This article on Black Russian Terriers is part of a series to highlight the Big Picture of health, welfare and breeding and to help develop Globally Relevant Integrated Health Profiles (GRIHPs) for many breeds. See IPFD's Get a GRIHP! on Breed Health Initiative
There are many others doing great work to advance heath, well-being, and welfare in this wonderful breed. We reference and link to terrific work, developments, reports, and research from the UK, USA, Sweden, Finland and more below. Thanks to all of those working on behalf of BRTs.
This is a 'living document' - so if anyone has more material to share or point us to - please let us know!
Table of Contents
Breed At a Glance - Black Russian Terriers
The Black Russian Terrier is considered a rare breed and is a young breed relative to its recognition in the purebred dog scene which dates back to the late 18th and early 19th century. During the 1940's and 1950's The Central Military School of Working Dogs (Red Star Kennel) in Russia was engaged in producing dogs intended to reliably fulfill roles as guard dogs for the Russian military. What would become the BRT breed was developed from mix of several existing working dog breeds (primarily the Giant Schnauzer, Rottweiler, Airedale Terriers, and the Newfoundland along with several native Russian dog breeds, including Caucasian Shepherd Dogs). Desirable characteristics needed for these purpose bred dogs were athleticism, a keen intellect, imposing size and presence, physical strength and endurance along with tolerance for exposure to extremely cold temperatures. The dogs of today make engaged, devoted and vigilant family companions with proper training and socialization. Typically, BRTs are suspicious of strangers. BRTs may relate well with other pets, but some breed experts report even training and socialization will not guarantee some BRT's acceptance of other animals.
Guidance/monitoring of interactions between children and the BRTs is essential - the dogs are very large and play rough, so might not be the best choice for families with toddlers. Dogs compete in Obedience, Tracking, Agility, carting, weight pulling, Therapy work and Herding Trials. Possessing a discerning character and reacting appropriately to all situations is an important character trait of the "Blackies". The breed can be considered as basically healthy with a lifespan > 10 up to 14 years of age.
Key Health Conditions - The Basics: Black Russian Terriers
CONTEXT: the list of key health conditions is based on a review of educational content and data available from, e.g., IPFD’s Kennel Club Partners and Black Russian Terrier breed club websites; other veterinary practice data; and peer reviewed research. The health conditions are identified by experts, breed-health advisors, owners, and available evidence as those affecting health, quality of life, and welfare for affected individual dogs and/or creating issues and management challenges at a breed level. Key health conditions listed do not represent all health challenges in a breed but are generally recognized as occurring or emerging in the breed; most are important to consider in breeding decisions. This section highlights key conditions - details, further data and more information, breed-specific programs for various conditions, the international breed population - and more - follows further below.
Orthopedics - Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia, patellas or other musculoskeletal issues occur in this breed. Breeding stock should be tested and results recorded/verifiable via public health registries, (OFA, BVA...).
Eye issues - while not pervasive in the breed, eye problems reported include cataracts, distichiasis, PRA and entropion/ectropion. Eye exams are recommended to monitor eye health.
Other inherited/genetic disorders for which there are DNA tests:
Hyperuricosuria (HUU) - Bladder/kidney stones - a DNA test is available (see more information below).
Juvenile Laryngeal Paralysis & Polyneuropathy (JLPP) - a DNA test is available (see more information below).
Testing for the two autosomal recessive disorders shown above is recommended or required by Kennel and Breed clubs. Given the low population of the breed, carriers of these mutations may still be used for breeding as long as both parents are tested and one is clear of the mutation, no affected pups will be born.
What do Caretakers of Black Russian Terriers need to Know?
Training and Socialization while young and throughout life are a MUST.
Big, black, hairy dogs - regular (weekly) grooming is required. Professional grooming at 6 week intervals is advised. If you want to learn more about grooming a BRT, Grooming Guides are available.
Regular exercise - appropriate for age and physical capabilities. Dogs should not be exercised on a full stomach to lessen the chances of Bloat/Gastric torsion.
Recognize that keeping any dog involves time and expenditures including veterinary care, training classes, and feeding to name a few. BRTs food costs are commensurate with their size; and good quality foods can run $100.00+ per month.
Get a grasp on character & temperament: These dogs are not a good match for every home/family/lifestyle. The BRT can be reserved and distrustful of strangers, preferring their own space; and at home they can be loving and funny with their family, deeply devoted and close in physical contact.
Breed size/conformation: The Black Russian Terrier is a large dog; Breed Standards DO NOT define BRTs as a "Giant" breed. That said, terms like “large” and “giant” are fundamentally subjective, and the BRT can certainly be said to fall into the very-large dog genre. See BRTCA's Comments on the Breed Standard. Read the Breed Standards (The American Kennel Club; The Kennel Club, UK; FCI (Federation Cynologique Internationale) which define ideal height and elaborate on weight, proportions, structure and movement. Avoiding the tendency for selection of dogs for breeding that exceed or fall at the very uppermost limits of the standards (breeding to upsize), regardless of presence of other essential qualities can lead to a creep towards extremes and production of oversized dogs that are of incorrect proportions, angulation, heavy or coarsely made, and potentially less functional. Given the orthopedic concerns with large dogs in general and BRTs in particular, functional structure remains a primary concern.
Statistics and Health Strategies
CONTEXT: We are pleased to be able to highlight a selection of internationally based Health Strategy Providers who offer content-rich statistics and in-depth, up-to-date information on health issues along with health strategies conceived to improve management of health and welfare for many breeds.
The websites for the Black Russian Terrier Club of America and the Finnish club, Suomen Mustaterrierit ry offer exceptional access to expansive breed-specific advice and health articles to aid buyers, owners and breeders. A more complete listing of Black Russian Terrier Breed Clubs located throughout the world is available on DWN's Database page for the Black Russian Terrier. Each Club's website offers value-added breed information. See the Breeding Strategies section below for further international information.
Comment: Given the rarity of the Black Russian Terrier, imports and exports of dogs are a reality of this population's management to enhance diversity in the breed. International communication and collaboration on matters of health and welfare of these dogs is essential. Notable among the European and North American KC registries are imports originating from Russia, the Baltic States, Belarus and the Ukraine as well as exchange of quality dogs to serve as breeding stock between the countries listed above. In the first year of "Official" Canadian Kennel Club registrations (2020) a total of 490 BRT dogs were registered (including Canadian Born and Imported Foreign dogs). BRTs were in Canada prior to 2020 and were registered in CKC's MCN registry.
Health & Breeding Statistics
Context: Additional information is available from the Finnish Kennel Club's and OFA's databases as well as from other registry and Health databases, many of which are searchable, and include individual dog's health records. The data collected and openly shared on health conditions helps to inform breeding and management strategies with the goal of improving health in breeds.
Below are examples of health screening and DNA tests results available for Black Russian Terriers. Hip & elbow dysplasia are universally acknowledged by breed experts as creating health challenges and compromised welfare in affected BRTs.
Comment: Please note the percentages of different grades in evaluations for Hips and Elbows. Hip results show a very high percentage of screened dogs do not have normal hip scores. Elbow scores appear to indicate the BRT has fewer elbow issues than hip issues - but none-the- less ED should be a significant concern to breeders and owners. Both HD and ED carry high welfare impacts to dogs as well as influence management of affected dogs. JLPP & HUU carrier rates are notable. See more on Breeding Strategies below.
Comment: Only a percentage of registered dogs contribute to the breed's future generations. The two charts below are from AKC's database. BRTs are a large dog so are usually not bred til after 2-3 years of age or older. Health test results and physical (conformation) and mental/working abilities assessments tend to impact breeder's choices of dogs suitable for breeding. What is interesting in the figures is the number of males and females used for breeding each year relative to the number of registered dogs. The ratio of males to females seems to indicate there is a wider use of males in this breed than is the case where frequently used sires are responsible for a high percentage of litters as is the case in other breeds. In some registries (SKK & FKC as examples) the number/percentage of pups produced by an individual is limited.
Black Russian Terriers - Breed Specific Breeding Strategies
Context: Below we provide expanded information on breed-specific breeding strategies from two countries - these strategies serve as examples of important considerations taken into account by breeders which can inform broader audiences as to health and welfare matters that apply to purchase, ownership and care of individual dogs. Health conditions, temperament assessments as well as Kennel Club programs and tools, along with breed education influence decision making that will contribute to optimal management of today's dogs and enhance the breed's future well-being. Please see links to more breeding strategies available below and visit the Breed Club's websites (links on our BRT Breed page) for further information.
Finland: Jalostuksen tavoiteohjelma (JTO) 2021-2025 - VENÄJÄNMUSTATERRIERI
Health and population: excerpts - (Google translation)
The parents of the puppies must have a hip and elbow scan statement issued before mating.
The registration threshold is grade C for hip arthroplasty and grade 1 for elbow arthroplasty.
In addition, an A- or B-hip mating partner should be used for a C-hip dog and a 0-partner mating partner for a dog with an elbow score of 1. The program is valid from 1 January 2016 to 31 December 2020.
The breed association (Suomen Mustaterrierit ry) also gives the following recommendations for the litter's parents
Parents' hips should be A or B
The elbow joints should be 0
Show result in official show or breeding inspected
Neither parent of the litter should have more than 20 puppies / more than 3 litters in Finland
The inbreeding rate should not exceed 6.25%, which corresponds to the combination of cousins
The parents of the litter would have passed the character test or MH character description or Breeding Inspection behavior or training code in service dog tests or an approved performance of a rescue dog follow-up, search or ruin dog class A. For hyperuricosuria (HUU), breeding recommendations are:
N / HU * HU / HU combinations are not made
HU / HU * HU / HU combinations are not made
N / HU * Puppies born from N / HU combinations are genetically tested and only N / N dogs are selected for breeding if possible.
UK:KC: Assured Breeders Russian Black Terrier
The Kennel Club offers More Information About Health on each breed's page - expand the section to find requirements and recommendations. For the Russian Black Terrier go to the source page for the most current information on tests/health screening: https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/search/breeds-a-to-z/breeds/working/russian-black-terrier/
The Kennel Club Assured Breeders must use the following (or equivalent) schemes, tests and advice. All other breeders are strongly advised to also use these.
Hip dysplasia screening scheme (BVA/KC)
Elbow dysplasia screening scheme (BVA/KC)
Important health schemes and tests
We strongly recommend that all breeders, both assured breeders (ABs) and non ABs, use the following (or equivalent) schemes, tests and advice.
Breeders should issue grooming advice
Bitches not to produce a litter under 2 years of age
DNA test – HUU - part of The Kennel Club's CombiBreed package* (see below). Find a list of tested dogs
Check inbreeding calculators
Other health schemes and tests available
DNA test – JLPP - Find a list of tested dogs
US: CHIC: BRT Health Testing
International: Request for participation in Health Survey from the BRTCA:
OFA Health Survey: Just a reminder that we are asking everyone who has owned a Black Russian Terrier to participate in the anonymous OFA Breed Health Survey. Following is the link to participate. Please complete the survey for living and deceased BRTs. To date, 165 surveys are completed. You’re able to see the survey results and statics on the website: https://www.ofa.org/about/educational-resources/health-surveys
(Please note the graphic of the survey breakdown by country.) Share the link and encourage everyone you know around the world to participate in the study.
Health Screening Tests for Black Russian Terriers
SUMMARY: Health tests for Black Russian terriers include those inherited conditions that are broadly relevant to dogs – hip and elbow dysplasia, and clinical eye examinations. The most common (but not pervasive) eye conditions include cataracts, entropion, ectropion, distichiasis, (recorded in multiple health registries) and rarely PRA. Heart testing is also done, and required for a CHIC# in the US - there are reported incidences of aortic stenosis, mitral valve dysplasia and cardiomyopathy.
HGTD DNA Tests for Black Russian Terriers
The Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs (HGTD) Basics: - The HGTD Searchable Database - Search by Breed, Search by Disease / Test and Search by Genetic Test Provider (GTP) / Lab + Genetic Counselling Resources. HGTD catalogs information provided voluntarily from genetic test providers (GTPs) including information on their company and services, quality measures and expertise, tests offered and more. As of January 2021, the HGTD Database includes 82 academic and commercial genetic test providers (GTPs) in 22 countries. Our searchable genetic phenes (phenes = characteristics/genetically controlled feature) database currently holds information on 300+ phenes across all breeds/types and provides information on each phene: links to the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Animals database (OMIA), gene + mutations, a simple and advanced disease description, inheritance details, links to original publications, patents/licenses, comments from the original researchers/experts on application, and breed specific information (such as research/validation) - where possible. Breed Relevance Ratings (BRR) support evidence-based usage and application of genetic tests. The HGTD database relevance rating indicates the level of available evidence supporting the application of a specific genetic test for a specific breed/type. Currently, the relevance rating is based on a wide variety of evidence sources. This includes peer-reviewed research papers, recommendations from the original researchers/test developers, input from additional experts including veterinary specialists, and breed experts. It is hoped that, by being more informative about what we currently know or do not know about a specific test for a specific breed, that dog health advisors and owners can make more informed decisions. Remember, this Breed Relevance Rating is not everything we need to know about the disease or characteristic; it is focused on the genetic test.
SUMMARY: There are few breed-specific genetic tests available to the Black Russian Terrier. This may be related to the relative rareness of the breed, and it is possible that there are additional DNA tests that are relevant, particularly if the tests are relevant in closely related breeds. It should be noted, however, that the prevalence of the diseases are unknown in the BRT, and some of the diseases are particularly important in terms of welfare for the dog – being potentially life-limiting, painful, and/or requiring lifetime management.
♦ BIG PICTURE THINKING ♦ Please take into consideration - Most of the conditions with genetic tests are rare in the general population, but valuable for breeders to use to efficiently reduce risks while supporting good genetic diversity in the breed as a whole. See the Genetic Diversity section below. Also be aware that there are many DNA tests that are available for ALL breeds, that while the test itself is valid, the condition may not be a major health concern or included in health strategies for every breed. See the HGTD for a full list of DNA tests including "Trait" and "Parentage" tests.
Test: Hyperuricosuria and Hyperuricemia (HUU)
Hyperuricosuria (HUU) describes elevated levels of uric acid in the urine, resulting in urolithiasis, the formation of calculi (stones) in the urinary tract. These stones form in their bladders or sometimes kidneys, requiring surgical removal. These stones can be difficult to treat. HUU can occur in any breed but there are a number of breeds reported where the DNA test is relevant and may be useful for breeding and selection. This mutation is not the sole cause of urate bladder stones in dogs, so may not account for other causes of stones, such as liver disease and diet.
Test: Juvenile Laryngeal Paralysis and Polyneuropathy (JLPP)
Originally researched in the Alaskan Husky dog, Russian Black Terrier puppies can show signs from 3 months of age, with laryngeal paralysis and respiratory distress reported as early signs. Other clinical symptoms can include visual problems, regurgitation, gait abnormalities, and sever ataxia. Sadly, puppies are usually euthanized for welfare reasons. (Mhlanga-Mutangadura et al. 2016) As there is a genetic test available, and the mutation is autosomal recessively inherited, this test may be particularly useful to efficiently identify carrier dogs. Carrier dogs can be bred with clear-tested dogs to reduce risk of passing on this mutation, while accounting for genetic diversity.
Test: Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA-prcd)
PRA-prcd is progressive, and late-onset, where retina cells are lost slowly. This initially causes problems seeing in dim light, usually around ages 3-5, though diagnosis by an ophthalmologist can be earlier, around 1-2 years. It can progress to complete blindness is some dogs, but not all cases. This disease is seen in many breeds and crosses. Research strongly suggests that a common ancestor transmitted the prcd disease allele to many of the modern dog breeds. Diagnosis of prcd is based on a combination of clinical examination, including indirect ophthalmoscopy and electroretinography, and retinal morphology. Retinal photoreceptor abnormalities are visible in animals 14 weeks of age and older using high-resolution optical microscopy. Reports from breeders and breed clubs indicate that usage of this test for selection is supported by the breeding community.
Test: Primary Lens Luxation (PLL)
In affected dogs, the zonular fibres which support the lens in the eye, breakdown or disintegrate, causing the lens to fall into the wrong position within the eye. PLL is a painful and blinding inherited eye condition that affects many breeds of dog. Clinical signs include reddening of the eye, glaucoma (increased pressure within the eyeball) and loss of vision, which can be detectable at 20 months. Complete lens luxation typically occurs at the age of 3-8 years. While there is no specific research for Black Russian Terriers, there are many indications that this mutation and condition occurs across many diverse breeds. The use of this genetic test may be relevant to the Black Russian Terrier, and further investigation for evidence, by HGTD is underway. Researchers, breeder/owners, veterinarians are all invited to email HGTD if they can report observing clinically affected dogs.
Test: Coat colour dilution, dilution, MLPH-related
Reported in many, and diverse dog breeds, this mutation is responsible for "dilute" pigmentation, and colour dilution-related alopecia (CDA). CDA causes patches of hair thinning or loss and may also include flaky and/or itchy skin. The condition is most commonly seen in dogs with a "blue" or "fawn" coat. As some tests are breed or type specific, it is recommended you contact your genetic test provider for advice on which mutation is applicable for the Russian black terrier. It has not been reported for this breed in the literature but occurs in related breeds.
Test: Coat Colour Merle
This genetic test is not breed-specific and can be relevant for any breed or breed-type (as many coat colour/type tests are.) It has been included in this listing as there have been communications with HGTD that merle Black Russian Terriers have been known. The merle gene (in the M locus) dilutes random sections of the coat to a lighter colour (usually grey in a black-pigmented dog), leaving patches of the original colour remaining. The patches can be any size and can be located anywhere. Merle is dominant, meaning all "normal" merles are heterozygous (Mm). A homozygous merle is actually a "double" merle (MM), which can result in serious health issues. Including deafness, blindness, sun sensitivity and skin cancer. For this reason two merles should never be bred together, as this will result in some double merle puppies. (Clark 2006)
Other Genetic Traits/Tests
Test: Coat Colour, Dominant Black; Agouti
There are a number of other tests available to BRTs that fall under tests that are not breed-specific but can be used across all breeds and dog types. The dominant black (K locus) and Agouti test are used by a number of BRTs breeders and owners, in some cases as part of official club or other scheme practices.
From the BRTCA (2017): "the Board of Directors has approved two color tests through UC Davis to be included in the list of breed-specific CHIC tests for the Black Russian. These two color tests are “Dominant Black” and “Agouti.” The “Dominant Black” test will assist breeders in determining if their dogs are homozygous for dominant black. The “Agouti” test will assist breeders in determining the agouti alleles present for determining sable and black and tan."
Genetic Diversity in the Black Russian Terriers - Research & Reports
See the Black Russian Terrier Club of America's article on BRT Genetic Diversity Testing.
See Betterbred: Red Star Kennel – Black Russian Terriers!
History - the drift
These dogs were exclusively bred and developed by the Red Star Kennel located in Russia, from the 1930-40's until 1957. The breed began to be distributed to European countries' breeders outside of Russia, including Finland, Hungary, Poland, Germany, and Czechoslovakia, etc... after 1957 through the 1970's; the breed came to the US in the early 1980's. In 1981 The Russian Minister of Agriculture recognized the Black Russian Terrier, followed by F.C.I.'s recognition in 1984. The breed was admitted to AKC's Working Group in 2004. In September 2020 the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Canadian Kennel Club fully recognized the breed. Breed Standards for the BRT have existed since 1958; multiple Standards exist - revisions have been made over time.
IPFD and The World Small Animal Veterinary Association
See our series of Meet the Breed articles in the WSAVA Bulletin.
And associated Get a GRIHP! Articles on DogWellNet.com
References and Resources
On Conditions and Diseases
Tests/screening results for BRT OFA
Mhlanga-Mutangadura T, Johnson GS, Schnabel RD, Taylor JF, Johnson GC, Katz ML, Shelton GD, Lever TE, Giuliano E, Granger N, Shomper J, O'Brien DP. A mutation in the Warburg syndrome gene, RAB3GAP1, causes a similar syndrome with polyneuropathy and neuronal vacuolation in Black Russian Terrier dogs. Neurobiol Dis. 2016 Feb;86:75-85. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2015.11.016. Epub 2015 Nov 25. PMID: 26607784.
OFA: Juvenile Laryngeal Paralysis & Polyneuropathy (JLPP) in the Black Russian Terrier
2006 Clark, LA., Wahl, JM., Rees, CA., Murphy, KE. : From The Cover: Retrotransposon insertion in SILV is responsible for merle patterning of the domestic dog. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 103:1376-81, 2006. Pubmed reference: 16407134. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0506940103.
DWN's Black Russian Terrier DB page
HGTD Black Russian Terrier
Illustrated Standards-Study Guides/Compendiums
Standard Comments - Russian Black Terrier Club: RU: http://nkp-blackterrier.ru/standart/comments.php (Russian)
BRT-translated standard comments -from NKP.pdf
Sweden: SKK HUNDDATA: https://hundar.skk.se/hunddata/
Sweden: SKK AVELSDATA: https://hundar.skk.se/avelsdata/Initial.aspx
Finland: Jalostustietojärjestelmä | Suomen Kennelliitto: Finnish Kennel Club: https://jalostus.kennelliitto.fi/frmEtusivu.aspx?Lang=en&R=327
Norway: Dogweb: https://www.dogweb.no/dogweb/dw/openPage/hoved.html
France: SCC: Lof Select: https://www.centrale-canine.fr/lofselect
UK: The Kennel Club: Mate Select: https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/services/public/mateselect/
US: OFA: https://ofa.org
International: Black Russian Terriers Hyperuricosuria Database