As far as we can tell, the Anatolian Shepherd was a fixture on the landscape of rural Turkey from the most ancient times. Its ancestors are not known for certain. It can undoubtedly be traced to various dogs of Mesopotamia, possibly including both sighthounds and mastiff-like hunting dogs. It may also have ancestors among the Tibetan Mastiffs and the Roman dogs of war.
Whatever its origin, the Anatolian Shepherd was a product of both environmental and human selection. It was the ultimate shepherd’s dog, a stalwart guardian of flocks of sheep, and this job frequently placed it in danger. It had to survive the vagaries of the weather and the attacks of wolves and bears. Furthermore, it had to hunt for its own food. On the other hand, the shepherds actively took a hand in shaping the breed. They expected their dogs to be absolutely trustworthy with the flocks, and they also insisted that the dogs mind their manners when traveling to a village for a sale of sheep. Any dogs with vicious tendencies were promptly culled.
For centuries there was little uniformity among the Turkish flock guardians. Each region had its own distinctive type. The creation of the standardized breed that we now think of as the Anatolian Shepherd came about due to the intervention of American exporters.
The first Anatolian Shepherd arrived in the United States in the 1950s as a gift from Turkey to the United States Department of Agriculture. This gift aroused a level of interest in the breed’s ability to guard livestock from coyotes and other predators, but did not create sufficient public awareness to firmly establish the dog in America.
An active breeding program did not come until the late 1960s, when Lieutenant Robert Ballard of California imported a pair of dogs, the breed having caught his eye while he was in Turkey. His efforts led to a greater appreciation of the Anatolian Shepherd across the country.
Further support came from universities and the government during the 1970s and 1980s, as researchers sought ways to protect livestock from predators without harming endangered animals. With the spread of information on livestock guardians, the Anatolian Shepherd earned itself a place on many farms and ranches. New imports of different types were mixed together, creating one uniform breed instead of many local variants.
Soon afterward, pet owners adopted the Anatolian Shepherd out of appreciation for its loyalty and ability as a household guardian. This rise in ownership prompted the American Kennel Club to recognize the breed in the Working Group on August 10, 1998. Despite the Anatolian Shepherd’s presence in the show ring, its breeders continue to emphasize its abilities as a guard dog, eliminating the rift between working and show bloodlines seen in so many other breeds.
There are several thousand Anatolian Shepherds in the United States today, making it the 88th most popular dog according to 2021 AKC statistics.
The Anatolian Shepherd prefers work to a life of leisure. However, he can channel his protective instincts into guarding his home and family. While most of these dogs are not exactly outgoing, a few can qualify as therapy dogs.
But the Anatolian Shepherd is definitely at his best when guarding livestock. Sheep are his traditional charges, although he can offer protection to anything from chickens to horses.
Finally, the Anatolian Shepherd is good at pulling carts and sleds.
The Anatolian Shepherd is a serious working dog. Even as a puppy, he spends relatively little time playing. He is thoroughly devoted to his family and is gentle with his own children, but prefers to keep a dignified reserve even with members of his household. While bold, he is also calm and steady. He is intelligent and capable of learning with extreme rapidity. However, he is rarely motivated to obey, being used to making his own decisions while on the job.
The gentleness of this giant extends strictly to members of his own family. The Anatolian Shepherd can be aggressive with animals he does not recognize as part of his flock, particularly other dogs. He can learn to accept another dog as part of his family, but only if the other dog is willing to take a submissive role. He is naturally suspicious of strange people. Guests and veterinarians should be formally introduced to him before any attempt to touch him is made. Even after introductions are made, the dog may block the movements of guests unless the owner is present as an escort. While the Anatolian Shepherd will not display aggression unless provoked, if teased or threatened, he will respond swiftly and surely.
The Anatolian Shepherd has a strong instinct to expand his territory, so he must be kept on a leash or in a fenced yard at all times when he is outdoors. A six-foot fence is necessary to keep him contained, and the bottom wire must be sunk into the ground far enough to discourage digging.
A working Anatolian Shepherd may appear at first glance to be lazily dozing in an elevated location. Do not be fooled—this dog is extremely vigilant. Nothing can escape his notice. Periodically he will patrol his boundaries, but mostly he waits and watches. On the edges of his territory is an invisible buffer zone. If anything appears within the buffer zone, or if he hears a strange sound at night, the Anatolian Shepherd will rise to his full height to reveal his imposing presence and give a few deep, commanding barks. If the intruder persists in going through the buffer zone and entering the dog’s territory, the Anatolian Shepherd will usually bark with increasing rapidity, then resort to menacing snarls. He will only attack if he feels it to be necessary. He cannot be trained to attack on command, nor can he be recalled from an attack if he feels that the situation calls for extreme measures.
In keeping with its low-maintenance past, the Anatolian Shepherd is a tough dog with few health problems. He matures slowly, reaching adulthood at four years of age, but he lives longer than most dogs of his size. All of his senses are particularly sharp. He does not suffer from bloat as frequently as other large dogs.
The only major health problems in this breed are:
- Ear infections.
- Injuries acquired in the line of duty.
- Sensitivity to anesthesia; risk of allergic reaction increases if dog is wearing a flea collar.
Although canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is not a common problem in this breed, breeding stock should still be tested to prevent CHD from gaining a foothold in the gene pool.
- No slobber.
- Little doggy odor.
- Minimal grooming requirements.
- Surprisingly low food requirements relative to size.
- Moderate exercise needs.
- Adaptability to extremes of both heat and cold.
- High risk of lawsuits.
- Size unsuitable for small homes and yards.
- Unsuitability for homes with dominant dogs.
- Ability as an escape artist.
- Digging tendencies.
- Night barking.
- Need for an assertive leader.
- Heavy shedding.