What Breed is That?

Turkish Kangal Dogs
By Sue Kocher
Originally published in UKC Bloodlines, March-April 1998

Guardians of Distinction

Every native Turkish person has grown up hearing about and admiring Kangal Dogs, but they have been little known outside Turkey. Their homeland is the rugged and historically-isolated east-central steppes. There they have been bred through the ages not according to any written pedigree, but by a standard of consensus, as befits the oral tradition of the people there. The villagers focused on working ability, and over generations a distinctive structure, color, coat, and temperament emerged.

These are giant dogs of mastiff ancestry, but without the head wrinkles, barrel chest, or shortened nose of today's mastiff breeds. Males mature to a height of 30-34 inches and 110-140 lbs; females are generally somewhat smaller, 28-31 inches, and 90-120 lbs. They are powerful and well-muscled dogs, but capable of running with speed and agility--which they must be able to do in their role as flock protectors. Kangal Dogs are distinctive, with black mask and ears, and a body color ranging from pale fawn to gray dun, depending on the number of black guard hairs in the coat, especially about the head. This coloration is often called "boz" (dun) or "karabash," which means "black head" in Turkish. The dogs have a short, dense double coat that protects them in the harsh winters and blistering summers of their native region, and the undercoat is often a soft gray. They may have white feet and a chest blaze; Kangal Dogs are never pinto, white, or brindle.

The Kangal Dog gets its name from the town of Kangal, in Sivas province, which is the "epicenter" of the Kangal Dog historically and today. Here, and throughout the region, one can still find thousands of purebred Kangal Dogs guarding their flocks and villages as they have done for millennia. There is probably no other indigenous breed in the world today with the amazing uniformity of type as the Turkish Kangal Dog, or that exists in such large numbers in its native land. They constitute a treasure to be respected and preserved. They are in fact considered national treasures in Turkey, and it is forbidden to export them without official permission and paperwork. The Turkish government has breeding facilities in Kangal, and at several military bases. However, most Kangal Dogs are still proudly bred by villagers; the best are kept for themselves, and for close family and friends.

Male or female, the Kangal Dog is quite capable of running down and killing a wolf (the main predator in the mountains of Turkey), but will generally be satisfied to chase it away and return to the flock. In the Turkish village, or American suburbs, they maintain their territoriality. Their deep bark warns of anything suspicious on their home turf, and they will certainly present a challenge to intruders if they sense malicious intent.

Training and Companionship

Kangal Dogs possess the classic livestock guardian temperament, and yet are quite people-oriented compared with other LGD breeds. They are highly intelligent, learn quickly, and judge potential threats wisely. Possessed of a strong maternal instinct, they will bond with whomever they spend most of their time, either the family or the livestock. They are gentle with children and pets, and they've been known to suckle lambs. However, they require careful training, as they are amazingly sensitive to criticism; strong negative correction tends to result in "shut down" and sulking. They are also very independent, like all LGDs, and thus less enthusiastic about performing tricks and obedience routines than your average sheltie. Nevertheless, they respond well to training with patience and an “alpha attitude” on the part of the owner.

Here in the U.S., Kangal Dogs have a promising future as effective guardians of flock and family. Kangal Dogs are being used with great success to guard livestock from goats to deer to emu, on small hobby farms and large range operations. Kangal Dogs provide an eco-friendly means of controlling predators including wolves, cougars, bears, and feral dogs, without resorting to poison, shooting or traps. And they provide calm, intelligent family companions and protectors as well, without the "quick trigger" of some protection breeds.

Our club is very pleased to have achieved recognition through the UKC; our joint goal is to maintain breed purity and solid working temperament through club-supervised registration and progeny testing of imports. In addition to their superlative guardian work, our dogs are being trained in obedience, agility, and therapy work. In 1999, we will begin showing in breed competition. With UKC recognition, we can now look forward to greater opportunities to enjoy many more such activities with our dogs.

Members of the Kangal Dog Club of America constitute a growing group of enthusiasts who love our Kangal Dogs dearly, and who are are pleased to be doing our part to preserve this ancient and wonderful livestock guardian breed.