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Working Akbash Dogs - Livestock Guardian Dogs

A+ for Akbash Dogs: Non-Lethal Predation Control


Akbash Dogs were first identified as a white flock guardian breed in Turkey by David and Judith Nelson in the mid-1970s. Being familiar with the other white guardian breeds, such as the Great Pyrenees, the Maremma, and the Kuvasz, found primarily near the Mediterranean, they began to do their own basic "field studies." At one point they went so far as to lease a flock of sheep complete with shepherd and guard dog to ensure that a certain female was bred to that particular male guard dog. The result was that they were able to see that the Akbash Dogs bred true in type (not merely color). At that point, they began working to see that the breed was brought to North America, where they felt Western sheep producers had as great a need -- and possibly even more -- for livestock protection than their Turkish counterparts.


What makes the livestock guardian breeds so unique is their ability to bond to other species. They "adopt" the flock, herd, or individual animal as their social pack. From that point on, their protective and territorial instincts take over. Their charges Akbash Dogs were used first with sheep in North America. Then very soon other small livestock producers discovered that they worked as well with such diverse species as goats, ratities (ostriches), exotic fowl, minature horses, and virtually any other species.


In 1980, USDA undertook a livestock guard dog project based at the U.S. Sheep Experimental station in Dubois, Idaho, under the direction of Dr. Jeff Green and Roger Woodruff. They worked with the Akbash Dog, the Great Pyrenees, and the Komondor. At that time, the Akbash Dog was little known in this country, and, in fact, a number of the dogs used were imports directly from Turkey. In 1986 the University of Idaho updated their work by following up with 400 questionnaires sent out to people who used livestock guarding breeds. They included information from the New England Farm Center on Anatolians, Maremma, and Shar Planinetz, as well as crosses of those breeds. At that time, 763 guard dogs of 5 breeds (and an "other" category) were evaluated. As late as 1996 data was still being gathered, finally in a comparison of 30 pure Akbash Dogs and 30 Anatolian Shepherds placed with sheep.


The results of these various studies showed that the Akbash Dogs were very aggressive to wild predators and also aggressive to intruding dogs. (This means strange dogs as opposed to dogs that they are accustomed to, such as the herding dogs or even family companion dogs). The Maremma came closer to the Akbash Dog in these behaviors than any of the other breeds; however, it was more people aggressive. Additional studies showed that the Akbash Dog was not as inclined to bite people as Komondors nor as inclined to chase and injure sheep as were Anatolian Shepherds.

Some other findings of the USDA biologists were that:


  • successful dogs displayed good guarding behavior as early as 3 months,

  • temperament can be evaluated as early as 8 weeks BUT that it may be inconsistent up to the age of 18 months,

  • while a shy pup may bond to livestock, the confident pup may be more reliable in its role as protector,NOTE: It is important to ascertain if the pup is shy toward people because of a lack of human contact. Often such a dog will be very brave with its livestock, and it can learn to tolerate being handled, such as being moved from one flock to another or given vaccinations, etc.

  • no difference in guarding ability was found between neutered and intact guard dogs;

  • likewise, both males and females were equally aggressive as livestock protectors,

  • the success of the dog is, in part, determined by the nature of the livestock it is protecting (do the animal "bunch" or do they spread out to graze), the type of pasture the stock is in (rough terrain or heavily wooded areas usually mean more dogs will be needed), and ultimately, the kind of predator pressure.

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