Before we continue with our quick survey of the most common LGD breeds here in North America, we need to recall a few very important points. As these dogs were developed over centuries to do this work, these breeds were landrace rather than standardized. This means that pedigrees were often informal and without an official registry. Landrace breeds often have a greater diversity of appearance because the conformation and appearance requirements of a show ring did not exist. Dogs and breeds also flowed back and forth over shifting political borders. Most of these breeds are now making the journey to standardized breeds - complete with breed clubs and registries - here as well as in their homelands. This is usually a tumultuous process. Breed owners and admirers are passionate and argumentative as a consensus is worked out. There is often disagreement between breeders in the home country and the new adoptive home. Breeds and names change in their new homes. As you begin to contact breeders in your search for the perfect LGD, be prepared to hear conflicting opinions and beliefs. While all of this can be fascinating and involving for some of us, you may just want to focus on finding the best breed for your needs and situation.
Finally, individual differences between dogs within the same breed can be significant. Please take these descriptions as generalizations. Take the time to learn more about these breeds before making your choice. Meet the dogs in person. Breeders and bred clubs can be wonderful sources of information and mentorship.
As early as the 17th century, the historian Evliya Celebi, explained that the Ottomans had two kinds of livestock guard dogs - karabas (black heads) and akbas (white heads). The white Akbash was generally found in the area of Ankara and towards the west. Imported by ranchers in the western states of the U.S., today the Akbash has a much stronger population here than in its native Turkey. Weighing 90 - 130 pounds, with females slighter smaller, the Akbash is a somewhat leaner dog and longer in the leg than its ancient counterpart, the Kangal Dog. The Akbash has a medium coat. The Akbash often shows some sighthound influence in appearance and speed. Quick to sound an alarm, the serious-minded, aloof and active Akbash has demonstrated success with tough ranch land predators. Some breeders will not sell their pups to folks in city or suburban situations, believing the breed’s personality is best suited to a working life.
Kangal Dog (Turkey)
Descended from the ancient karabas, the Kangal Dog differs from the Akbash in its larger and more heavy bone structure, weighing 110 - 150 pounds. The short coat is well-insulated enough for harsh winter weather but is also more adaptable to hot weather and is easier to care for than a long, thick coat.The black mask and mastiff appearance are a hallmark of the breed. The Kangal is noted for its solid temperament and gentle manner with children, pets, and livestock. The breed tends to be more people oriented and less standoffish than some other LGDs. These traits can make them somewhat more suited to life as a family or farm guardian, although the Kangal Dog is also known for its serious working abilities with large predators. Slow to mature, Kangal Dogs also work well with other dogs in a working LGD pack situations.
Anatolian Shepherd Dog (Turkey)
The Anatolian Shepherd Dog is one of the most numerous and popular LGDs in North America and is found hard at work in many settings, although it is not a recognized breed in Turkey. Early importers brought over a wide variety of landrace coban kopegi or shepherd’s dogs, including the karabas, the akbas, and other dogs. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog or ASD quickly proved itself to livestock producers and the population grew rapidly. The breed here in North America exhibits a wide variety of coat colors and types, generally weighing 110 - 150 pounds. Again, the shorter coats are useful in hotter climates and more remote working situations. Anatolians are alert guardians who make great use of intimidation to warn off predators. Just like all LGDs, an Anatolian pup requires socialization and training to be successful.
The Gampr belongs to the ovcharka group of the dogs found throughout the Transcaucasian area from eastern Turkey to Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran. The Gampr itself has long been described historically as a powerful and reliable LGD. He is a strong, muscular dog with a powerful head, generally weighing 110-120 pounds. The breed is diverse in appearance and the coat may be either short or long. The independent minded yet calm Gampr needs an experienced owner.
Caucasian Mountain Dog, Caucasian Ovcharka, or Caucasian Shepherd
Ovcharka is the Cyrillic word for “sheepdog” or “shepherd’s dog.” There is some rivalry among countries in the area as to the true home of the ovcharka. There are also different names for these dogs, as well as differences in type. Caucasian Mountain Dogs were primarily found in Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and nearby areas. Many CMDs were also taken into Russia for use as military and guard dogs. CMDs are powerfully built dogs with an imposing presence. They often have a distinctly bearlike appearance, weighing 100 - 150 pounds but somewhat shorter than some other LGDs. Well protected against harsh weather, they have a medium to long, heavy coat which requires grooming. CMDs are highly territorial, very distrustful of strangers, and react quickly when challenged. Many dogs are primarily one-person dogs, who may not bond well to other family members. Although well-bred CMDs can and do work as LGDs, be aware that some lines of this breed were bred to work as property guards or fighting dogs. This breed is most suited to very experienced owners who need an especially serious working dog in a non-urban environment.
Central Asian Shepherd or Central Asian Ovcharka
The central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgystan were the traditional homelands of nomadic peoples. The large dogs of this region were used as guardians of property, including caravans, livestock, and homes. Under Soviet rule, these guardians were also bred for sentry work. Today, dog fighting has become widespread in the area as well. Central Asian Shepherds have a massive and powerful appearance, with males weighing 120 - 145 pounds. The broad head has cropped ears and the coat is thick although variable in length. This breed is highly territorial and is most suited to work as a farm and family guardians in a well-fenced area with serious predator pressure. They are not particularly suited to working as remote guardians in large pastures, needing the regular companionship and guidance of their human owners. Seek out dogs from working farm situations, rather than kennels specializing in fighting dogs.
Tibetan Mastiff (Tibet)
Historically this group of large guard dogs were used throughout the Himalayas, by both nomadic herders and as guardians of homes in villages. In North America, the Tibetan Mastiff shows variation in size, type, and temperament. He projects power through his heavy bone, abundant coat, and serious expression. The American Tibetan Mastiff Association does not recommend that these dogs be used as full-time guardians or in unfenced areas. The breed needs continuous human interaction and socialization, therefore is better suited to living with the family as a general farm guardian.
In our next post, we will begin to discuss the selection of a good pup for a working situation.
Author of Livestock Guardians; Using Dogs, Donkeys and Llamas to Protect Your Herd;
The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds
Photos: Akbash Dog in California by Jerry Kirkhart; Ali Baba, Anatolian Shepherd Dog by Dbprell; Central Asian Shepherd Dog by kara-yulduz.com