All About Turkey

Anatolian Shepherd Dog

The Anatolian Shepherd Dog is a remarkable shepherd's guard dog of ancient lineage. It is a large, formidable working dog with a self-sufficient temperament. Such dogs are found throughout the Anatolian Plateau of Turkey.

Historically since Babylonian times there was a breed of large, strong dogs. They were variously employed as war dogs and for hunting big game such as lions and horses. Some spectacular examples can be seen on the very well preserved relieves in the Assyrian Rooms of the British Museum, London.

The breed has evolved over the ages and is now well adapted to suit a specific set of circumstances. Of these the most formative are the climate, the peoples' lifestyle and the job assigned to the dogs. The climate of the Central Anatolian Plateau of Turkey is continental. The average elevation is 3000ft (1000 meters) above sea level, surrounded by mountains 5-10,000ft (1600-3000 meters) high; the summers are hot and very dry; in winter there is prolonged snow and the temperature falls well below freezing. The dogs stay out all the time - whatever the weather may be. They are not confined to the Plateau alone and imposing specimens can be found wherever the population relies wholly on grazing. Settled, semi settled and wholly nomadic pastoralists and farmers sparsely populate the Anatolian Plateau. The divisions between these people may become somewhat blurred due to the variability of the rainfall. In good years bumper crops of wheat are grown and there are storage problems. In dry years the whole population of an area falls back once more on their flocks for sustenance. These flocks are predominantly made up of tall rangy fat-tailed sheep, with some silky haired goats; also camels may be present. Many people own donkeys as well.

Grazing soon exhausts the sparse natural vegetation of the steppe, so the flocks travel great distances at times. Often they have to seek higher and even higher ground in summer, till the early snows drive them down again. In this lonely roaming life the dogs are often the shepherds only companions for long periods, with not a tree or rock for shelter in all weathers. The shepherds' can be seen standing leaning on their crooks wrapped up in fabulous thick wool felt cloaks that keep out heat and cold, dust and rain. Turkish sheep bunch together naturally and have little if any inclination to scatter, an adaptation perhaps to the various predators about. These include wolves, eagles and the very common jackals, and of course sheep-stealers and cattle-thieves. There is also a large species of wild cat in the southern mountains called the Taurus Lion. The dogs do not herd the sheep but patrol around them, often seeking higher ground to get a better view, and a breeze. The sheep tend to follow the shepherd and the dogs patrol the ground ahead, checking out every bush and irregularity of the terrain for potential trouble. Should they notice anything, even a moving car, they will silently at first, split up and converge upon it from all sides at great speed. These ambush tactics are inborn and quite fascinating to watch, an unforgettable experience to be so treated.

This description makes it clear the dogs must be strong and hardy, not easily tired and at times are called upon to be very brave. They need their weatherproof coats and can exist on very little food as adults. They are also great fun due to their lively intelligent disposition, acting as partners to man. The shepherds value them highly and recount with pride how large, faithful and indomitable they are.

Anatolian Shepherd Dogs are naturally very watchful, always ready to investigate anything unusual. They have remarkable eye-sight, an acute sense of smell and very good hearing. Their memory is also excellent. Their natural inclination is to get up at intervals, especially at night and patrol the area, bedding down in a different spot each time. This keeps their coats remarkably clean, and parasite free.

In Turkey there are no fences so the numerous dogs have to respect little children, young lambs and other forms of domestic life. But when strangers arrive, fierce barking breaks out and the visitor's stand rooted to the ground until someone tells the dogs it is all right. The dogs are also called Lion Dogs (Aslan Kopek) and Wolf Dog (Kurt Kopek) but the universal name for these dogs is 'Coban Kopegi' (Shepherd Dog). The tawny coat is more prominent, but by no means universal. Splashes of white particularly on the legs are common, as also are dogs with coats of white with brown/black patches; even wholly white and wholly black specimens are seen. The various shades of dun, from cream to red-brown, blend well with the terrain.

There are many factors, which combine to keep this ancient and interesting breed from undesirable change. These include unrelated breeding, correct feeding, fitness for their work and selection at all ages. Very few bitches are normally kept in Turkey, usually enough to provide replacements. There is always a very well defined 'pecking order' in the pack of male dogs, which can number many in a large village. Only the top dogs, the pack leaders, sire puppies. Thus most dogs, even quite good specimens, never sire anything at all; and any really miserable specimens get no look-in at all. In this way weakness of any sort is continuously being eliminated. The Turks values size in their dogs and normally keep only one or two puppies per litter, to maximize growth, which is exponential at first. The largest puppy is kept in all cases, irrespective of color or coat, which may differ considerably amongst the individuals within a litter. Splashes of white that may or may not later disappear are common; even wholly white or entirely black puppies are born from time to time. Puppies born quite black often turn into the usual dun later and can be indistinguishable from its littermates that were born 'yellow'. Coat color changes can sometimes continue occurring until the animal is mature. The Turks say that dogs take 4 years to mature fully and it increasingly seems that this is so. Inbreeding also seems to reduce stature and make the temperament less sweet.

It is fervently hoped that these dogs never find their way to 'puppy farms' as they would suffer in such places more than most breeds do. It is of course realized that few, if any owners can provide the Anatolian Shepherd Dog with its natural habitat in the UK. Nevertheless it is hoped that the dogs will be kept, fed and reared in conditions as near to natural as possible so that they can retain the marvelous qualities and appearance which can still be seen in Turkey today.

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