Anatolian Shepherd Dog: Guardian of the Livestock

Anatolian Shepherd Dog: Guardian of the Livestock

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By Stephenie Slayhor, Ph.D. – Need a good guardian for livestock? You might consider the Anatolian Shepherd dog. The breed originated in the Anatolia area of the nation of Turkey, hence the name, and is still used in Turkey’s and western Asia’s rural areas as a defender of livestock. Known in Turkey as “Çoban Köpeği” (which translates to “shepherd’s dog,”) the breed is not a herding dog but a guardian to tend and defend the livestock. 

The Anatolian Shepherd breed is among some of the oldest known domesticated dog bloodlines, going back perhaps to the Bronze Age of 6,000 years ago. The Bible’s Book of Job mentions dogs among the flocks. The “classic” Anatolian has a fawn coat that can be either short or rough, a curled tail, a black muzzle mask, and a massive head. (Other body colors can also occur including white, pinto, and brindle.) The breed is strong and vigorous, nearly fearless in personality, and excels in intelligence and memory capacity. 

Anatolians have superb vision and hearing and are rugged, yet speedy. They are friendly to non-aggressive species of animals. They can reach a running gait of 35 mph — an ability that helps them guard livestock or chase off predators, including bears, wolves, coyotes, jackals, mountain lions, and other large predators. 

A recent program of the Cheetah Conservation Project in Namibia, Africa is enhancing the odds of the preservation of the cheetah species — Africa’s most endangered big cat. Cheetahs are threatened by loss of habitat, illegal trade, and direct attacks from farmers and herders. To improve co-existence between humans and the cheetahs, a Livestock Guarding Program has been initiated to protect herds from depredation by cheetahs and other predators. Anatolian Shepherd dogs are placed with Namibian farmers to guard the flocks, and the program has been successful in greatly reducing livestock loss.    

Anatolian Shepherds can cope with a wide range of temperatures, from cold winters to hot, arid summers. The breed made its appearance in America in the 1950s but gained notice in the 1970s when the nation’s Endangered Species Act went into effect and ranchers and shepherds needed dogs who could control or run off predators rather than kill the predators. The first active breeding program came in the 1960s when Lt. Robert C. Ballard, USN, was stationed in Turkey where he gained familiarity with the breed. Upon returning to America, Ballard and his family lived in El Cajon, California, and imported “Zorba” and “Peki” who produced the first recorded litter of Anatolians in the U.S. In 1970, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog Club of America was founded. Over 5,000 Anatolian Shepherds have been registered in the U.S. since 1970. 

Because of the breed’s massive body, its mere presence often deters predators. Standing guard at the flock may be all that is needed, but if a threat must be posed, the Anatolian will issue a bark that, at first, sounds low like a throat clearing, but which can escalate to a no-nonsense dire warning bark. After all, barking is the language of dogs.

Someday, we’ll be out there, too, guarding and tending, say these Anatolian Shepherd pups. Photo courtesy Diane Martinez, ASDCA.

Anatolians mature at about age 18 to 30 months and usually live to about age 11 to 14. Their height is about 27 to 34 inches at the shoulder and they weigh in at about 90 to 150 pounds. Their look is one of ruggedness, endurance, and agility. Yet they are calm unless challenged. Their shape is rather rectangular but in direct proportion to their height. Their eyes are almond-shaped and range from dark brown to light amber in color. Their ears drop to the side. The nose and flews (hanging lips) are solid black or brown. Anatolians have more skin and fur at their slightly arched necks, with the result of a ruff-like look akin to a short mane. When relaxed, they carry their tail low with the end curled upward, but when alert, the tail is carried high with the end of the tail creating a “circle” or “wheel.”   

A mix of animals in a corral is no problem for a guardian Anatolian Shepherd. Photo courtesy Diane Martinez, ASDCA.

Anatolians can be family pets when their strong leader owners raise the dog from puppyhood with proper and consistent socialization. Love and attention are the results of the Anatolians’ necessary obedience training. They have a curious and endearing habit of “leaning” into a person that they totally accept. They are very loyal but are not “pets” in the sense most people associate with family dogs. The breed’s protective reactions are its hallmark. Being large dogs, they do eat a healthy portion, but conservatively, and favor lamb and rice diets and low protein foods. Standard care of the coat, eyes, ears, and nails is sufficient and, despite the large head and mouth, drooling is not a characteristic.  

Want to learn more? Check www.akc.org/dog-breeds/anatolian-shepherd-dog for the American Kennel Club’s information and the marketplace of breeders of Anatolians. Also, log on to the Anatolian Shepherd Dog Club of America at www.asdca.org. It, too, lists breeders and rescue groups, show information for upcoming events with Anatolians, and much factual information about the breed. 

Originally published in Countryside September/October 2021 and regularly vetted for accuracy. 

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