Monday, February 19, 2007

History of the Kangal Dog

Beyond Kayadibi the country dogs were the largest and most savage of any I had met. In build they were like Newfoundlands, but larger, with black head or muzzle, yellow body, and long curling tail. From nearly every flock that fed within a half-mile of the road a dog would presently detach itself and come lumbering across country to the attack.” (Childs, W.J. Across Asia Minor on Foot. London, 1917)
Childs was certainly not a dog-lover but he accurately described the native Kangal Dogs he met along the old Silk Road, outside of Sivas in Turkey. Sheepherding as been the way of life here for hundreds of years and references to “great yellow dogs with black faces” go back to the 14th century. The principal predator is the wolf but other predators include feral dogs, mountain cats, foxes, jackals, and wild boar.
In Turkey, the Kangal Kopegi has been declared both the National Dog of Turkey and a National Treasure, celebrated at an annual Kangal Dog Festival, and regular Kangal Dog Symposiums. The Kangal Dog is conserved at various Turkish military and university facilities including two breeding centers in Sivas. It is technically illegal for non-nationals to export Kangals from the province. In addition, the United Nations has funded small grants for projects that demonstrate and encourage the use of Kangal Dogs in conservation efforts to protect wildlife.
Historically, the Kangal Dog has at times been referred to as Karabas or Karabash meaning black-head. The mtDNA samples of the Kangal Dog show that it is more genetically isolated than the Akbash and for a longer time. The two populations show little mixing, according to Dr Peter Savolainen.
In Turkey, the Kangal Dog works actively with shepherds, out with their flocks grazing by day and returning to the villages at night. In the villages, Kangal Dogs are expected to be gentle with children and tolerant of neighbors. They are not allowed to run free but are confined outside the home or with the sheep. They are fed barley mash, scraps, and bones. During the summers, flocks often make the journey to high summer pastures, far from roads and people. Two or three dogs accompany flocks of 200-300 sheep. Kangal Dogs are known for their fierce battles with predators, first intimidating them through barking, but they do, at times, pursue wolves when necessary. Puppies grow up in the village until they are old enough to accompany the older dogs and learn from both them and the shepherds.