Tornjak: The Woolly & Friendly Sheepdog

Tornjak in wood
Emily Young
Written by Emily Young

The first thing you will notice about the Tornjak is their thick, woolly coat—that and their cute and friendly face. We know that there are many cute dogs out there, but the Tornjak is different because they are as protective as they are devoted to their owner.

This large dog is intelligent, confident, and makes a good guard dog. Large dogs can come off as intimidating at first due to their size, but many of them, including the Tornjak, display an even temper and a friendly disposition.

As sheepdogs, Tornjaks are smart and wary of strangers. They will guard their flocks fiercely, and they like being in charge. But don’t let this dominating and protective nature fool you because Tornjaks are affectionate especially when they’re not working.

If you think the Tornjak is a good addition to your family, you’re in the right spot because this article will talk about the breed’s history, characteristics, care features, and temperament. This information will help you decide if this breed is right for you.

Breed Characteristics

two Tornjaks sitting together

  • Adaptability: Good; but they would probably feel stifled in an apartment

  • Trainability: Good; very intelligent and learns very quickly

  • Health and Grooming: Moderate; daily brushing is needed to prevent their coat from matting; their nails also grow fast and should be checked and trimmed regularly

  • All Around Friendliness: Good; very friendly towards other animals and kids

  • Exercise Needs: Moderate; 30-60 minutes daily walks or a play session will suffice

Dog Breed GroupWorking Dogs
Height Male: 25-27 inches
Female: 23-25 inches
WeightMale: 77-110 lbs
Female: 60-88 lbs
LifespanApprox. 12 - 14 years

Nowadays, the Tornjak (pronounced as Tornyak), is also known as the Croatian Sheepdog. These dogs are a good choice for a family pet. They are very friendly with people, children, and other animals as long as they don’t feel threatened.The Tornjak is actually a very old dog breed that dates back to the ancient times. It shares its origins with many mountain dogs in Europe with mentions of the breed dating as far back as the 9th century.

The Tornjak is an outdoors lover. This is understandable since the dog was originally developed to guard livestock like sheep. They are intelligent and love to explore and run. As such, they fare best when they are placed with families who have space to spare or a fenced in backyard. The Tornjak would feel stifled in a small apartment.

Like all dogs, Tornjaks need regular exercise. Most dogs are happy with 30-60 minutes daily walks. If you don’t have time, you can let them run around a fenced yard or let them have a tumble with your kids.

Because of their intelligence, the breed is very easy to train and learn very quickly. However, the Tornjak has a stubborn and independent streak so they need a firm and consistent trainer or leader who can show them how to behave properly. Training and socialization need to be started early to weed off bad behavior.

Tornjacks are loving, friendly, and affectionate with family. They are devoted to their masters and like spending time with them. They are good with kids and will gladly spend time playing around or hanging with them.

However, this breed also has a protective nature. While they are not aggressive with strangers, they will attack strangers or other animals if they feel that their family or flock is threatened.

The Tornjak’s coat is thick and woolly and designed to keep them warm during European winters. They need daily brushing to prevent matting. Brushing will also help you manage shedding especially during the summer when most of their coat will fall off. Their nails tend to grow faster, so these also need to be checked, trimmed, and buffed regularly.

This is a generally healthy breed with a history dating back to more than a thousand years. It is recognized by the UKC and the AKC (foundation stock service program).

Main Highlights

Tornjak puppy

  • Originally from the Caucasus region and Eastern Caucasus.

  • Believed to be a descendant of the Tibetan Mastiff, it was originally called Kanis Montanus or Mountain Dog, but the name was changed to Tornjak where “tor” means an enclosure for cattle.

  • They are generally calm and friendly towards people and other animals.

  • However, the breed will display their aggressive and protective side with those who attack their owner, family, or flock.

  • They are very intelligent and are known to perform tasks persistently.

  • Tornjaks also have a good understanding of their master’s requests and training. They are quick learners.

  • They are naturally suspicious of strangers and cannot be bribed or tricked into submission.

  • They are strong, muscular dogs.

  • They were bred to guard sheep and livestock, so they are naturally alert and vigilant.

  • As family pets, they are calm, peaceful, and unlikely to exhibit aggressive behavior towards humans or other animals.

  • They are a breeze to train thanks to their intelligence. They learn quickly and are unlikely to forget their training.

  • Leash training should be started early before they realize their true strength to prevent them from pulling the line too much.

  • They love to spend time with their family and other animals. This is a social breed.

  • Tornjaks are undemanding when it comes to exercise, but regular activity is still necessary. They need 30-60 minutes of walking daily to release pent-up energy.

  • They are devoted pets and form strong bonds with their families.

  • They are a generally healthy breed.

  • Tornjak puppies develop slowly so strenuous activities (like climbing stairs) should be avoided for the first six months of their lives to prevent joint problems like hip dysplasia.

  • They have thick woolly coats that were developed to withstand the cold winters of their native land.

  • They should be brushed every day to prevent their thick coats from matting. Brushing will also help manage shedding especially during the summer months (also known as shedding months).

  • Tornjaks are independent dogs with strong guarding instincts.

  • If your dog does not respond to your commands, it’s probably not because they do not understand. They probably assessed the situation and decided your command is not needed.

Breed History

Tornjak puppy's head

The Tornjak is a sheepdog breed that originated from Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Croatia. They share many characteristics with mountain dogs in the area as they were originally bred to look after livestock.

While the exact origins of the breed are now lost in the antiquities, mentions of the Tornjak go as far back as the 9th century. They are believed to be descendants of the Tibetan Mastiff.

Unfortunately, the need for sheepdogs diminished and so did the Tornjak’s numbers, and the breed was nearly driven to extinction. Fortunately, during the 1970s, a group of cynologists decided to collect the remaining Tornjaks and revive the breed.

Today, the dog is part of the AKC’s foundation stock service program (first step for recognition) and is recognized by the UKC.


The Tornjak is considered a large dog. They look big and strong when they are standing and moving. Their body is almost square in shape with a long and thick coat.

Like most dog breeds, males tend to be bigger and heavier than females. Male Tornjaks are approximately 25-27 inches and females 23-25 inches at the withers. Males weigh around 77-110 lbs, and females range from 60-88 lbs.

Personality and Character

Tornjak and her puppy

The Tornjak is a protective breed with good herding instincts. They will protect their flock against strangers and predators. Their guarding instinct is so strong they cannot be bribed to abandon their duties.

The same is true when this dog feels that there is a threat to their family. They will not hesitate to become aggressive to ward off danger or to bark to alert you. However, under normal circumstances, this dog is calm, obedient, and very friendly.

Sometimes, it feels like the Tornjak has two distinct personalities. At work, they are alert, confident, fearless, and wary of strangers. They were bred to guard flocks and livestock and have thick coats to protect them against harsh European winters.

At home, Tornjaks are generally friendly dogs that get along well with people and other animals provided that they don’t pose a threat to them or their family. They do well with children and will gladly spend their time playing with them. They also do well with other pets and animals, especially if they were raised together.

Since they were bred to be herding dogs, they bond very well with their owner and make devoted pets. They like human companionship and are perfectly happy to spend time with their family.

This breed is a good choice for farmers who are looking for independent thinkers to guard their livestock. They are intelligent dogs that can make decisions based on their assessment of the situation. However, they do need a firm and consistent trainer or a good leader to train them or keep them in command.

This is an intelligent breed that is very trainable and quick to learn. Since they are intelligent, they learn quickly and are unlikely to forget what they’ve learned. They do have a stubborn streak though, so early training and socialization are needed to teach the dog how to behave properly.

There are some owners who think that their dog is not listening to them, but it is more probable that the dog has understood the command but decided that such an action is not needed. This is most probably due to their sheepdog instincts and independent nature.

See Also: Puppy Training Schedule

Health and Potential Problems

Tornjak in winter

This is a generally healthy breed with no genetic diseases. However, too much protein in their diet can cause skin and coat conditions.

Potential owners should also take note not to let their puppies climb stairs or participate in any strenuous activity for the first six months of their lives to prevent joint problems and hip dysplasia.

The majority of Tornjaks are healthy dogs. Working with a responsible breeder will help you know more about their genetic health history while regular checkups with the vet will help prevent and monitor potential problems. You can expect a healthy Tornjak to live between 12-14 years—good life expectancy for a large dog breed.

Care Features

Tornjak running

Tornjaks are used to being outdoors and love exploring. Because of their size and need for space, they don’t fare well in small apartments. They prefer homes with a fenced backyard so that they have space to run and explore.

See Also: DIY Dog Fence

Despite their size, the dog does not need vigorous or a lot of exercises. They are perfectly happy with a half-hour to an hour of walking daily. Regular exercise should still be observed to prevent the dog from becoming obese.

When they are born, Tornjaks are a bit fragile and slow to develop. Puppies younger than six months should avoid strenuous activities like climbing the stairs to prevent joint problems like hip dysplasia. However, this is a genetically healthy breed with no record of genetic diseases. Regular visits to the vet for vaccination should be followed and will help monitor potential problems.

The Tornjak has a woolly coat but is surprisingly low maintenance. You can brush their hair once weekly but everyday brushing is preferred to prevent their coats from matting. Daily brushing is also recommended during the summer months when they are shedding. Their nails grow quickly so regular trims are also needed.

Feeding Schedule

Tornjak walking

The Tornjak will do well with high quality handmade or commercial dog food specially formulated for large dog breeds. Their diet should be appropriate for their age.

Always follow the recommended amount of dog food for their current age (puppy, adult, senior). Some dogs are prone to becoming overweight, so proper nutrition and exercise are needed to prevent this.

Treats are an important training tool but should be given sparingly to prevent obesity. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend a good quality brand for dog food and treats.

See Also: Healthiest Dog Food Brands

Coat, Color, and Grooming

This breed sports a long multi-colored coat with shorter hair covering the hair and legs. Most Tornjaks are white with different colored markings. There are white dogs with black mantle usually around their necks, heads, and legs. Other colors include yellow, black, brown, red, gray, and a combination of these colors.

Their long woolly coat needs more care and attention. This dog sheds during the summer, so it’s best to brush their hair daily during this time to manage the falling hair.

During other times, regular brushing will suffice. However, everyday brushing is recommended to prevent the coat from matting. Daily brushing will also keep their coat clean and debris-free.

Children and Other Pets Compatibility

Tornjaks are great with kids. They are affectionate and playful around them. If you have kids and don’t have time to exercise your dog, just give them time to run around the yard or have a tumble around the house. When not playing, they are generally calm and gentle.

The same is true with other pets in the house. The Tornjak is a friendly breed as long as other animals don’t pose a threat to them or their family.

Wrap Up

Tornjak on a leash

Friendly, calm, courageous, and intelligent, the Tornjak will make a good family pet and companion. They will not hesitate to protect you, your herd, or your family with their life. They are also devoted and affectionate with people in their daily life. They learn quickly and will gladly perform their duties.

Like most dogs, Tornjaks like to belong in a pack. When they join you and your family, this dog wants to belong. You have to establish yourself as the herd leader, and this dog will follow you anywhere.

They are best suited to families and individuals who have space in their lives for a large dog and those that can train them to achieve their true potential.

What do you think of the Tornjak’s characteristics? Do you think this breed is suitable for your lifestyle or family? Tell us by leaving your comments below. If you need a good name for your newly-adopted Tornjack, check out our list of country dog names.

About the author
Emily Young
Emily Young

Emily is originally from China where she graduated from The University of Hong Kong with high distinction learning about fashion and design. During university she opened her own magazine about Dog Fashion as dogs were always in her heart. She was surprised, when she moved to a beautiful British Columbia 10 years ago, to see many great Boutiques with dog's designer clothing and desire of pet owners to make their babies look nice.