Akbash Dog

Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
 
Photo of adult Akbash Dog

The Akbash Dog is a large breed of livestock guardian dog that originates and was developed in Turkey by combining mastiffs with sighthounds. It is lighter than some other livestock guardian breeds and has a characteristic white or off-white coat, which is thick and can shed heavily, but only requires brushing and no specialist care or grooming.

The Akbash Dog has a quiet, steady character and is very loyal and affectionate with its family, getting on well with children. It is, however, extremely brave, and this, combined with its size and observant nature, means it makes an excellent guard dog. The breed has an independent character but is also eager to please so usually picks up on training without too much difficulty despite this. It is important the Akbash Dog is well socialised from puppyhood as it can be territorial and aggressive towards other dogs if not.

About & History

The Akbash Dog is a breed traditionally used for guarding and shepherding livestock in its native Turkey – particularly the Western region – where it is one of the national breeds. Despite there being little record of the exact roots of the breed and how it was developed, it is thought to be very old and most likely came about by crossing some of the heavier mastiff breeds with sighthounds, giving it unique characteristics. In Turkish, the breed is known as the Akbaş Çoban Köpeği. Akbaş literally means ‘white head’ in Turkish; its white colouring is a key feature of the breed and is the Turkish equivalent to some of the other white guardian breeds found in other areas of the Mediterranean. The Akbash Dog is a large breed, but lighter set and taller than some of the other livestock guardian breeds, such as the Kangal and Anatolian Shepherd.

The Akbash Dog has been bred for specific character traits, such as courage, independence, suspicion and calmness, and it should have a steady character alongside its easily identifiable physical appearance, which make it ideal for its intended use. The Akbash is a pastoral breed, but as opposed to being a natural herder like Collies it is a guardian and it is not unusual for dogs to often be left with a flock for long periods of time. This had led to the breed having an independent character, using its size if necessary to scare predators away. The breed is not particularly widely known but was imported to the USA by David and Judy Nelson in the 1970s and has been successfully used as part of a Predator Control Programme.

Appearance

Akbash Dog Large Photo
Jerry Kirkhart / Flickr.com

The Akbash Dog is not a breed that is recognised by the UK Kennel Club, however, the United Kennel Club does recognise the breed. The breed is always white, but grey or ‘biscuit’ shading is considered acceptable, which can give the coat an off-white appearance.

The Akbash is a large breed, but it should also be long legged and lean and not heavily set. It should stand between 71 and 86 cm tall at the withers and although weight should be proportionate to height, this should be in the region of 40 to 55 kilograms. There is usually a noticeable difference in appearance between males and females with females being significantly lighter with a smaller head.

The Akbash Dog should have a strong neck, which is reasonably long and appears arched, in addition to sometimes having a slight dewlap. The front legs should be muscular, and the shoulder blade and arm should be nearly the same in length and in proportion with the rest of the dog. The front legs should be perfectly straight. The breed should have a deep chest and strong back with a visible arch over the loin area, with a tuck up due the sighthound influence on the breed. The back legs should be deep and muscular, providing plenty of power and allowing relative agility for the size of the dog. The breed can have either ‘cat’ feet or ‘hare’ feet, both of which are permitted.

The head should have an overall wedge shape, with a broad, slightly domed skull and male dogs should have a larger head than female dogs. The muzzle should be reasonably broad and become narrower towards the end of the nose but should not be pointed. The Akbash Dog should have strong jaws and teeth with flat cheeks and a scissor bite. The breed should have wide set, almond shaped, medium-sized eyes with a kind, intelligent expression. Ears should be high set and hang flat to the skull in a V shape when at rest, with slightly rounded tips.

The Akbash Dog should move with an easy, elastic gait, appearing to use minimal energy. The back legs provide the drive to the gait and each stride should cover plenty of ground. The breed carries its head relatively low and level with the shoulders much of the time.

Character & Temperament

The Akbash Dog has an unusual mixture of character traits, and should be brave, calm, steady, gentle and affectionate, but is often wary of strangers. It is independent and observant and can be territorial. It is good with children, particularly those from its own family, but can be aggressive towards other dogs if not well socialised from a young age, a trait resulting from of its use as a guardian against predators. The breed does not tend to suffer from separation anxiety and makes an excellent guard dog, as it is watchful by nature and its size can be imposing.

Trainability

Photo of Akbash Dog puppy

The Akbash Dog has been bred to be independent, however, it is usually eager to please so normally picks up on basic training easily – particularly if undertaken consistently from a young age. That said, it often maintains an independent streak to its nature.

As with many other large breeds, the Akbash Dog can be slow to mature, not just physically but in terms of character too. When kept in a home environment as a companion, the Akbash Dog is usually easy to house train, especially when it has a consistent routine and access to areas, such as a garden or, alternatively, regular walks.

Health

The Akbash Dog usually lives to be around 10 to 11 years of age and because of its working background has relatively few inherited health problems, as breed development has been aimed at functionality rather than aesthetics. There is little information on inherited health problems in the breed but, as with many large breeds, they can be affected by Hip Dysplasia.

Hip dysplasia is a disease that can be influenced by both environmental and genetic factors. One or a combination of several developmental abnormalities of the hips can contribute to joint problems in older dogs. Dogs over a year old should have their hips x-rayed and these radiographs are then scored using criteria established by expert veterinarians forming part of the scheme. The lower the score assigned to a set of x-rays, the fewer the signs there are of dysplasia present. The maximum score for both hips is 106.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Akbash Dog needs about an hour of walking a day, however, it is important to remember its origins and that it was bred to be outdoors in wide open spaces, and can, therefore, become bored and destructive, developing repetitive behaviours if kept cooped up in a small area without sufficient exercise and mental stimulation. As much time as possible should be spent off the lead when out walking.

Grooming

The Akbash Dog can come in medium and long coated varieties. The medium coat length gives an overall racier appearance and the coat should lie flat with some feathering and extra hair around the neck. The long-coated variety often has wavy hair and larger amounts of hair around the neck, with feathering on the legs, as well as a denser undercoat.

In the summer, the breed loses its undercoat, and this means it can be prone to shedding heavily, particularly when it is undergoing a seasonal coat change. Although it can shed heavily, the Akbash Dog does not require any other grooming apart from regular brushing to prevent the coat becoming matted.

Famous Akbash Dogs

The Akbash Dog is one the national Turkish breeds, but other than this, there are no well-known examples in popular culture outside its country of origin.

Cross-Breeds

The Akbash Dog’s rarity means that there are no common cross breeds.

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