Central Asian and Anatolian Shepherd Dogs

Turkish Dog Stamp 1973Turkish Dog Stamp 1973

The Livestock Guardian Dogs that originated in Asia Minor are among the most ancient of the dogs that filled this important role. This is a closer look at their pure breed descendants known today as the Central Asian Shepherd Dog and the Anatolian Shepherd Dog,"Çoban köpegi", and a discussion about the name of these traditional Turkish Shepherd Dogs.

The Central Asian Shepherd Dog

Central Asian Shepherd DogCentral Asian Shepherd Dog

Central Asian Shepherd dogs are still being used by local shepherds in their traditional role as Livestock Guardian Dogs. The harsh living conditions of Central Asia, with its burning hot weather combined with freezing cold temperatures, lack of water and mountainous country have made these dogs very tolerant. But frequent encounters with predators like wolves, bears and wild cats such as Siberian Tigers have also made them very skilled and given them strength and unlimited courage. So these dogs are faithful and devoted friends and of vital assistance to local shepherds in their difficult but dangerous traditional role[3].

Central Asian Shepherd DogCentral Asian Shepherd Dog

Hardy and undemanding, these dogs can also be trained to become quite vicious and more recently have been used as guard dogs. During the first half of last century in St. Petersburg these dogs were professionally bred by the military and police dog breeding organisations and trained specifically as guard dogs to be used in the Gulags (forced labour camps). By the 1980's the importance of this role understandably diminished in European part of USSR. But as these dogs were and still are being used in their traditional role in the mountainous country areas like Tajikistan in Central Asia, to retain the breed original type and temperament, enthusiasts were able to combine these lines with those from St. Petersburg who still used them in the traditional way. Today's Central Asian Shepherd Dogs can be calm and courteous, but still like to dominate. Never-the-less professionals still train them for use in the Army and as Police and general guard dogs.

The Central Asian Shepherd Dog Today

Central Asian Shepherd DogsCentral Asian Shepherd Dogs

The Central Asian Shepherd Dog is a large dog with a well-developed dewlap, standing more than 70 cms tall (bitches 60 cms) with dogs weighing more than 50 kilos (bitches 40 kilos). The masculinity of males should make them distinct from bitches. Slightly longer than square, their massive but muscular build should give them harmonious lines complimented by the forelegs being at least half the height at withers.

Central Asian Shepherd DogCentral Asian Shepherd Dog

The head is massive and almost rectangular when viewed either from the top or from the side. The skull is flat with a distinct occiput and well developed cheek muscles. The well-defined stop defines the proportion of the length of the skull to the muzzle which makes the muzzle but more than a 1/3 but less than 1/2 the length of the head. The foreface or muzzle is strong, deep, well filled up under the eyes and the bridge of the nose is straight. The nose is black the lips are tight and also preferably black. These dogs preferably have a normal scissors bite but a level bite or reverse scissors bite is acceptable. As the strength of the jaw shown by chin development is mandatory, a full complement of 42 teeth is highly desirable. The eyes are medium sized and oval, set to look straight ahead and dark brown or hazel in colour. The fully pigmented black rims should not show haw. The ears are medium sized and triangular in shape and set level with or slightly below the level of the eyes.

Central Asian Shepherd DogCentral Asian Shepherd Dog

The powerful neck is of moderate length but a specific breed feature is the dewlap. The shoulders are well laid, the elbows are close to the sides and the forelegs are straight with good bone, upright pasterns and round feet with thick pads. The chest is deep and well developed and the ribcage, including the false (or last) ribs are long. The withers are well defined, just exceeding the height at the croup with a straight topline between. Viewed from the side the chest should come to the elbows or slightly below, with some forechest in front and a moderate belly tuck up behind. The hindquarters should be straight and parallel and a little wider than the forequarters. The hindquarters have moderate angulation and length of hock but no hind dewclaws. The tail is thick at the base and when undocked is carried in a sickle curve with a loose ring at the end. It is set on fairly high and can rise above the level of the back when alert. He has an elastic trot with balanced reach and drive.

The skin is thick and sufficiently loose and elastic to prevent injuries if in combat with predators. The coat is a straight and coarse double coat with a well-developed undercoat. It can vary in length from the body coat from 4 - 5 cms to feathers on the legs and the mane on the neck which can reach 7 - 10 cms. The coat may be any colour except blue and tan dilutes, or tan with a black mantle.

Anatolian (Turkish) Shepherd Dog with SheepAnatolian (Turkish) Shepherd Dog with Sheep

The Turkish Shepherd Dog (Karabash)

Karabash 'street dog'Karabash 'street dog'

When Turkey was first settled around the 11th Century AD by migrating nomadic tribes from Central Asia, the role of the Livestock Guardian Dog was to accompany shepherds and their flocks to protect them from predators. So the Turkish Shepherd Dog (Karabash) has been developed to perform this function ever since, and retained a distinct breed type.

Today there is still a town called 'Kangal' in the Sivas Province in the middle of Turkey, famous for breeding these dogs. As Turkey became modernized, it made the Karabash's job redundant. So it became common to see unemployed Karabash dogs roaming streets in the Turkish countryside.  It is amazing how uniform and recognizable they are, as evidenced by the homeless Karabash pictured wandering across a road somewhere in Turkey.

Anatolian Shepherd DogsAnatolian Shepherd Dogs

But the Anatolian Shepherd Dog we see in our 'western' showrings today was named and developed by a handful of people from UK and USA who first obtained a few Karabash dogs from Turkey[1]. If the development and recognition of the Anatolian was done without sufficient consultation with the Turkish people themselves, surely this ignores the national pride these people have in their Turkish Shepherd Dog they call the Karabash. Maybe with the recognition of the Turkish Kennel Club by the FCI in 2010, this situation will be rectified and the name changed to the Turkish Shepherd Dog which brings it in line with the Livestock Guardian dogs of other countries and correctly reflects its country of origin.

Meanwhile, consistent with the format on the remainder of this site, we present a summary of the currently recognized Breed Standard of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog as a comparison with its ancestor, the Central Asian Shepherd Dog.

Comparison between the Anatolian and Central Asian Shepherd Dogs

Anatolian Shepherd Dog Central Asian Shepherd Dog
Size The height is dogs 74-81 cm (29-32 ins) and bitches 71-79 cm (28-31 ins) weighing 50-65 kg (110-145 lbs) for dogs and  40-55 kg (85-120 lbs) for bitches. The height is a minimum of 70 cms weighing 50 Kgs for males and 65 cms weighing 40 Kg for bitches. A large size is desirable but proportional constitution must remain.
Coat The hair should be short or mid-length, dense, with thick undercoat. Great variations in length according to climate. Double-coated, abundant, straight coarse and with well developed undercoat. Skin must be loose and elastic.
Colour All colours acceptable Any except dilutions of blue and brown, and black mantel on tan.
Anatolian Shepherd DogAnatolian Shepherd Dog Central Asian Shepherd DogCentral Asian Shepherd Dog
Skull Large but in proportion to body, broad and slightly domed between ears Flat, long and deep with a well defined occiput.
Stop Slight Moderate
Muzzle Almost rectangular when viewed from above with a blunt profile, tapering slightly to the nose which is black except in livers when it is brown. Lips covering the profile of the underjaw. Almost rectangular when viewed from above with a blunt profile, with a moderate taper towards the nose which is black but lighter in light coloured dogs. Chin well developed.
Eyes Rather small, golden to brown in colour, set well apart and showing no haw. Eye rims black except in livers. Medium sized, from dark to hazel, set well apart and looking straight ahead. The eye rims thick and black with only a small amount of haw.
Ears Medium sized and triangular in shape with a rounded tip, lying close the cheek but higher when alert. Medium sized and triangular in shape, thick and low set. The lower part of ear base is level with, or slightly below the level of the eyes. In some countries ear cropping is still permitted by law.
Mouth A normal scissors bite with compete dentition A normal scissors bite, a level bite or a reverse scissors bite acceptable, as long as there is complete dentition
Neck Medium length and powerful with only a slight dewlap Medium length and powerful, with plenty of dewlap. This dewlap is a breed characteristic
Anatolian Shepherd DogAnatolian Shepherd Dog Central Asian Shepherd DogCentral Asian Shepherd Dog
Forequarters The shoulders are oblique and well muscled, the forelegs are straight, well boned of good length and set well apart with strong, slightly sloping pasterns and the elbows move close to the sides.

The shoulder blades are long and well laid back, and form an 100°angle with the well muscled, oblique long, strong upper arm. The oval boned forelegs are strong, straight and parallel when seen from the front and not close together. The upright pasterns are of moderate length.
Feet The feet are strong with thick pads and well arched toes and the nails should be short. The fore and hind feet are large and round with well arched toes and thick pads. Nails may be any colour.
Body The topline is rather short but in proportion it the leg length with a slight arch over the loins. The body should never look flat sided. Instead the ribs are well sprung and the chest is deep but just to the point of the elbow but not below. The belly is well tucked up.

The total body is half the length from the well defined withers to the tail set with a topline sustained in stance. The back is broad and straight but the loin is slightly arched and the croup slopes slightly to the tail set. The chest is deep and broad and, with a definite forechest, it extends to the elbow or slightly below. The belly is moderately tucked up.

Hindquarters The hocks are vertical when viewed from rear. The hindlegs are powerful without being overloaded muscled with a good turn of stifle. The hindlegs are straight and parallel when viewed from the rear and a little wider than forequarters.The thighs are broad and there is a moderate turn of stifle with strong hocks and no dewclaws.

Tail The tail is long reaching to hock and set on rather high. It is carried high and curled over back when alert but when relaxed it is carried low with slight curl. The tail should be thick at the base and set fairly high carried slightly above the line of the back or slightly above in a sickle curve with a loose ring that begins at the last third of the tail. At rest the tail hangs.
Movement When moving, head and neck should be in line and level with the straight topline so the dog gives the impression of stalking with his even, supple and long reaching strides. A pace at low speeds is acceptable. The movement at a trot should be well balanced and elastic, with free reach in the forequarters and with powerful drive from the hindquarters and a steady, level topline.

Anatolian Shepherd Dog, Kangal or Karabash?

Turkey Showing Areas where Karabash Varieties OriginatedTurkey Showing Areas where Karabash Varieties Originated

Nobody in Turkey has ever called their legendary Livestock Guardian dog the Anatolian Shepherd Dog. But in the last few decades, some have called it the Kangal instead of "Çoban köpegi" Shepherd Dog or "Koyun köpegi" Sheep Dog with a black head. This dog also came in other different colour variations according to the area where they developed in Turkey.

In 1965 the first breeding pair arrived in UK. Despite the original suggestions of Turkish Karabash, Karabash, and Anatolian Karabash Sheepdog the name Anatolian Karabash Dog was the name first accepted by the Kennel Club (UK). A few years later, whilst selecting more dogs to import into UK, another group of people stayed in the Turkish town of Kangal. This second group suggested the name Kangal which the Kennel Club (UK) adopted replacing the original accepted name. The name Kangal was further entrenched in 1996 when an outsourced Turkish postage stamp also incorrectly named Turkey's Livestock Guardian Dog the "Kangal köpegi" or Kangal. Later still it was again changed to Anatolian Shepherd Dog which is now accepted by the Kennel Club (UK) AKC, and ANKC[1]. As if that is not confusing enough, the breed type we see in some of our show rings today often does not reflect a dog with the athleticism required of his ancestors!

Shepherd with Sheep and Karabash DogsShepherd with Sheep and Karabash Dogs

The original Livestock Guardian Dogs of Turkey are still seen working with nomads who move them to find sufficient food in a process called transhumance. These working dogs still wear spiked collars to protect their throats if it is necessary to fight predators. For Turkish shepherds who still use the Karabash for its traditional purpose, many believe the Anatolian Shepherd Dog developed outside Turkey has become too big and cumbersome to be sufficiently agile for the zealous work of the Karabash that protects flocks 24/7.

Studies within Turkey

Boz or Dun Coloured through FawnBoz or Dun Coloured through Fawn

Between 2002 - 2007 a PhD study was carried out by Dr Orhan Yilmaz to determine the morphological characteristics of Karabash dogs raised on private and State farms within Turkey. Data was collected from 41 provinces from a total of individual 735 dogs, 432 males and 303 females. This interesting study[2] gave rise to the following information:

Karabash have the structural characteristics of animals living in wide open spaces. Because there are almost no hiding places, both the Karabash and the predators are physically well adapted to the terrain in which they live and know exactly how to take advantage of it. So both the Karabash and the predators must be quick and and able to very run fast to avoid physical confrontation. People with bad intentions also have good reason to be afraid of these dogs which can unintentionally cause real physical harm if provoked.

Dalkir or BrindleDalkir or Brindle

Dr Orhan Yilmaz found that

  • The head should resemble that of a female lioness like its ancestor the Central Asian Shepherd Dog
  • the Karabash should have a dense double coat, uniformly short but only slightly longer forming a ruff around the neck
  • The Karabash may have single or double hind dewclaws as seen on the Pyrenean Mountain Dog
  • The tail may hang low but most of the time it is carried upwards and with a forwards curl
  • The Karabash should always have a black mask
  • The size was as follows:The male Karabash weighs 42 - 70 Kilos (93 - 154 lbs) and is 64 - 85 cm (25 - 33 inches) tall with the female 34 - 60 kilos (75 - 132 lbs) and is 62 - 82 cms (24 - 32 inches) in height

Coat Colour Varieties

Arbash or WhiteArbash or White

The Karabash comes in different coat colours according to the area in Turkey they were developed (see colour coded map above). They are presented here so it is up to future generations of the pure bred fraternity to consider where one variety ends and the next one begins. In the picture on the right we have the Kircil or grizzle above and the Yagiz or ashy below.

Grizzle (top) and Ashy (below)Grizzle (top) and Ashy (below)

  1. Boz or dun coloured through to fawn often with a black mask similar to the Akkaraman sheep, so blending into the plateaus in which this dog generally works. These are spread over a large area in Turkey
  2. Kircil or grizzle and Yagiz or ashy. These have a similar colour to the Boz with a black mask, but they also have black on the outer guard hairs of the top coat. Those dogs with a greater density of the black hairs especially on their extremities also have white outlined with grey are called Yagiz or Ashy. The white on the feet may also extend up the legs. On the map these two minor variations of grizzle are combined.
  3. Dalkir or Brindle with the black hairs forming bands over the Boz or dun colour giving a striped effect. These are found in a small region close to Georgia.
  4. Akbash or white. These are are always white but the length of coat can vary. They are generally slightly smaller and even more rapid than Karabash, but as a flock guarding dog, they are excellent working dogs and very sharp. Some people consider them as an "ecological" dog because they do not like pursuing and killing predators. There are now many Akbash in the USA.
  5. Erzurum or dark yellow or gold through to reddish. These come from a small province and are a little more finely or elegantly built, making them more noble in appearance.

Erzurum or Dark Yellow to RedErzurum or Dark Yellow to Red

Note the Kars is sometimes also designated as a variety of Karabash. But it is generally accepted that the same type of dog has developed on both sides of the border of Armenia and Georgia and throughout the Caucasian Mountains. As this border historically has been changed many times and the the FCI has already recognized this longer haired type of dog as the Caucasian Shepherd Dog, although included in the map they are not included in the categories above.

References and Further Reading

Jane Harvey 'Anatolian? Kangal? What next?' Dog News Australia, published by Australian Canine Press Pty Ltd Australia NSW April 2012 Pages 4 and 8 also refer to Editorial Page 2

[1] Selim Derbent and Dr Orhan Yilmaz, 'Le Karabash, Chiens de Bergers Nomades, son Histoire, son Travail, Son Avenir' Self Published IBSN 978-975-92133-8-9 http://www.karabash.eu

[2] Dr Orhan Yilmaz 'The Turkish (Karabash) Shepherd Dog, The National Dog of Turkey History, Description, Breeding' Self Published ISBN 975-92133-7-0 Chapter 12 Page 96

[3] Daniyar Daukey, www.tobet.kz


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