Known in its native country of Turkey at the ‘Karabash’, which literally translates to ‘blackhead’, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog originated in the central Turkish region of Anatolia. The breed was further refined in America after having arrived during the 1930’s as a gift from the Turkish government, to the United States Department of Agriculture. An exceptional livestock protection dog, the Anatolian Shepherd dog possesses acute hearing, exceptional eyesight, and the size and strength necessary to fend off bears and go toe to toe with adult wolves or other predators that pose a threat to the flock.
As early as 6000 years ago, a landrace of large sized, heavily boned domesticated dogs were living among humans. The earliest duties of these canines were as hunting companions to man; however, as man evolved from a food gathering to a food producing culture, and as the domestication of sheep and other livestock began to occur over time, the job of the domestic dog evolved alongside the evolution of society. In due course, these skillful hunters became fierce and protective guardians to the livestock and property of their human companions.
These giant dogs were powerful and independent; they not only assisted man in his hunt for food and later by protecting the domesticated food supply from hungry predators, but they would further be distinguished as brave war dogs, prized by the ancient Babylonians and Hittites; depicted in the earliest recordings of ancient man occurring over many centuries. From these noble and prehistoric breeds, many differing types of dogs would evolve. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog would be among those breeds claiming such a dignified lineage.
Originating in the high and mountainous region of present day Turkey, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog has been in existence as a unique and identifiable breed for quite centuries. The breed is thought to be have descended from the Himalayan mountain dogs that migrated with the Neolithic tribes from Asia Minor into the area known as the Anatolian Plateau, or present day Turkey. An area where the altitude rarely falls below 3000 feet, this region is abundant in mountain chains and extinct volcanoes, including the biblical Mount Ararat. With its rolling hills and wide plains, the Anatolian Plateau is difficult terrain to traverse. In addition to the instability of the landscape, the climate is also a challenge, with temperatures in the summer reaching over 120 degrees Fahrenheit and a frigid -50 degrees in the winter months.
The arid conditions, the rocky terrain, and poor vegetation of the area forced the native peoples of the Plateau to adopt a nomadic way of life. Raising herds of livestock, namely goats and sheep as a source of food became of the utmost importance for these ancient nomadic tribes. The herds would need to be continually moved from one fertile grazing pasture to the next to sustain them. This created the job of flock guardian, but to whom would the task fall?
A former hunter, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog had become accustomed to the difficult and trying conditions of the Anatolian Plateau. Being of the ancient Molossian or Mastiff type, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog had developed as a giant breed; well-boned, strong, and fierce. The job of flock guardian would therefore, naturally fall to this impressive and capable dog. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog would, over time, find itself well suited to the task, as the breed is neither bothered nor fatigued by the demands of living and working outdoors year-round.
In those days, the measure of a man’s wealth depended on the size of his flock. A large flock meant that the owner could provide a continual source of food for himself and the group, with which he traveled, as well as it provided him with bartering power for services and items that he needed to acquire from others. Being that the Anatolian Shepherd Dog excelled at its position as flock guardian, these dogs became extremely valuable to the shepherds of the Anatolian Plateau. Of such high value were these dogs, that it is recorded that if a good Anatolian Shepherd Dog was killed, the offending party would have to pay the dog’s owner the equivalent, in grain, of the height of the dog were it suspended from the ground by its tail.
Survival of the fittest was paramount for the ancient Anatolian Shepherd Dog, as the Turkish shepherds depended on the successful working abilities of their guardian breed to protect their flock, ensuring that they would have both food and clothing. Once a good dog was developed, the dog would be left on its own to guard the flock, with little attention from the shepherd. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog therefore, learned to live peacefully among the flock providing continual protection day and night, rain or shine. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog would travel when the sheep traveled in the heat of the summer and sleep in the snow with its flock in the dead of winter on the harsh Anatolian Plateau.
Due to the lack of intervention from the shepherd in the performing of their duties, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog developed an independent and confident temperament. The suitability and stableness of the dog was extremely important in order to maintain a proper working relationship between shepherd, herd, and guardian. Because of this requirement, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog’s intellect, confidence, and character were often tested for inconsistency and poor quality. Dogs that proved themselves to be worthy guardians were fitted with iron spiked collars to protect their necks from being slit by any would be attackers, while dogs that were not of the highest quality would be destroyed. The practice of executing the weaker dogs or culling would create a stable and superb breed, capable of excelling in all duties for which it was responsible.
The development of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog would continue this way for many centuries. As the nomadic tribes of the Anatolian Plateau continued to migrate from one region to the next in search of better land on which to graze their flocks, often tribes would split, taking certain members of their dog breed with them to new areas. This would lead to the development of distinct types of shepherd dog breeds specific to their region. Turkish shepherd dogs being from the east would become known as the Karakachan Dog, while western dogs would become known as Akbash Dog. However, the dogs being developed in the central area of Turkey, known as the Kangal Dog would be the most closely related to the modern Anatolian Shepherd Dog. In some parts of the modern world, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog and the Kangal are still considered to be one in the same. Some claim that all Turkish shepherd dogs are of the same breed; however, the isolation of the Sivas-Kangal region would eventually result in the Kangal Dog becoming distinguished as a unique and separate breed. It has been declared the National Dog of Turkey, deemed a national treasure, and for a time it was forbidden to export any members of the breed. For many years the Anatolian Shepherd Dog would remain isolated in Turkey.
In the 1930’s, however, an Anatolian Shepherd Dog was given as a gift from the Turkish government, to the United States Department of Agriculture. This dog was the first of its breed to cross “the pond” and enter America. An archaeologist by the name of Dr. Rodney Young is said to have imported Anatolian Shepherd Dogs again in the 1950’s. Little is known of these dogs, and no formal breeding of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog would take place in America until a decade or so later, when “Zorba” and “Peki”; a breeding pair of Anatolian Shepherd Dogs were brought to America by a returning Navy Lieutenant named Robert C. Ballard. Ballard, previously stationed in Turkey, settled in CA where in 1970, the first American litter of Anatolian Shepherd Dogs, produced by his breeding pair, would be born. This litter would become the foundation of Anatolian Shepherd dogs in America.
At about this time, other western dog fanciers became interested in the Anatolian Shepherd Dog breed as well. Another dog was imported in the 1970’s by archaeologist Charmain Hussey. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog Club of America (ASDCA) was also formed in 1970. By 1976, the breed had gained enough recognition to be allowed to show in the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Miscellaneous Class at events. Then in 1996, the AKC fully recognized the Anatolian Shepherd Dog as a distinct breed and placed it in the Working Group of dogs. The Kangal Dog Club of America (KDCA) was established in 1984, and is important to the Anatolian Shepherd Dog breed as the two types of dogs are often interbred to refine the current Anatolian stock in America.
Today, there is some dispute as to the exact origins of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog breed. Some Turkish dog enthusiasts argue that the cross-breeding with the Kangal Dog was refined in America and may tarnish the breed’s origins as a true Turkish flock dog. Despite this uncertainty, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog breed displays the esteemed attributes of the shepherd dog type, and its popularity has traveled out of America and into neighboring countries like Canada and Mexico; as well as throughout Europe and as far East as Japan.
Currently, registrations for the Anatolian Shepherd Dog can be recorded through the AKC and the ASDCA. There are roughly 3000 Anatolian Shepherd Dogs registered in America presently. In the AKC’s 2010 most popular dog breeds list, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog is ranked 109th out of 167 breeds, and has steadily climbed the ranks from 122nd most popular on the AKC’s 2000 list. The breed can also be registered internationally with Anatolian Shepherd Dogs International, Inc. as the dog is also recognized by the Kennel Club (KC) of England, and the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI). Pure-bred Kangal dogs are still rarely exported out of Turkey; however, the KDCA continues to work to change the import restrictions of Kangal dogs. These pure-bred Kangal imports are extremely valuable in America for their genetic contribution to the refinement of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog breed.
Descended of ancient Middle Eastern Mastiff breeds, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog is an impressive sight. Males stand 26 - 31 inches at the withers, and weigh in at a hefty 110 to 150 lbs; females are slightly smaller at 27 - 30 inches and 90 to 130lbs. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog is a rugged and powerful breed, a true heavyweight who is audacious, but also confident and calm. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog should be proportionate and rectangular in shape and structure.
The large head of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog is heavy and broad; flat between the ears with a moderate furrow between the eyes. The skull should be proportionate to the size of the dog’s body. The medium length, pendant ears should be set at the level of the head and should fall flat on the face. The eyes of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog are slightly small compared to its size, but give the impression of an intelligent and keen guard dog who takes its duties seriously. The dark eyes are set faintly apart and are almond shaped. They are set deep in the face; and should be a rich brown to golden amber color. The muzzle of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog is square with a dark brown or black nose and dark flews. The lips are black with strong teeth that display a precise scissors bite.
The moderately sized neck of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog breed is well-developed and powerful; somewhat arched and possessing of a slight dewlap, or thickness of skin and fur in this area. The strong neck leads into long shoulder blades that are wide and slope powerfully into strong, straight forelegs. The chest of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog is deep with the tummy slightly tucked up. A somewhat level topline gives way to a muscular back that slopes ever so slightly at the croup and leads into hindquarters that are light in comparison to the heavily boned forequarter, yet powerful and well developed. The tail is high set and long; elevated when alert and low when relaxed, always either curled fully or just at the end. Oval in shape, the feet posses well arched toes and short nails, they are dense and well-built.
The coat of an Anatolian Shepherd Dog ranges from short (1 inch) to rough (4 inches) in length. The texture is flat and should not possess a wave or curl to it. A thick undercoat is present and the fur around the neck is slightly thicker. The fur lies close to the body and some feathering can occur on the ears, legs, and tail. All color coats are accepted as a general rule, but the desirable color is solid tan or fawn with a dark mask and ears.
Bred to guard large flocks of livestock without human direction or assistance, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog developed as an independent and forceful breed. Not to be mistaken as a herding dog whose duty would be to round up the flock and keep any animals from straying, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog was a livestock guardian. Being such, the breed bonds closely to the flock, spending all of its time with this “family”, and guarding it fiercely from any possible threats. The dog is independent of thought and is demanding of itself, as well as being dominant and stubborn at times. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog is smart and a quick learner; however it may on occasion simply chose not to obey a command given it. Despite their tendency toward free-thought and stubbornness, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog is always a loyal and protective guardian of its home and the people and animals within it.
Being developed specifically as a working breed and not as a pet or family companion, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog takes its guard duties extremely seriously. This can make the breed a challenge to keep as a pet. Due to the Anatolian Shepherd Dog’s independent nature and natural instincts towards dominance, the breed is not recommended for the first time dog owner as it can be difficult to handle or control. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog is fierce, large, swift, and has lasting endurance; the dog will attempt to take charge of the household if it does not have a firm and strong pack leader. Those owners not understanding canine nature and “pack-order” will soon find themselves and their household being led by a dog that is powerful both of mind and body. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog needs a self-assured and committed owner who can take charge and guide the dog toward proper behaviors.
The best training methods for the Anatolian Shepherd Dog breed are those that employ motivation. The owner should approach the training with firmness, confidence, consistency, and love. The breed is keen on receiving affection and praise; however it is quite sensitive to reprimand and harsh treatment should never be used when training an Anatolian Shepherd Dog. The breed is more likely to respond well to correction or even correct its own behavior when it feels it is in a loving, safe, and secure environment where it can grow and learn. An adult Anatolian Shepherd Dog may be too strong once fully grown to correct and harsh treatment of the dog may lead it to respond defensively as is its natural instinct as a large guardian dog.
As the breed was taught to care for the flock like family and therefore guard them fiercely from harm, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog is instinctually possessive. The guarding nature of the breed needs no further training or development as it will come to the dog naturally, and will become more apparent as the dog ages, usually by the time it is a year and a half old. Because the breed develops this guardian instinct quickly, it is important to begin training and socializing an Anatolian Shepherd puppy as early as possible to ensure that the dog will become a well-adjusted adult who understands its place. In the family “pack-order”, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog should be taught to understand that it is lower in the hierarchy than all humans living in the household. This will ensure that the dog’s natural instincts do not become overly developed and lead to dominant or possessive behavior, which is highly undesirable in such a large breed of dog.
Due to the fact that the guardian impulse is so strongly bred into the Anatolian Shepherd Dog, early socialization will be of the utmost importance for the breed. Exposure to new people, places, animals, and things will help the dog to feel safe and will assist in the dog’s development into a healthy and well-adjusted adult who is not overly protective or possessive in spite of its nature. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog will view any and all unfamiliar people and animals as intruders and can guard the family and property rather ferociously if it deems it necessary. Early socialization will be paramount to the dog’s proper development and should not be overlooked.
The Anatolian Shepherd Dog is a loyal member of the family, protective and loving, often showing no aggression toward family members and housemates; however, the dog can be aggressive toward strangers and other animals. Being of the independent nature previously mentioned, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog will decide on its own who is a safe visitor and who is not. The early training and socialization will help to keep their defensive aggression to a minimum. Formal with and always wary of strangers, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog will require a proper introduction with all visitors. Anatolian Shepherd Dogs are not to be considered friendly or outgoing dogs; they are reserved and tend not to enjoy being approached boldly by strangers or being touched or pet by unfamiliar individuals. Patience when introducing newcomers to this breed is important as an Anatolian Shepherd Dog should always be approached on its own terms and in its own time.
With unfamiliar people or animals, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog is confident and bold in determining who is a threat and who is not, and once decided, the dog will then determine if aggression is necessary. Not one to cause trouble, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog will attempt to control the situation with increasing displays of assertive behavior, such as warning barks that begin soft and infrequent but may increase in frequency and pitch if the intruder does not stop his approach. An Anatolian Shepherd Dog will not attack arbitrarily, but only based on its perceived level of threat. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog bonds closely to children in its own family; however, unfamiliar children may be seen as a risk and the breed should always be closely supervised when interacting with all children. The dog will consider new children a threat to its “flock” and home until the dog itself deems the child to be safe and trustworthy.
The Anatolian Shepherd Dog is always in “protection mode” and stray or unknown animals that approach the property risk serious injury or even death in doing so. As guardians of the flock, any animal that is not a member of that flock will instinctively be driven away by the Anatolian Shepherd Dog. Attack training is not recommended for the breed as it has a low prey-drive, and considerable agitation will be necessary in order to garner an attack from this breed. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog’s independent nature and thought also prevent it from attacking on command if it does not deem an attack necessary, even if the dog has had attack training. Also, an Anatolian Shepherd Dog that has been seriously irritated to the point where it has deemed an attack is necessary, may become so angry that the dog would be uncontrollable and it would be difficult to stop the attack with a command. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog may attempt to avoid aggressive confrontation if at all possible, however once engaged in a challenge the breed will not back down.
The Anatolian Shepherd Dog has a strong “family-unit drive” meaning it will bond strongly to its family and other pets living in the household. It will not on the other hand enjoy sharing its guarding duties and may try to dominate another dog living in the home that shares his same nature and instincts. Due to its strong protective nature, an Anatolian Shepherd Dog may display possessiveness of its flock, believing that it and it alone is in charge of the safety of the flock, and the dog should not be made to share this responsibility with another guardian type dog.
As a guardian, an Anatolian Shepherd will daily patrol the boundaries of its perceived domain and will quickly learn what normal activity in the area is. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog can often be seen lying around the yard; it may appear that the dog is at rest and doing nothing at all really, but the truth is that the dog has simply chosen a good vantage point from which to monitor the activity on the property; it is constantly watching for intruders and observing the behavior of those familiar to it. An Anatolian Shepherd Dog will announce any new arrivals to the property with a loud alert bark. The dog will often stand between an unknown visitor and the entrance to the property or its owner. Once a proper introduction is made, the dog will often go back to silently observing its surroundings, and the visitor. Guests on the property should always be accompanied by the owner, for if they are not the Anatolian Shepherd Dog will prevent the guests moving about freely on the property without an escort.
Possessing of a loud, booming voice; the Anatolian Shepherd Dog is known to be a barker. It is generally interested but suspicious of strangers or abnormal activity and will alert its owner of any inconsistencies through the use of its powerful voice as often as it deems necessary. The breed’s voice can carry; therefore the bark may be disturbing to neighbors of an Anatolian Shepherd Dog. A “stop barking” command can be taught to the dog; however it may ignore the command if it chooses to based on its independent nature.
Although considered a giant breed, the exercise requirements for the Anatolian Shepherd Dog are not as excessive as those of other dog breeds of comparable size. The breed is fairly inactive when indoors; however the Anatolian Shepherd Dog will still need time to run and plenty of regular walks to keep it healthy. Unlike companion dog breeds, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog is a working breed; games like fetch and trips to the dog park will not suit this dog. Exercise for an Anatolian Shepherd Dog should always involve some type of work, such as pulling a cart or sled, a tracking activity, or obedience training. If not properly exercised, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog will become bored leading to destructive behavior, and a dog of this size that is bored can be quite destructive to a home.
Because of its large size, loud voice, and exercise requirements, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog is not recommended for an apartment or small house. Farms are an ideal home for the Anatolian Shepherd Dog breed. A farm or ranch will give the dog plenty of space to patrol and guard. The yard should be fenced, not in an effort to contain the dog, but to prevent unknown visitors from wandering onto the dogs territory. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog breed does best when it has a job to do, whatever that job may be.
Overall, the Anatolian Shepherd Breed is a large dog with a generally pleasing temperament. It bonds closely with its family, and is an independent but protective and loyal companion. It is a working dog through and through, takes its guardian instincts and duties seriously, and needs a job to stay mentally stimulated. Therefore, the breed does not make an ideal family pet and households containing other animals or young children, or owners who cannot commit to the intense training and supervision the dog will require should think long and hard before inviting an Anatolian Shepherd Dog into their home and life.
A naturally clean breed, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog will require little care in the maintenance of its coat and body. The coat is of a short to medium length, is virtually odorless, and sheds only lightly. The breed does possess an undercoat and the Anatolian Shepherd Dog will therefore shed only moderately to light throughout the year, but will have a heavy shedding period twice yearly. During this time of excessive hair loss, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog’s coat should be meticulously brushed out. During the rest of the year, the coat can be easily maintained with weekly brushing. The breed is generally lacking that typical “dog odor” and should only be bathed as needed several times throughout the year.
Because the Anatolian Shepherd Dog’s ears are pendant and hanging, they are prone to ear infection. The ears should be cleaned regularly to prevent such a health concern from developing. As with all dog breeds, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog’s eyes, nose, nails, and teeth should also be regularly cleaned and checked for infection or abnormalities in order to detect and prevent illness.
The Anatolian Shepherd Dog is generally a healthy breed, the average life span being 12 to 15 years. This is a typical lifespan for purebred dogs in general but several years longer than other breeds of the same size. The leading cause of death in the Anatolian Shepherd Dog has been documented as cancer, followed by cardiac problems, and old age. A generally hearty breed, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog is not however, immune to certain health concerns specific to its breed.
A common health issue found in the breed is low immunity. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog’s immune system develops later than other dog breeds; extra doses of the Parvo-vaccine may prevent immunity problems from developing in the dog. The Anatolian Shepherd is also very sensitive to anesthesia and must be monitored for allergic reactions when under.
The following is a list of additional health concerns that have been identified as affecting the Anatolian Shepherd Dog breed. This is a limited list, as all dogs are unique and individual in their specific health profile. These and other health issues may or may not develop in any number of dogs that are members of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog breed: