"I recently heard that there has been a move to have
white Anatolian Shepherds made a separate breed in the UK. As you can imagine, I was quite
surprised. Luckily, I believe that British breeders are sophisticated enough to see this
move for what it is, an attempt to develop a market by a breeder who happened to be
particularly fond of the 'white' dogs, and to have concentrated on that color while
collecting in Turkey.
Since you may wish to show this letter to other breeders, it
might be useful for me to state briefly what credentials I have in this matter. I took my
undergraduate training in Zoology at Columbia University, concentrating on genetics under
Professor Theodosius Dobzhansky. I did my Ph.D in Biology at Yale University, and was a
post-doctoral research fellow in Biology at Stanford University. My first teaching
position was at Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey - a new university where the
Turkish Government had invited me to aid in the development of the Biology Department.
During my two years as an Assistant Professor there, I learned reasonably fluent Turkish.
Some years later, while I was starting and then directing the New England Farm Center (at
Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass.) that fluency was useful during the three trips I made
to Central and Eastern Anatolia, observing and collecting Anatolian Shepherds. During the
four years I spent working with these dogs, and my three years as Director of the Center,
we developed the largest and most intensive project in the World on the genetics,
physiology and behaviour of a variety of breeds of livestock guarding dogs.
All of this was a part of our program to test the ability of
such dogs to reduce predation on US sheep; a program which has been supported by the
United States Department of Agriculture.
In all I collected 15 dogs from Anatolia, and bred or
observed many others in Turkey, and from other countries where related breeds still work.
In addition, as you know, I visited many villages, searching for dogs, observing dogs, and
interviewing shepherds, veterinarians, and local breeders.
My conclusions with regard to color of Anatolian Shepherds
is as follows:-
Color in these dogs is extremely variable. They can be
white, tan with darker ears and muzzles, brindle or tri-color.
Breeding in Turkey is generally left up to the initiative of
the dogs, but occasionally a breeding will be made by humans. I have never heard of such a
breeding where color of the dogs was considered a factor. Similarly, villagers will select
pups within a litter; usually killing about half of the litter so as to get larger,
stronger pups remaining. This is often on the basis of sex, and occasionally size. I have
never seen color be a factor, although litters will often be quite varied in color and
In interviewing shepherd on the performance of these dogs, I
have heard many theories about how to choose or produce a good dog. Shepherds have
emphasized to me the importance of cutting the ears, utilizing the proper collar,
training, what type of food is best, which dogs should work together (in terms of age and
sex combinations), and sometimes docking the tail. I have never heard a shepherd (or
Turkish veterinarian) ascribe any importance to the color of the dog or imply that there
were any differences as a result of color.
There are two Turkish terms used to denote the breed. The
most common one is 'Coban Kopegi' which means 'shepherd's dog'. Also used is the term
'Kurt Kopegi' meaning 'wolf dog'. Although foreigners have tended to pick up the term
'karabas' meaning black head, this is not generally used to denote the breed. It is often
used as a name for an individual dog with a dark muzzle - dark ear type; almost always for
a bitch. (This is interesting because bitches are more apt to be given humorous or
lighthearted names). Given the Turkish emphasis on linguistic symmetry, I would expect the
term 'akbas' meaning 'white head' to be used similarly, although I have never happened to
hear that term used by a Turk.
It is interesting to note how variable color is in working
livestock guarding dogs in many countries. This is certainly true in Italy as well, where
working Maremma-Abruzzi dogs are of all colors; a great surprise to those of us who have
been led to believe by foreign fanciers that they are all white!
There are a few breeds of truly working dogs left today. The
Anatolian Shepherd Dog represents such a breed. As one would expect of a breed spread over
such a vast and variable area, and subject to intense selective pressures by humans,
availability of food, disease, climate, parasites and predators, there is a fair amount of
genetic variation in the gene pool. I hope that British breeders decide to keep the breed,
as it is in its native habitat; rugged and variable.
With best wishes,
Professor Susan Goldhor