Commissioned by the government for the Russian Navy, the Russian Water Dog was the Russian Armies one and only failed attempt at creating the ultimate water rescue dog. Bred from a mixture of breeds in Krasnaya Zvezda, Belarus at the government owned “Red Star” kennel, the Russian Water Dog ended up being and aquatically inclined attack dog as opposed to an animal with an inclination towards saving drowning victims. The dogs aggressive nature would lead the Army to scrap the breeding program and by the 1980's the breed was considered to be extinct. This breed is also commonly referred to as the Russian Newfoundland, Moscow Water Dog, Moscow Diver, Moscow Retriever, Moskovsky Vodolaz, Moscow Vodolaz, Moscow River Dog, and Vodolaz. For more information on the creation of this breed see the history section below.
Following the chaos and destruction of the Russian Revolution of 1917, which included a civil war between the "Red" (Bolshevik), and "White" (anti-Bolshevik) factions, the destruction of Tsarist autocracy, and the formation of the Soviet Union, the future of many native Russian breeds was a bleak one. During the revolt and World War I (1914-1918) which was raging at the same time, many of Russia's native breeds were slaughtered; simply as collateral damage due to the conflict around them and as food or for their fur. It is well documented, that after WWI the extinction of all purebred Russian dogs was forthcoming. With the cessation of these conflicts and a stable government once again in control, the Russian Military Council decreed in 1924 that every department in their military would now include dogs and dog trainers among their soldiers and security forces.
As a result of the edict set forth by the Russian Military Council, a school was created to train these new canine soldiers. This school developed training facilities, including military and sports departments, as well as laboratories to prepare and train the dogs for military service, and to successfully carry out their objectives as guard dogs, attack dogs, and even mine dogs. This new canine army would later prove useful to the Russian Red Army, during World War II (WWII) as many of these dogs would lose their lives fiercely defending their homeland from the Nazis. The losses were extreme and following the war there were very few working dogs left.
Desperate for replacement dogs and after hearing tales from the front of these brave dogs acts of valor and sacrifice, the Red Army was convinced of their value and set about developing dog breeds specific to the needs of the military. At this time, the Red Army controlled The Central Military School of Working Dogs, also known as the “Red Star” kennel; a state owned dog training school and kennel, and the only one large enough to take on such a large-scale breeding program. Colonel G. Medvedev was commissioned, in the 1950’s, to direct this new breeding campaign with the objective of creating completely new breeds of dog specifically designed to meet the needs of the Red Army. The army desired a large dogs that could perform guard-dog and watchdog duties and breeds that were aggressive, and capable of withstanding the harsh and ever changing climate of Russia. The new breed would also need to be highly trainable, as the dogs would be tasked with working alongside police and border units, as well as being required to guard facilities like prison camps, military installations, and other important sites. Therefore, these dogs needed to work well with the soldiers and be easy to handle in order to successfully assist in their guard duties.
The Russian Army was not the only one with a desire for specialized working breeds, the Russian Navy had set standards of its own for the creation of a super water rescue dog. The Navy wanted all of the above Army requirements, but also a dog that excelled in the water and had a natural tendency towards performing water rescues. So beginning in the 1950's, having long known of the abilities of the Newfoundland Dog as a water rescue expert, the Army at Red Star Kennel set about trying to improve upon the breed to meet the requirements the Navy had set forth. Their efforts would result in the creation of the Russian Newfoundland also known as the Moscow Water Dog, the Russian Water Dog, the Moscow Retriever, and the Moscow Diver (Moskovsky Vodolaz). The suffix being applied due to the fact that in Russia, the Newfoundland Dog had traditionally been referred to as the Vodolaz; the Russian word for "diver".
The Army would set about creating the ultimate multipurpose water rescue dog by crossing three breeds. First Newfoundland males were bred to Caucasian Shepherd and East European Shepherd females. The offspring would then be repeatedly line breed until a distinct breed was created; the Russian Water dog. Believing they had met their goal of not only creating a much better water rescue dog than the Newfoundland, but also a more versatile breed capable of performing sentry and shoreline duty as well, the Army turned its new creation over to the Navy for testing.
This new breed proved to be an excellent swimmer, as well as a vigilant, trainable and intelligent shoreline sentry dog, and well able to withstand arctic temperatures and freezing water. There was, however, one major problem; when set loose to rescue a panicked and drowning sailor, it was the breeds nature to swim straight to them and attack them in the water. A terrifying experience for the victim, who if they did not drown fighting off the dog would then likely try and drown the dog in order to defend themselves from the onslaught of gnashing teeth. As it would turn out, the Russian Water Dog was too much working dog and not enough rescue dog, the breed was aggressive and took very poorly to strangers, regardless of whether they were drowning or on land.
Having clearly failed to create the ultimate water rescue dog, Red Star Kennels abandoned the experiment in the late 1960's, but tried to save face by commercializing the newly created breed as the Russian Newfoundland and selling it to civilians. Those civilians and civilian breeders that were duped into purchasing one of these dogs were not nearly as inclined to experiment with the breed as the military. These breeders would eventually outcross in so many purebred Newfoundland dogs attempting to tame the dogs temperament that by the 1980's the Russian Newfoundland could no longer be distinguished from the original; resulting in the extinction of the Russian Newfoundland through dilution with the actual Newfoundland Dog.
However the genes of the Russian Newfoundland are not completely lost, as state run kennel did have some success in creating other breeds like the Moscow Great Dane, using the German Shepherd Dog and Great Dane; the Brudasty Hound, which was an Airedale Terrier and Russian Hound mix; the Moscow Watchdog, a combination of St. Bernard and Caucasian Ovcharka; and the Black Russian Terrier. The last one being the most successful breed to come out of the program, the Russian Black Terrier gained international recognition in 1984 and is derived from a combination of 14 different breeds; including the Moscow Water Dog in the later stages of its development. This is also the reason that the Black Russian Terrier gets to claim the Newfoundland Dog as an ancestor, as it received second hand Newfoundland Dog blood from the Moscow Water Dog. The failure of the Moscow Water Dog would mark the first and last time that the Russian Navy would allow the Russian Army to develop a breed of dog for them.
The Russian government's desire to have a water rescue dog is still strong to this day and in many areas of the country dog training centers still operate under the auspices of the federal rescue agency and the Emergency Situations Ministry. Having learned from the mistakes of the past, instead of trying to create a new breed they have opted instead to stick with the tried and true original Newfoundland dog for this purpose.