History of the ADAA
The ADAA began as the American affiliate of the ADAI, the Akbash Dog Association International. They were established in 1978 by David and Judy Nelson with the purpose of registering and recording the pedigrees of Akbash Dogs exported and being bred outside of Turkey. The Nelsons had developed tremendous admiration for the breed when they lived in one of the sheep raising regions of Turkey, the region that was home to Akbash Dogs like the one pictured here. Due to their efforts, the USDA became aware of the breed and by 1980 had included it in their livestock guard dog research project. With the increasing interest in the breed, the American organization quickly became more important that the original ADAI. By the mid-1980s, the ADAA had taken the role of the ADAI and began registering all Akbash Dogs, whether in the U.S. or other countries.
The First Akbash Dogs in the U.S.
The first Akbash Dog arrived from Turkey to the U.S. in 1978. Cybele White Bird (pictured) came to the U.S. with her owners, David and Judy Nelson, who had become fascinated with the graceful white guardians during their extended stay with the diplomatic corps in Turkey. Combining travel and photography, they spent time recording the breed, as well as other native dog breeds of Turkey. Observation and then the breeding of "test" litters in Turkey convinced them that this white dog was a regional breed that had developed unique, consistently inherited behavior, disposition, and appearance.
Once they were convinced that the Akbash Dog was the counterpart to the other white livestock protection breeds, such as those found in Greece, Italy, Poland, Hungary, and France, they were determined to introduce it to the livestock producers in North America. Cybele (whose call name was Sheila) was brought to the U.S. carrying pups.
The First Breed Club
In 1979, those pups became the foundation of the breed and the beginning of the Akbash Dog Association International and the Akbash Dog Association of America, the ADAI's North American affiliate. However, continued importation led to an increasing population of Turkish Akbash Dogs in North America, most from unrelated lines. Care was taken to import dogs from different villages while maintaining the purity of the breed. At that time, unlike today, the transport of dogs by car from village to village or yayla to yayla was unheard of. Bloodlines spread only as far as dogs traveled with their flocks.
In the early 1980s pure Akbash Dogs imported by the founders of the ADAA were purchased by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and used in the livestock guard dog project. While there was no recognition of the breed by any kennel club, such as the American Kennel Club or Canadian Kennel Club, it was becoming widely recognized by livestock producers as an excellent guardian -- one with unique traits and relatively predictable behaviors. In other words, while some Westerners, primarily Americans, Germans, and Brits, dog breeders claimed that all "shepherd's" dogs in Turkey were the same breed (Anatolian Shepherds), experience with Akbash Dogs led livestock producers to recognize the Akbash Dog as a unique, separate breed. Akbash Dogs proved to be aggressive against predators such as coyote and even bear and cougar yet trustworthy with livestock. While not typically friendly to strange humans, they were not as people aggressive as some of the other guarding dog breeds. While some of the more common breeds were notorious for leaving their stock, particularly in the heat of the day, the Akbash Dog demonstrated a real ability to bond with sheep and other species. This meant that "traveling" or "wandering" away from the flock or herd was not usually a problem. A trait that set the breed off from some other livestock guardians was its innate dislike of stray dogs and that immediately made Akbash Dogs popular with producers of livestock that was susceptible to injury from intruding dogs.
Continued Breed Development
The population of Akbash Dogs in the U.S. and Canada grew. Being stationed overseas once again did not stop the Nelsons work for the breed. Imagine the entourage of the Nelson family, Mr., Mrs., and 3 children and a number of adult Akbash Dogs in giant crates arriving at the airport on their way to Belgium. (This was before commercially made giant shipping crates.) This stint allowed for more European exposure and resulted in importations being made for new owners in Belgium and Germany. In addition, visits were made between Belgium and the U.K.
Additional imports continued to be made by the Nelsons, who were able to return to Turkey and continue their observation and breed Akbash Dogs there. Many of those imports into North America went directly to western sheep producers; others went into small farm or semi-rural homes. Some dogs were family companions. Placing dogs in both working and companion homes was valuable in the development and evaluation of the dogs. This two-fold approach to the breed helped ensure the tractable disposition of the dogs toward their owners and families and yet maintain the protective and independent instincts of the Akbash Dog. In fact, many of the dogs placed on range or with producers never produced pups. Unfortunately for the breed, range dogs had a high attrition rate. In addition, their main function was protection not reproduction. Thus, a special debt is owed to the owners who bred their Akbash Dogs, maintained pedigree records through the ADAA, and served as a source of livestock guardians for livestock producers.
Dog Club Politics as Usual
While the breed was extraordinary, the club which was responsible for its registry was not. While the Nelsons were in Belgium, a move was initiated primarily by two breeders to remove the Nelsons from their positions in the club. That failing, in 1987, those on the ADAA membership list received a letter inviting them to join a "new" club, WADA - the Working Akbash Dog Association. On the heels of the first notice, a second notice went out to the same group of people -- whether they had indicated interest in the new organization or not. This time the ADAA members were invited to join ADI - an apparent reinvention of the short-lived WADA.
Accompanying their invitation to join was a short letter and questionaire which asked people to measure their dogs and send their heights in. The letter explained the new club's desire to reevaluate the sizes given in the original breed standard. This new association felt the Akbash Dog should have lower minimum heights (not the 28" for females and 30" for males that were cited as the desired minimums in the ADAI/ADAA standards).
The ADI found supporters and, like the ADAA, began registering their own dogs, using the original ADAA dogs as their foundation. As ADAA registered dogs were re-registered by their owners or by buyers, kennel names or even entire names were sometimes changed, leading to confusion for those today who are researching pedigrees from this era. While the new club itself became the victim of dissent and splintered into new groups, an ADI group still exists and registers dogs from UKC foundation dogs (Akbash Dogs that trace to the original ADAA/ADAI foundation) and otherwise unpapered working dogs, primarily in Canada. The general policy of the ADAA and UKC is to accept ADI dogs as pure Akbash Dogs eligible for registration with UKC, which many now have.
Turkish Recognition of U.S. Successes
All of the North American interest in the Akbash Dog and its reputation as a livestock guardian did not go unnoticed in Turkey, and in 1996 experts on the breed in the U.S. were invited to participate at the First International Symposium on Turkish Shepherd Dogs at Selcuk University in Konya, Turkey. Among those presenters were David Nelson, ADAA founder; Dr. Jeff Green, one of the USDA biologists who worked on the initial livestock guard dog project and who had maintained his interest in the field after the project ended; and Tamara Taylor, a livestock producer from Texas who with her husband had used both Akbash and imported Turkish Kangal Dogs for livestock protection since the mid-1980s. While the emphasis of the Symposium was on the Sivas-Kangal or Kangal Dog, the audience was extremely receptive to information about the success of the Akbash Dog in North America.
ADAA & the United Kennel Club
In 1997, as a direct result of the Symposium and a summary letter written by Dr. Tekinsen stating the Turkish position on their native dog breeds, the United Kennel Club contacted the ADAA with the purpose of recognizing the Akbash Dog and opening studbooks for the breed. In 1998 that was accomplished and the ADAA became the provisional national breed club for the Akbash Dog. Until that time, the ADAA had maintained pedigree records on all import dogs and their offspring, issuing registration certificates. Now the United Kennel Club, the second largest dog registry in the world, would be responsible for maintaining those records as well as additional information such as DNA test results.
What UKC Means for the Breed
The ADAA welcomed recognition by the UKC because, unlike many registries or kennel clubs, the UKC is primarily a "working dog" registry. Founded in 1898, the United Kennel Club began by registering "non-European" breeds, working and hunting breeds that had been developed in North America.
The UKC was the first kennel club in the world to endorse DNA testing. It likewise takes a pragmatic view of breeding and understands the importance of genetic diversity and maintaining both physical health and working ability. To that end, it works in partnership with the ADAA to encourage the importation and registration of pure Akbash Dogs, something which no other kennel club in the world does currently.
Another Real Benefit
Breeders and owners have welcomed the move to UKC registry because UKC provides a permanent, professional "home" for this breed -- in contrast to registry by individual breed clubs which can fall prey to personality conflicts and club politics "as usual."
Non-ADAA Registered Akbash Dogs
Likewise, many dogs that might be registered with other breed clubs, such as ADI (Akbash Dogs International), typically qualify for UKC registration. In fact, ADAA has adopted a philosophy of trusting ADI registry records and assuming that ADI registered dogs qualify for UKC registration as pure Turkish Akbash Dogs.
The Akbash Dog Association of America serves as the spokesman for the Akbash Dog breed and its owners. The UKC gives its national breed clubs a great deal of authority in what should or should not be allowed in the registration and exhibition of a breed.
UKC emphasis on "the total dog," responsible dog ownership, and its ban on the use of professional handlers in trials or shows makes it an ideal registry for working breeds and for breed clubs whose goals are to maintain the working abilities of their dogs and provide an acceptable venue for the exhibition of the breed by their owners and their families. As of 2007, the United Kennel Club is the only national and international kennel club in the world to recognize and register the Turkish Akbash Dog.