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Ancient History

Quite how the modern population of large guardian dogs in Anatolia develope is a matter for conjecture and has formed the basis of at least one researchproject (reported by Professor Karadag of Van University at the First International Symposium of the Kangal Dog in 2003). The proximity of Asiatic Turkey to the ancient territories of Babylon, Assyria and Mesopotamia has led researcher to look for links to these ancient civilizations, from which a great deal of archaeological material survives. Among the remains are sculptures depicting dogs that bear some resemblance to the Kangals of modern-day Turkey, for example, those accompanying the hunting-parties of the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal (668–627 BCE).

A large, powerful breed of ‘Indian Hound’ is described in the writings of Herodotus (485–425 BCE) as being kept by the Babylonians. It seems likely that there is some common ground between the Turkish dogs and those from adjacent countries of the Middle East. However, given the lack of evidence in modern-day Syria and Iraq of any cousins resembling the Kangal Dog, current thinking tends to favour the theory that the forebears of the Kangal Dog migrated from central Asia.

Over the centuries Turkey has been occupied or invaded by various civilizations, each of which it can be surmised will have introduced its own domestic animals into the melting-pot. In the eleventh century Turkic tribes fleeing from Gengiz Khan swept into Anatolia, bringing with them their sheep and, presumably, the means of guarding them. Dogs of similar type to the Turkish shepherd dogs can be found in rural communities along this route today. Linguistic connections have been made between the present-day name Kangal and some of these early clans.

The earliest reliable account we have of shepherd dogs being bred selectively comes from the seventeenth-century writer and historian Evliya Çelebi. In his Seyahatname (Book of Travels) he describes the ceremonial parades of the Janissaries, an elite Ottoman force, in which guarding-dogs were displayed in full regalia by their keepers. The shepherds who formed part of this parade:

… lead in double or triple chains large dogs, the size of asses, and as fierce as lions, from the shores of Africa, the names of which are Palo, Matchko, Alabash, Salbash, Turaman, Karaman, Komran, Sarhan, An, Zerkeh, Wejan, Yartan, Wardiha, Geldiha, Karabash, Alabarish, and Boreh. These dogs are covered with rich cloths, silver collars, and neck-rings, and a circle of iron points round the neck. Some of them are clad all in armour. They assail not only wolves, which enter the stables and folds, but would even attack dragons and rush into fire. The shepherds watch with great care the purity of the breed. They give for a leap from such a dog one sheep and for a samsun or shepherd’s dog of the true breed, five hundred sheep. These dogs are descended from the shepherd’s dog which went into the cave in company with the Seven Sleepers. They chase the eagle in the air, the crocodile in the rivers, and are an excellent breed of well-trained dogs.

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Establishing the breed outside Turkey

It is known that a few Turkish dogs were brought to the West before any attempt was made to recognize a breed officially; for example, a Mr Buckland is reported to have imported an impressive dog called Arslan into England in the early 1900s.

In 1961 Charmian Biernoff (later Steele) was introduced to the sheep-guarding dogs of Anatolia while a student of archaeology travelling in Turkey. She had already studied Assyrian and Babylonian sculptures and remarked on the similarities between the dogs they depicted and the distinctive working dogs around Konya. This kindled an interest that led, after some years of working in Turkey, to her return to England in 1965 with a pair of ‘Anatolian (Karabash) Dogs’ as they were later to become registered at the Kennel Club. This particular form of words was chosen deliberately in the knowledge that there was more than one breed of working dog in Anatolia and that others could follow. ‘Karabash’, meaning ‘black head’, was the popular name for these big fawn-coloured dogs, although Dr Steele acknowledged that:

In the Ankara Zoo, where good examples of the breed have been bred for many years it is known as the Kangal-Sivas shepherd’s dog (as so many of the best examples from which the Zoo has been breeding have come from that area).
Source: Our Dogs, 23 February 1984

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UK imports

Gazi of Bakirtolloköyü and his mate Sabahat of Hayirogluköyü produced Britain’s first litter in 1967 under Dr Steele’s ‘Konya’ affix. Dogs from this original line formed the foundation of Mr and Mrs Broadhead’s ‘Seacop’ stock.

Of necessity, the first Seacop litters were closely line bred, but in 1973 Dr Withof-Keus imported two males, Capar and Haki, from Ankara Zoo as the basis for her ‘Anadol’ breeding, having acquired an imported bitch, Korumak Tyana, from Mr and Mrs Aston, and Capar later moved to Seacop as an important outcross.

Mrs Betty Marshall, a breeder of German Shepherd Dogs under the ‘Marchael’ affix, acquired three siblings born in quarantine in 1973 from Turkish parents exported by an American breeder, Mr Burnap. The male, Fena, was used at stud at Anadol kennel and progeny of the Marchael dogs became foundation stock at Mr and Mrs Emmett’s ‘Kurtkir’ and Mr and Mrs Reed’s ‘Kamish’ kennels, both later to become prolific producers. Later importations were made by Mr and Mrs Mellor and litters followed under their ‘Masallah’ and ‘Kangalköpegi’ affixes.

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Beginnings in other countries

Kangal dogs have become established as working dogs in the USA, Australia, New Zealand and southern Africa, where they are able to function in much the same role as they have in their homeland. After some initial false starts in successfully bonding the dogs to their flocks, farmers have become experienced in the use of livestock guardians and have made significant reductions in losses of sheep and goats to coyotes, dingoes, feral dogs and rustlers. The first Kangal Dog was imported into the USA by Mr and Mrs Nelson in 1985 and the breed is supported by an active and dedicated breed society, the Kangal Dog Club of America. The Livestock Guard Dog Association and Oregon State University, USA, have carried out extensive comparative trials and published the results of their research, using Turkish dogs and shepherd dogs from other parts of Europe. However, in attempting to breed an all-purpose livestock guardian, this programme has crossed the various breeds, a policy which has not been welcomed by the breed societies.

At the same time, the dogs have found little difficulty in adjusting to a more domestic setting in other European countries where, given sufficient space and understanding, they are content to devote themselves to family and property. They have become particularly well established in Germany and Holland as a result of Turkish guest-workers bringing their dogs with them and forming a network of owners. Unfortunately, suitable conditions have not always been provided for these dogs and they have fallen foul of anti-dog legislation in some German states.

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A protected breed

In recent years Turkey has become aware of the need to protect not only certain native species of wildlife but its domestic animals, among them the Kangal Dog.

With the explosion of interest in the breed during the 1980s, when a number of dogs were exported to American researchers and European breeders, the Kangal suddenly became a fashionable acquisition for affluent Turks, most of them city dwellers in the western towns. Government officials had the authority to commandeer dogs from the Sivas area for their own purposes. The Army decided to train the breed for work already being done by German Shepherd Dogs and Dobermanns, only to discover after several years and numerous failures that this breed, whichinstinctively works on its own initiative and has a quite different character from other ‘sharper’ breeds, was not a good candidate for obedience. Horror stories of whole lorryloads of Kangal Dogs being shipped like livestock out of central Anatolia are, sadly, well founded. Numbers declined alarmingly, exacerbated by the arrival of parvovirus, which swept through the area.

Eventually, many dogs were turned out on to the streets or abandoned outside cities when their owners could no longer cope with a full-size, headstrong,often confused Kangal Dog in a confined space. Today the dog is still a status symbol, but thankfully the initial mania has subsided.

Today the Kangal Dog is protected by the Turkish government as part of the national heritage. The export of Kangal Dogs to non-Turkish nationals is now illegal. Government-controlled breeding centres have been established at Kangal town and Ulas, where every dog’s breeding, development and health record are charted, whether the animal is kept at the centres or based in a village and used for work. Pedigrees are recorded, and certificates of origin issued to owners of genuine Kangal Dogs.

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A number of universities have embarked on studies of the breed, notably Seljuk University in Konya, which has its own breeding programme and held an International Symposium on Turkish Shepherd Dogs in October 1996, and more recently the University of Uludag in Bursa, already well known for its work on the rescue and rehabilitation of bears that have been exploited for entertainment. The Kangal Dog Breeding and Research Centre has been established in association with Sivas Cumhuriyet University to study the breed. This University, The Governorship of Sivas province and the governorship of Kangal District have to date jointly hosted two international symposia specifically on the subject of the Kangal Dog.

Important studies into the genetics of the Kangal and other types of Turkish shepherd dog have been conducted by Dr Evren Koban’s team at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. Download a PDF of the study here.

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