by Jennifer Floyd
The Heritage of the Dog
by Col. David Hancock
Article first printed in Choban Chatter, Vol 7, Issue 1, Spring 1997.
Many books have been published concerning the origins and development of
many of the current breeds of dogs, but few go into such common sense detail as Col. David
Hancock's The Heritage of the Dog, published by Nimrod Press in
1990 (hardcover, 317 pgs.). This book is based upon a great deal of original research,
and, unlike most books which tend to focus on the dogs of the gentry and nobility, this
book has excellent sections on all sorts of dogs, including the pastoral breeds (flock
guardians and herders). To give you an idea of this author's style, I have below an
excerpt from the section on flock guardians, where the author is discussing his views on
their development, and on the importance of breeding for a functional dog, and not losing
sight of a breed's origins and purpose. This section, lauding functionality over
frivolity, is particularly intriguing as it uses as an example the Anatolian Shepherd!
(pp. 42-44) "It was during the eighth and seventh millennia
B.C. that man first began to domesticate sheep and goats within the region of western
Asia. Man, sheep, goats, and dogs have a social system based on a single dominant leader
and tend to base themselves on what have become known as home ranges, unlike say gazelles,
antelope and bison. They have therefore become inter-dependent. The herdsman becomes the
leader and the dog protects man and sheep against the privations of such wild predators as
lynx, lion, wolf, tiger, jackal, leopard, cheetah, fox, civets and in some places, huge
eagles. Flock-guarding dogs therefore had to be brave, vigilant, determined, alert,
resolute and above all protective. Their role, the climate and the terrain demanded
excellent feet, tough frames, weatherproof coats, great strength, good hearing and
eyesight and remarkable robustness. These dogs operated in the hottest, coldest, stoniest,
thorniest, windiest, most mountainous and most arid areas of Europe and western Asia.
Physical exaggeration does not occur in any of the flock-guarding breeds, shepherds must
have entirely functional dogs. Hunting ability is not desired. The size and bravery of
these dogs however has lead to their being used in bear hunts in Russia and boar hunts in
central Europe where they were used at the kill not as trackers.
Breed historians of the really big breeds make much reference to Molossian
dogs in their writings. But the flock guardians and, indeed, the hunting mastiffs predate
the dogs of the Molossian people, who probably got their mastiffs from Assyria and merely
had their huge flock guarding dogs just as every other sheep-owning community did. Much is
made too of the coat color white, as is found in the Maremma, Kuvasz, Greek and Polish
breeds, on the grounds that the sheep can quickly distinguish such dogs from wolves. This
is a strange theory since most of the flock guardians are wolf-grey.
We have of course lost most of the flock guarding dogs, including some
distinct breed-types, through economic change and extinction of many wild predators. It is
surprising that so many of the breeds have survived, for the dogs of the shepherds have
been undervalued, underrated and ill-used down the centuries, despite their remarkable
service, considerable intelligence and commendable faithfulness.
If you take the Anatolian shepherd dog as an example, this breed has
survived the dismissive Turkish attitude towards the domestic dog, the traditional Moslem
contempt for all dogs, the harsh terrain and demanding climate of its native land and many
millennia of contrasting cultures. The greatest threat to its future, paradoxically, lies
in its Kennel Club (note: the all breed club in England) recognition which,
sadly, brings with it deterioration in physique and loss of working use. This breed has
survived because of its value to sensible shepherds in remote areas, rather than through
the interest of the urban intelligentsia. If it is not to go the way of our own pastoral
breeds, it will demand an exceptional breed council or collection of clubs and devotees
more interested in sound dogs than a cabinet full of trophies. Dogs from such a
distinguished heritage merit honourable custodianship in the future.
There are dangers in the wording of the approved breed standard in such a
breed. Phrases like 'heavy head', 'slightly pendulous black lips' and 'rather small eyes'
tend to encourage faddists who prefer to pursue such breed points rather than overall
sound dogs. In twenty years time you could see Anatolian shepherd dogs as loose-lipped,
slobbering, shortmuzzled specimens with tiny piggy eyes, quite unlike their ancestors.
Look at the bulldog's muzzle, the bullterrier's skull, the bloodhound's forehead and the
chow's eyes for the evidence of such 'improvement'. Working dogs which wore spiked
collars, had their ears cropped, fought wolves, gave birth to their pups in a hole in the
ground and slept out of doors in the snow and chill wind deserve a better fate than
becoming victim to misguided Western beauty-show breed-point faddists. Arguments about
coat colour and mis-marking, shape of ears and carriage of tail are petty relative to the
need to breed strapping, soundly-constructed, correctly-moving, congenital disease-free
dogs of good temperament. The Anatolian shepherd dog is a truly magnificent breed
thoroughly deserving of being perpetuated in its time-honoured mould and not subject to
the whim of a dominant breeder or misguided clique. It is depressing therefore to learn of
problems in the breed, largely created by fanciers. Would a hard-working Turkish shepherd
think colour at all important? Would he want a mastiff, developed to pull down big game by
primitive hunters in charge of his flock? Would he retain sickly pups, unmanageable dogs
If we have the privilege of owning a dog from one of these flock guardian
breeds, we should respect its origins, revere its lineage and honour its heritage. Humble
shepherds from Iberia to the Caucasus have for thousands of years bred these dogs to a
high standard and we owe it to them and their splendid dogs to continue this work. We must
remember the essential criteria which has lead to these dogs developing as such
magnificent examples of the canine race. All the breed enthusiasts should keep in mind the
plea on behalf of working dogs made by 'Ikey' Bell the famous foxhound breeder.
'Cherish us for our courage
Instead of our looks;
Look on us more as comrades,
And less as Picture books.'"
It is obvious this author's respect and admiration for our breed - and
there is more information on flock guardians in this book, as well as a wealth of
information about other breeds. The warnings against losing sight of the "total
dog" are timely, as our breed becomes more well-known - there is no reason why a dog
cannot work and show, as long as one does not pursue either to the point of
exaggeration. Both enterprises should call for sound, handsome, intelligent, even tempered
dogs - not caricatures. This entertaining and informative book is available from specialty
dog booksellers, such as 4-M Enterprises (1-800-487-9867).
Other reading on Anatolian Shepherd Dog Breed History
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