Anatolian Shepherd Dog - History

The Turkish Shepherd's Lifeline!
Old World Dogs for the New World!

The Anatolian Guardian Dog has been serving mankind for thousands of years
and is one of the oldest of dog breeds.
Although very pleasing to look at, this dog is DEFINITELY NOT FOR EVERYONE!!

Turkish Coin, National Flag of Turkey and a Turkish Postage Stamp
The coin and stamp depict this Ancient Turkish Livestock Guardian


The Anatolian Shepherd Dog is one of the most majestic and noble animals in the service of man; still being used in the rural districts of Turkey as the shepherds' indispensable companion and front line of defense of his livestock from predators. Without the aid of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog, the Turkish shepherd would be less able to defend his property and flock from wild animals. Such dogs are found from the Turkish Anatolian plateau right on through to Afghanistan.

In Turkey today, the breed is known as Coban Kopegi (cho-bawn ko-pay) which translates to "Shepherd's Dog". He is a livestock guardian dog, living his life in constant association with his sheep or goats, and is accepted as a member of the flock. (He is NOT a herding dog). With consistant selecting for this Guardianship behavior, this has become deeply ingrained or inate in them. Six to Eight week old puppies will face down danger to defend their owner, something that is nearly unheard of with most breeds.

The extraordinary speed and agility of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog enable him to run down a predator with great efficiency. Turkish Shepherds equip some of their dogs with impressive iron-spiked collars as protection against attacking animals that grab for the throat.

A large part of Central Anatolia is a high plateau of wide plains and rolling hills. Summers are dry, while winters are marked with heavy snowfalls and temperatures plunging well below freezing. Here in this environment, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog is a functional tool of the Turkish Shepherd.

Historically, since Babylonian times, there is documented a breed of large strong dogs with a heavy head. Some spectacular depictions of the breed dating back to 2,000 BC can be seen on the well preserved bas-reliefs in the Assyrian Rooms of the British Museum in London. With the advent of the first domestic sheep, the dogs went from "hunter" to "protector". The book of Job, which dates back to at least 1,800 BC and is set in the region of Turkey, makes reference to the dogs with the flocks.

Although Anatolians were brought to America as early as the 1950's, Anatolians were virtually unheard of in this country until the 1970s. That's when the Endangered Species Act triggered a search for a means of controlling predators without killing them. University and government agricultural researchers discovered primitive dogs like the Anatolian Shepherd Dog guarding flocks of sheep and goats in some of the world's oldest pastoral societies. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the dogs' mere presence was enough to keep carnivores away. Rarely is actual battle required, because even minor injuries can prove fatal for predators in the wild. That's fine with the Anatolians, who'd rather not fight - - it upsets their charges. An Anatolian's first defensive measure is visual deterrence. They simply stand and let themselves be seen. If that doesn't do the trick, intruders are greeted with a mild, throat-clearing sort of bark that will escalate, if necessary, to a bloodcurdling warning. That final warning is NOT an idle threat. With their legendary fearlessness, prodigious strength and cat-like agility they can drive off the largest of predators. Ironically, while the dogs protect livestock, they protect predators too by minimizing conflict with humans (as in the Cheetah Conservation Project in Nambibia, Africa). Today, several thousands of these dogs are defending America's pastures.

Most Anatolian authorities agree that, while they can make superb deeply bonded companions with proper and consistent socialization, they are not "pets" in the conventional sense of the word. Bred for millennia to exercise independent judgment in response to perceived danger, whether from four or two legged predators, these ancient guardian dogs WILL protect. While they are not aggressive the way guard dogs like Rottweilers or Dobermans can be, their protective reactions have been likened to the strike of a rattlesnake. Anatolians require substantial fencing in all but open range settings, and should never be allowed off leash off their property, with the possible exception of completely fenced in dog parks. Some Anatolians make wonderful Therapy dogs because of their calm temperaments, but "attack dog training" is strictly forbidden for this breed because of their serious nature.

The Anatolian Shepherd Dog of today has remained relatively unchanged from its ancestors because of the nature of its isolated existence and the fact that it is a landrace that has evolved based on function and not just a pretty face or a particular color. The Turks have for centuries been dependent upon the land for their livelihood, relying on domesticated animals as an integral part of their existence. For this reason, perhaps, the characteristics of the Anatolian have been so exactly preserved, characteristics well adapted to: Turkey's hot climate and terrain; the lifestyle of the shepherds that, until modern times, was nomadic; and the job of guarding the village flocks against fierce predators.

The first active breeding program in the United States was the result of the importation of a breeding pair of dogs by Lt. Robert C. Ballard, USN, who was stationed in Turkey from 1966 to 1968. Upon their return to the United States, the Ballards settled in El Cajon, California, where on August 16th, 1970, their imports Zorba and Peki produced the first recorded American-bred litter. The year 1970 also saw the founding of the National Breed Club, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog Club of America.

Twenty-five years later, on June 12, 1995, the American Kennel Club announced formal recognition of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog, effective to be shown in the Miscellaneous Class beginning June 1, 1996. On August 12, 1998, the American Kennel Club granted full recognition to the Anatolian Shepherd Dog effective June 1, 1999, into the Working Group.

The Anatolian Shepherd Dog is a versatile breed. Here in the United States, the Anatolian guards everything from chickens and other fowl, goats, horses, pigs, cattle and sheep to alpaca and llama. A few even guard other dogs or cats. An Anatolian will pretty much guard whatever he lives with. Some dogs are shown in conformation, obedience, and working classes; a few are certified as service dogs or therapy dogs. Anatolian Shepherd Dogs are also used as companions and family protectors. Many Anatolian Shepherds live on small farms, suburban homes, or ranches where they fulfill a duty of family companion/guardian, livestock guardian and/or show dog. These Anatolians have the best of both worlds ... a family and a job!

Background for the
Anatolian Shepherd Dog

GENERAL: After several centuries of breeding for specific traits, we now have a breed of large guardians that bond to livestock, patrol and protect their territory like soldiers, and still manage to be loving companions and eye-catching showdogs. Some have even excelled in obedience competition, and as therapy and service dogs. The Anatolian is as comfortable in the North American mountain ranges, bedded down with the flocks it protects from cougar and bear, as it is lying on the rug at your feet. The key to successful ownership is understanding the needs and the abilities of this remarkable breed. They are intelligent dogs, devoted to their owners, gentle and protective of their charges, and fearless when a threat arises.

The name given to this breed .. Anatolian Shepherd Dog ... is a misnomer in that they do not herd the flocks, but protect them ... hence the designation "Livestock Guardian". However, this is not the only thing they are good at. Sometimes, while working in the fields, Turkish women will fasten one end of a rope around their young children's waists and the other end to an Anatolian's collar. They can then go about their chores, assured of the safety of their children.

Anatolians are capable of functioning in 100-degree-plus or 0-degree-minus weather. They survive when water is scarce in summer, when snow drifts are higher than their heads in winter, and when scavenging is their meal ticket the year round. Anatolians also carry out their tasks with alacrity. In Turkey, protecting their masters' flocks against wolves, jackals and lions is their goal. Anatolians are not pampered, nor can their owners generally afford to give them veterinary care beyond that which is necessary to keep them healthy enough for guard duty. In addition, the Anatolian exists without benefit of a breed name, much less records or pedigrees, in its native land. There it is known by the generic designation “Çoban Köpegi”, which means "shepherd's dog." It is important to note that these dogs are "guardians" and DO NOT HERD. The basic difference here is that herding breeds have a high prey drive and usually cannot be left unsupervised with livestock, as they have been known to kill animals that take fright and run from them. The LGD, on the other hand, is expected to bond with their charges and have a very low prey drive so that they protect, not harm their charges. Many owners of Guardian breeds feel that these dogs give them a "safe" feeling they never experienced with any other dog ... even those who previously owned traditional "guard" dogs such as German Shepherd, Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers.

CHARACTERISTICS: A large breed of Livestock Guardian dog, the Anatolian is a fiercely loyal guardian that demonstrates a possessive attitude towards family, property and livestock. He is suspicious of strangers, reserved when in public, and may expect a "formal introduction" before tolerating any familiarities. The Anatolian is NOT a dog for everyone, but for those select few who learn to live with this very demanding breed, it can be a most rewarding experience!!

TEMPERAMENT: The Anatolian will generally get along with any animals it grows up with or has decided to "adopt" as its flock. They are especially good with well behaved children; however, it is never recommended to leave very young children alone with a large dog, no matter how nice or gentle the dog is.

HISTORY: The Anatolian is an ancient Turkish Livestock Guardian that is considered one of the large breeds of Molloser-type dogs. Humans are believed to have first lived in what was originally called Mesopotamia, now Turkey, and surrounding areas. Records show that fossils suggesting large Mastiff-type dogs appeared at the same time as fossils of grazing "flock" animals. This puts forth the theory that the Livestock Guardian breeds were probably among the first domestic dogs. The Anatolian is believed to have been developed by shepherds crossing these large Molloser-type dogs with the Turkish sighthounds to get a guardian with the speed to run down whatever was threatening their flocks of sheep or goats and have the strength to deal with the predator, be it wolf, bear, or lion, in the most effective manner. There is also a theory that the Asian Wolf might be part of the Anatolian makeup.

Much has happened since the late 1930's, when the Turkish government sent the first Anatolian Shepherd Dogs to the United States government to be used in the first 'sheepdog' studies. Now Anatolians are working all over the world, from Africa to the United States, to successfully protect livestock from predation. It is hoped that some of the information on this site will help give a working understanding, perspective and perhaps historical insight into the land-race breed that is known internationally as the “Anatolian Shepherd Dog”.

The Anatolian Shepherd Dog Club of Great Britain was founded in 1979. In 1989, the Federation Cynologique Internationale, with input from the ASDCA, followed Britain's lead and the Anatolian was made eligible for full international points at dog shows. The Standards Commission of the FCI drafted a breed standard, adopted June 6, 1989, that was consistent with Britain's breed standard. The United Kennel Club recognized the Anatolian on January 1, 1993. AKC recognized the Anatolian as foundation stock in 1995; they went into the miscellaneous class in 1996; and received full recognition into the Working Group in 1998.

The name "Anatolian Shepherd Dog" has been a subject of much controversy. There are those who believe there are three completely separate breeds of Turkish Livestock Guardians (Akbash, Kangal & Kars Dogs), while others choose to believe there is only one breed with regional and color varieties.

The names “Anatolian Shepherd Dog”, “Çoban Köpegi”, "Gammel", “Chien de berger d'Anatolie”, “Anatolischer Hirtenhund” and “Perro de pastor de Anatolia” are all derivative of a known fact - these dogs are the shepherd's dog evolved from the historical region of Anatolia. All names reflect understanding and respect for this dog as one which comes from a long standing working heritage that predates our time - truly the working dog of shepherds.

ORIGIN: Native to the rural districts of Turkey.

UTILIZATION: Flock guardian, Family companion/guardian.

SIZE: Large

HEIGHT: Males: 29+" - Females: 27+"

WEIGHT: Males: 100+ lbs - Females: 80+ lbs

GROOMING: Moderate (mostly seasonal)

EXCERCISE: Moderate (spurts, early in morning or at night when cool)

HEALTH: Very hardy breed

LIFE SPAN: 12-14 years

The Anatolian is recognized and can be registered by the following Kennel Clubs:

  • - American Kennel Club (AKC - US) - Working Group
  • - United Kennel Club (UKC - US) - Guardian Group
  • - Kennel Club (KC - UK) - Pastoral Group
  • - American Rare Breed Association (ARBA - US) - Working Group
  • - Canadian Kennel Club (CKC - Canada) - Miscellaneous class
  • - Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) - Group 2, Section 2
  • - Australian National Kennel Club (ANKC - Australia) - Group 6, Utility
  • - New Zealand Kennel Club (NZKC - New Zealand) - Utility Group

Alaturka's Safa greeting some Black Angus cows

This page copyright © by Alaturka Anatolians. All rights reserved. No part of this page; text, images or content can be used without written permission of author.