I had a recent conversation with a colleague who asked my opinion regarding the Anatolian Shepherd Dog (or Kangal Dog and yes they are the same thing!) and if this would be an appropriate breed for them, their lifestyle etc. I asked them why they wanted the dog and the answer paraphrased as follows:
"I want a challenge and a hard dog that can teach me something as a trainer. I want a dog that can be my hiking companion that must be able to handle an out of control dog coming at us on a hiking trail without reacting/killing the other dog and a dog that I can use as a socialization dog, rehab work etc. "
The Anatolian Shepherd Dog is an ancient Turkish breed of livestock guardian dog and is by nature reserved and independent due to thousands of years of selective breeding for the dog's ability to think and make decisions independently of humans. These dogs are bred to cover large areas of land spanning hundreds of miles, following and protecting their stock. Sometimes these dogs would work alongside shepherds, other times they would be without any human contact for months at a time. These dogs had to be capable of perceiving a threat, addressing the threat while minimizing injury to themselves and preserving their life.
Contrary to internet claims made by uninformed people and trainers who have never even owned a LGD and unscrupulous dog breeders trying to make big bucks off of selling vicious guard and estate guarding dogs, well-bred livestock guardian dogs are not loaded guns and they are not hair trigger dogs. Their first line of defence is barking. They only use force when absolutely necessary and after being heavily provoked. Self preservation is important. It would neither serve the shepherd nor the dog to be fighting every chance it got, injuring and rendering itself useless for work. That being said, the dog will choose on it's own what is a threat and what is not and should not be put in situations where they may need to make that call unless they are working as LGD's.
This particular conversation mirrors conversations that I've had dozens of times with friends, clients and family over the years, where someone essentially wants a breed of dog knowing that they would to be going against the dog's nature in not providing an environment conducive to guarding/herding/scenting- you fill in the blank- and by putting the dog in unnatural situations where it would be in group social environments with strange dogs, people etc. In this case this person wanted this breed because a) they want the challenge and b) they want to do something that no one else has done (to prove it can be done?). But in other cases it's often that you just like the way a dog looks or want a big dog, scary dog, dog with long hair, short hair etc.
Now, I have confidence that this person could take a female ASD and socialize it from puppyhood and things would probably turn out fine. But just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. One should never put their own self interest ahead of the interest of the animal for no reason other than to prove a point. This is something that should be particularly important for all of us in the dog training profession. We need to hold ourselves to an even higher standard and we should know better than to make inappropriate decisions when it comes to selecting a breed of dog.
If an individual is honest enough to admit that their sole reason for wanting a dog is to inhibit that dog's own instinct and go against it's nature and genetics, they should be honest enough to admit to themselves that that may not be the best breed of choice.
My colleague's attitude is one of many that leads to the plethora of working dog breeds I see each year that were purchased because someone wanted them, but didn't actually want any of the characteristics that went along with the breed. They don't want to honor the breed, work with the breed, develop the breed. They want to change the breed. Force them to accept strangers petting them. Make them play with other dogs. Stop them from wanting them to herd everything. Stop them from following scent trails and taking off every time the dog is off-leash.
It is this attitude and self interest that is corrupting the working dog breeds today and undoing the noble work of breeders who developed and preserved our working dogs for hundreds and in many cases thousands of years. When we lose sight of the breed's original purpose and function and begin breeding versions of the breed that can function as couch potato pet dogs, it means the end of the breed as we know it.
Over the last 50 years we have seen the near destruction of some of the most precious breeds of dogs on earth because people wanted them for no reason other than they wanted them but didn't actually want any of the characteristics innate in the dog itself. German Shepherd Dogs, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Dobermanns, Rottweiler, Mastiffs and countless more breeds have all fallen victim to the selective "un-breeding" of their once desired and sought after character traits. Pet dog owners want their dogs to be friendly, soft, easy to train, biddable, accepting of strangers, lovers of all dogs and animals. They want the breed that they want, not the breed that would best suit their lifestyle.
Rather than choosing the most appropriate breed, they will choose the dog that they want and then demand that it conforms to them. Genetics and instinct be damned. Hundreds or thousands of years of selective and purpose driven breeding for specific traits and characteristics be damned.
So what is the fallout of selling working dogs to live as pets?
Behavioral issues such as destruction of property, reactivity, aggression, as well as depression, and anxiety to name a few.
Breeders capitalizing on the pet dog market and dumbing down dogs by the millions, selling them at mass to the pet dog world, utterly extinguishing the hardness and mental character that enabled them to perform a task in the first place.
We are left with shells of what were once amazing working dogs. Dogs with drive and no brain, dogs with brain and no drive. Dogs with no stamina. Dogs that can't turn off. Dogs that can't handle pressure. Dogs that continually put you under pressure.
As adults, we should be capable of making choices that are right as opposed to childlike choices that are right-now. All prospective dog owners need to do some serious soul searching when it comes to selecting an appropriate breed for themselves. Asking hard questions and then selecting the breed of dog that is most appropriate for them NOT necessarily the breed of dog that they want.
Lastly, breeders have a responsibility. A responsibility to breed dogs true to their original working purpose even if that means making far less money because there are not enough suitable homes available for these dogs. (Thankfully there are amazing breeders out there still, dedicated to breeding true working dogs. They are hard to find but do your research!) Most importantly, breeders have a responsibility to place dogs in correct homes that will honor and work the dog and not simply any home that will pay the puppy price.
Our animal shelters are overrun with surrendered dogs. There are literally dog trainers on every corner, classes filled with out of control and unfulfilled dogs. It's not until we start putting the dog's needs above our own selfishness and desires that we will see any change in this trend.
Meagan is the founder and owner of Mayrich Kennels Inc. and is one of the leading dog trainers working in behavior modification, today. With over 12 years of professional experience in this area specifically, she has spent her entire lifetime and professional career working with aggressive dogs and dogs with severe behavioral issues. This work has led to the development of the widely successful programs offered at Mayrich Kennels Inc.