ANATOLIAN SHEPHERD DOGS THROUGH THE AGES
An original written By Karen Sen
Six thousand years ago, the Molossi people of Northwestern Greece began to use large headed, large bodied, rough coated dogs from Tibet for boar hunting and to protect their flocks and villages from predators and intruders. The Molossi also kept Laconian or Spartan dogs. These swift, sleek, smooth coated dogs were used for deer hunting. Conjecture has it that the Molossi crossed the two breeds to get large headed, powerful bodied dogs of great speed and endurance that became known as the Molosser dogs. They were the forerunners of all Mastiff type breeds, so named in the eighteenth century.
Around 3,000 B.C., the great Sumerian traders took the Molosser dogs with them across Asia Minor along the Silk Road. The dogs protected their caravans as they travelled, sometimes remaining with the people of the areas that the Sumerians visited. Since the Sumerians were also agrarian people, they used the dogs to protect their flocks and villages, as did the Assyrians around 2,000 B.C. who depicted them in their Bas Reliefs which can still be seen today in the British Museum in London.
The nomadic Turks, who have travelled the Anatolian Plains through the ages, bred these Mastiff type dogs that eventually evolved into their "Shepherd's Dog" or Coban Kopegi (Choban Kopeyi). The Turks still use these dogs to this day to protect their flocks and settlements from bears, wolves and two legged predators. While the Turks are fiercely proud of the dogs, they consider them to be functionaries. Shepherds will not tolerate dogs that are not independent, able to make their own decisions and earn their keep. The dogs live with the shepherds and their flocks in the extreme conditions of the Anatolian Plains. If the dogs need shelter and food, they dig themselves huge holes in the ground and forage for small varmints such as gophers. Through necessity, this has created a strong, hardy dog with few specific requirements.
The Turks routinely crop the dogs' ears for fighting advantage against predators and to reduce the risk of infection. After their first wolf kill, the dogs are given spiked iron collars to wear when they are on guard. Additionally, the shepherds expect the dogs to help ewes with lambing and also to nurture and protect the lambs, thus they have become "ideal mothers", gentle and nurturing, quick to discipline and fiercely protective. The Turks' regard the dogs so highly that they have created a national stamp and coin depicting the Coban Kopegi that we know in the United States as the Anatolian Shepherd Dog.
In 1968, Lt. Robert C. Ballard, USN, who returned to California from a posting in Turkey, imported a pair of Anatolian Shepherd Dogs that he bred in 1970. When the litter was born, he established the first official registry for the Anatolian Shepherd Dog and the Anatolian Shepherd Dog Club of America. The Anatolian gained recognition in the Miscellaneous Class of the American Kennel Club in 1996 with the ASDCA being named as the Parent Club. In 1999, the Anatolian received full status in the American Kennel Club in the Working Dog Group. There are approximately five thousand registered Anatolian Shepherd Dogs in the United States today. Each year, more and more of them are seen in the show ring.
Americans use Anatolian Shepherd Dogs in many capacities. Their guarding responsibilities include care of animals of all sorts on ranches and property of all sizes. Anatolians may be found caring for sheep, goats, alpaca, llamas, cats, other dogs and human families. So strong are their protective instincts that they will undertake to guard whatever they relate to in their own territory. However, care must be taken to create clear boundaries for them. Since the Anatolian is territorial, one of the most important prerequisites to a successful relationship with them is to provide secure fencing or they will naturally expand their territory. Five to six foot fencing with a locked gate is optimum both in rural and urban environments. Whether the dogs are used as working livestock guardians or kept as family companions, socialization in all sorts of circumstances at an early age is necessary. Obedience training is highly recommended. Owners need to be clear, consistent and even-handed in order to garner their respect. Only with people they love and respect do Anatolians display their capacity for deep affection, light-heartedness and good humor.
Anatolians prefer an introduction to strangers and well behaved children. They should not be left alone with strangers until the dogs have accepted the strangers. Alone on their property, the dogs are unfriendly to strangers. They protect using an escalated method beginning with their intimidating size. The males range from 110 to 150 pounds and stand 29 inches upward from the shoulder. Females range from 27 inches upward and weigh between 80 to 120 pounds. The next level of protection is irritated barking, then serious warning barking, followed by chasing interlopers at high speeds of up to 35 miles per hour, and finally killing predators only as a last resort.
Off their property, Anatolians are aloof but polite. Sometimes their calm vigilance is misinterpreted by judges in the show ring as disinterest, especially if the dogs have noticed activity beyond the ring. The dogs should be given plenty of individual space when lined up for examination with the judge approaching them from the shoulder, not "head on" since this may be construed by the dogs as an aggressive motion. Handlers should always be allowed to present the bite. Dogs gaited at the correct speed, with plenty of room to move, will display powerful reach and drive and fluid movement. At higher speeds, they will single track. Choppy, mincing gaits are usually an indication that the dogs are being moved too slowly. All coat colors, markings and coat lengths are acceptable. Function, overall balance and structure, which are necessary attributes of all successful working dogs, should be the basis for final evaluation.
Anatolians are strong and sturdy with few requirements other than standard care and annual checkups. Care should be taken with anesthesia because some of the dogs are sensitive to it. Hip dysplasia is rare, as is hypothyroidism. There is occasional entropion (inverted eyelids). Shelter should be provided during inclement weather, but outdoor dogs usually choose to remain outdoors because a thick undercoat that they shed twice a year gives them more than adequate protection. Life expectancy is 11 to 13 years because they have incredibly strong hearts.
Some Anatolians will dig, especially when they are bored or in need of exercise. They are somewhat nocturnal, because that is when most predators make their presence known, causing the dogs to bark at them; they do not bark indiscriminately.
In whatever capacity the Anatolian functions, owning one of them is an enormous responsibility, not to be taken lightly. However, a successful relationship with one of these magnificent dogs is a truly rewarding experience.