The Anatolian Shepherd Dog: A Giant Breed

The Anatolian Shepherd Dog is a large, fiercely independent, and massively protective dog that was developed in Anatolia. Want to learn more about them?

Jan 26, 2024By Natasha Elder
the anatolian shepherd dog a giant breed

Meet the Anatolian Shepherd Dog: a large dog breed whose ancestry (and in some places, whole identity!) is up for debate. Despite the confusion and controversy associated with the breed, there is a lot to love about this dog – and even more to learn!

Because Anatolian Shepherd Dogs aren’t the most popular of breeds, many people haven’t even heard of them. This breed profile will help clear the fog, so read on to find out all about the Anatolian Shepherd Dog’s history, temperament, uses, coat colors, lifespan, and more.

Anatolian Shepherd Dogs Were Engineered to Protect Sheep

anatolian shepherd dog wearing wolf collar
Image credit: Wikimedia

Anatolian Shepherd Dogs are large mastiff-like dog breeds whose lineage has been around for several centuries – think back to Bronze Age times! Originally developed in the central Anatolia area (also known as Asia Minor) of Turkey, this breed was created to be a livestock guardian. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog was specifically kept with flocks of sheep, and their main job was to scare away wolves and other predators.

For many years, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog was exclusively found in this region. That is until the 1930s, when the Prime Minister of Turkey, İsmet İnönü, was attending a White House dinner and met a man by the name of Henry A. Wallace, who was the Secretary of Agriculture at the time. Conversation ensued, and Henry let slip that his department was working on a top-secret federal project to find the perfect dog breed for protecting sheep. Naturally, İsmet mentioned the Anatolian Shepherd Dog, and soon, a plan was in place to get a pair to the United States.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The plan was actioned, and a pair of Anatolian Shepherd Dogs arrived safely in the United States. Unfortunately, and pardon the pun, soon after their arrival, the plan went to the dogs. The female was not only very sick with a parasite, but she was pregnant. She gave birth to a litter of 12 healthy puppies. The growing pups, as is the case with big dog breeds, ate a lot, and due to the ongoing Great Depression, the facility was not able to feed the dogs. The litter was sold, and that’s all that’s known. Talk about an intriguing backstory!

The Controversy Surrounding the Anatolian Shepherd Dog

anatolian shepherd dog dunes female
Image credit: Wikimedia

After the failed plot mentioned above, Anatolian Shepherd Dogs were eventually successfully brought to the United States after World War II. In 1967, a Navy Lieutenant named Robert Ballard was stationed in Turkey and acquired a pair of Anatolian Shepherd Dogs, named Zorba and Peki, who he took back to America. By 1970, these two were proud parents to their first litter, and Robert had officially created the foundation stock of the breed in the United States.

The breeding of Anatolian Shepherd Dogs in America was a bit of a contentious and controversial issue for Turkish breeders, as they believed that the breed was not being developed properly. In the eyes of Turkish breeders, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog we know and love today is a far cry from the dog that they initially developed. Turkish breeders began saying that the Anatolian Shepherd Dogs found in America were diluted crossbreeds, while American breeders firmly denied this and defended the breed’s purebred status.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

To this day, Anatolian Shepherd Dogs are not recognized by Turkey as an official Turkish breed. Instead, the general belief is that Anatolian Shepherd Dogs are the American version of a dog known as the Kangal Shepherd Dog, which is one of the seven official Turkish breeds.

Some Consider These Canines as Kagal Shepherd Dogs

anatolian shepherd guarding sheep ocean
Image credit: Wikimedia

There is a massive amount of confusion online and in the dog breeding community about Kangal Shepherd Dogs and Anatolian Shepherd Dogs. Many people and organizations claim that the two are separate breeds, with entire articles devoted to explaining the differences between them. Other people and organizations claim that Anatolian Shepherd Dogs and Kangal Shepherd Dogs are one and the same, with no differences.

You are welcome and encouraged to form your own opinion on the matter. It is, however, worth noting that in 2012, the Australian Kennel Council stopped recognizing the Kangal as a separate breed from the Anatolian Shepherd Dog. Similarly, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) in 2018 combined the two breeds into one because the “differences” were so minor, but they opted to call the breed the Kangal Shepherd Dog.

And then there is the American Kennel Club, which only recognizes the Anatolian Shepherd Dog as a purebred breed and does not recognize the Kangal as its own breed. At the end of the day, you can decide which opinion you favor.

Anatolian Shepherd Dogs Guard Other Animals

cheetah conservation anatolian shepherd
Image credit: CNN

Now that you know that Anatolian Shepherd Dogs were developed to protect livestock, this next fact won’t be too surprising to you. This breed is so good at guarding its flock that it has carved itself an, admittedly small and niche, career for itself in various parts of the world.

In America, Anatolian Shepherd Dogs are used to ensure the success of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which was passed in 1973. This act essentially stipulated that farmers and landowners are not allowed to harm the endangered animals (predators) that hunt their livestock. So, they had to find a way to protect their stock without the use of guns or other harmful preventative measures. Enter the Anatolian Shepherd Dog!

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

In Namibia, Anatolian Shepherd Dogs are proving instrumental in a cheetah conservation program that has been running since 1994. The problem was that cheetahs were being killed by ranchers and farmers in response to them trying to hunt their livestock, resulting in rapidly declining cheetah numbers. Since Anatolian Shepherd Dogs got involved, livestock losses have been reduced by 80 to 100%, and the cheetah population is recovering with aplomb.

The Temperament of Anatolian Shepherd Dogs is Mixed

anatolian shepherd dog lying down grass
Image credit: Wikimedia

Anatolian Shepherd Dogs are often described as gentle giants, and this phrase describes them quite well. This majestic and powerful breed is generally calm and even-tempered. But make no mistake, it has a fierce protective streak and is naturally suspicious of strangers. So, they’re a great choice for a specific line of work. More on that to follow!

Overall, Anatolian Shepherd Dogs are complex, and their temperament is often a true mixed bag. It’s also worth mentioning that this is one breed whose temperament is largely determined by their environment. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog’s general temperament can be summed up as:

  • Alert
  • Bold
  • Calm
  • Confident
  • Dominant
  • Even-tempered
  • Independent
  • Loyal
  • Proud
  • Protective
  • Reserved
  • Stubborn
  • Very intelligent

When it comes to the intelligence of this dog, most agree that Anatolian Shepherd Dogs are very clever. However, they’re also extremely stubborn and quite independent, so they are fairly difficult to train.

Anatolian Shepherd Dog Coats Come in Different Colors

red fawn anatolian shepherd dog
Image credit: Wikimedia

Anatolian Shepherd Dogs have short coats that range between one to four inches long, with the slightly mane-like hair around the neck being the longest. All Anatolian Shepherd Dogs have thick undercoats. This breed is known to shed a moderate amount and requires regular grooming, brushing, and bathing to keep the coat in tip-top condition.

The Anatolian Shepherd Dog comes in eight different colors, and all possible coat colors are accepted as part of the breed standard. Here are the accepted breed standard colors as laid out by the American Kennel Club:

  • Biscuit and white
  • Brindle (a brownish color with streaks of other color)
  • Fawn
  • Blue fawn
  • Gray fawn
  • Red fawn
  • Liver
  • White

In addition to the wide array of possible coat colors that the Anatolian Shepherd Dog can have, they can also have several markings, including black, brown, and silver masks on their muzzles, as well as Dutch markings (white “socks,” collar, and blaze) and Pinto (irregular patches of a dark color and a light color).

Anatolian Shepherd Dogs Live for 11 to 13 Years

pair anatolian puppies playing together
Image credit: Ayşe İpek

The Anatolian Shepherd Dog typically lives for 11 to 13 years, which is slightly longer than dogs of a similar size, who usually live for 10 to 12 years. The exact reason for this extended life expectancy is not yet fully understood. Yet, the thinking is that Anatolian Shepherd Dogs aren’t as susceptible to developing age-related diseases that result in shorter lifespans.

Though hip dysplasia and bloat can occur in this breed, it’s not too common. The main health condition known to plague the breed is entropion, which is also known as eyelid inversion, and they can get pretty serious demodicosis mange (a common skin condition in dogs) due to the time they spend outdoors. Overall, this breed is remarkably healthy. And with regular vet check-ups, a healthy diet, and sufficient exercise, they should enjoy a long and happy life free from health issues.

Anatolian Shepherd Dogs Make Great Guard Dogs

shepherd goats anatolian shepherd guarding
Image credit: Wikimedia

And, finally, let’s take a proper look at the protective nature of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog. By now, you’ve probably gotten a good idea of what this dog is all about, so it should come as no surprise to read that they’re pretty great guard dogs. Several of their typical personality traits such as alertness, confidence, dominance, and protectiveness make this the case.

While training them to act on commands is a different matter, the natural instinct to protect runs deep and serves them well. Their large size and equally large bark mean that they’re a good deterrent for would-be criminals. If that isn’t enough, they can become aggressive easily when they sense that their territory and those in it are being threatened. Overall, this is not a beginner-friendly breed by any means.

Surprisingly, Anatolian Shepherd Dogs are great with cats and other small pets – they’ll protect them, too! This is due to their instinct to defend and history of being great guardians.

Natasha Elder
By Natasha Elder

Natasha is a mother, a wife, a writer, and a serial cat owner. Though she is currently in mourning, her heart not ready for another feline family member just yet, she has always lived life with four paws beside her. She loves – you guessed it – cats, as well as creatures of the fluffy, scaly, and finned variety. Natasha longs to meet Sir David Attenborough one day and is passionate about responsible pet ownership