Dogs of Turkey: Akbash and Karabash
Akbash in Turkish means white head. In contrast, there is also Karabash dog, which means black head. The Akbash Dog is found in rural country serving as a livestock protection dog in Turkey for millennia. The lifestyles of Turkish rural villagers has not been influenced by modernization. The villagers still need to dig wells, herd their sheep, protect the flock from wolves and bears, remove wool with hand-held and non-electrical shears, bake bread in an open hearth, and so on. In many ways, the style and pace of life are similar to what must have taken place hundreds or even thousands of years ago. The dogs in this rural setting have many of the ideal characteristics of a typical Akbash; they are usually calm, with a keen protective instinct for flock and property. However, Akbash Dogs in Turkey are never allowed in the house as pets.
Eastern Turkey, where many Kangal or Karabash dogs can be found, is quite dry. The Anatolian Plateau has alternating areas of abundant water and arid. Therefore today in Turkey you can find some villages with Karabash dogs, and other villages with all white Akbash dogs.
There is more than color separates Akbash Dogs from Karabash dogs. Akbash Dogs tend to be smaller, and more variable in size. The sight hound side of their ancestry shows more readily. Karabash dogs have more of the mastiff influence, and hence are usually larger.
The physical and temperamental attributes of the Akbash Dog reflect both mastiff and gazehound origins. They have the size, power and protective nature of Karabash or Kangal. Great care should be taken that the breed standard not be used to develop any extreme. The Akbash Dog is the result of centuries of natural selection as a guardian of livestock. In addition to its numerous physical attributes and stable temperament, the breed displays an exceptionally well developed maternal instinct.
The Akbash Dog is completely dedicated and devoted to its owners and any animals in its charge. These dogs possess intelligence and courage, making them natural guardians. Their independent nature allows them to respond swiftly and without guidance in an emergency. Their loyalty and protective instinct make them ideal home and estate guardians in addition to their more traditional role of guarding livestock.
Due to their strong maternal instinct, Akbash Dogs begin to bond to other living creatures at a very early age. They have been known to form strong attachments to sheep, goats, cattle, horses and other livestock, to poultry or exotic birds, and other animals, and of course to people. Once bonded, even without specialized training, the dogs will not hesitate to come to the rescue of their charges if they think they are in danger, even at the risk of their own lives. Protected animals often show great trust and loyalty to their canine guardians.
The body is muscular, long-legged and slightly longer than tall. They are capable of running at great speed, and have acute senses of sight and hearing. A typical Akbash Dog does not have a high activity level and is not overly playful as an adult. Coat color is all over white. Males have more massive heads than females. Ears are set high, V-shaped, tips slightly rounded. Eye color varies from light golden brown to very dark brown. A long chest extends in depth to the elbows. Feet are strong and large. Tail is long, reaching to the hocks. Tails may have a hook at the end, a moderate to tight curl, or a double curl. A double coat is formed by coarse guard hairs and a fine undercoat. Thickness of the undercoat will vary with the climate and exposure of the dog to the weather.
Karabash (black head in Turkish, also known as Anatolian Shepherd Dog) is an ancient breed native to Asia Minor. It is also known as the Turkish Guard Dog where he protects flocks and serves as a shepherd's companion. On the high Anatolian Plateau, where summers are hot and very dry and winters are cold, the Anatolian Shepherd Dogs live outside all year round. For centuries it was used as a combat dog in war and for hunting. It was particularly valued for the victorious battles it could fight with wolves. As a sheepdog, it was bothered by neither fatigue nor bad weather. Today it is still used as a sheep dog as well as a guard dog.
Karabash has been bred to fight wolves and even an attacking bear. In wolf country the shepherds have roughly four dogs to every thousand sheep, usually in the proportion of three males to one female. Their technique is to attack at high speed, at the last moment making a lightning swerve to avoid the wolf's teeth while at the same instant throwing the wolf down with a shoulder blow. Once the wolf is down the dog goes straight for the jugular vein in the animal’s neck, or the tendons in the hind legs to incapacitate its foe. If the wolves attack in a pack, the female - lighter but faster - remains crouching while the male dogs try to disable a wolf, then like a flash she goes in for the kill. If the female is attacked by the wolves, the male dogs will defend her to the death.
During daylight thousands of sheep may be seen on the Turkish steppes, with apparently no dogs guarding them but they are there, dozing, and always with an ear and an eye open. When darkness falls the dogs take over, circling the sheep. At the same time, they hunt small game that they come across, as these dogs largely feed themselves with only supplementary scraps from the shepherd.
In 1975 the Karabash was suggested for military use. Until then the majority of dogs employed by the armed forces consisted of German shepherd dogs. The Karabas' characteristics as a guard were seen suitable and it was decided to use them. After twenty years of service changes in modern warfare required adaptation and the Karabash was dropped. New breeds intended to replace the Karabash needed to be more agile and fast, and have a keener sense of smell, for explosives, detecting in minefields and messenger work.
In 1998 the Turkish Government implemented a project to preserve the gene pool of the Anatolian Mastiff dog breed, by banning all exports (including to other provinces in Turkey), and requiring all owners to register their dogs. According to the report the Anatolian Mastiff are dangerously close to extinction due to the popularity of the animals with foreigners, who take the finest examples of the breed abroad. The remaining animals breeding with wild dogs further reduces the number of pure bred animals in Turkey.
Karabash is a large, noble and powerful livestock guardian. He is capable of great speed and endurance. The head is large, but in good proportion with the rest of the body. The triangular, pendant ears are often black and rather small with rounded tips. In Turkey, the ears are often cropped very short. The small, deep-set eyes range from gold to brown in color. The neck is thick and muscular. The chest reaches to the elbows. The back is short relative to leg length. The front legs are straight and set well apart. When the dog is alert, the high-set tail is carried curled over the back; otherwise, it hangs low with a slightly upward curl reaching the hocks. The short or rough double coat is generally fawn with a black mask. The outer coat is smooth and the length may vary greatly depending on the season and the dog's lineage - it is longer around the collar and tail.
Karabash is a very loyal, alert and possessive dog. It is intelligent and easy to train, calm, steadfast and brave, but not aggressive, is independent, very watchful, proud and self-assured. Karabash is possessive with respect to its property and will not allow anyone into the property if the owner is not there. This breed is patient and protective with children as well. The dog does not require any additional protection training, it already has very strong protection instincts. They will generally get along with other animals. Anatolian Shepherds guard, but do not herd, livestock. They often patrol the outer perimeter of their territory, then find a high place from which to watch over their charges. Karabash possess excellent senses of sight and hearing. They check their "protective zone" around the flock every few hours to be certain nothing threatening is brewing. If danger approaches, the dog will first bark a warning, then accelerate and raise the volume of the barking if the danger persists, signaling the sheep to crowd in behind him for protection. The dog will attempt to drive the danger away and will only attack as the last resort. In Turkey, the Anatolian Shepherds wear spiked collars to protect their throats in battles with predators.
Karabash is not recommended for apartment life, It is relatively inactive indoors. It needs a lot of exercise. Life Expectancy is about 12-15 years.