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 cheetah. Tracing their lineage as far back as the Bronze Age, these Turkish dogs have a muscular, intimidating presence, combined with a sharp mind and independent personality, making them perfectly suited for following and protecting flocks of animals all on their own. Anatolians have gained popularity as a family dog as well, but new owners beware: this dog is not for the timid. There’s a lot going on here and the Anatolian’s headstrong nature and massive physique means they will (metaphorically and physically) walk all over an unprepared owner.
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 95 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. The 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.
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 them look even heavier than they actually are. That coat 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 has such a strong personality, backed up by such a powerful frame, he is not going to be a good breed for someone to “learn” on. For literally thousands of years, Anatolians have been bred and trained to keep track of flocks and nomadic tribes wandering plains and deserts, so they have developed into a breed with an intense independent streak. 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 leaders or, at very least, 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. Rather than someone to be implicitly listened to and obeyed, the Anatolian will view you as something to be protected. Once they know where they live, Anatolians will become very territorial and are usually standoffish to all strangers. Even close friends or family members who do not live with you may have a hard time getting the Anatolian to warm up to them, even after repeated home visits. For this exact reason, early socialization and obedience training is imperative. Teaching Anatolians as early as possible to respect authority and be friendlier toward unfamiliar humans will be an important part of having one of them in your home.
If you are a rancher or farmer, you may just love this giant fellow. You can take them out, show them what to protect, then pretty much leave them to their own devices and go about your day. But for anyone else, bringing an Anatolian home is going to be a gamble. They don’t usually like to play many games, are far too large to roughhouse on the living room floor with, and are far more likely to view you as a commodity to be protected, rather than a buddy to be adored. They are certainly laid back and friendly dogs to their family units, they just aren’t particularly loving to everyone.
A final note of caution: Because they are so massive and powerfully built, Anatolians make great watchdogs, simply due to their deterrent factor. However, giving an Anatolian protection or guard training will backfire and it should never be done, notes the American Kennel Club. By their very nature, Anatolians are territorial, highly protective dogs. If you are a part of their “flock” and they think you are in danger, their instinct is to protect you to the best of their abilities. Their natural inclination is to chase threats off rather than fighting them, but any kind of guard dog training will instead enhance their more aggressive instincts. And once a dog of their size goes on the offensive, it can be physically impossible to get them to stop.
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 do 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.
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.
The unfortunate truth is that, for as smart and useful as they are, Anatolians are just not the family dog for a large number of situations. At 150 pounds, they are much too big and strong to make good housemates with small children. They will certainly bond to and protect children, but most styles of play are going to either be ignored by the Anatolian or may result in far too aggressive of a play session than most children are ready for.
Seniors most likely won’t have the strength to control them on a leash, and people with mobility problems won’t be able to let them roam the way they often need. They don’t have much of a prey drive, but they are territorial and protective, so unfenced yards or walks off-leash are just asking to have some stranger chased for longer than anybody really wants to think about.
Anatolians can do well enough with other dogs, though it helps to begin socializing them as puppies. Even then, because of the almost assured size difference, the Anatolian is likely to view other dogs as a part of their flock and protect them similarly.
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.
Baths are going to be a once a month affair, possibly longer, depending on how they’re housed and what they get into.
This breed is remarkably healthy, especially for its size. The average lifespan for an extra-large dog is usually around eight or nine years, but Anatolains routinely live for 11 years or more.
“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.”
Anatolians are also surprisingly resistant to common large-dog ailments, such as hip dysplasia and bloat, though you will still want to have their hips and elbow joints checked periodically as they age.
“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.”
Anatolians are also sensitive to anesthesia, which can make any medical problems they do have a little tricky to resolve. Because of their relative rarity among pet owners, make sure your vet knows about this before performing any procedures.
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 UK with the specific purpose of breeding and raising them for 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 shepherd dogs 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 AKC recognizes the Anatolian shepherd and the Kangal as the same breed, while the UKC recognizes them separately.