The Anatolian Shepherd is a large breed of dog that originated in Turkey. They were originally bred to protect livestock, such as sheep and goats, from predators. In spite of their name, they are not a herding breed.
In addition to their protective instincts, Anatolian Shepherds are known for their loyalty and intelligence. They are often used as working dogs on farms and ranches but can also make great family pets with proper training and socialization.
My favorite livestock guardian dog was Sovalye, an Anatolian Shepherd. He killed his first raccoon at only 8 months of age, which is impressive for an LGD. It was not until after he died that we had our first problem with the meningeal worm, and that was when we realized that in addition to keeping predators off our farm, he also kept white-tail deer away, and they are carriers of m-worm.
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History of the Anatolian Shepherd
The history of the Anatolian Shepherd can be traced back to ancient times in central Turkey, where they were bred to protect livestock from predators like wolves and bears. The breed was valued by nomadic shepherds for their ability to guard flocks of sheep and goats, and they were often left alone for long periods of time to do their job.
The Anatolian Shepherd was first recognized as a distinct breed in the 1970s, and was imported to the United States in the 1950s. Since then, the breed has gained popularity as a livestock guardian and working dog and is also kept as a family pet.
Today, the Anatolian Shepherd is recognized by the American Kennel Club. Despite their impressive size and strength, they are known for their gentle nature and loyalty to their owners.
Characteristics of Anatolian Shepherd Livestock Guardian Dogs
The Anatolian Shepherd is a large and powerful breed of dog known for its impressive size and strength. Males typically stand between 27 and 29 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh between 110 and 150 pounds, while females stand between 25 and 27 inches tall and weigh between 80 and 120 pounds.
They have a thick, double coat that can range in color from fawn to brindle to white. The coat is weather-resistant and provides insulation against both heat and cold. The fur is short on the head and legs, and longer and thicker on the body and tail.
The Anatolian Shepherd has a broad, muscular chest and strong, sturdy legs. Their head is large and square, with a broad forehead and a powerful jaw. They have small, triangular ears that fold down and a long, thick tail that hangs down when at rest.
The Anatolian Shepherd is known for its calm, confident, and independent temperament. They are loyal and protective of their family and territory, and have a strong instinct to guard and protect their livestock.
While they are not typically aggressive, they can be wary of strangers and may be reserved or aloof with people they don’t know. This is a natural trait that has been bred into the breed over centuries as a means of protecting their flocks from predators.
Anatolian Shepherds are intelligent and independent thinkers, which can make them challenging to train. They respond best to positive reinforcement training methods and require a firm, consistent hand.
Despite their size and strength, the Anatolian Shepherd can be gentle and affectionate with their family members. They are good with children and other pets when raised with them from a young age and properly socialized.
The Anatolian Shepherd is an intelligent breed, but they can be challenging to train due to their independent nature and strong will. They were bred to work independently, making their own decisions in the field, which can make them less responsive to commands from their owners.
Anatolian Shepherds require an experienced and confident owner who can establish themselves as the pack leader and provide consistent, positive training. Harsh or punitive training methods are not effective with this breed and can lead to fearfulness or aggression.
Socialization is also important for Anatolian Shepherds, as they can be wary of strangers and other dogs if not properly socialized from a young age. Early and ongoing socialization can help them develop good manners and positive associations with new people and situations.
Training should begin early in the puppy stage and focus on positive reinforcement methods, such as rewards-based training and clicker training. Consistency and patience are key, as it may take longer for an Anatolian Shepherd to learn a new command or behavior than other breeds.
Role of Anatolian Shepherds in Livestock Protection
Anatolian Shepherds protect livestock primarily through their natural instincts. When it comes to protecting livestock, they use their size, strength, and protective instincts to keep predators at bay.
Anatolian Shepherds bond with the livestock they are protecting. They develop a strong sense of loyalty and protectiveness toward their flock or herd and will put themselves in harm’s way to defend them from predators.
When a predator approaches, the Anatolian Shepherd will typically bark and growl to warn the predator away. If the predator persists, the dog may physically intervene, using their size and strength to chase off or even attack the predator.
Anatolian Shepherds also patrol the perimeter of the property they are guarding, checking for signs of predators and marking their territory with their scent. This helps to deter predators from entering the area in the first place.
Training Anatolian Shepherds as LGDs
When you have a dog as large and powerful as an Anatolian, early socialization is more important than ever. Before I got my Anatolian, I had read stories from others who had to tranquilize their dogs for a vet visit because they had not been socialized from a young age.
When I was shopping for my Anatolian, I asked the breeder what she did to socialize her puppies, and she gave me a list of activities, such as letting her grandchildren play with them and putting them in a puppy pen in the yard while she was mowing so they would get used to loud sounds.
There was a myth that prevailed up until the early 2000s that livestock guardian dogs should not be socialized because it would make them less effective guardians, but this has been debunked by many conscientious breeders and owners who have well-socialized dogs that are outstanding guardians.
All of our livestock guardians have been well-socialized and accepting of strangers when we walk into the pasture with them. But if someone stops their car on the road when we are not there, the dogs let us know about it by barking wildly.
Basic obedience training
My daughter took our Anatolian to obedience classes when he was a year old, but it was obvious he should have started earlier because he was aggressive toward other dogs and had to be watched carefully.
Although he was the most challenging dog we ever trained, it was well worth it because it made him much easier to handle. He would be completely deaf to us when out in the pasture, but once we put a collar and lead on him, he’d follow commands perfectly.
My daughter even entered him in 4-H obedience competition and won first place, qualifying her to compete at the state level. The judge was so excited about how well he did, and she encouraged my daughter to continue competing with him because she said you rarely see this breed in obedience competitions.
Specific training for livestock protection
When it comes to training a livestock guardian dog, it comes down to mostly the dog’s intuition. You need to buy a puppy from a farm where the dog has been kept around livestock since it first opened its eyes. It needs to see sheep or goats as its family. This leads to the dog naturally wanting to protect them.
Although rescue dogs can make great pets, it’s not a good idea to get one as an LGD unless you know that it has come from another farm where it was used as a guardian. It is highly unlikely that a dog that has spent its life as a pet in suburbia will adapt well to life as an LGD or be an effective guardian.
Caring for Anatolian Shepherd Livestock Guardian Dogs
Caring for a livestock guardian dog is not the same as caring for a pet dog. Here are some important differences.
Feeding and nutrition
Anatolian Shepherds are large and active working dogs, which means they have specific nutritional requirements to support their growth, development, and overall health. Feeding your LGD the cheapest dog food you can find is an especially bad idea because their health will suffer. Here are some important considerations when it comes to feeding an Anatolian Shepherd:
- High-quality protein: Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair and should make up a significant portion of an Anatolian Shepherd’s diet. Look for dog food that contains high-quality sources of protein, such as chicken, beef, or fish (not by-products or meal). Meat sources should be listed first when looking at dog food ingredients.
- It wasn’t until we started feeding our Anatolian a raw diet that he looked his best. Even our vet noticed how much healthier he appeared when we took him in for his annual visit! If you want to do this, definitely do your homework to be sure your dog is getting a balanced diet.
- Complex carbohydrates: Carbohydrates provide energy and fiber, and should be included in an Anatolian Shepherd’s diet in moderation. Look for dog food that contains complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, but this should be lower on the list of ingredients than meat sources. We avoid foods with sweet potatoes in them since research has shown a correlation with heart disease in some dogs, and there have been zero benefits attributed to feeding sweet potatoes.
- Caloric intake: Anatolian Shepherds require significant calories to support their size and activity level. Be sure to feed your dog appropriately based on weight, age, and activity level. Keep an eye on the dog’s body condition so it doesn’t become underweight or overweight, either of which will make it harder to do its job.
Exercise and activity requirements
Anatolians have a high need for activity and mental stimulation. This is why they are not the best dog for city living, especially with someone who doesn’t have time to spend with them. Having a job with a small number of livestock and a low predator load can even lead to boredom, destructive behavior, and chasing livestock.
It should go without saying, but you do not want to keep an Anatolian chained in one place. They need room to run around in securely fenced pastures, and they can’t do their job if they are tied. If you have a small number of livestock and a low predator load, it’s a good idea to spend time with your dog to help prevent boredom, and obedience training in these situations is more important than ever.
Bored dogs will often try to play with livestock, which looks like chasing and maybe even attacking, even though that’s not the dog’s intent. However, if a 100-pound-plus dog jumps on a sheep or goat, especially a young one, it can do some damage. This is mostly a problem in dogs under 2 years of age.
Here are some strategies for stopping a dog from chasing livestock:
- Training and socialization: Early and ongoing training and socialization can help prevent chasing behavior in dogs. Teach your dog basic obedience commands, such as “sit,” “stay,” “leave it,” and “come,” and practice them regularly. Socialize your dog with livestock from a young age, and supervise interactions to prevent chasing behavior.
- Leash training: Go into the pasture with the dog on a leash to prevent your dog from chasing livestock when they are new to your farm. Keep your dog on a short leash and use a firm, calm voice with the command, “Leave it!” to redirect their attention away from the livestock if they start to run towards livestock.
- Positive reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement training methods to reward your dog for good behavior around livestock during the introduction phase of training. Offer treats, praise, and affection when your dog stays calm and focused in the presence of livestock.
- Physical barriers: When you bring in a new puppy or if chasing has already started, use physical barriers, such as fences or enclosures, to prevent your dog from accessing areas where livestock are present. A new dog should never be left alone with livestock until you’ve spent a lot of time with the dog and livestock and know that it stays calm around them.
When bringing in new livestock, put them in an adjacent pasture first so that the dog can understand that this new animal belongs on your farm. They may attack any new animal on your farm, not only predators. A vet told me she had an LGD that killed a new lamb she brought home.
Like all breeds, Anatolian Shepherds are prone to certain health concerns, but as an LGD, dogs are also more prone to injuries than pet dogs, such as a torn ACL, broken bones, or bite wounds from predator challenges. For this reason, some people like to have health insurance for their livestock guardians.
Here are some of the most common health issues that can affect Anatolian Shepherds:
- Hip dysplasia: This is a common condition in large breeds, where the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, leading to arthritis and pain.
- Elbow dysplasia: Similar to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia is a condition where the elbow joint doesn’t develop properly, leading to arthritis and pain.
- Eye problems: Anatolian Shepherds are prone to certain eye problems, such as entropion (inward rolling of the eyelid) and ectropion (outward rolling of the eyelid).
It’s important to work with a reputable breeder who screens their dogs for these and other health issues. Regular veterinary checkups and preventative care can also help catch and treat health issues early on.
Is an Anatolian Shepherd right for you?
The Anatolian Shepherd is a highly effective breed for livestock protection and is widely used around the world for this purpose. Their natural protective instincts, size, and strength make them an ideal breed for guarding flocks of sheep, goats, and other livestock against predators, large and small.
While they can be challenging to train and require a firm and experienced owner, the Anatolian Shepherd’s loyalty and affectionate nature make them a great addition to any farm or ranch.
Overall, the Anatolian Shepherd is an impressive and reliable breed that can be a valuable asset to any livestock operation. With the right care and training, they can provide years of loyal and effective service as livestock guardians.
Want to know the other farm dogs? Read Choosing a Farm Dog: Which Breed is Best for Your Country Homestead?
To help you avoid disappointment and heartache, see my 7 Tips for Success with a Farm Dog.