The Anatolian Shepherd Dog

An in-depth review of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog

By | Posted: May 1, 2005, 8 a.m. EDT

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Well over 20 years ago I was introduced to the Anatolian Shepherd Dog by Skip and Marilyn Harned of Alpine, Calif. At that time the breed was literally unknown among exhibitors in America. I was immediately intrigued by the noble breed and fascinated with the stories I had heard and read of the breed's great courage and unswerving devotion to its owners and the flocks it was entrusted to care for in its native Turkey.

Back then most Anatolians were owned by individuals who kept valuable livestock and were using the dogs in the capacity for which the breed was developed. Devotees of the breed, however, also felt the breed deserved recognition by the American Kennel Club and worked tirelessly toward that goal.

In my capacity as editor and publisher of Kennel Review magazine I was able to bring the breed's sterling qualities to the attention of the all-breed public here in America. Simultaneously I was given ample opportunity to judge the breed both here and abroad. I also had a good opportunity to observe the dogs firsthand in the homes and ranchlands of their owners.

AKC recognition was awarded the Anatolian Shepherd in 1996, and the breed has fared well in the show rings throughout the country. However, owners and breeders of the Anatolian have been steadfast in respect to the breed's origin and purpose, and to this day, a preponderance of the dogs here continue on as working guardians. The dogs winning in the ring are often those that stand guard over livestock throughout America. The Anatolian has yet to be swept up in the rage for records.

In 2004 I was given the distinct honor of judging the Anatolian Shepherd Dog Club of America's National Specialty. I have always considered judging a specialty show of a breed as important a task as could be given a judge, and judging national specialties an even greater responsibilityfor it is at the national that fanciers of their chosen breed gather to exchange information, plan their future breedings and look to the outstanding dogs that might figure into those plans. Winners at these events earn national acclaim and often help breeders decide the direction they will take in their breeding programs. If the entry at a national show represents the best the breed has to offer, the winners should reflect the intent of the standard as closely as possible.

The question I asked myself as I approached my task that day was, how effective would be my normal preparation for judging a breed in maintaining the integrity of the Anatolian, whose primary purpose was that of a working guardian? Type stands paramount in the decisions I make as a judge. Would the criteria I use for determining type excellence in breed character, silhouette, head, movement and coat also result in rewarding dogs capable of excellence in performance?

The diehards of the performance breeds often criticize judges for paying too much attention to type and not enough to working ability. The debate that arises from this criticism is whether or not the characteristics described in a working breed's standard are based purely upon esthetics, or if in fact they describe what is necessary for the given breed to perform.

Regardless of how one might answer that question, it must be understood that there is no way on earth that a judge making his observations under the controlled conditions of the show ring can possibly know if a given dog, unless lame or deformed, will or will not be successful at the breed's given job. A judge can only rely upon the information given in the standard, along with further study into origin and purpose, to make this determination.

Then too, there would be little point in judging and showing dogs if the only criteria for excellence were putting forward dogs that have nothing that apparently would keep them from performing. Dogs of many breeds (or of mixed breeds, for that matter) might well be capable of accomplishing a given end result, but we can only assume that specific construction is what allows the b reed to accomplish that task in a precise manner.

The question remains, do decisions made on the basis of what we are able to conclude from a breed standard contribute to maintaining the integrity of that breed?

Some months after I had judged the Anatolian National I was given a copy of a paper written by Erick Conard, who has kept and bred working Anatolians for over 20 years. The opening paragraph of the paper reads as follows:

"The focus of my breeding program is the selection of behaviors that produce superior working ability. Working behaviors will be lost if breeders cannot correctly identify and select Anatolians with superior working ability. Breeders must also make working ability a major consideration in all Anatolian breeding decisions. Responsible breeders will not breed an Anatolian with poor conformation or genetic flaws. Similarly, responsible breeders will not breed Anatolians lacking excellent flock guardian ability."

Conard continues by sharing his ideas regarding the physical characteristics he looks for from a working viewpoint. His paper provided me with an excellent opportunity to see if what I understood of type in the breed contributed to or detracted from what this longtime breeder demanded of his working stock.

What follows are my interpretation of the demands of the standard, followed by extracts from Conard's paper that reveal his attempts to determine what in fact are the characteristics of the ideal working Anatolian.

Breed Character

RGB: A large but not massive dog (dogs, 110-150 pounds, bitches 80-120 pounds) with good bone and musculature for his size. General balance more important than absolute size. Of a calm and steadfast demeanor, but obviously owner of the ground he stands on. Generally reserved in attitude but obviously capable of springing into action and taking on the most formidable of foes. Animation and responding to baiting or attention-getting devises are not typical of the breed, and over-handling is to be discouraged.

EC: Working Anatolians must be agile, fast, athletic and strong, and should possess superior stamina. Their genetic development was shaped by the working environment in which they lived. They are a breed that can work under arduous conditions, including extreme temperatures without much food and water. Selection should only be for those traits that enhance their ability to perform flock guardian duties under the harsh conditions in which the breed developed.

While many people seem to believe the increase in average size (of the breed) is a good thing, our smaller early dogs, not many generations from Turkey, were excellent working dogs with an excellent combination of strength and agility. My first male Anatolian weighed 115 pounds. He was a terrific working male who faced a heavy coyote and wild pig population daily and handled his job easily, never losing an animal under his care.
The best working Anatolians are a physical compromise between agility and strength; they are an emotional compromise between sweetness and ferocity. Each conflicting concept exists at its maximum level without interfering with the other... Working temperament provides behavioral inhibitions that are required to safely coexist with an animal possessing the Anatolian's incredible speed, power, and ferocity.

Silhouette

RGB: Rectangular in outlineslightly longer than tall. Care must be taken to avoid the drift toward the breed's Sighthound influence on the one end and Mastiff on the other. The correct Anatolian stands midpoint between the two. Arched, powerful neck made more impressive by a more abundant skin and fur in that area. Powerful topline dropping gently behind withers with a gradual arch over the loin sloping slightly downward at the croup (an elongated or "lazy s" from withers to tail), The tail is set on high and when alert carried high forming a wheel. When relaxed, the tail is carried low with end curled upwards.

Chest is deep to the elbow. Good length of leg standing on strong pasterns and tight well-arched feet. Sufficient length of upper arm to place the elbow on a line directly under the highest point of the withers. Distinct tuck-up at the loin.

EC: ...in the working Anatolian, the proportions that maintain the optimum level of both strength and ability are more important than size considerations. That is why maintaining correct Anatolian type is vital.
(Conard's following comments deal with tail set and tail carriage - significant in creating the silhouette of a breed, but as you will read, in this case profoundly important in assisting the Anatolian in his work. - RGB)

I have been amazed by the intensity of feeling I've seen regarding the "correct" Anatolian tail, an upright tail that curls. Most often I've heard people say, "the curled tail is what distinguishes our breed from other breeds." Since many breeds have curled tails I find that statement confusing and illogical.

Years ago I watched my goats faithfully stand behind my male Anatolian, as he barked into the dark night to warn coyotes of his presence in he flock. As he moved either left or right, depending on the movement of the lurking predators, the goats would scoot right or left to keep the dog between them and the unseen predators. Since so many of the goats were short, I couldn't understand how they knew exactly where to move to be so directly behind him. Always curious, I got down on all fours, in the dark, in the middle of the herd, with my eyes level with most of the goats' eyes. The only thing I saw was the dog's tail standing stiff and glowing lightly in front of the herd. From my position his tail looked like a short white pole until he moved left. Then I could see it curl forward. All the goats and I shifted until the curl was hidden and all I could see was a straight line. I was again directly behind my guarding Anatolian.

From that and similar experiments, I believe the curled tail has a definite safety function related to guardian duties. Therefore, I prefer tails that go up when danger is present or the dog is moving to another location and wants the herd to follow. If the tail curves too tightly the smaller animals in the herd will have greater difficulty seeing the tail signal and not know where to shift... From a working standpoint I favor the tail that stands tall with a nice curl toward the top... similar to a shepherd's crook.

Tail high and waving signals agitation and dang er; the experienced herd will follow if the Anatolian circles and moves out or will stand behind the Anatolian who stands still and barks.

Tail high and still signals movement across a territory lacking danger.

Tail relaxed (droops and curls up slightly) signals calmness and relaxation (goats ignore the dog).

Tail between legs signals strong apprehension and a willingness to comply completely (goats ignore tail signal but respond to body posture).

Head

RGB: In keeping with the overall picture of strength and seriousness, the balanced Anatolian head denotes power, but not at the risk of coarseness. The unobtrusive ears of moderate size are set close to the head. The tip of the ear is just long enough to reach the corner of the eye. Moderate stop with a moderate centerline furrow from stop to occiput. No weakness to the jaw or dentition.
Disqualifications: blue eyes or eyes of two different colors. Erect ears. Overshot, undershot or wry bite.

EC: After reviewing numerous old pictures of Anatolians with their flocks in Turkey and of early Turkish imports, I realized many of them had narrow heads compared to the heads of some Anatolians being bred in the U.S. today. However, the slope of the stop is dictated by working necessity. Working Anatolians must have a nicely sloped stop to reduce the chance of injury should they receive a kick to the head from a cow or a horse. I learned how important the slope of the skull is when my young female Anatolian interceded to slow down my mare's dash through the goat herd. As the Anatolian threw herself between the mare and her goats, the mare whirled and kicked out viciously and with great force, her hoof sliding across the top of the Anatolian's head from the tip of the dog's nose, along the top of her muzzl e, and across her right eye. The blow was delivered with such extreme force that her hair and some skin were peeled off as the hoof slid across her head. However, due to her nicely sloped skull, the hoof slid off without fracturing bone. A dog with a deep stop might have been killed from such a blow.

Good ear placement and shape are important traits at dog shows but are unimportant traits in working Anatolians. As you know, in Turkey the ears are cut off, since they are easily torn in fights and bleed excessively.

(It might be said here that the standard's description of the Anatolian ear ["Set no higher than the plane of the head, just long enough to reach the outside corner of the eyelid and erect ears a disqualification"] does seem to pay some small tribute to the country of origin practice of ear removal. - RGB.)

Movement

RGB: Here again, soundness, power and agility are primary factors. Although entirely capable of reacting with great speed at time of impending danger, Anatolian movement is about conservation of energy rather than animation and speed. The latter are actually faults of both breed character and movement.

EC: Well-angulated legs promoting smooth movement and a minimum of stress to the joints allow a working Anatolian a longer working life and more years of physical comfort. Structurally correct legs are vital since working Anatolians face an incredible array of physical stresses to their legs.

Anatolians are resistant to heat exhaustion and have an instinctive ability to conserve their strength by limiting their efforts to a minimum unless exertion is required. They sometimes appear sluggish, lazy, disinterest, or tired, which is only an illusion.
An adult Anatolian whose basic personality is highly energetic and animated disturbs its flock unnecessarily. High-spirited play with herd members reduces grazing t ime, agitates its charges, and takes the Anatolian's attention away form its guardian duties, decreasing its effectiveness as a flock guardian.

Coat

RGB: Coat, in a word, is protective. Length ranges from one (minimum) to four inches, but its essence is in being able to protect the Anatolian from the elements. An undercoat that provides insulation from the extremes of heat and cold are paramount. Color is of no consequence in that all color patterns and markings are equally acceptable.

Conard makes no specific comment on coat other than color being immaterial. However, it becomes obvious with his emphasis on the characteristics that equip the Anatolian to perform under all conditions that the breed be afforded the protection that an insulating coat provides. - RGB)

Winners and their Credentials

The foregoing gives a brief summary of how a judge and a breeder of working dogs view the Anatolian. Can the judge's approach guided by breed standard, origin and purpose acknowledge what the working man demands of his dogs?

Let's take a look at the credentials of the major winners at the ASDCA National Specialty.

Best of Breed - Ch. Horizon's Zafer. Born on a Tennessee cattle ranch and now full-time guardian on a horse farm in Ocala, Fla., where he protects 25 horses from packs of coyotes, raccoons, opossums and bobcats.

Best of Opposite Sex - Ch. Night Watch's Steel Magnolia. Bred by a Georgia farmer and businessman, she now protects her owner's family and two acres in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Winners Dog and Best of Winners - Ch. Birinci's Yahsi. From the Texas hill country, where he keeps guard on 50 acres with goats, llamas and horses.

Winners Bitch - Eiserntor's Cingene Sihir. Introduced as a puppy to goats and horses in anticipation of her owners' move immediately after the national to a new life on a ranch in New Mexico, where she now guards pygmy goats and chickens.

In Summary

While a breed standard speaks to us in theory and the working dog breeder in practice, the two need not and actually should not stand in contradiction. Then, too, those of us who breed and judge performance dogs must know far more than any one standard can impart.

The Anatolian Shepherd is fortunate in that it is not a glamour breed. Its size and correct temperament will never take the breed to the top of popularity polls, nor will the proper Anatolian ever dazzle ringsides with its performance. The breed has every opportunity to remain what it was intended to bethe classic working dog.

 

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