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Anatolian Perspectives by Guvener Isik

Stray, Street and/or Pariah Dogs
(first published in Choban Chatter)

Turkish dogs, shepherd stock

Stray turkish dogs, shepherd stock

These are stray/street dogs, but they are from shepherd stock. In these photos, only the white dog (photo at top) has a regular collar. The grey dog (photo on bottom) with cropped ears has a spiked collar.  These are stray/street dogs, but they are from shepherd stock.  

Where did the street dogs originate?

To me a street dog is an unwanted dog of any kind. The dog with a different skull and the white one (photos above) had owners in this photo, but the others in the photos probably did not. They can be sold as kangals or their offspring can be used as shepherds. It is all about selection.

If both parents are active shepherds, then the offspring become shepherds in theory. Since not all the pups have the same instinct, sometimes some of them are useless. Then they become “street dogs”. However, there are no street dogs in the villages; they are only in the cities.

The street dog does not exist in the villages in practice. If a village dog, which is most of the time a shepherd dog, is not taken care of by someone for any reason, it will abandon the village. This particular dog does not start life as a street dog. It is a potential shepherd dog with a shepherd family line.  Its status in life determines what it is.  A first generation shepherd dog in the city is still shepherd-like dog in terms of form. The subsequent generations will then alter the form of its descendants. 

There are loose shepherd dogs without herds, because the herds are sold or the village is emptied. Some villages are emptied seasonally – 80% of a village may be in the cities in wintertime working. This population comes back in the spring to work in the fields. Some villages have been forced to be evacuated because of terrorism.  That is why one can get a nice shepherd dog from a street dog. It is a loop. Street dogs can be in the shepherding cycle again if they are chosen for some reason.

However it is not likely that the street dogs mostly in the cities would be shepherd dogs again, because the original stock is in the villages.

Dog left behind

This long-coated dog was a left behind dog by a Nomadic Yoruk tribe in Izmir Seferihisar. You can tell it is sick and weak. These are stray/street dogs, but they are from shepherd stock. I have another dog photo from the same Yoruk tribe. However that dog is not a stray one, because he is owned by a villager! Now he is a guard/shepherd dog. 

Camels left behind for later use

These are camels that belong to the same Yoruk tribe. They left them behind to graze for few months. 

   . . . That is why it is easy for the city people to label the unwanted dogs in anyway they want. The real activity is in the mountains and in the flocks not the kennels.   

I would not mind picking up a street dog if it looks to be a potential shepherd to me. It is a state of mind and the way things are labeled - some of the street dogs may actually be working stocks that do not have a job at the moment.

You can see nice street shepherd dogs in cities like Konya, Sivas, Afyon, Denizli, Erzurum, etc. where there are flocks in the surrounding villages. These dogs may leave the village for mating and may not go back to the village, but may stay in a nearby town or city. Now they become "street dogs". Some people jumped on this notion not in the way Coppinger looked at it. They wanted to despise shepherd dogs, which bear various colours, or the shepherd dogs that do not fit into the predestined packages of a breed. It is their ignorance if they do it without knowing. These people apparently do not see the "pure breeds" like Akita, Great Dane, Canaan, Siberian Husky, etc. the same way. These breeds carry various colour, yet that color does not affect their status of being "pure". They are registered, no matter what colour they are.

When I was between 15 to 19 years old, I lived in Izmir and our apartment building was very close to a mountain range. I used to hike there almost every weekend and I was able to walk over to the skirts of the mountains in 10 minutes. I used to see big sheep flocks at night surrounding the apartment building to graze. The land was originally vast olive and almond orchards, which was sold to city developers. I have watched those flocks at least once a week. I saw so many dogs with these coming flocks. Some dogs were left over from the flocks probably and they stayed in the new developing area. I had a few of them. I fed them. They were always free. They were mine, they were street and shepherd dogs. They gave birth under the balconies. All of them were descendants of these shepherd dogs. The same was true when we lived in Diyarbakir. Sure there are GSD and pointer kind of hunting dogs one can see now and then, but they cannot make it under unsupervised conditions. They pass their genes rarely and through bitches only. The shepherd bitches did not usually mate with the outside dogs, but the outside bitches were sometimes bred by the shepherd dog males. Of course in time the original shepherd stock in the cities becomes so diluted with the various contributions from other breeds. Their bodies start looking like jackals. Their size diminishes. The pressures in the city cause them to evolve over time so that they essentially become "pure bred street dogs".

The main reason the Turkish street shepherd dogs evolved was simply because of the imports from Europe. There were always various typed street dogs in Istanbul, because of the minorities like Armenian, Greeks, Jews, Europeans. One cannot see the same environment and gene pool in Diyarbakir or Kars or Afyon. It depends on where we look. The Istanbul type street dogs can be seen in Izmir, because of the same minorities. There were French, Italian and English towns in Izmir in 1915s. It was a major export city for centuries for the agricultural product harvested in the Western Anatolia.

The street dog has been a status term in the beginning and not a name for a breed; but it became so by selection, which is dictated by the conditions of the cities.

The pariah dog that I mentioned above is a different subject. It sounds more of a proposed theory. Nelson talks about them as well. Pariah dogs in Anatolia- if they exist- are not like Dingos. Some other sources state that Canaan and Basenji dogs are domesticated forms of Pariah dogs. The stray dogs in Turkey do not go back to wild life when the wild calls. They are abandoned dogs that made it in the wild for limited generations. They do not have a consistent breeding activity. I do not think that they can compete with wolves, but they would be perfect winter meal for wolves. I did not really think about this issue.

What are the stray dogs?

All the above terms are interjecting with each other, as we will see in the following.

All the dogs found in the streets are stray dogs. Any dog, which has shepherd parents and whether capable of shepherding or not and goes to street is a stray dog. Instead of   . . . However the shepherd dogs' value is determined by how well they shepherd.    seeing them useless, poor, dirty, and muddy dogs, I see them as a bundle of puzzles where lots of potential traits are hidden. I believe that stray dogs are extremely smart dogs. They always survive under the least undesirable conditions and interbreed with shepherd dogs, enabling a continuous genetic fluidity. They transfer both good and bad qualities. However the shepherd dogs' value is determined by how well they shepherd. This should not mean as a general rule stray dogs are allowed to breed with shepherd dogs. What it does mean is that the undesirable dogs are/were excluded and the shepherds continued work with the desirable ones. Naturally, the possibility of working a stray setter dog as a shepherd dog is almost remote. The contribution to the current quality-level of ASDs in Turkey/Anatolia comes mainly from previous as well some currently ongoing selection of the puppies and not from the newly evolved "purebred" breeding practices.

The ASD population (Kangal, Yoruk and South Caucasian) is set by functional quality! The set up has nothing to do with the colour codes or colour schemes, since the colour can be washed away in one generation easily. In this connection determining whether a dog is a street dog or not, solely on its colour, is an attitude that is more than shallow.

The coastal area stray dogs in Anatolia are about the size of a jackal with an average height of 55cm [21.5 inches]. The stray dogs of Istanbul do exhibit KSD [Kangal Shepherd Dog] characters following the national trend of KSD-mania in the recent years. The KSDs brought from Sivas and Kayseri were mostly cute puppies like all the others. They served as an object of social exhibition in their first six months and were thrown or given away to people, who were as ignorant and inexperienced as the former owners most of the time. That is how KSDs genetically contributed to the stray dog population of Istanbul.

Stray dogs can be seen in any colour or coat type. Their body structure resembles a mix between a shepherd dog and a tazi (greyhound). It may not reflect what the future generations will look like, but someone who knows how to choose can detect splendid shepherd dogs among the stray dogs. There are many dogs with rear dew claws which is an indirect indicator of the relationship between the stray dogs and ASDs, although it does not mean that all ASDs are supposed to have dew claws. Stray dogs are mostly seen in the cities. The stray dogs in the villages cannot survive easily, because of both the disrespect of the people and the pressure of the larger dogs. Besides, stray dogs are not necessary in the villages. Villagers prefer to keep either large dogs or very small dogs. The large dogs are for shepherding and protection, whereas the small dogs are for warning. These small dogs are known as Findik (peanuts or doorbells). They offer cheaper security because they consume less.

The semi -wild dogs / pariah dogs which have been seen around villages have been living in Mesopotamia and Anatolia for thousands years. These were larger dogs compared to the ones in the cities and they resemble shepherd dogs more. They sometimes hunted, sometimes lived with garbage or ate dead animals. It would not be wrong to assume that shepherd dogs are related to these dogs, because these are the ones which are more apt to be domesticated. They dwelled in areas next to the villages and gave animals and people from the outsiders. They sometimes barked at them when they had a brave leader and attacked them in order to keep threat away. This was a warning for the villagers at the same time. Although the villagers did not like these dogs, they tolerated them since they cleaned all the dead animals and garbage and worked as a first hand independent warning. It is assumed that people used to feed the puppies and then steal these puppies from the pack of dogs, both for food and for guarding purposes. Today in some countries in Asia, dogs are still used as a food source. The practice of eating dogs may have existed in Anatolia thousands of years ago.

The same dogs in the cities or the relatives of these dogs in the cities do not get as much attention as they do in the villages, since they are mostly at medium size. They are not found threatening by people and they have more to eat, although they do not require lots of food as larger dogs do. They have to be cautious about traffic and be street smart. The ones which cannot comply with the existing conditions are eliminated in the first two months of their life. Those that remain are the dogs smarter and most resistant to disease.

IMG014.JPG (1445795 bytes)

The female pictured above is a shepherd dog. It was brought from another village in order to "stir the blood" in the existing population. She did not grow up. Her pups were not promising. Although she comes from shepherd parents, dogs like her can easily be abandoned and they can be strays. However in the area where this bitch is, no one abandons the dogs. If they are not good enough, they are shot. However some unpromising ugly looking dogs can throw perfect puppies. Since the shepherds know this they give a try. This also gives one some idea behind the selection and elimination process. That is why even when people keep pedigrees, they will end up with undesirable offspring. I believe that what villagers do is the best method. They look at the end result, not the historic ties, which is expressed in terms of papers and the list of the names of the dogs. Of course keeping a pedigree book is easier like producing pasteurized milk instead of raw and healthy milk. In the same sense the villagers do not bother with the family trees of the many generations of dogs. They know a few generations back. What they do is the most difficult, which is a continuous upgrading of the available specimens. The turnover rate of the dogs is so high in the villages. People respect the good dogs or their good work in the past, but they have to move on, because they are there for a living not for hobby animal keeping. Shepherds are the people behind these dogs no matter what their education level is. They provide subject for the scientists and veterinarians and dog fanatics. Their mind is cooler than the above-mentioned three groups of people. What I mean by "cool" is their decision-making is calmer; they assess the situation based on the potential benefits. After all, these dogs have been the subject of the scientists and dog keepers in the last 30-40 years. So far the people in the cities and the dog clubs have made no contribution to these dogs other than marketing and advertisement.

That is why it is easy for the city people to label the unwanted dogs in anyway they want. The real activity is in the mountains and in the flocks not the kennels. Of course we cannot expect people like us to practice what is exactly practiced in the villages, but we should at least understand the initial causes of the shepherd dog making recipe.

Anti-street dog people need to figure out what street is made from. Being a street dog is like being a prostitute. Once one falls into that state of life, no matter what the qualities are, there is almost no coming back, because of the current status and the lack of pedigree.

Maybe, one day, a purification* study will be performed with these stray dogs. I wonder, how? Perhaps, someone will claim that Anatolian Stray Dogs are already pure in terms of being stray. Therefore, a possible study about purification of these dogs will never be done.

*You can make up words in Turkish! The process of creating a breed via line breeding based on some certain standards is "purification" to me.


From the Author:
     I have owned shepherd dogs since I was 8 years old. My grandparents had them for guarding their properties and animals. I grew up hearing stories about them from my father and my grandmother. My grandmother still talks about her dogs. I have always been attracted to their primitive looks but more importantly to see them in action as working dogs.
      Writing something about these dogs occurred to me in 1993, but I really didn't have the knowledge required to fill a book. I had to wait until 1997 with a clear intention to collect data about them. When I research them I research a life style. These dogs are one of the windows that one can see and analyze the circumstances of the rural people and nature. I had to learn about sheep, goats, donkeys, horses, cattle, bees, cats, wheat, carpets, forests and wolves along with history and genetics in order to have a multifaceted perspective about these dogs or about everything surrounds them. The main motivator behind studying these dogs is my uneasiness about the disappearing rural life styles in Turkey. I know that we need native sheep and goat flocks and wolves in order to preserve these dogs. Without these we can only preserve dogs with diminishing quality at every generation. We cannot choose and preserve them without the combined interaction of the flocks, shepherd and the wolf with these dogs. It feels like we are trying to keep water from running through our fingers. It will disappear in the end

------  Visit Guvener Isik's website at http://yorukanatolian.com/


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