Named from the Turkish word: Akbaş, which literally translates to "white head", the Akbash Dog is believed to be the Turkish version of, and is similiar in appearance to other large white livestock protection dogs found in and around the northern Mediterranean Basin.This breed was developed at least 3,000 years ago, the Akbash Dog possess a unique combination of molosser (mastiff) and sighthound qualities.
The Akbash dog is considered to be an ancient breed that is believed to have originated in the area known as the Fertile Crescent; a region in Western Asia that now includes the countries of Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Referred to as the "The Cradle of Civilization" for the fact the first civilizations started there, the Fertile Crescent is thought to be the location from which all future agricultural societies would develop. The original purpose of dogs during this time was more than likely for hunting or the protection of the homestead. However, as humans evolved and began to domesticate animals creating livestock herds, it is likely that some of these early hunting and protection dogs were modified to look after and care for livestock. It is a commonly held belief that the Turkish Akbash livestock protection dog was among the earliest breeds to have been created. The Akbash Dog is considered to be the Turkish equivalent of other white guardian breeds such as the Great Pyrenees of France and Spain, the Kuvazs of Hungary and the Maremma dogs found in Italy's Maremma Mountains that developed around the same time in and around the northern Mediterranean Basin. The Akbash is unique from the other white coated guardian breeds in that it manifests a rather unique combination of Sighthound and Mollosser (Mastiff) characteristics. The Sighthound gave it long legs, speed, and agility while height, weight and power came from the Mastiff. The Akbash even shares the same genetic intolerance to barbiturate based anesthesia as modern day sighthounds.
The name “Akbash” means “white head”, and like many livestock protection dogs this breed is predominantly white in coloration. The origin of the white coloration and the reasoning behind it are a widely debated topic. Some believe the white coloration coincides with the age-old myth that white embodies the purity of a particular dog within the breed, thus more white would equate to a dog of more pure origin and as such it would make a better livestock protection dog and a more desirable color. Others believe that the white coloration helps the Akbash to blend in with the flock, making it harder to detect by any marauding wolves or other predators and thereby giving it a tactical advantage to ambush them. Another theory is that the white coat was bred in the Akbash to make it less likely that the shepherd would mistake it for a wolf in the night and thereby accidentally club it to death. Wherever the truth lies, the fact remains that the majority of livestock guardian dogs such as the Akbash are white, a man made alteration resulting from the selective culling of litters.
Found only in the Western regions of Turkey the name “Akbash” along with “Akkush”,”Kangal” and “Akkush” are used to denote specific types of livestock protection dogs within a certain region, while the term “coban kopegi”, translates to “shepherd’s dogs, and is a term used to describe all dogs of this type and distinguish them from other breeds. Some consider the Akbash Dog to be a white-headed variety of the Anatolian Shepherd while other consider it to be a distinctive breed worthy of its own recognition. Since its inception centuries ago the Akbash Dog has remained in the villages of western Turkey, protecting the homestead and the livestock of its master from predators. It is believed that the Akbash and the Kangal were combined to form the Anatolian Shepherd Dog.
In the 1970’s the outstanding reputation of the Akbash as a livestock guardian led individuals from other countries to take notice and it began to be exported from Turkey to other regions around the globe. In 1978, a pregnant female Akbash Dog named Cybele White Bird was imported into the United States by her American owners, David and Judy Nelson who had lived in Turkey as part of the diplomatic corps. It was her pups that would form the foundation of the breed in America and the beginning of the Akbash Dog Association International (ADAI) and the Akbash Dog Association of America (ADAA), the ADAI's North American affiliate.
While in Turkey the Nelsons combined their love of travel and photography, and began to record the Akbash, as well as other breeds native to Turkey. It was their opinion after observation and test litters that the Akbash was the counterpart to other livestock protection breeds; such as the ones found in Greece, Italy, Poland, Hungary and France and that it was a unique regional breed with consistently inherited behavior, appearance and disposition. This revelation motivated the Nelsons and they became determined to introduce the breed to livestock herders within the United States.
Following the importation of the first female Akbash Dog -Cybele White Bird- and the formation of the Akbash Dog Association of America in 1978, more and more Akbash Dogs were imported into America from Turkey as the popularity of the breed with livestock herders began to steadily increase. Dogs were selected from different lines, and from different villages within Turkey to ensure good genetic variation once they were bred in the United States.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) even took notice and in the early part of the 1980s purchased purebred Akbash dogs from the Nelsons for use in the livestock guard project. Still not officially recognized in America or Canada as a distinct breed, it was however becoming increasingly recognized by livestock producers as an excellent guardian and a unique one unlike any of the other breeds that were in use at the time. The Akbash proved it mettle by aggressively defending it’s flocks against coyotes, cougars and even bears, while remaining trustworthy with the livestock it was protecting. Unlike many other livestock dogs in use in the United States at the time, the Akbash dog demonstrated the real ability to bond with the flock and would not leave it during the heat of the day. Another unique Akbash dog trait revered by livestock producers that set it apart from other breeds in use was its intense dislike of stray dogs that wondered too near the flock, a real problem for some ranchers that had been accustomed to finding members of their flock killed by intruding dogs.
As popularity for the Akbash Dog continued to rise, the Nelsons began to import more Akbash dogs directly from Turkey the majority of which were sent directly to western sheep producers, while a smaller percentage went to semi-rural or farm homes. This proved to be a wise decision as attrition among ranch dogs was high and many of those never had a chance to breed.
Then in a move reminiscent to that of the Utonagan breed club fiasco, two unscrupulous breeders apparently more concerned with profiting from this breed than they were with preserving its health and heritage, attempted to stage a coup d'état and remove the Nelsons from the ADAA. The move was designed to place themselves in control of the Akbash Dogs breeding, registration, distribution and future in America. When this attempt to seize power was thwarted by the Nelsons and the ADAA’s current members, the now ousted breeders formed their own independent group called the WADA -Working Akbash Dog Association.
Using membership mailing lists they had previously obtained they sent out a mailer to all the members of the ADAA asking them to join WADA instead. After being rebuffed by the vast majority of ADAA members this group disappeared from the radar, only to reappear a short time later with a more official sounding name as the ADI (Akbash Dog International). Following the first mailer a subsequently mailer was sent out regardless of whether or not ADAA members had expressed interest in joining this splinter cell requesting that they now join ADI instead. Along with this mailer members of ADAA were sent a questionnaire requesting that they measure their dogs. The newly founded ADI felt that the current height standards were too restrictive and should be lowered to allow for the inclusion of more specimens, thus deviating away from the ADAA standards to a more lenient one.
The ADI website states:
“ADI was formed in 1987. There had been a North American Akbash Dog club earlier, but members grew dissatisfied with attempts to create an Akbash Dog that was ideal for both conformation show and livestock protection settings. ADI was established to preserve the working dog, and remains true to this mandate.”
This new group found support for its cause and began to register its own dogs, using the original ADAA dogs as its foundation. This leads many researching pedigrees today into quite a bit of confusion as ADAA members that switched alliances re-registered their dogs as ADI dogs, some using different kennel names or a completely different name. This new club went through its own series of growing pains through the dissent of it member eventually splintering into smaller groups. An ADI group does still exist to this day and registers dogs from the UKC foundation dogs (Akbash Dogs whose lineage traces back to the original ADAA/ADAI dogs). ADI dogs are generally eligible for registration with the ADAA and the UKC as purebreds.
In 1996, breed experts from America as a result of the Akbash dogs success, were invited by Turkish officials to the First International Symposium on Turkish Shepherd Dogs at Selcuk University in Konya, Turkey. Among the American experts to be invited were David Nelson, ADAA founder; Dr. Jeff Green, a USDA biologists that had participated in the initial livestock guard dog project; and Tamara Taylor, a livestock producer from Texas with nearly 20 years of experience using both Akbash Dogs and imported Turkish Kangal Dogs for livestock protection.
As a result of the Symposium and a letter written by Dr. Tekinsen stating the Turkish position on their native breeds, the ADAA was contacted by the United Kennel Club (UKC) for the purpose of offering recognition and opening studbooks for the breed. Accomplished in 1998 the ADAA became the provisional breed club for the Akbash Dog with the UKC, with the UKC now becoming responsible for maintaining all pedigree records and providing any additional information such as DNA test results.
Akbash dogs are a large muscular breed weighing 90 to 130 pounds; with males averaging 120 lbs while the average for females is around 90 pounds with a height of 30 to 34 inches and 28 to 32 inches respectively at the withers. Typically Akbash dogs are leaner than other Turkish livestock protection breeds and the majority of dogs of this type regardless of nationality. This is a genetic trait it owes to its sighthound ancestors. Long-legged and slightly longer than tall, they are remarkably agile for a dog of this size.
The large broad skull of the Akbash is slightly domed and longer than broad with a slightly to moderately defined stop. The well proportioned head is wedge-shaped, roughly twice as long as the muzzle, and larger in males than females. When viewed from above it should gradually taper to the nose forming a blunt wedge shape. The cheeks are flat and smooth. The top line of the muzzle should be straight and lie nearly parallel to the top line of the skull. Broader nearer the eyes, it tapers gradually toward the nose which is either solid dark brown or solid black. Working dogs whose noses display seasonal fading are not penalized. The Akbash powerful jaws have a relatively shallow lower jaw. The lips should be black or dark brown with tight flews, and white whiskers. The large, evenly spaced, white teeth should form a scissors bite, although a level bite is acceptable. Working dogs that have broken teeth as a result of field work are not to be penalized.
The almond-shaped, medium sized eyes should be set well apart on the skull giving the dog an intelligent, alert and amiable appearance. Eye colors vary from light to dark brown with darker colors being preferred. The V-shaped ears are rounded slightly at the tips, set high, well spaced and lie flat atop the skull. When alert, carriage is slightly higher, and when challenged the ears are pulled back. Imported dogs from Turkey may have their ears cropped, while domestic dogs will be disqualified for cropped ears.
The medium-long to long neck should be muscular in appearance with an arch at the crest and free of dewlap. The chest of the Akbash dog should be deep but not overly wide. The ribs are well sprung extending low toward the elbows giving the depth to the body. There is a slight slope from topline to withers leading to a straight strong back with an arch above the loin extending into a long, muscular sloping croup. Sighthound characteristics are evident in the Akbash dogs well tucked flanks. Heavily muscled and powerful hindquarters balance that of the forequarters. The thighs are deep, muscular and long leading to well bent stifles and well let down hocks.
The well muscled working dog shoulders are nearly equal in length to the upper arm with long straight well-boned forearms that are in proportion to the rest of the dog. When viewed from the front the legs should be perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other without turn in or out. Two varieties of feet appear in Akbash dogs: cat feet and Greyhound like hare feet with both being acceptable; cat feet preferred. Type put aside, the feet are large, and strong with well arched toes. The light or dark pads should be thick and hard yet elastic.
The tail of the Akbash dog is thicker at the base, gradually tapering toward the tip. Set low at the croup it is carried low forming a hook shape when the dog is relaxed and curled high above the back when the dog is excited or agitated. Feathering either heavily or moderately should be in proportion to the coat type of the dog.
There are two acceptable coat types for Akbash Dogs a long coat and a medium coat with neither being favored as coat type is dependent upon the area in which the dog works and the environment it will be exposed too. The long coated variety is a white double coat comprised of long, coarse, outer guard hairs and a thick, dense undercoat of softer, finer hair. The composition of the undercoat may vary with climate and the dogs exposure to weather. Slightly wavy, the coat should never be curled or matted. Long coated Akbash Dogs appear heavier and fuller than the medium coated variety with a distinct rough on the chest and shoulders encompassing the head. Feathering of the forelegs, thighs and tail is distinct and profuse with this coat type. The medium coat is short to medium in length lying flat to the body giving a sleeker, leaner appearance to the dog. Feathering of the thighs, legs and tails should be minimal. In either coat type, the hair of the muzzle, paws, and ears is to be shorter than that of the body.
The Akbash Dog comes in one color “White”. Slight shading of light biscuit or grey in the undercoat or around the ears is not considered to be a fault so long as the overall appearance of the dog is white. Skin pigmentation of Gray or sliver-blue be it solid or spotted is a desirable trait but not required so long as the eye rims, nose and lips have ample black or dark brown color.
Akbash dogs are commonly referred to inappropriately as sheep dogs, however unlike sheepdogs that herd their charges, the Akbash lives amongst the flock as its guardian. The Akbash is a working breed that has been used for centuries to guard his master’s flocks and possessions from both predators and humans alike. The acute senses of both sight and hearing, combined with this breeds courage and exceptionally strong protection instinct make the Akbash an excellent estate guardian and one of the best livestock protection dogs available. This is not a high energy dog as it lives with the flock and spends a great deal of time lying with it.
An intelligent dog guardian, the Akbash is well accustomed to working without the aid of human intervention. In the field this allows the dog to think “on the fly” and respond swiftly and of its own accord to any dangers posed to its flock. In the home this can make the dog appear strong willed and stubborn. Potential owners interested in this breed as a pet need to be aware that strong will and persistence will pay dividends during training, as the Akbash is likely to think they know better than their owners during training. This is not a breed recommended for passive individuals and would be better suited to a human that has a well established Alpha Dog presence.
There is what are referred to as ‘dominant’ dogs that tend to feel particularly threatened when pushed around or stared at by individuals they consider beneath them in pack status. Primarily this is a learned behavior brought about by handlers that have failed to maintain their positions as leaders over the dog. In most cases this appears to be the default condition of many Akbash Dogs as they will instinctively move to the top of the hierarchy if there is a vacuum. This also suggests that leadership is a genetic component innate to this breed. This is the reason that Akbash Dogs are not generally a wise choice for first-time dog owners, or owners who are ineffectual leaders or disciplinarians.
One striking characteristic that seems unique to the Akbash among livestock guardian breeds is its strong maternal instinct and ability to bond as one with the flock. This process of bonding to other animals begins at a very young age. Once bonded to their animal of choice whether it be goats, sheep, cattle, horses, other livestock(such as poultry, deer, alpaca, llamas etc.), or people, the Akbash will without hesitation give its own life for the sake of preserving theirs in a time of danger. This bond with animals as their guardian seems very much to be appreciated if not understood by some types of livestock with sheep being known to flock behind the dog when threatened or allowing the dog to sniff and clean their newborn lambs. The symbiotic nature of this relationship has been practiced for centuries in the Old World, while it is just starting to be understood in the New World. It is the Akbash Dogs nature to lie during most of the day with the flocks they guard; as such they are not considered high energy dogs with tremendous endurance. That does not mean that they will be ok living in a small house or apartment as this is a range dog that will be happiest when given a task to complete.
While not overtly aggressive toward humans, once the dog is familiar with its owner, its charges and is bonded to a flock it becomes the guardian of the flock against all others. This can lead to aggressive behavior towards unwitting humans such as neighbors or guests that roam to near the flock. In attempting to answer the question of how dangerous Livestock Protection Dogs can be towards people that stray to near the flock, the University of Idaho (U of I) conducted a survey in 1986, of 763 livestock dogs and published the following:
“How likely is it that a livestock guarding dog will bite someone? Much is dependent upon where the dog spends its time, and also on breed differences. In the survey of livestock guarding dogs, 7 percent of the dogs had bitten people (17 percent of the Komondors, 9 percent of the Anatolian shepherds, 6 percent of the Akbash dogs, and 4 percent of the Great Pyrenees). Some dogs show more protective and aggressive traits than others, and it becomes the owner’s responsibility to protect people who may be at risk. Neighbors and guests should be alerted, and if necessary, signs or other appropriate warnings should be displayed."
A guarding dog will likely include peripheral areas in its patrolling. This activity should be discouraged. Neighbors should be alerted to the fact that a dog may roam onto their property and that some predator control devices (e.g., traps, snares, and M -44’s) present a danger to the dog. It is in the best interest of the owner, community, and dog to train the dog to stay in its designated area. “
Akbash Dogs are intelligent and have also developed the sense of knowing when they are outmatched by predators. This helps to lower their attrition rate; making it less likely that they will become dinner for a bear or a wolf pack. The reintroduction of the Grey Wolves have set the stage in many ways for interspecies conflict as wolves view the flock as food, and Guardian breeds view wolves as the enemy. Of the three most popular livestock guardian breeds in the United States; Great Pyrenees, Akbash and Komondor, it is the Great Pyrenees breeds that have suffered the greatest number of casualties. In fact, 61 percent of the documented fatal wolf attacks on guard dogs between 1995 and 2004 in the greater Yellowstone area of the Northern Rockies were Great Pyrenees.
This is not to say that Akbash dogs are in anyway cowardly; USDA studies indicate that Akbash Dogs rate in the upper half of livestock protection breeds on aggressiveness and that Akbash Dogs are not to be challenged if they are angry or feel their flock is threatened. It would be more appropriate to say that the Akabash Dog simply does not follow the General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn philosophy when faced singularly with a pack wolves. A dead heroic livestock dog, although noble, is no longer of any use to the rancher and has to be replaced.
The loyalty of an Akbash dog also makes them wonderful human companions that are gentle and affectionate with their family and if trained properly can be personable with almost any animal. These are natural guardians so the default personality is to show an aggressive temperament toward strangers or strange animals. Socialization is therefore very necessary if your intent is to have an Akbash Dog solely as a companion animal. The Guarding instinct of this breed makes them territorial by nature and they will react aggressively toward strange dogs entering their territory, especially if they feel there is a threat to their flock. It is not uncommon for Akbash dogs to work together with other dogs, such as herding dogs when tending to a flock. If introduced to and guided this breed can get along with other dogs as members (usually junior to itself) of the pack.
It is up to the owners to teach this breed very early in life what is routine, who is trustworthy and what must be guarded against as all Akbash Dogs are born with some sense of suspicion toward the unknown. Some of this happens with age, but much of it must be taught as modern livestock protection dogs live in artificially created worlds of domesticated herds, fences, neighbors and non-naturally occurring dangers like traffic, traps, guns and poisons.
These dogs are known for their intelligence, bravery, independence and loyalty; however these virtues of the breed may cause problems for the pet Akbash in a home setting. The most common problems one can expect in this situation are:
The Akbash Dog is a Livestock Guardian breed that is designed to spend most of its time outdoors with the flock. Its coat has developed to the point where it requires little maintenance. The outer coat or guard hairs do not usually tangle, but brushing the dog weekly can remove any tangles that do occur. The Long Coated Akbash Dog does possess a thick double coat of fur, that consists of a thick, dense, soft undercoat and a coarse longer topcoat. Some grooming and ritual brushing is going to be required if you plan on letting them in the house. The undercoat will shed or “blow out” annually and for females this may happen twice a year. For dogs living in warmer climates there is a tendency to shed year-round. Caring for your Long Coated Akbash Dog will require that you put up with plenty of dog hair on the furniture and carpet, and floating through the air during these shedding sessions that can last three weeks or more. You can reduce the loose hair you find with regular brushing and grooming sessions during these times.
The Medium Coated Akbash Dog will also regular brushing to reduce shedding, but not nearly to the extent of its longer haired sibling. With a coat type that can be similiar to that of a Labradore Retriever, you can expect to brush the dog at least once a week with a slicker brush or its equivalent if you plan on allowing the dog to live in the house.
Akbash Dogs are a healthy breed that as a whole seem to have low occurrences of genetically linked health conditions, especially when compared to other large breed dogs. The most common health issues known to affect the Akabash are hip dysplasia (abnormal development of hip joints) which is common with many large breed dogs and OCD (osteochondritis dissecans). More recently some members of the breed have exhibited symptoms relating to a condition called Luxating Patella; the knee caps of the rear knees can slide to the outside and off. This a recessive gene condition known to be associated with inbreeding.
The Akbash like many sighthound breeds has relatively low body fat in relation to its size. This can lead to a problem where common barbiturate based anesthetics are unable to properly diffuse themselves into the fatty tissues creating an amplified effect that can lead to death. It is recommended that either an inhalation anesthesia such as Isoflurane or an intramuscular injectable combination of Xylazine & Ketamine HCL be used for medical procedures requiring anesthesia. It has been observed that the Akbash Dog will metabolize Xylazine and Ketamine HCL more slowly than most other breeds, which increases the time that it takes for Dog to be fully awake and steady on its feet.