The Akbash Dog is still a relatively rare and unusual breed, even in its homeland of Turkey. This huge pure white herding and flock guardian dog is unique in many aspects including his or her loyalty to the flock and the bonding that occurs between this dog and the animals it protects. To understand the full importance of the breed it is first essential to understand a bit about the history of the dogs, as well as the recent interest in reviving and protecting this amazing animal.
The Akbash Dog can trace its early origins back almost 3000 years to the rugged mountainous terrain of Turkey. They were bred to be large, athletic and independent, capable of some herding and but more specifically for caring for flocks of sheep and goats as they grazed, moved and rested. Keep in mind that these dogs had to not only keep the sheep all together, but they also had to prevent attacks to the herds. Unlike some breeds that are trained to actually herd and move the livestock on command, the Akbash Dog was bred specifically as a flock guardian and protector. These dogs soon earned the respect of farmers, as they were quick to attack wolves, bears and strangers that attempted to kill, harm or carry off any of the sheep within the herd.
The Akbash Dog became so loyal to the flocks that it guarded that it could walk among the sheep without causing any anxiety amidst the herd, but would fight literally to the death to protect a small lamb should a predator attempt to harm the animal. These dogs, weighing up to 100 pounds for females and 130 pounds for males were formidable fighters and could turn their gentle herding demeanor into instant aggression whenever needed. Typically when not having to protect the flock they simply watch calmly over their charges, sitting in a strategic location to keep a watchful eye on the animals.
The name Akbash actually comes from the Turkish word for "white head". This is particularly applicable since these dogs are pure white, with shorter to longer length coarse hair that can be straight to wavy. They have a wide head, similar in appearance to a Great Pyrenees, although the two breeds are very different. The Akbash Dog is lighter of frame, more like a greyhound in body shape than the stockier, heavier Great Pyrenees. In fact the ancestory of the breed is that of a gazehound or sight hound and a Mastiff type breed that was found within the area thousands of years ago. They are long and lean with well-formed solid legs, a highly intelligent face and a somewhat aloof and independent personality.
This personality trait as well as their natural athletic ability and the roaming traits that served this breed so well as a flock guardian were somewhat directly the result of the decline in numbers. Modern farmers now have fences and there are far less wolves and bears within most of the sheep and goat grazing ranges, even in Turkey where the breed is from. Unfortunately for the dogs the breed does not adjust well to living in the city, nor are they considered the best option as a companion dog. This is not to say they cannot be outstanding pets, it is simply that their natural personality of being independent and highly protective requires an owner that understands the breed and temperament of a working dog. They need to be challenged and can become difficult to work with if they are treated incorrectly.
While they do love to be with people, this is not an easy breed to socialize and they can be difficult to train to specific obedience tasks. Often they make the family become the flock, and they tend to be very protective of younger children. Again, this is a wonderful trait but one that can be challenging to owners that are unaware of the nature of these dogs. In addition these dogs are known to be very protective of their own area and while not necessarily aggressive they do patrol their yard and bark if they feel the area is being threatened.
The first Akbash Dogs were not imported to the United States until 1978. Judith Nelson and her family first encountered these dogs in their working environment in Turkey and decided to start the necessary applications to bring an expecting female to the United States. There is another native dog breed to Turkey, known as the Kangal Dog, which is considered the National Dog of the country. Because of its status the Kangal dog, that is also a flock guardian type, is restricted from export and is bred through specific government sanctioned breeding programs. The same was not true for the Akbash Dog, so the exporting of the female, Cybele White Bird, was relatively uncomplicated.
The great news of the breed is that the importation and subsequent training of this first litter of puppies dovetailed with the United States Department of Agriculture's incentives to use flock guardians on the still wide and open western grazing ranges. Killing predator animals was not effective, plus it was damaging the natural ecosystem. With the trials using several different flock guardians the Akbash Dog came out as one of the three breeds recommended by the USDA as a guardian in these rugged, western grazing reserves.
There are several registered breeders of the Akbash Dog now located in the United States and Canada. These breeders typically are very selective as to owners they sell to simply because of the very nature and athletic needs of the breed. Generally they select rural or semi-rural settings with someone that is familiar with working with the more independent and intelligent types of herding breeds. Since they are very calm and have a low activity level when kenneled or kept indoors, they are not recommended for apartment living or for a home with a small yard.
The typical American Akbash Dog is still used for its traditional role as a flock guardian. They can be effective in protecting flocks of sheep or goats, horses, cattle or even poultry and exotic species such as llamas and ostriches. Now totaling over 2000 in number, the Akbash Dog is well on the way to establishing itself as one of the premiere flock guarding breeds in the United States.
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