History of the Akbash Dog

Fossil records of human, plant and animal remains suggest that the part of the world now in Turkey, Iran and Iraq, once known as the Fertile Crescent, is where agricultural societies first formed. The formation of large enough clusters of humans to establish societies coincided with or may have been dependent upon selecting animals that could be bred to accept penning and herding by humans, the creation of strains of wheat and other food crops, and the domestication of wild canids into the species we now call the dog. The original purpose of dogs was probably to serve as a sentinel. Later, dogs were adapted for use in war, to protect the home, and to protect livestock. Separately, and probably later on, the concept of dogs as pets emerged, as did (in some parts of the world) use of dogs as a source of food.

We can hypothesize that the Turkish livestock protection dog breeds were among the earliest dog breeds created. One plausible theory is that white dogs were selected in parts of the Fertile Crescent where there was an abundance of water. This is because with surplus water, sheep’s wool could be dyed with artificial colors. In the dry parts of the Fertile Crescent, sheep were preferred with a variety of colors in the wool. There was not enough water to be able to afford using it for dying wool, so natural color variation was sought. Livestock protection dogs were selected for the same color characteristics of the sheep, so that predators could not easily tell a sheep from a dog.

In Turkey today, the main lineages of livestock protection dogs are the white Akbash Dog, and the black, white and tawny Karabash or Kangal Dog. (Kangal is a province or region within Turkey, while akbash and karabash are words in Turkish that mean white and black head.) Even to this day, the drier part of Turkey is in the east, where Kangal Dogs predominate. Current estimates are that domestic dogs were in place in the Fertile Crescent about 10,000 years ago.

From this background, we can appreciate that people moving out from the Fertile Crescent would have traveled with flocks of sheep for food, and would have taken livestock protection dogs with them. Whether in the form of exploration, trade expedition or conquering army (think Seljuk and Ottoman empires) the white livestock protection dogs of the world include the Great Pyrenees (from Turkey, through North Africa, across Spain to the Pyrenees Mountains, last site with wolves in Spain and France), or the Italian Maremma, Polish Ovcharka, the Hungarian Komondorok and various country’s Ovcharkas or Caucasians (direct migration into Europe from Turkey). All indications are that they started in the Fertile Crescent, where the surviving breeds to this day are probably similar to the original livestock protection dogs. If you are into heritage, you would definitely want to consider the Akbash Dog.

Some of this ancient history remains speculative, however. That human societies began in the Fertile Crescent, co-habited with dogs, and developed war dog and livestock protection dog breeds is well established. However, the direct link of various LPD breeds through time is not precisely known. The answer lies in DNA testing, which is now technically available. Its just a matter of time until some group or collective of research labs determines the lineage of LPD breeds.

historyThe Akbash Dogs of Turkey leading into the 1960s were mainly confined to the western half of the country, in regions where sheep flocks were common. As the movement of people and sheep increased following the introduction of motor vehicles, we may surmise that interbreeding of LPDs happened more often, producing the variations of coat color that are currently embraced within the Anatolian Shepherd Dog approach to defining a breed. Whether you happen to own an Akbash Dog, an Anatolian Shepherd Dog or a Kangal Dog, its safe to say you are preserving an old line of dog breed.

Akbash Dogs International has had many members travel to Turkey, measure the Abkash Dogs in use, and study their behavior. Akbash Dogs were mainly found in the western mountains of Turkey. Even after accounting for the relatively poor planes of nutrition and lack of anti-worming medicine used in Turkey, ADI has been able to determine that Akbash Dogs were not selected to be as tall as the Kangal-type dogs. This is probably due to human whim as opposed to a natural selective pressure. That the breed remained so white throughout millennia is also probably due to human selection of breeding pairs. That there is also a sizeable population of LPDs with mixed appearance is also likely to arise from human indifference, trading of animals, and perhaps human experimentation, since the existence of the dogs over the past thousand or more years appears to have been directly linked with human administration. Mutts happen everywhere.

Akbash Dogs are considered a landrace breed, defined as much for its function as its appearance. Akbash Dogs may look like a gazehound or grayhound, with a sleek body and long legs. Or, an Akbash Dog may be heavy and muscular, looking more like a mastiff. Most are middle of the road hybrids of those two extremes, but from time to time an individual arises that definitely takes on one of the two variations.

Akbash Dogs have keen senses. If their course hound side is well expressed, they may run or lope all day and enjoy bursts of amazing speed. The more muscular Akbash Dogs tend to pose, threaten and display more often, but can also move quickly if needed. When teams of Akbash Dogs are employed in a livestock protection within North America, without a lot of human interaction, they typically adopt different roles. Some become the outward guard, venturing beyond the flock, looking for trouble, urinating on high spots. Others stay near or within the flock. Others go to sleep. When not needed, they rest. They will take their shift later. Akbash Dogs appear to have developed the sense of knowing when they are overpowered. They are less likely to become dinner for a bear or wolf pack than some of the other breeds. USDA studies indicate that Akbash Dogs are in the upper half of any ratings of aggressiveness. Akbash Dogs are not to be trifled with if they are angry or feel their flock is threatened.

Elsewhere on this site, ADI offers details about Akbash Dog behavior and how to shape it. We don’t really train an Akbash Dog to guard livestock; we facilitate the expression of their bonding instincts. If done properly, and young dogs need a lot of correction and supervision, the average Akbash Dog will grow into a reliable, hard working adult.

Akbash Dogs were brought to North America in the late 1970s. Today, we don’t know how many Akbash Dogs are in Canada and the USA. We do know that ADI’s rescue service is constantly learning of new litters from non-affiliated breeders. Akbash Dogs are not your average domestic dog. They need supervision, work to do, acreage to roam on (usually this means good fences), and people with the skills to be dominant over a large, strong, independent-minded dog. Please read elsewhere on this site for more information about our beautiful, majestic, ancient breed.