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

The Kangal is a very large breed of dog that is employed in its native Turkey to defend livestock against predators such as wolves. Its protective instincts, strength, and courage make it a formidable guardian, and it is gaining popularity in homes around the world as a guard dog that can be integrated into the family. It is a strong-willed and independent breed, which, together with its size, means it is not a good choice for inexperienced dog owners. However, in the right hands, this is a calm and even-tempered dog, and one that enjoys the company of children, who it will view as its “flock”, and will defend to the death.

Similarities between the Kangal and the Anatolian Shepherd – another indigenous Turkish breed – have led to some confusion as to their classification. While the UK Kennel Club recognised the Kangal as a separate breed in 2013, the Australian Kennel Club has actually taken the reverse step, removing the Kangal from its register, and grouping the two breeds under the Anatolian Shepherd. This working breed needs a lot of exercise and plenty of space. They have a dense coat that is easy to care for, but they do shed quite heavily. The breed is hardy, suffers few health problems, and has a life expectancy of 11–13 years.

About & History

The breed’s name points to its origins in the Central Anatolian town of Kangal, in Turkey. The Kangal is classified as a molosser breed, meaning it is a part of the broad family that includes the English Mastiff, Rottweiler, and Boxer. Molossers were used by the peoples of Central Asia thousands of years ago for a wide range of jobs, including herding, guarding and haulage work, and accompanied their tribes as they migrated through the Near East and Europe. It is believed that these dogs were bred with indigenous Turkish dogs to produce the progenitors of the modern breed.

The Kangal is typically used to protect herds of sheep allowed to graze freely in the rugged mountainous terrain of its homeland, where wolves, bears, and other predators are plentiful. It is not a herding breed, but rather lives among its flock, who recognise the protection it offers. It usually works in pairs or teams, depending on the size of the flock, and occupies a vantage point that allows it a broad view of the livestock while they graze. On sighting a potential predator, the Kangal gives a characteristic howl, calling the sheep to gather behind it, before advancing to face the danger head-on. While most predators will retreat in the face of several dogs presenting a united front, the Kangal is capable of holding its own against a wolf, with some strains of the breed being bred specifically for this purpose.

Such is the courage and strength of the breed that it has gained a foothold in Africa, where farmers suffering losses because of predation by lions and other big cats have seen remarkable success in employing the Kangal to tackle these fearsome predators. The breed was first introduced to the United Kingdom in the 1960s, and did not make it to the United States until the 1980s. It remains relatively rare, although its recent admission to the Kennel Club breed register may raise awareness of, and demand for, this noble breed.


Kangal Large Photo

The Kangal is a very large dog with heavy muscling, though without the coarseness of a Mastiff breed. It is well proportioned, and bears some similarity in outline to a strong Collie – though the males and females differ quite significantly in their build. It has a large, broad head, with the front of the skull having a slight dome while the area between the ears is flat. The stop at the front of the forehead is quite pronounced, and the large tapering muzzle is approximately two-thirds the length of the crown. The heavy lips lend a square outline to the jaw, which unsurprisingly contains very large teeth. The nose is black, and the facial hair presents a clearly defined black mask that covers the muzzle and both eyes. The eyes themselves are oval-shaped and coloured to reflect the coat, usually a shade of golden-brown. The ears are set quite high on the head, and usually carried flat to the cheeks, unless the dog is alerted to a threat. They are dark in colour, to match the facial mask.

The neck is thick and strong, and may have a slight dewlap, redundant skin that allows the dog an advantage in battle by preventing it being immobilised. The back is well muscled but not excessively broad, sloping to the croup and the base of the tail, which usually hangs low and is held in a curl. The limbs are set wide apart due to the muscle mass in the thighs and upper forelimbs, with the lower limbs being straight and well boned. The chest is deep and has a good spring, reflecting the Kangal’s ample lung capacity, and the abdomen is quite well tucked.

The coat is extremely dense, with both primary and secondary hairs being closely packed and short. It is water-resistant, warm, and said to be so thick as to prevent predators from being able to bite through it. While a small white tip on the tail is permissible, the breed standards describe the Kangal as a whole-coloured dog, meaning that apart from the facial mask, it should be a solid colour elsewhere. By chance, brindle pups sometimes result from solid-coloured matings, but these are not admissible to the show ring. The accepted colours are:

  • Fawn
  • Cream
  • Dun
  • Steel grey

Males stand an impressive 74–81 cm (29–32 in) tall at the withers, while bitches range from 71 to 79 cm (28–31 in). Though the breed standard does not specify an ideal weight, males generally weigh approximately 62–80 kg (136–176 lb), and females 50–70 kg (110–154 lb).

Character & Temperament

A well-adjusted Kangal is a calm and even-tempered dog. Its role as a guardian requires it to be gentle and difficult to irritate, and so it is usually good with children and other pets. However, it must also be understood that it was never intended for molly-coddling, and owners must not make the mistake of being too lenient with such a large and powerful breed that has a strong independent streak.

If a Kangal senses a lack of confidence or assertiveness from the owner, it is likely to seek the role of alpha dog for itself, and will become difficult to manage. Being firm and consistent, even from puppyhood, will let the dog know that it must abide by the owner’s rules. Although great guard dogs, most Kangals will readily accept strangers once they are introduced, but socialisation (see below) is vital to avoid behavioural problems, such as territorial aggression.


Photo of Kangal puppy
Birhanb / Wikipedia.org

The breed can be stubborn in training, and requires a patient trainer to achieve results. It can be helpful to break training into several short sessions throughout the day, as even with the best will in the world, most dogs will lose interest in the lesson, however stimulating, after around five minutes. Socialisation is of paramount importance from a young age, and anyone acquiring a Kangal should make it a priority to either enrol in a puppy socialisation class or to have family and friends call over regularly to meet and play with the new pup.

In adolescence, it is normal for most dogs to push the boundaries through boisterous or mock-aggressive behaviour, and at times like this, the Kangal’s owner must be quick to assert themselves and correct their rebellious teenager. Failure to do so can lead to significant problems in handling and controlling an adult dog of this size.


The Kangal is a very healthy breed, with very few recognised predispositions to disease or genetic disorders.


Deformities of the eyelids, resulting in inward scrolling of the outer lid, are most commonly congenital, but can also be acquired as a result of chronic eye irritation. This scrolling allows hairs to rub on the surface of the affected eye and to cause extreme discomfort and inflammation. Kangal pups that are seen to squint or to have excessive tearing from one or both eyes should be examined for this problem.

While correction is usually straightforward, requiring surgery to remove an ellipse of tissue from the offending lid, it should not be conducted in growing dogs. This is because the shape of the eyelids, and even position of the skin on the face, alters as the dog grows, and early surgical repair runs a high risk of failure, potentially making the problem worse. Puppies may have temporary tacking sutures placed, which correct the position of the lid, but can be removed and replaced as required.

Hip Dysplasia

This is a very common cause of hindlimb lameness, especially in large breed dogs. Dysplasia describes abnormal development, and in this case refers to the abnormal growth of the many cartilage plates surrounding the hip joints in growing pups. This results in incongruity within the ball-and-socket joint, and causes pain and stiffness. Symptoms can be first noticed in dogs as young as five months, and are often most obvious first thing in the morning, after a period of rest. Diagnosis requires x-ray examination, and treatment typically involves the use of anti-inflammatory medications or supplements to improve joint health.

In severe cases, total hip replacement can be considered. Genetics play a major role in the prevalence of hip dysplasia, and anyone considering the purchase of a Kangal pup can minimise the chances of encountering this problem by insisting on seeing hip scores for both parents. These scores offer a way of measuring the health of the parents’ hip joints, and are invaluable in reducing the incidence of this debilitating disorder.


The breed is prone to developing benign fatty lumps, which typically arise in the subcutaneous tissues overlying the chest and abdomen. These are generally harmless, though they can grow to enormous proportions – my current record is a 7.4 kg tumour that I removed several years ago from the chest of an English Springer Spaniel.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Though the Kangal can cope with a relatively sedentary lifestyle, it is a far happier and healthier dog if given the opportunity to stretch its legs for several hours during the day. It does not need much vigorous exercise, and will be content with lead walking for the most part. To fulfil their instinct to protect their flock and grazing pastures, they also really need a large garden to patrol. Their calm temperament means they are not too much of a handful around the house.


As befits a breed intended to live on a mountainside, the Kangal’s coat is very easy to care for, although because it is so dense and sheds quite heavily, twice weekly brushing is of benefit to prevent massive hairballs being deposited on furniture and carpets. Washing is very rarely required.

The breed’s thick nails may need to be clipped as often as every eight weeks, depending on the surfaces the dog is exposed to, and this routine, along with daily tooth brushing, should be introduced to every Kangal from a young age. Doing so ensure that they accept these interventions as a fact of life, rather than becoming stressed and oppositional when the need for a nail clip arises.

Famous Kangals

While no individual Kangal has gained fame and celebrity, the breed is celebrated as the national dog of Turkey, and is revered for its strength and bravery.


As though the breed was not fearsome enough in its own right, some enthusiasts have experimented with crossing the Kangal with Pit Bull Terriers and even wolves, which, I fear, can only end badly for the handlers!

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