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Anatolian Shepherds, Guard Dogs with History

07/20/2016 11:15AM ● By Jon Lewis

Shepherd's Watch

July 2016
Story and Photo by Jon Lewis

Lynn Kenny and Mark Griffith have an affinity for rare breeds and it was evident with the animals they kept on their small coastal ranch in San Mateo County: massive English Shire draft horses and Peruvian Pasos, smooth-trotting horses introduced to the Americas by Spanish conquistadors.

When the couple relocated in 2008 and opened their aptly named Rare Breeds Ranch on 110 acres of rolling hills near Cottonwood, they had designs on adding sheep to their animal collection, so they knew they’d need a dog that was up to the task of protecting livestock from coyotes, bears and mountain lions. 

They spent the next two years deep into research, looking at Beaucerons, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers and Rhodesian Ridgebacks before ultimately choosing yet another relatively rare breed, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog.

The dog was bred as a durable and devoted guardian well suited to watching over the sheep and goats that roam the Anatolian plateau region in present-day Turkey. Evidence of their use by shepherds in the Asia Minor region dates back more than 6,000 years.

Griffith was swayed by the breed’s physical characteristics—they are rugged, strong and fast and equipped with keen eyesight and an excellent sense of smell—and their resolute sense of duty. “They were bred to do a job some 6,000 years ago and they’re still doing that job. These are protection dogs and they will lay down their life to protect you.

“The downside to that is, if a dog feels he needs to be somewhere else, he will be, regardless of what you think. They are no-nonsense,” Griffith says.

Kenny adds that there is a “yin and yang” aspect to Anatolians. “They will go to the wall” to protect livestock—the Anatolian lore is filled with stories of dogs fearlessly engaging lions, bears and wild boars—“but they are super sweet and loving.”

That sensitive side was a key factor in selecting Anatolian Shepherd Dogs, Griffith says. “We wanted to protect livestock but we didn’t want a dog we had to lock up when the grandkids come over.”

With that being said, the dogs are not for everybody. Kenny and Griffith operate a licensed kennel and have been Anatolian breeders for eight years. As such, they are committed to both the breed’s past—“we’re trying to preserve what’s been around for 6,000 years,” Griffith says—and its future.

Anatolians can be excellent family protectors, but they need to be socialized while still puppies and kept under the firm control of an experienced dog owner. They also need a large and securely fenced yard. “This is not an easy dog to have in an urban situation,” Kenny says. “They are a difficult dog to take out in public because they will respond to threats.”

To prepare puppies for their new homes, Kenny begins conditioning them shortly after they’re born. In honor of their genetic history, she plays lively Turkish music for them, then moves on to jazz, classical, country, pop and rock.

“Most of our pups go to working homes where they are also members of the family. By whelping them in a central location of the house they become familiar with people voices, vacuums, blenders, music, all manner of household noise and smells,” she says.

Weather permitting, they move outdoors to a protected puppy yard once they are big enough, and then are brought back indoors in pairs for lessons on housebreaking. “The feedback we get is typically very positive. Our goal is to send off a well-rounded puppy that is able to do the job for which it is bred and be a valued family member.”

Anatolian Shepherd Dogs have been largely independent operators for centuries, usually keeping nocturnal hours when most predators are out and about. They keep a watchful eye on their flock while analyzing and responding to perceived or real threats.

They are not aggressive by nature, opting instead to use their size (males can be 29 inches at the shoulder and weigh 150 pounds or more) to deter predators. If that doesn't deescalate the situation, the intruder is offered a subtle throat-clearing bark that can be ramped up, if needed, to a bloodcurdling warning.

As the Anatolian Shepherd Dog Club of America’s web site notes, “that final warning is NOT an idle threat. With their legendary fearlessness, prodigious strength and cat-like agility they can drive off the largest of predators.”

Ironically, those same traits have been harnessed and used to protect endangered predators. Rare Breeds Ranch is a proud partner with the Cheetah Conservation Fund in the African nation of Namibia, home to the world’s largest population of cheetahs.

The organization provides ranchers with Anatolian Shepherd Dogs to protect their sheep and goat herds from the occasional cheetah attack. Cheetahs give a wide berth to ranches protected by
Anatolians, which helps eliminate the need for ranchers to trap or kill “problem” cheetahs.

Griffith and Kenny, with help from the Rotary Club of Red Bluff, donated eight units of frozen semen to the Cheetah Conservation Fund’s livestock guard dog breeding program in 2009. The semen (valued at $10,000) was taken from Zor, an American Kennel Club Champion and the foundation sire for Rare Breeds Ranch. •