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Anatolian Shepherd Dog, the fascinating Çoban köpegi.

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Breed History:  

The Shepherd's Guardian

   The Anatolian Shepherd is considered a giant breed and has been developed or naturally evolved to bond with flock animals as if they were family entities. Like most livestock guardian breeds, they have been bred for generations, sometimes spanning thousands of years, to make decisions regarding their guarding duties on their own. They cannot be directed to attack or confront something unless their own drive or previous agitation has driven them to do so. This means that they are very independent, and due to their low prey drive, can be difficult to motivate to do work which is not part of their instinctive drives. Many people who want a pet would be happier with a modern breed that has been developed for its obedience attributes.
   The large size is necessary to provide visual intimidation to predators as large as the wolves, bears, and other predators of different regions. Large predators tend to be timid, as injury to themselves will decrease their abilities to survive; thus, a large guarding dog does not necessarily have to fight, yet is quite capable of inflicting serious injury if challenged.

[Picture of: Anatolian at the beach]

   The livestock guardian breeds, such as the Great Pyrenees (from France), the Komondor and Kuvasz (Hungary), Maremma Sheepdog (Italy), Owczarek Podhalanski (Poland), Caucasian Ovtcharka, Middle Asian Ovtcharka, and South Russian Ovtcharka (Russia), Pyrenean Mastiff and Spanish Mastiff (Spain), Anatolian Shepherd (Turkey), and the Sarplaninac (Yugoslavia) are now being rediscovered by persons who are returning to home fronts in the rural areas and who aspire to keep poultry, hoofstock, and exotic animals. These people are finding coyotes, roaming loose dogs (both from neighbors and abandoned dogs), and other predators including raccoons, snakes and skunks, killing or otherwise harassing their valuable livestock on their home properties. Many have found that their smaller or medium sized breeds, though good with the stock, do not have the necessary size or character to handle a serious predator.
   In character, Anatolian Shepherds are serious about what they do. They tend to be less bouncy than other breeds, even as pups. They necessarily have a lower prey drive than most breeds and generally adapt well to what ever livestock (or pets) that are intended for them to protect. Adult females have been known to nurse lambs and other young animals to which they have been given guarding duties. In many of the Old World countries, sometimes the flock guards are left with the herds, unattended by humans, for much of the year. If the dogs get hungry, they may catch a gopher or other rodent, but they will not kill and eat their charges. They have varying degrees of territoriality, but most will expand their territories if they are not fenced in. It is part of their nature to mark territory and define boundaries to trespassers. They are generally wonderful and tolerant with children, but are necessarily dog aggressive, though socialization and training can temper such behavior. A firmly established pack order with the family canines is typical, and no problems may evolve unless two dominant dogs do not establish order to their satisfaction. 

   Independence is a primary characteristic of livestock guardian breeds, and while they enjoy your company, Anatolian Shepherds are not attuned to your wishes in the way that many Sporting and Herding breeds are; they are pleased if you are happy with their behavior, but they don't go out of their way trying to do things to please you. Dominance drive is very strong, and Anatolians are prepared to dominate all other dogs and people in their sphere. This does not mean that they cannot be sweet dogs, but they will take advantage of any situation where it seems that an Alpha character has not taken over. Anatolians are generally best suited for people who have not let other dogs take over their families. Obedience training for the companion dog is strongly recommended. Having an extremely powerful 30 inch dog, or one that weighs from 100 to 160 pounds is not for a person who is not prepared to do a lot of obedience work and socialization. Owners have been successful with these dogs in directed work such as obedience trials; however, they must keep the training motivational and interesting to get the best out of these dogs. 

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[Map showing Turkey]

The Country of Origin

   The Anatolian originates from the ancient land whose general boundaries are now known as Turkey. Turkey is a vast country covering an area of 310,308 sq. miles, approximately the size of Texas and Oklahoma together. Turkey encompasses the historic overland shortcut between Europe and Asia through Constantinople (now Istanbul) at its northwestern end. The famed Tigris and Euphrates Rivers flow roughly southward out of Turkey toward historic Mesopotamia, the Cradle of Civilization. The significance of these attributes have molded Turkey's fascinating history. 
   This region of the world has long been a land of perpetual conflict and shifting territorial boundaries. A somber land of natural hardships; earthquakes, extreme heat, cold, and often impassible terrain. A history of human conflict; warring and barbaric people, conquests, slavery, tribal disputes and religious wars, and of rising and falling empires. The Ottoman Empire (the last empire of Old Turkey) was once three times the size of modern Turkey. The Hittite Empire of about 2000 B.C. was of comparable size with similar geographic borders and is believed to have been the first giant empire of that ancient land.
   The area known as Anatolia makes up 97% of present day Turkey. A high mountain plateau having an altitude that seldom descends below 3,609 feet, Anatolia includes numerous mountain chains and extinct volcanoes such as Mt. Ararat (17,000 feet). Depressions and an occasional body of water mark Anatolia's rolling hills and wide plains. The climate on the Anatolian plateau can be described as subdesert or steppe. Summer temperatures can reach +120° Fahrenheit and winter temperatures can fall to -50° Fahrenheit, with the colder extremes and increasing precipitation closer to the Russian border.

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Before the Anatolian

   Migrating Neolithic tribes that came from Central Asia, probably became the first people of Turkey. They may have brought with them the first mastiff strains from the Himalayas. As humans evolved from the food gathering cultures of Mesopotamia to the food producing stage, the gradual domestication of other animals such as goats, sheep, and cattle, resulted in the adaptation of domestic canines to fill niches other than that of companion hunter and food gatherer. The working ancestors of today's Anatolian have existed for more than six thousand years.
   Ancient mastiffs were prized by the Babylonians. Archeological material from Mesopotamia shows that mastiff-type dogs were used for hunting and fighting. The British Museum in London has well-preserved bas relief depictions from Babylonia of a dog that closely resembles an Anatolian.
   The long-legged, fleet, hunting sighthounds from the southern regions of Mesopotamia undoubtedly influenced the creation of the Turkish guardian. Their influence is seen in the underline, long legs, dry muzzle, and the aloof character of the Anatolian.

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Background of the Breed

   Arid conditions, poor vegetation and rocky terrain, compelled the tough natives to adopt a primarily nomadic way of life. Family tribes were dependent upon raising large herds of sheep and goats for their subsistence. They would travel from region to region creating or overtaking settlements as they traveled. Sometimes many years or decades would pass before they returned to the original family settlements or villages. Aided with sticks and pebbles, the herds would be moved along by the shepherds to graze on hills and plains around the settlements. Protection of the hoofstock and the shepherds was the job for the large guard dogs that the shepherds brought with them. Çoban köpegi (Cho-bawn Ko-pey), Turkish for "shepherd's dog", was the term used to describe these working dogs. The dogs had to live peacefully among and protect the hoof stock with little or no special attention from the shepherds. The dogs stayed with the animals, night and day, sleeping in the thick snow of winter and walking for miles in the heat and dust of summer. Swift enough to race to the ends of a widely scattered grazing flock of several hundred head, the courageous guardian had to be large and strong enough to be able to best an interloper that dared stand its ground.
   Turkish shepherds depended on the working abilities of their guardians. A powerful man's wealth was measured by the size of his flocks and so he relied on the superior ability of his shepherd's dogs. The penalty for killing a good Anatolian was for the guilty party to pay back with a heap of grain that was as tall as the dog would be if it were fully suspended by its tail above the ground.
   Survival of the fittest dogs, severe culling, and the breeding of the best working dogs all contributed to produce a rather uniform type of livestock guardian that is now Internationally recognized as the Anatolian Shepherd Dog. Because of the vast size of the country and great numbers of flocks, there have always been some regional differences in type, color, and family lines of the Çoban köpegi. Periods of isolation and preferences of the various tribes of people affected the available gene pool of dogs, as did survival amidst diseases such as distemper and rabies. Long periods of isolation were known for those pasturing in the most remote areas. However, the necessity of intertribal trade and the arrival of other nomadic or warring tribes that had their own livestock guards kept the bloodlines of the Çoban köpegi dynamic throughout the ages.
   These dogs were almost never kept as pets, but dogs sometimes lived with their shepherds in the villages when the flocks were readied for sale or barter. Unmistakably capable as guarding dogs, they were also expected to be tolerant of the villagers and their children. In the villages, the intelligence and confidence of the dogs would be tested by their attitude toward normal daily activities. Dogs that were intolerant could have their throats slit. These complex interactions with their people helped to create a breed that has had stable temperament yet superb working ability.
   An excellent working dog was highly prized by the shepherds, and journeys were sometimes made to find the best mates for these dogs. Few bitches were kept, and these usually remained in the villages or settlements. Two or three dogs were most often taken out with the flock, and only occasionally were bitches brought out to the hillsides with the shepherds. Pups were severely culled, only one or two being kept to replace an older working dog. The ears were cut off the young working dogs so that all that remained were blunt stubs that could not be torn during a fight. Such injuries bleed profusely and were easily infected by heavy swarms of flies.
   For dogs, there was little food to share. Goat milk and scraps might usually be given to raise a puppy to sufficient size and strength to stay with the herd. The dogs could not rely on the meager handouts of starch based meal and other scraps. Dogs that survived were easy keepers that supplemented their diets by catching gophers or other small animals, never harming the charges entrusted to them.
   When time arrived for the village shepherds to migrate with their herds again, extended family populations of a large tribe would split off as their numbers and limited resources would begin to tax the settlement. In addition, migrations took place not only so as to find food for their growing herds and numbers of families, it also served as a natural means of promoting hygiene. Parasite infested grazing grounds would cause the hoofstock to lose vigor and to die.
   The dogs would be brought back out to the high plains to guard their charges again. The prized and worthy dog would be fitted with a barbaric iron collar with long spikes to protect from its throat from assailants. These splendid dogs are still found wearing these collars and guarding livestock in the rural districts of Turkey.

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The Anatolian Shepherd Dog Today:


   Anatolians are now regarded as flock guardians of the mountain molossian-type. Large, rugged and impressive, they possess great endurance and agility. These dogs are tall and powerful, yet not massive in build. This magnificent ancient working dog presents an impression of functional utility without exaggerated features.
   Males are 29 to 32 inches tall (74 to 81 cm), and 100 to 143 pounds (50 to65 kg). Females are 27 to 31 inches (71 to 79 cm) and 88 to 120 pounds ( 40 to 55 kg), though many may be larger boned or slightly racier in appearance and do not fit within these averages. Large size is important, but correct breed type, soundness of movement, overall balance with correct temperament should be given precedence so as to preserve working ability. Anatolians should never be fat.
   They have a large, broad head with a slight centerline furrow. In a normal relaxed stance there is little or no detectable facial wrinkling. At attention, the large pendant ears are carried high on the skull with slight wrinkling of the brow. The strong blocky muzzle is short but greater than one third of the length of the head. The flews are slightly pronounced, yet dry, and the lip corners are tight. The eyes are medium sized, almond shaped and are seen in shades of brown or amber colors.
   Mature Anatolians have powerful shoulders and are deep chested with well-sprung ribs. They are long-legged with a definite tuck up at the loins. This conformation permits them to be fleet and extremely agile, capable of overtaking and bringing down a predator with awesome efficiency. Clocked by visitors driving alongside fenced property containing a herd guard, Anatolians have been observed running at speeds over 35 miles per hour. They can leap into the air, turn and come down in front of, or on, the shoulders of the animal behind them, which ever they choose. With their agility, they do not need excessive weight to fight off predators. As their speed increases, they will single-track, which is ideal for narrow paths.
   The back is relatively level with an arch over the loin. The tail is long and carried low with a gentle curve or is impressively curled over the back when the dog is at attention. When walking, the topline becomes quite level, giving a smooth impression of a powerful, stalking lion.
   Anatolians have a dense double coat that is thicker and slightly longer about the neck. Most Anatolians have a short or medium long coat that is easy to care for. Hard textured enough to shed dirt, it does not tend to matt or tangle with foxtails (awns) and burrs. The coat may lay somewhat flat over the dense undercoat or it may stand off the body slightly to give a rough outline. Short and rough coats as well as a wide variety of coat colors can be found among pups of the same litter. The coat is never long and hanging and should never be too short and smooth.
   All colors of the Anatolian Çoban köpegi are acceptable and some color variations have been given special names. The classic and most frequently occurring coloration is fawn with black ears and black mask, sometimes called "karabash" (meaning "blackhead"). "Kangal", another name for that color variation of the Anatolian, has been used to describe some black masked dogs that can be found in the Sivas region of Turkey. The solid white or cream dogs are sometimes called "Akbash". Other colors frequently seen are pinto, brindle, grey, even black. Not all of the fawn dogs have a black mask.
   In Turkey, various regions can seem to have a predominance of certain colors and types. These differences are dependent on the available genepool rather than on any long-standing, cultural tradition to develop separate "breeds". Historically, in Turkey, breeding of the livestock guardian dogs has been dependent on selection and survival of only the most successful of the available working dogs.

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[Picture of: Handsome Brindle Anatolian]

How Many Breeds of the Çoban köpegi Are There?

   The concept of forming a breed registry, with a breed conformation standard for an animal, is foreign to the traditional (Moslem) Turkish belief system, where dogs were considered "unclean" beasts. There is no early written documentation on the origin of these ancient Turkish dogs, nor has there been a formal record of generations of their lineage kept among the Turkish people. It is only through the admiration of these working dogs by more contemporary dog fanciers from Europe and especially the United States, that various names and breed standards have come about. The most widely used and Internationally accepted name for the "type" Çoban köpegi upon which the Anatolian breed is based is the Anatolian Shepherd Dog.
   Anatolians exhibiting the white or cream, as well as the black masked fawn coat, are found all over Turkey in varying degrees of frequency. They are seen in conformation types that range from racy looking to blockier type, shorter or rougher coat, but are still recognizable as a breed type entirely unique to the region of Turkey. Some Turkish Çoban köpegi have been divided into separate independent "breeds", rather than varieties, based on coat color, regional type, and/or conjectures of historical origin. The establishment of these varieties as 'breeds' is a recent innovation.

Added April 2005:
To see a recent article written by a concerned Turkish man with a shepherding heritage, about the recent shepherd's dog phenomenon in Turkey, go HERE -- See LOTS of wonderful pictures of  working Turkish dogs and their various strains put into context with a map and many photos.

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The Desert Bred Cousins

   The best way to understand the ancient Turkic attitude about the bloodlines of the Çoban köpegi is to allude to the early importation of the Seglawi, Kehilan, Abeyan, and many others that were known as distinct family lines of the famous Horse of the Desert. While there were obvious conformation differences between the various strains, such as relative legginess, length of topline, neck type, presence or absence of the dished face, prominence of foreskull, predominance of grey coloring, etc., these strains were not considered separate "breeds" by their native people. They were regarded as regional and family lines of the desert bred war horses. Highly coveted horses from other strains were occasionally interbred if the intertribal conditions were right and the stallion esteemed by the owner of the war mares.
   Although the sources for the original desertbred exports were Turkic, Assyrian, and Arabic, these horses are now known internationally and collectively as Arabian Horses.

   To wit, if the Arabian horse had been discovered in more recent times, their exporters could similarly present them to the uninformed world, naming the tribal strains as separate breeds . . . Just as some groups are doing with varieties of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog today.
   The ASDI strives to preserve the ancient Turkish livestock guarding dog whose functional, historical conformation type is as described in the breed standard.  ASDI comprehends the cultural background and natural hardships that were formative in the creation of this working dog. Practical and successful selection for working ability, rather than emphasis on genteel cosmetic standards, by countless generations of Turkish natives has been recognized and understood by the ASDI. Variations in Anatolian type and color exist as they do in many other functional working breeds. It is with emphasis on working ability, correct breed character, health, and soundness - using a functional breed standard, that ASDI endeavors to preserve the working principles of form and function in this magnificent working dog and prevent it from becoming the next caricature of the International or "All American Show Dog".

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   The Anatolian is first and foremost a guarding breed. The Anatolian is loyal and can be fiercely possessive and protective of his family, stock and territory. He tends to be aloof and suspicious of anything or anyone new that enters his domain. Anatolians are not outgoing dogs that want to make friends with everyone. They often do not want to be boldly approached and usually dislike being touched or stroked on the top of their heads when greeted by a stranger. This is not because of shyness, but because they prefer to be approached on their own terms. This is what people mean when they say that the Anatolian seems to expect a formal introduction. They dislike strangers who are too forward. When greeting a new Anatolian, one may stroke the dog's chin after the dog has initially sniffed the hand.
   The Anatolian is bold and confident without aggression. They will determine on their own whether aggression is warranted and will use a graduated display of increasingly assertive behaviors to control a given situation.
   The reliability of a working livestock guardian depends on the strong inclination for independent judgement. An Anatolian will evaluate a situation to assess its potential threat and will act accordingly. If the predator will leave the domain when the Anatolian rises from a reclining position and perhaps gives a warning bark, that will be the end of the display.
   A trained attack dog in guard mode, on the other hand, will attack indiscriminately. Attack training for the Anatolian is not recommended because its low prey drive and independent nature. It will require considerable agitation to get the Anatolian to attack, and it may choose not to attack on command, depending on its perception of threat. On the other hand, an Anatolian that has been agitated may be too angry to be controlled and cannot be stopped on command.
   Not a herding dog that is easily trained to work by direction from man, the Anatolian was developed to guard other animals independently, with little or no interference from man. Stalking, chasing and killing modes of the "specialized" hunting and herding breeds are all prey drives.
   Like a giant puppy, the Anatolian does not have a strongly developed "prey drive", but it does have a strong bonding or "family unit" drive. It bonds possessively and protectively with animals or people that it is raised with and will loyally guard all that it considers part of its domain. Possessiveness is part of the process of bonding, thus a herd guard may not wish to "share" his herd with another guardian dog. Shaping of the bonding behavior is important to create a reliable herd guard.

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[Picture of: Anatolian guarding livestock]

Guarding Behavior

   The Anatolian will walk the boundaries of his domain to mark his territory occasionally throughout the day. Based on how much territory he can see and hear over, he will establish a protective zone and an outer buffer zone. He will then settle down in an area that he perceives to be one of several good vantage points. He quickly learns what is normal daily activity by people in his area and will appear to lie around doing nothing.
   If something appears in the outer perimeter, the dog will bark to announce that he has something under observation. If the potential threat commences toward the protective zone, the Anatolian will progress to a rapid alarm bark that may then progress to a threatening snarl-bark when something very threatening is about to be stopped. Occasionally, the Anatolian may attack silently.
   At the homestead, the Anatolian will announce the arrival of any visitors and will expect to be able to greet them with some formality. They are generally curious but aloof with guests. The dogs will usually go lay down after meeting with guests and will then watch them from a polite distance. If, after introduction, an unescorted guest wants to walk toward the owner's home, the Anatolian will block that person's path until the guest is escorted by the owner. If a house guest wants to leave the house, a dog on the porch may not allow the person to move about freely until the owner joins the guest. Many Anatolians will do this by giving a few barks to alert the owner, then the dog will step across the person's path until the owner arrives.
   The Anatolian is a bold, confident dog that does not become overstimulated easily. They are calm and observant of their surroundings. The Anatolian may not go looking for trouble, but he may not back down if challenged.

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   Aggression in the Anatolian is generally limited to the lowest level that provides the desired response from the rival. They do not exist to hunt down and kill predators. They could not effectively protect the rest of their flock or territory if that were the case.
   If the interloper will leave the territory when the Anatolian gives the first warning or simply rises to full height from a reclining position, the guardian will generally cease the progressive displays of threat. If the first warning is ignored, the Anatolian will use a graduated display of increasingly assertive behaviors until the trespasser is driven off or subdued. Killing of predators such as a coyote, may occur only after all other warnings have failed, or if the dog has been agitated by the predator at length.
   If the Anatolian is annoyed with something, he may snap his teeth into the air with an audible click. He may bark, growl, or draw his lips in an ominous silent threat.
   Usually, the Anatolian will turn his head away from something that he does not wish to hurt, such as a family member or another pet, then he will get up and leave if the annoyance continues.

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For other related articles to breed history, see:

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