Akbash Dogs InTurkey: 2005-2007
In May of 2005, Judith Nelson and Tamara Taylor visited Turkey. The focus of their trip was to revisit the places where the Nelsons had first become acquainted with Akbash Dogs and to accompany Drs. Cafer Tepeli and Metin Erdogan, who were conducting field research on Akbash Dogs. They were photographing, measuring the height, length, and heart girth of the Akbash Dogs they found as well as collecting blood samples for further DNA work. A third veterinarian, Dr. Cevdet Uguz also accompanied the party some of the time. The photo above is one of the dogs included in the Akbash Dog study.
Meeting shepherds and sheep herd owners, photographing the dogs and complimenting the owners on their quality, and telling stories about the well-known Turkish Akbash Dog in North America made for a great trip -- and good PR for the breed. The party of four encouraged those villagers who were breeding and using Akbash Dogs to continue their interest in the breed. The fact that two American Akbash Dog owners had come to Turkey and knew so much about the breed and were able to talk about how respected and well-known the breed is outside of Turkey impressed the Turkish owners.
More than one sheep owner said that he kept karabash (black-faced village) dogs because people were afraid of them. When he was asked why he had Akbash Dogs, he gestured around. "You see," he said."Here are the sheep and the Akbash Dogs." Perhaps his visitors were a little slow on the uptake. "But where are the karabash dogs?" Exactly, " he responded, "They are NOT here. They are gone all day and usually come home at night." He went on to say that he relied on his Akbash Dogs to stay with the sheep and protect them from other dogs and predators. Another sheep flock owner said that he had gotten Akbash Dogs because they were the dogs that his grandfather had used and that it was not easy to find pure Akbash Dogs. Staying in Turkey over a several weeks, our ADAA members were able to return to some of the areas more than once, chatting again with the Akbash Dog owners and even providing cell phone numbers of Akbash Dog owners in other yaylas who were seeking dogs to breed to.
Also seen were atypical "Akbash" Dogs, that is, white dogs that appeared to have been bred for tremendous mass rather than the classic, very functional blend of power and agility of the working Akbash Dog. This is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the very short, white "Akbash-like" dogs (standing 25" or less at the withers at maturity) seen and photographed in the late 1980s and again in 1997 and 2005. Wheras the massive dogs might be the result of trying to breed for a "fighting" type dog, the small dogs are most likely the result of crossing a small dog commonly used to guard homes with the livestock guardians. In fact, Dr. Tepeli reported one village where the dogs were extremely excitable and inclined to bite when handled during their field work. This population of dogs was dropped from the DNA project when discussion with the mayor or kaymakam led to the discovery that most of the dogs in the village were the resulting offspring and grandoffspring of a cross between this local small house guard dog with the livestock guard dogs. While many of the dogs resembled livestock guard dogs, their behavior was markedly different.
As a result of the 2005 fiedl studies, Dr. Tepeli was able to locate several outstanding working Akbash Dog males to be used in his breeding kennel. The university kennel provides livestock guardians to shepherds in the area and the population also serves for a basis for DNA data and helping set breed parameters. Another important aspect of this kennel is that it is visited by EU (European Union) representatives who are working with Selçuk University Veterinary School on EU recognition. Since the Akbash Dog is recognized as a unique breed only in North America by the United Kennel Club and in Turkey, the positive response by EU representatives to the kennel which houses Turkish native dog breeds (Akbash Dog, Kangal Dog, and Tazi) ıs encouragıng.
Another trip to Turkey was made in December-January of 2007 by Tamara Taylor. She reports having seen a number of exceptional young Akbash Dogs produced by Dr. Tepeli's breeding program. She also returned with copies of the Selçuk University Veterinary Dog Facility statement against fighting and samples of pedigrees that are now being generated for the dogs in the facility.
In the fall of 2007 Dr. Tepeli will be presenting a paper co-authored with Tamara Taylor at an International Conference on Native Dog Breeds in Kazakstan. The topic is the status of the Turkish native breeds, the increase in dog-fighting, and the negative impact of fighting on the livestock guarding dog breeds and the implications for the breeds world-wide.