Anatolian Shepherd Dogs International, Inc.



The Kuvasz Akbaş Relationship by Guvener Isik
(first published in
Choban Chatter, Spring, 2013 Vol 23, Issue 1)
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According to Andras Kovacs, a Hungarian veterinarian, "a high proportion of words specific to agriculture in the Hungarian language are of Chuvash/Chuvac origin." The Chuvash were Hun origin people. Based on historical and linguistic evidence and simply because of the similarity of the words "Chuvash, "Kuvasz" and "Chuvach," it may be supposed that the Kuvasz was originally "Chuvash" and, if so, bred by the Hungarians for about 2,500 years."

In Kovacs’ article "The Kuvasz," dated 1988, he asserts that "Kuvasz" could have been pronounced as Chuvash. Kovacs’ and does not claim the term Kuvasz originated from the Ottoman Turkish word Kavas or precisely Kavvâs, meaning soldier with arrow or bowman. Kavas means paper in Urdu language. In old Turkish Kavan meant chaser or person who makes an effort to resist or who fends off an attack, which sounds complementary to a guarding sheep dog, but not exactly.

Akkus, AfyonKavvâs is Arabic actually and it means protector or defender. The root word "Ka" is used to compose several Turkish words that refer objects with volume, are hollow or full inside, and they always have a round shape. Kabuk is used for tree bark, which covers a tree. Kaynamak is used for boiling; kabarcik refers the foam on the top part of boiling water. Karpuz, the watermelon takes its name because of its round engulfing shape. Kardes for example is brother or sister produced in the same womb. A pregnant woman’s belly deserves to be called with a word that starts with Ka or Ga. When the skin forms a convex, bubble like shape, it is called kavlanmak. If Kavas were Turkish in origin, the "Kav" part of Kavas would have ended with "er" as it does for ask-er (soldier), yaz-ar (writer), or with "in" as in gezg-in (traveler), or din-gin (restful; peaceful). What is empty or filled up inside cannot be effective by itself. An effect should be externally generated. Protecting on the other hand requires actively partaking in an activity.

Once it is understood that Kavas is an Ottoman word borrowed from Arabic, and the Huns/Kuns immigrated to Hungary at about 500 BC, it then follows that it would be impossible for the Huns to have borrowed Kavas from the Ottomans or Arabs, because at that time Islam was absent and Turkic people had not yet been linguistically and culturally dominated by Arabs. Thus, Kuvasz, as Kovacs believed must be a Chuvash origin word.


The leading Turkish promoters of Akbas believe that Kuvasz is from the same genetic base or were even the same breed as Akbas centuries ago; moreover, Akbas is the ancestor of Kuvasz. Although these claims do not explain why Akbas is a breed in the first place, the biological kinship between Kuvasz and white Anatolian sheep dogs can be investigated further. Comparisons of different DNA samples could be one of the choices for investigation but before that, there seems to be no reason that the kinship between Hungarian and Anatolian sheepdogs would exceed the Hungarian and Anatolian Turkish kinship. Likewise, the relationship between Bulgarian Karakaçan, Anatolian Yörük, and Iranian Kasgay dogs could be similar since the terms used for these dogs are Central Asian in origin and the dogs are from nations who speak Turkic languages. However, arguing that the Kuvasz is solely descended from Akbas would be not a realistic claim, just because two populations may have descended from shared ancestors does not necessarily mean they have exactly the same forebears.


The presence of white sheep dogs stretches from Spain to Anatolia and from there to Afghanistan. White dogs for the first time in history had been collected under the breed name Great Pyrenees in 1907. FCI accepted Kuvasz in 1934. Maremma was officially recognized in England in 1936. The American Kuvasz club was founded in 1966. It is possible to infer from looking at the developments in this period that Anatolian white dogs were descendents of the European white sheep dogs. However, this would require some effort as a mental exercise, because the direction of the white dog march was eastward. Additionally Magyars and Huns arrived in Hungary around 500 BC, which was prior to the Turks entering Anatolia in 1071 AD. Vikings predominated every land mass so there is no reason why the Central Asian origin Kuvasz could not be introduced to other countries via migrations in 1500 years. Yet if it were the case, long before white dogs of Anatolia were called Akbas by their American founders the dogs could have been initially called Kuvasz and later Kavas in Anatolia by the Turkish shepherds. Turks did not come across those terms and used Akkus and Akit instead for white-coated dogs.1


The main reason the Akbas is thought to be a breed is because of its color, since it is impossible not to notice the structural differences in the Akbas population in the USA. The Kuvasz does not have to be snow white like Akbas. Very pale yellow dogs are accepted as Kuvasz and historically pintos were part of the population. Additionally, the Kuvasz can have wavy hair but this trait is not approved for Akbas.

The Italian Maremma, used to be seen in any color, but the related breed clubs require the dogs to be white in order to be acceptable. The original landrace Maremma did not mind exhibiting a rich diversity as a population in terms of hair types, and skeletal structure in different regions, had been converted into a breed. Before kennel ideologists from Western Europe took the Samoyed’s future in their own hands, it was seen in various colors. In Anatolia, sheep dogs can come in any color, because shepherds are not in the color production business but are in the dynamic sheep guardian business.


In Turkey, there are claims that the Akbas breed created after 1983 was related to Mongol nations. All that can be said against this claim is that no statues or drawings have been recovered regarding white dogs either before or after the Mongol Altinorda government that emerged in 1300 AD. However, drawings of large Moloss looking dogs with spiked collars on stones have been found in Hittite relics.

Altinorda founded in the northeast of Anatolia had lost its Mongolian characteristics after interacting with Turks and native Anatolians. Nonetheless, Ilhanlis who are a continuation of the Altinorda people are the partial progenitors of Ottomans. Continuation of one government in to the next one is observed in Turkish history. Employing a perspective at looking at history only through the governments founded is misleading because the presence of governments are limited by a beginning and an end. For that reason, searching for Akbas, whether in the Altinorda or Ilhanli eras requires we look at history in periods with disconnections.

Since Mongols, a nomadic nation, had built their economies on livestock it could be inferred that they had sheep dogs yet there are no writings or drawings about the colors of the dogs recorded in history. Mongol sheep dogs today are dark, wooly, and long coated. If the Mongol dogs were white 1500 years ago, then it somehow has to be explained. Why did they raise white dogs and why did they bring only the white ones to Anatolia? If color harmony is sought between sheep and dogs, it has to be considered that although there are black headed white sheep breeds in Mongolia, Karakul sheep and Kazak sheep breeds are dark red and black.

It is necessary to proceed further and look at Tibet. Tibet is one of the most specialized regions in the world when it comes to nomadic livestock shepherding. It is curious that the European kennel men who acquired the black and tan, Tibet Mastiff from the mountains and highlands of Tibet never encountered a white Mastiff since it is widely accepted in Turkey as fact that Akbas had been brought to Anatolia from the snow covered steppes of Siberia. According to this claim, the ancestor of Akbas is the White Arctic Wolf. Consequently, it is white. Since this is the case, it must follow that the wolves of Tibet must be black and the wolves of Sivas must be yellow, but they are not. This is how another hypothesis about Akbas becomes baseless.

Although we do not come across any significant presence of Akit, the white dog among Mongols and Turkmen whose main livelihood was small livestock, Roman historian Lucius Iunius Moderatus Columella who lived in 1 AD talked about sheep husbandry and sheep dogs in his work De Re Rustica. The sheep dogs he mentioned were white. Even though Mongols of Altinorda and Turkmen possibly talked about Akits, Columella wrote about them 1200 years earlier.

Creamy white, IzmirHowever just because he wrote about white dogs does not mean that there were no other colored sheep dogs, because otherwise all the sheep dogs of today could have been white without exception. Columella could have been mistaken and called the pale fawn dogs whites. Pale yellow and extreme pinto dogs are called white dogs in the villages of Anatolia. The first impression or the dominant color determines the color of the dog. Dogs that are coal black, smoky, or brindle are called dark dogs. Dark colors are black and pale colors are white for the villagers. What an urbanite calls white is very different from a rural person’s perception of white. Likewise, a 1st century historian’s white might not be milk white. The white nordic wolf is not milk white but its dominant color is white and so it is called white. The Red Wolf of America is not actually red but the density of reddish colored hair helps determine its name.


According to Kovacs, domestic sheep were present in both Europe and Turkistan in 5000 BC, which historical findings corroborate. Since sheep dogs evolved with sheep, both Kuvasz and Akbas were supposed to be in Central Europe and Turkistan at the same time around 5000 BC. In this case, they cannot be each other’s ancestors but relatives only. When the fact that sheep were domesticated in Anatolia in 7000 BC and in Upper Iraq in 9000 BC are considered, both Kuvasz’s and Akbas’s origins are revealed.


White colored sheep dogs have been created artificially in Western Europe for the last 100 years. No participation took place regarding this development in countries east of Anatolia, because the notion of a breed as formulated in Britain was absent in those countries. No white breed was detected and manufactured in Caucasia, Iran, Armenia and Turkmenistan regions where the Altinorda government was in control from 1300 to 1600 AD. This is because the cultures of these lands were not in the habit of race creation. Additionally, no sheep breed, based on color was created in the aforementioned countries except for Karakul and this term covers more than one color. The fact remains that white dogs were called Aggus in Turkistan. It is interesting to see the sudden appearance of color based dog breeds when one enters Anatolia after 1983!

Akit is not endemic to Eskisehir in Anatolia. After the persistent breed creation work of the new breed miners, Akits also known as Akkus became Akbas. The same dog is present in Aegean, Mediterranean, South East Anatolia, Upper Iraq, and Iran. White dogs are born to fawn dogs in Sivas, which is the official country of Kangal dog.

If and when Çorum or Siirt, two unrelated provinces in two separate regions, are found to be the places where the Akit populations are heavily concentrated then the historical side of the issue has to be restudied. Doubtlessly, a new handle for the same cup will need to be designed. As it was done when claiming the Kangal dog’s origin was in Sivas, then the same approach will be required in locating a center for a new breed of dog. Additionally, imaginative, yet historically relevant explanations will be concocted, but these explanations will only muddy the water.


So far, there is no claim about whether the Kuvasz or the Akbas is larger, but it has been noted in the earlier publications that Akbas’ are smaller than Kangal. This was a sad attempt at creating another distinction in these two artificial breeds. In order for this to be safely asserted, a statistically significant number of fawn and white dogs must have been sampled in order for color and size based comparisons to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, although the presence of Akbas was declared in 1983, no concrete studies have been done until 2007 and any previous research was an attempt in formulating shallow and arbitrary standards. As of today, the claims are still just claims. Let’s say if the number of fawn dogs used were ten times more than white ones, naturally it could have been possible and statistically meaningful to have both smaller and larger dogs in the fawn dog sample than having them in the white dog sample.

I can confidently claim that there are no size differences between the white and fawn dogs in western Anatolia although there are some other structural differences. There are certainly very large dogs in western Anatolia. To illustrate this point, in 2006 Kartay called me and talked about a white dog from Kütahya that it was 93 cm (36.6 inches) high at the shoulders. We intended to go and get the dog but he had to cancel the trip for health reasons. In addition to that, a good friend of mine, Bülent Üçok DVM and I came across a kaba white dog while hiking around the wolfram mines in Bursa in 1985. This kaba white dog was easily 90 cm at the shoulder compared to the other three dark fawn sheep dogs next to him. The accompanying dogs were about 70 cm and they were all from the same sheep flock.

Although colder climate animals are larger than warmer climate animals as a rule, and this rule has been used to formulate the claim, it is not meaningful to say that all white dogs of Eskisehir are smaller than fawn dogs of Sivas because they live in a relatively warmer region than Sivas.2 All can be said about size is that "In general Sivas dogs are larger than Eskisehir dogs.” Examples generated to prove it otherwise are without foundation. At this point I will claim that in actuality Konya dogs are larger than Sivas dogs because not only are there more flocks in Konya, wrestling used to be a big deal there which perpetuated a larger size. Moreover, the Arctic Wolf is larger than all the other wolf subgroups, so if it was the actual ancestor of Akbas then Akbas would have been larger than Kangal by default. Based on the above example, notice how the two interconnected arguments have canceled each other.

Just like the shepherds in other regions, the shepherds I spoke with in Ankara and Bolu in 2007 explained how the sheep dogs of older times were much larger than the modern day sheep dogs. Generally, the sheep dogs are on average about 70-75 cm at the shoulder today, and I have not seen a male dog over 80 cm in these regions since 2007. Local shepherds have suggested that thirty years ago the dogs were about 85 cm with an upper limit of 90 cm at the shoulder. The reason for this possible downsizing trend will be investigated in a separate article.


Akkus-n-Karabas-siblingsAntalyaIn 1981, Akbash Dog Association International, Inc. (ADAI), founded. Akbash Dog Association of America Inc. (ADAA), was founded in the USA in 1983. The Kangal dog was brought up in 1983 and the following year in 1984 the Kangal club was founded. These two terms were registered as names of breeds for the first time in the world. The founder of the American Akbas club, Nelson, claimed Eskisehir was the center of origin for Akbas, a province that was only one hour away from where he lived. The breed and the name he proposed had been accepted by the so called Turkish experts.3 The same year, in 1983, Genral Öncül DVM published a book on dogs that covered Turkish sheep dogs yet it did not cover Akbas or even mentionthe Akbas dog as a breed. Although there were white dogs in the war dog breeding and training center in Bursa/Gemlik, which was under his administration, he did not talk about white dogs in his book even though Gemlik was only 148 km away from Eskisehir, and is worth mentioning when you consider the subject in more detail. Either Öncül not know what he was doing or the Americans were in a hurry to pack up a new breed of dog. Thinking Öncül who was an experienced veterinarian and dog aficionado was not aware of the so called Akbas center, which was located right under his foot, is taking him frivolously. How could Öncül, who was aware of the Karabas in Sivas, and Karayaka in Thrace, turn a blind eye to the presence of Akbas especially when he had three white dogs in his breeding program?4 It is because they were Akits, Yoruk dogs and their only difference was their color. Most likely Öncül knew that white dogs were in reality not as colorless as they were perceived, but were only a few tones lighter then fawn dogs and for this reason the same litter of puppies with different colors did not surprise him.

It is incomprehensible that the terms Karabas and Karayaka5 proposed by Öncül were not welcome, yet the terms Kangal and Akbas of Nelson6 were not only warmly welcome but also hysterically embraced by Turks. Nevertheless, when thoughtfully revisiting the issue, it will be apparent that the second group of names were only accepted because of cultural inferiority complex. Even today, various Turkish fanatic dog groups anxiously try very hard in order for their dogs to be accepted in the international arena. Sadly, this mentality mixes up convincing and being convinced, thus compromising authentic traditional values in order to receive any kind of approval from FCI.

The term Akbas finds its connotation as a kind of plant or a migrating bird. Akbas just like Kangal for sheep dogs is one of the terms that Nelson found it proper to use and register. Hence Turks, with their general lack of curiosity, which must be related to the militaristic education system, adopted without wondering where the term came from originally. What is contradictory are the Turks’ accepting everything with a nationalist mindset and learning their first lessons from foreigners, yet not feeling dreadful about it. After they, the followers opened their doors to the limited and skewed information of visitors; who make limitless and baseless estimations and guesses with those and then market their estimations as if they are facts. In 23 years, from 1984 to 2007, neither the Turkish government that registered Akbas as a breed, nor sheep dog fans provided any solid and deeply rooted explanations for this breed. The explanations that are now being provided are most likely forced and creative ones.

Nowadays Kangal and Akbas breeding is a business that does not describe the whole but serves only in collecting the falling pieces of the main, putting them under the microscope, speculating on the observed, and after piling the explanations on top of each other, calling the synthesized whole "details that did not catch the eyes". Fake identities manufactured with fake history, will fade when the misleading layers are torn away and worn down.

The color issue, like size and shape, distracts and wastes time unless it is related to functionality of the dogs. The main concern has always been the skills, courage, and performance of sheep dogs when raised by their original developers: sheep and goat herders; and it should stay that way provided the dog needs to be preserved in its original qualities. The aforementioned three qualities are subjective but completely practicable and testable. At the end of the long debates and studies on color, one finds no progress has been made towards building effective dogs. Issues outside of the three qualities only serve exhibitionists and scientists because color is an effortless subject to speculate and play with. An Anatolian becomes the Çoban when it guards, not when it is white or black.

ps: This article was originally written in Turkish for Turkish readers.


1 It should have been an attention grabber that white-coated dogs never reached the popularity level that black-masked fawn dogs reached in modern Turkey. One would have expected that when white rams are specifically chosen as breeding males for sheep flocks, exclusively white dogs along with white rams should have been used. To clear the mind of the confused, dog wool had never been commercial!

2 Winter temperatures are important for real sheep dogs who live 24/7 and 365 days out in the open. Although the winter temperatures of Sivas are lower than they are in Eskisehir, the differences are not major and the fact is that both provinces are located in the Central Anatolian region of Anatolia.

3 If they were really experts on this field as much as Nelson, they could have found it themselves in their native country without needing Nelson’s reminding them.

4 I had seen his white dogs. They were long coated and handsome; the typical kaba Yoruk dogs of Western Anatolia and Taurus Mountains.

5 Öncül coined the term Karayaka and accepted Karabas as a term as it was initially used by British.

6 It is not intended to launch an assault on Mr. Nelson here. He made the introduction; initially it was received with obedience; later on with hysteria. It is every free mind’s responsibility to check the validity of arguments and the truth-value of the conclusions.

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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