The Anatolian shepherd is known for its good looks and fierce loyalty. Learn more about this impressive (and impressively large) breed.
1. THEY COME FROM TURKEY.
The Anatolian shepherd hails from, not surprisingly, Central Anatolia in Turkey. Likely the mix of a mastiff and a sighthound, the stocky breed is both muscular and agile. Anatolia's climate can be harsh: summers are very dry, and winters are very cold. The Anatolian shepherd was bred especially to endure these extreme conditions. It’s believed that the dog first emerged roughly 6000 years ago. The dogs are still employed in Turkey by modern-day shepherds; there, they’re called Coban Kopegi, which translates to "Shepherd's Dog.”
2. SHEEP ARE IN GOOD HANDS WITH THEM AROUND.
Anatolian shepherds aren’t herders: The bulky dogs are mostly used to guard livestock from predators and poachers, and, thanks to their speed and large size, are generally successful. Often, shepherds will outfit their dogs in spiked collars to keep their throats safe during attacks.
3. THEY’RE VERY INDEPENDENT.
Anatolian shepherds are excellent at taking care of themselves and the people or animals around them. They were bred to be protectors, so they tend to “adopt” whomever they consider family. In the past, the dogs were left alone to live with flocks of sheep, which would become their responsibility. The independent canines needed very little help from humans and often weren't fed past puppyhood. As adults, they would survive on gophers and other small prey that they found and hunted themselves. Today, the dogs are still fiercely independent—which means they have a tendency to become defensive or possessive. Owners should make every effort to train their dogs early, before they get their own ideas about how things should be.
4. THEY SHUT DOWN A U.S. FEDERAL PROJECT.
Anatolian shepherds' popularity took off in America thanks to ranchers and working dog lovers in the 1950s, but the ones imported then weren’t the first of the breed to arrive. Two decades prior, a pair of Anatolian shepherds were provided to the U.S. government by the Turkish prime minister.
At the time, Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace was working on a federal project aimed at finding the world's best sheepdog. In the 1930s, synthetic clothing materials had yet to be invented, so wool was an extremely important commodity. Wallace hoped to hone in on the dog breed that would best protect the animals producing said commodity. Wallace mentioned his project to the Turkish Prime Minister during a White House dinner; the prime minister suggested he consider the Anatolian shepherd, and promised to send him a pair.
When the dogs arrived, however, the female was pregnant and sick with a parasite. After an enormous amount of trouble caring for the dog and helping her through labor, a litter of 12 healthy puppies were born—which quickly grew and ate the facility out of house and home. In the midst of the Great Depression, the government couldn't afford to keep the project going and the whole thing was shut down. The pack of giant shepherds was discreetly sold to a buyer from the Virgin Islands. After that, no one knows what happened to the 14 enormous dogs, but Wallace was glad for the whole thing to be over.
5. THEY'RE NOT THE ONLY TURKISH FLOCK DOG.
The Anatolian shepherd we know today is a distinct breed that was refined in the United States and Britain. In Turkey, there are three other distinct flock-guardians that look very similar, but have their own traits and ancestry. Each group is designated by its origin location: the Akbash, the Kangal, and the Kars. The Akbash is an all white dog with a curled fluffy tail from Western Turkey. The Kangal is a stocky breed with a curled tail from Sivas, Turkey. Finally, the Kars has a brownish coat and comes from Northeastern Turkey.
6. THEY’VE ENJOYED SOME SCREEN TIME.
These giant dogs are no Jack Russells, but they have managed to land some coveted roles. Butch, the leader in the movie Cats & Dogs, was played by an Anatolian shepherd. The breed was also seen in Friends With Benefits and Kate & Leopold. The 2014 Turkish movie Sivas centered on an Anatolian shepherd and its bond with a young boy. The foreign film was submitted as the Turkish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, but didn’t get the nomination.
7. THEY HELP KEEP CHEETAHS ALIVE.
In Namibia, cheetahs are considered a huge threat to area farmers. The powerful cats can quickly take out dozens of sheep at a time. Cheetahs are a protected species, but because they can endanger the food supply, shepherds are allowed to trap and kill the predators. In an effort to protect both the cheetahs and their prey, U.S. biologist Dr. Laurie Marker proposed bringing in Anatolian shepherds.
Since 1994 the Livestock Guarding Dog Program has been bringing dogs to Namibia and training them to protect sheep. Cheetahs are deathly afraid of the massive dogs, so they avoid areas patrolled by the canines, making it a win-win: the cats escape uninjured and the farmers get to keep their livestock. You might remember this story from the time a cheetah hopped up on David Letterman's desk on The Late Show.
8. THEY CAN GET (REALLY) BIG.
Great Danes are on average the tallest breed, so it makes sense that the tallest dog in the world was a Great Dane named Zeus, who was 44 inches tall from paws to withers. Lagging not far behind is Kurt the Anatolian shepherd who is 40 inches from paw to shoulder. Currently in the running for Britain’s biggest dog, the enormous animal weighs about 11 stone (154 pounds). His owner, Tracy Buckingham, spends about £100 a month on his diet of raw meat and bones.
9. THEY’RE HELPING OUT AT YELLOWSTONE.
Just like in Namibia, officials all over the world are using Anatolian shepherds to keep both predators and livestock safe. One new place adopting the method is Yellowstone National Park. Park officials are hoping that the protective dogs will keep people and predators—such as wolves and bears—separate and safe from harm. "We send these dogs to different countries around the world. They serve nature. Officials are highly satisfied by their skills," Muhammet Karakoyun, president of the Turkish Shepherd Dog Research, Production and Introduction Center, told Daily Sabah. "I am proud of them."