|Meet the Anatolian Shepherd
by Jennifer Floyd
| Walking through the crisp dawn, the heavy farm gate looms in the
dim light. The first rays of the sun sparkle over the heavy frost blanketing the
field. As I open the gate, pushing my wheelbarrow full of feed, two big furry
shapes gallop up, exhaling smoke-like plumes, ice crystals spiking their thick
fur ruffs and forming a white blanket over their backs; this phenomenon is more
visible in the smaller liver masked roan bitch, Yildiz, while her companion, the
huge, solid white male, Sim, merely glistens a bit.
| Both of them are Anatolian Shepherds, a breed of dog that
originated in that region of Turkey referred to as the Anatolian Plateau; their
ancestors kept wolves and other predators from devouring the herds of sheep and
goats which were entrusted to their care. Today, many farms and ranches in the
USA and around the world continue to use these dogs for their ancestral purpose;
Anatolians are even used in Namibia as a part of the cheetah conservation
program. By protecting the farmerís livestock from predators, there is not the
overwhelming need to shoot those predators, in order to make a living. This
breed is recognized by the FCI, and in the United States, by AKC and UKC.
| Sim and Yildiz are partners, protecting a small flock of
Shetland sheep, and a larger flock of rare breed exhibition poultry, in the
rugged hills of San Diegoís East county. This region is still quite rural, and
boasts a diverse population of predators, ranging from the ever-present coyote
packs, to raccoons, bobcats, and the occasional cougar. By using flock guardian
dogs, my animals are kept safe, and the biodiversity of the region is left
untouched. While having snug dog houses thickly bedded with grass hay, Sim and
Yildiz prefer to bed down immediately next to their flocks, ready to sound an
alarm at any unusual movement or sound.
|Sim and Yildiz on a "look-out" rock - sheep
shed in background.
| They are actually larger than the sheep they guard;
Sim, at 145
pounds, outweighs the rams by 25 pounds, and Yildiz is, at 100 pounds, 20 pounds
heavier than the individual ewes. Newborn lambs tip the scales at around 4
pounds, so are very vulnerable to predators - during lambing season, both dogs
stick to the flock as though magnetically attached. Otherwise, the dogs are
likely to be found at the top of the huge granite boulders scattered around the
pasture, watching over their territory, or making frequent forays along the
fence line. Anatolians can travel in bursts of speed, over 35 miles per hour,
but are sprinters, and prefer to spend much of their time looking inconspicuous.
They are helped in this by the variety of colors found in the breed, ranging
from the most common, black masked fawn, through white, pinto, brindle, and
other colors, such as liver masked fawn, which allows them to blend into many
types of terrain.
| Despite the fact that both of them are altered, which allows
them to concentrate on their job, the fact that they are an opposite sex pair is
not an accident. This breed is typically same-sex aggressive, and gets along
best in households where they do not have to share territory with dogs of the
same gender. With proper socialization, Anatolian Shepherds can be quite
well-mannered in public, though. In fact, Sim is now on his second career - he
is also an ARBA champion, with a Canine Good Citizen certificate, an American
Temperament Test Society certificate, and a novice obedience leg to his credit.
He was bored with the life of a house dog, and has settled happily into his new
role. His partner, Yildiz, is his sisterís daughter, and was raised with the
sheep from puppyhood - she tends to regard herself as a member of the flock,
while Sim views the sheep more as his property. She is the swift one, and Sim is
the muscle to help back up her warnings.
While Anatolian Shepherds can be versatile dogs, and be
successful in a variety of situations, they are not for the meek, or the novice
dog owner. They are big, dominant, serious dogs, requiring a handler that knows
how to both lead and persuade, and who is willing to commit to the time it takes
to train these dogs properly, and to allow for the kind of lifestyle that can
include them. Without fences, Anatolians will not stay put, within fences, they
are prone to digging and rearranging the landscape; one of Simís brothers,
while growing up in his new home, peeled the ornamental stripping off of his
ownerís brand-new van. Most will not tolerate strangers coming and going in
their houses; "strangers" are anyone whom they have not grown up
seeing frequently, or is not a member of the family. They also, being double
coated, tend to shed profusely. With this in mind, some creative minded, patient
people have trained Anatolians to be service dogs, have titled them in tracking
and obedience, and have done carting, agility and other activities with them. In
the role of companion animal, the dog that will allow lambs or kids to climb
over them, will regard the attentions of children with much the same sort of
tolerance. These dogs regard their family to be their "flock", and
will tend to lie around the house, keeping an eye on them; if not kept involved
with their human flock, they may be prone to destructive behavior and excessive
| After licking up the last scraps of their breakfast kibble, Sim
and Yildiz nuzzle my pockets hopefully, checking for biscuits. They follow me up
the hill, headed for the barn, and the sheep, whose plaintive "baahing"
tells us to hurry up. They trot off ahead, circling the field one more time, in
a timeless moment that could be anywhere, anywhen, and is repeated in many
places - the flock guardian dogs and their ancient calling.