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Anatolian Shepherd Dog, the
fascinating Çoban köpegi.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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
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
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".
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
For other related articles to breed history, see:
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