guardian dog known for its docile yet courageous spirit. It was developed in Croatia and neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina and its name is derived from the word for a sheep pen (tor). These types of molosser mountain breeds (which also includes other livestock-guardian dogs such as the Sarplaninac) were likely first developed by the Romans and have been present in the Dinaric Alps ever since. They were first described way back during the 11th century and were often owned by Bosnia’s Medieval Vlach shepherds. The Tornjak is referred to in different ways depending on the region, with some calling them Dinarci (after the Dinaric Alps), and others calling them Torashi. The breed is also sometimes called the Croatian Mountain Dog. As nomadic shepherds and their herds began to become a thing of the past over the centuries, this ancient breed also began to dwindle. Extinction threatened the Tornjak until the 1970s, when the breed was saved by keen cynologists.

Tenacious yet calm, these dogs aren’t suited to novices or small spaces. They enjoy their role as guardians and watchdogs and are fiercely loyal and protective to their families. While not aggressive, they can and will take on any threat, with shepherds who still use them often recalling their dogs taking on multiple wolves and going after bears fearlessly. Calm and observant, these dogs do well being able to utilise what they were bred for and enjoy being trained.

Old Croatian Sighthound (now extinct)

Among the Croatian dog breeds, we have one now sadly extinct breed of dog, the Old Croatian Sighthound (sometimes called the Old Bosnian Sighthound). This hunting dog originated from the territories of modern day Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Having allegedly descended from sighthounds bred by the Celts, this hound closely resembled the greyhound/lurcher-like hunting dogs depicted on coins dating from way back in the fifth century BC.


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