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Anatolian shepherds—sometimes referred to as the kangal, but more on that later—have been used to protect livestock and farms against everything from humans and wolves to buffalo and cheetahs. Tracing their lineage as far back as the Bronze Age, these Turkish dogs have a muscular, impressive presence, combined with a sharp mind and independent personality that makes them perfectly suited for following and protecting flocks of animals all on their own.
The first thing you'll notice when you're in the same room with an Anatolian: They sure are big. And we're not talking "big" like "my black Lab is 80 pounds" kind of big. The Anatolian is a dog that takes up some space—a full-grown male Anatolian weighs 110–150 pounds, most of it muscle. Typical males top out at 29 inches tall or so, but there have been examples of Anatolians getting much larger. The largest Anatolian on record topped out at a whopping 40 inches tall at the shoulder. Female Anatolian shepherds also reach staggering weights of up to 120 pounds.
In addition to a thick, muscular build, the Anatolian has a coat of short hair that covers a lush undercoat. This combination serves to give the dog an even thicker appearance, making him look even heavier than he actually is. That fur can come in a variety of lighter shades, but by far the most common is a buff coat topped by a black mask and, occasionally, black ears.
If you are a first-time dog owner, or if this is going to be your first large dog, look elsewhere: The Anatolian's independent nature means he's best suited for an experienced owner. For literally thousands of years, Anatolians have been bred and trained to keep track of flocks and nomadic tribes wandering plains and deserts. They are smart enough to pick up on instructions and training very quickly: Speak to an Anatolian and they will understand you. Whether or not they will choose to obey can come down to their mood in the moment.
However, absolutely none of that is to say the Anatolian is an aloof dog or one who doesn't form bonds with people. Quite the opposite. But, whereas most dog breeds understand humans to be companions, the Anatolian will see you in a very different light. To an Anatolian, their owners and families aren't their pack—you're their flock, according to Anatolian Shepherd Dogs International. Rather than someone to be implicitly listened to and obeyed, the Anatolian will view you as something to be looked after.
Because of their love and devotion to their families, Anatolians can be slow to adjust to all strangers. Even close friends or family members who do not live with you may have a hard time getting an Anatolian to warm up to them, according to the National Anatolian Shepherd Rescue Network, even after repeated home visits. For this exact reason, early socialization and obedience training is imperative—and you can never go wrong with enrolling your Anatolian shepherd puppy into kindergarten. Teaching Anatolians as early as possible that unfamiliar humans aren't scary will be an important part of having one of them in your home.
"It's important to start training early on and allocate time to making sure they're well behaved and socialized so that they can learn to get along with their surroundings," says Stacy Choczynski Johnson, DVM, veterinary expert for Pumpkin Pet Insurance.
If you are a rancher or farmer, you may just love this giant fellow. You can take them out, give them a job to do, then pretty much leave them to their own devices and go about your day. But if you're a family in the 'burbs, an Anatolian might not be a go-to breed for you.
"They're not necessarily the most playful and affectionate breed," Choczynski Johnson says.
These dogs need lots of room. Apartment living is out, and any yard without a fence is pretty much a non-starter, too. They're big herding dogs, so they have energy and tons of stamina. But they are also built more for endurance than bursts of speed, so they don't require as much exercise daily as you might imagine. A half-hour walk every day should be plenty, plus a game of fetch in the backyard, Choczynski Johnson says.
They are also incredibly independent dogs, so leaving them in a backyard unattended or at home alone while you go to work doesn't tend to be a problem for them, and they don't suffer from separation anxiety as badly as other breeds.
Anatolians can do well enough with other dogs, though it helps to begin socializing them as puppies. Choczynski Johnson recommends scheduling puppy playdates to help your dog get accustomed to others.
The Anatolian's short coat and thick undercoat are pretty stress-free when it comes to grooming. Brush them maybe once a week and they should stay looking sharp. They will shed their undercoat twice a year, so every spring and fall you'll want to up the brushing to stay on top of the hair that will come flying off of them.
When it comes to training, early socialization and positive reinforcement will help your Anatolian shepherd puppy grow into a confident dog with good manners.
"I'd recommend creating a calm and positive environment when introducing novel experiences and individuals so that dogs don't feel caught off guard or overwhelmed in any way," Choczynski Johnson says. "Dogs should be calmly asked to sit, and new people should provide a treat or even a stuffed enrichment toy that the dog can run off and play with for a bit. This can help to create positive associations with new people and help them be more adaptable in the future."
The average lifespan for an extra-large dog is usually around eight or nine years, but Anatolains routinely live for 11–13.
"What I would have said 10 years ago versus now are very different things," says Michelle Beck, DVM, CCRT, CVA-Veterinarian, with the Backlund Animal Clinic in Omaha, Neb. "We're seeing the giant breed dogs living longer and longer. Historically those dogs have not had very long life spans. But now with good care, I've seen them live as old as 15."
But despite their longer-than-average lifespans, Anatolian shepherds are prone to a few common health conditions. These include bloat (a life threatening condition where the stomach twists), congenital deafness, and inflammatory liver disease related to copper concentrations in the liver, Choczynski Johnson says. Like other large breeds, Anatolian shepherds can also be affected by hip dysplasia.
"There are so many factors that lead to hip dysplasia," Beck says. "It's not just one gene. Even looking at the dam and sire can't tell you with certainty if a pup will develop it or not."
There's also speculation that Anatolian shepherds are also sensitive to to anesthesia, but Choczynski Johnson says it's not widely documented in veterinary literature.
"I always recommend that dog owners defer to their veterinarian for all anesthetic protocols based on the pet's medical history and what the clinician believes is best for them," she says.
Dogs very similar in size and build to the Anatolian have existed in Turkey for 6,000 years, developed from hunting dogs in Mesopotamia. Anatolians have been developed over those thousands of years specifically for the particular demands of their Turkish climate: extremes of heat and cold, nomadic societies, and the stamina for guarding sheep on the vast Anatolian Plateau.
A breed exclusive to the region for centuries, Anatolians didn't make their entry into the western world until the middle of the 20th century. American and British ranchers began importing them as shepherding dogs in 1950. Then, in 1968, British archaeologist Charmian Hussey brought two dogs to the U.K. with the specific purpose of breeding and raising them as family pets. The Anatolian Karabash Dog Club was founded in 1968 and, in 1970, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Robert Ballard brought two dogs to the United States for the same purpose.
For a number of years, Anatolian shepherds and kangal shepherds were considered to be different breeds. There are, broadly speaking, some subtle differences that can be found between the two: Dogs classified as kangals are slightly larger than ones called Anatolians, and slightly faster as well. Kangals also have a coat that is slightly shorter and less dense than Anatolians.
However, most international governing bodies for dog breeds have determined that there are not significant enough genetic differences between the two for them to be considered separate breeds. While the UK Kennel Club agreed to recognize the kangal Dog as a breed from July 2013, it also stated that dogs currently registered as Anatolian shepherds may be eligible to be recorded as Turkish kangal dogs, instead.
Meanwhile, in January 2012, the Australian National Kennel Council no longer recognized the kangal as being a separate breed from the Anatolian shepherd. Similarly, as of June 2018, the Federation CynoLogique Internationale (FCI) Standards Commission determined the population of FCI-registered Anatolian shepherd dogs and kangals shepherd dogs in Turkey were the same breed and belonged to the same breed population. The breed name of Anatolian shepherd dog was changed to kangal shepherd dog and the breed standard content was updated. In the U.S., the American Kennel Club recognizes the Anatolian shepherd and the kangal as the same breed, while the UKC recognizes them separately.
- When the 2018 camp fires raged through northern California, an Anatolian named Madison guarded the burned-out ruins of his home in Paradise for a month, resisting advances from rescue workers, until his owners were allowed back into the neighborhood to look for him.
- An Anatolian named Butch is one of the dogs in the Cats & Dogs films, with Alec Baldwin voicing him in the first movie and Nick Nolte taking over in the sequel, Cats & Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore.
- Kurt, the largest Anatolian on record, was measured at 40 inches to the shoulder and 154 pounds, making him just four inches shorter than Zeus, the Great Dane that holds the record for World's Largest Dog.
A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the region of the 2018 California camp fires. They occurred in northern California.