Although its origins are unknown, this breed is indigenous to Sar Planina, the portion of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Albania bordering the Adriatic Sea. The Sarplaninac was first exported to the United States in 1975. Until 1970 it was against the law in Yugoslavia to take this breed out of the country.


Also known as the Ilirski Ovcar, the Jugoslovenski Ovcarski Pas-Sarplaninac, the Sarplaninac (pronounced "shar-pla-nee-natz"), the Sar Planina, the Sar Planine, the Sharplaninec, the Charplanina or the Charplaninatz, this is a working dog that has been protecting the flocks of sheep in the Illyrian mountain pastures for centuries. Its local name is derived from the Sarplanina Mountains. Its international title of Illyrian Sheepdog refers to the ancient name of the region. It was once known as the Yugoslav Shepherd Dog or the Yugoslavian Herder, but since the break-up of Yugoslavia into several smaller nations at the end of the 20th century, it has been reclassified as a Macedonian breed. To its friends it is known simply as the "Sar".

This long-established, heavily built flock guard, with its thick, wolf-like coat and its long, bushy tail, is fearless in its defence of its livestock, taking on all-comers, whether human or animal, without hesitation. The Sarplaninac is a rugged breed, sleeping outdoors in all weathers and quite capable of surviving even the most icy of winter conditions. Described by one author as "the pearl in the snow", its main area of activity is the mountainous Massif of Sarplanina, Korab, Stogovo, Bistra and Mavrovo.

The Sarplaninac was first officially recognized as a distinct breed in 1930 and was accepted by the FCI in 1939, but it was not until the 1970s that it reached the New World. The first examples to arrive in America appeared in 1975 and 1977. Since then, in both the United States and Canada, it has found favour on ranches where it acts as a livestock guard against attacks by coyotes.

In addition to protecting the flocks of sheep, it is also capable of guarding cattle and goats when the occasion arises.


Although suspicious of and defensive toward strangers, this sheepherder shows its owner and family overflowing love and obedience on command.

An immensely powerful dog with large teeth, it is a match for any wild predator. Like many flock guards, it is calm when there are no threats to its territory, its family or its livestock, but once challenged it leaps into action and in an instant becomes a ball of fury.


The height at the withers is about 23-24 inches/58-62 cm. Heavily boned and fully coated, this medium-sized breed appears bigger and sturdier than it really is. The Sarplaninac has V-shaped drop ears, strong teeth with a scissor bite, and a moderately long high-set tail, usually hanging down but kept level with the back when the dog is on the move. The nose should be dark, light-colored eyes being faulted for shows. Both the overcoat and undercoat are dense, the former being more than four inches long. Ideally, the coat should be a single shade of gray; a white, light yellow, or brown coat is disqualified for shows. The most common color is a dark wolf-gray with almost cream-colored tan markings. The coat should be medium long on the body, longer on the neck, tail and buttocks and with a harsh texture.

Care and Exercise

Requiring frequent brushing, this breed's long hair also needs combing, especially while shedding. The Sarplaninac needs to be taken on daily walks by someone with strength, as it tends to pull very hard.

Puppies and Training

The four to eight puppies per litter should be trained very early.

Gallery of Sarplaninac