Anatolian Shepherd

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Anatolian Shepherd

There are few dogs that can match the Anatolian Shepherd’s commitment and ability as a guard dog, and it has the stature and physique to match this role. Its ancient history in its native Turkey involved protecting livestock from predatory humans and animals, including packs of wolves, and its innate courage and easily provoked aggression were therefore essential attributes. Although with firm leadership it can make a devoted and highly protective pet for adults and children alike, Anatolian Shepherd ownership is not to be taken lightly, for this is a strong-willed, powerful dog that is apt to see anyone outside the close family circle as a potential threat, and it will respond to such perceived threats in the way it, rather than its owner, deems appropriate.

Such a large working breed needs plenty of space in which to exercise, and ideally in which to run freely, but Anatolians are notoriously difficult to exercise in public spaces, and can certainly not be allowed off-lead anywhere there is a chance of running into other pets, as it will view anywhere it exercises as part of its territory, and may attack any unfamiliar dog it meets. These encounters tend to be rather one-sided affairs. Instead of exercising in the park, a large and very securely fenced garden is required to contain the dog and to protect passers-by or neighbours. The Anatolian Shepherd sheds heavily, to the point of this being a problem for some house-proud owners, but it does need to spend most of its time indoors in order to assimilate fully into the family. It can suffer from a number of health problems, which are described below, and it has an average life expectancy of 10 to 11 years.

About & History

The Anatolian Shepherd is closely associated with the eponymous region of Turkey, where its ancestors have been working with humans for at least the last 6000 years. Agricultural activity in the area has long been impacted by predators, most notably wolves, who could inflict serious losses on a small flock of sheep or goats over the course of a year. The Anatolian Shepherd was therefore developed to deter such predators, through its imposing size, but also its aggressive and territorial attitude to any intruders. It would live amongst the livestock night and day, and some shepherds would elect not to feed the dogs, keeping their wits sharp – and their tempers short, one would imagine – as they were forced to hunt small prey to survive. Even today, the local shepherds keep these dogs in large numbers, and assert that three Anatolian Shepherds are a match for a pack of wolves, and will kill several should the wolves be desperate enough to try to steal from under their noses.

The breed was introduced to the West in the 1930s, when several dogs were gifted by the Turkish government to their US counterparts, but breeding outside of Turkey only really took off in the 1970s. Since then, the Anatolian Shepherd has slowly gained in popularity, although it is likely to always remain a breed that appeals only to a small minority of people. Its close relative, the Kangal, is a similar dog in terms of both its appearance and temperament, but the two are recognised as clearly distinct entities in most parts of the world. A notable exception is Australia, where the Kennel Club decided in recent years to remove the Kangal from its books, instead registering both breeds under the Anatolian designation.

Appearance

Anatolian Shepherd Large Photo

The Anatolian Shepherd’s origins are reflected in every aspect of its appearance, as it not only had to be large and powerful enough to deal with its adversaries, it also had to adapt to the harsh extremes of the Turkish climate. It is a tall, imposing dog with a broad head and a slightly foreshortened muzzle. It has heavy, pendulous lips that cover a large set of teeth in a strong jaw. Given the large size of the skull, the eyes are relatively small, and golden brown in colour. The ears are in the shape of rounded triangles, and hang at the side of the face.

The Anatolian’s back and neck are powerful and Mastiff-like in their breadth; a slight dewlap provides redundant skin on the neck that is extremely useful in combat, as it allows the dog to turn on an attacker who might otherwise have immobilised it. The chest is deep, well-sprung, and long, and the abdomen is well tucked up. The breed has a long, thick tail that is raised to express alarm or aggression. Its limbs are strong and supple, without being overly bulky, and the dog has an even, long-reaching gait.

The coat quality is an important adaptation to climate, and so some variation is permitted by the breed standard. Whether short or moderately long, it is always very dense, particularly so around the neck and limbs. Any colour, or combination of colours, is considered acceptable. Males are usually between 74 and 81 cm tall and weigh 50 to 65 kg, while females are 71 to 79 cm in height, and weigh 40 to 55 kg.

Character & Temperament

The Anatolian Shepherd, first and foremost, sees itself as a protector, and it takes this role very seriously, being a thoughtful and alert character. Even at rest, it is always on the lookout for danger. It sees its owners as the flock it has been tasked with protecting, and will do its utmost to deter any intruders, human or canine, from its territory. Although it may be especially fond of children it has been reared with, even their young friends may be viewed with suspicion, and should never be allowed to approach the dog without supervision.

Anatolian Shepherds are independent thinkers, having evolved to work without direction. As such, and given their enormous bulk, they are not suitable for novice owners. Without sufficient direction, they will readily take on the leader’s role in the family, and although aggression towards family members is very unlikely, they can present a genuine danger to visitors to the home.

Trainability

This is a dog that lives to protect, rather than please its owners, and I think it is safe to predict we will never see an Anatolian Shepherd beating all-comers in an obedience championship. While it is vital that the owner remain an assertive and consistent influence on the dog, it is extremely difficult to deter an Anatolian from its instinctive guardian behaviours.

Health

Although the breed’s life expectancy of 10 to 11 years may seem modest, it is in fact quite respectable for a dog of this size. The most notable breed-specific health disorders affect the joints, and although tumours have been cited as the most common of cause of death for the Anatolian Shepherd, this is most likely simply an age-related phenomenon.

  • Demodicosis – This is one of the breeds that can exhibit a weakened immune response to commensal parasites that live within the hair follicles. These Demodex mites, when allowed to flourish, cause skin irritation, rashes, hair loss, and secondary infections, most often around the face and feet. Should this arise in puppyhood, it may often be cured by the administration of anti-parasitic medications; however, adult-onset demodicosis is more likely to require ongoing treatment.
  • Elbow dysplasia – Often passed on as a genetic defect, this growth deformity of the elbow joint causes lameness in affected dogs from as young as five months of age. If severe, this may eventually necessitate elbow replacement once the dog is fully grown.
  • Entropion – Deformation of the eyelid, allowing hairs from the outside of the eyelid to abrade the surface of the eye. As well as being extremely uncomfortable, this can lead to severe scarring or other permanent damage to the eye. Usually obvious from around six weeks of age as persistent ocular discharge and/or squinting.
  • Hip dysplasia – A largely inherited developmental defect of the hip joints, causing hindlimb lameness. Scoring programmes are available for breeding adults, and both hip and elbow scores should be available from reputable breeders as some reassurance that their pups are unlikely to be affected by either disorder.
  • Tumours – Listed as the leading cause of death for Anatolian Shepherds, many different types of tumours have been reported in the breed.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Anatolian Shepherd should be given at least an hour of exercise every day, but this needs to be conducted in a safe environment, preferably away from other dogs. Quiet woodland areas or private, fenced property are ideal settings, but these very large dogs should also be allowed access to a garden, and are certainly not suitable as apartment dwellers.

Grooming

Although this is not a dog that needs professional grooming, it does shed heavily, and should be brushed daily to remove the clumps of hair that tend to accumulate, especially in the spring and autumn. It is likely that the breed’s strong nails will not receive adequate wear during its daily exercise, and so these should be clipped as necessary, which is usually around once every four to six weeks. First introducing the nail clippers to the dog at a young age means the nail clipping process will be less stressful for all parties as the pup turns into a large, stubborn adult.

Famous Anatolian Shepherds

The breed has appeared on screen on several occasions, with Anatolian Shepherds playing prominent roles in the following:

  • Kate and Leopold
  • Cats & Dogs
  • Road Trip
  • Shooter

Cross-Breeds

Although it is not a common breed, the Anatolian Shepherd is used to produce several recognised cross-breeds:

  • Anatolian Pyrenees – Cross between an Anatolian Shepherd and a Pyrenean Mountain Dog
  • German Anatolian Shepherd – Cross between an Anatolian Shepherd and a German Shepherd
  • Plush Danois – Cross between an Anatolian Shepherd and a Great Dane

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