Kangal Dog – Turkey’s Fiercely Loyal Livestock Guardian

Introduction

A purebred dog is one whose ancestry contains only individuals of the same breed. Purebred dogs are purposefully bred from parents who possess certain desired traits and characteristics (“Kangal Dog Breed Information and Pictures”, Apri Dog Registry). The Kangal is a large dog breed originally from the Sivas city region of Turkey. Kangals were developed to guard livestock and were historically used to protect sheep against wolves, bears, and jackals. The breed is known for its strength, protectiveness, and loyalty (“Kangal Dog Breed Information and Pictures”, Apri Dog Registry). While Kangals have many typical traits of a purebred dog breed, there is some controversy around whether the Kangal should be officially recognized as a purebred by major kennel clubs. Arguments exist on both sides of this debate.

History and Origins

The Kangal breed originates from Sivas City in the Anatolian region of Turkey. The name “Kangal” comes from the town and district of Kangal in Sivas Province in central Turkey where the breed was first recognized and documented.

The Kangal has ancient origins as a sheep guardian dog used by local nomadic tribes in the Sivas-Kangal region of Turkey. They were bred and used for centuries by the Sivas-Kangal Yörük tribe to protect livestock herds from predators. Their duty was to guard sheep, goats and cattle from threats like wolves, jackals and bears. The harsh climate and extreme conditions of the Anatolian plateau meant the Kangal evolved as a rugged, independent and protective livestock guardian dog.

kangal origins as sheep guardian

According to the Kangal Shepherd Dog Wikipedia page, the earliest references to the Kangal as a distinct dog breed trace back to the writings of Babylonian King Hammurabi in 1750 BC where it was referred to as the “Sivas çoban köpeği” or Shepherd Dog of Sivas.

Physical Characteristics

The Kangal Dog has a large, powerful and muscular build. They have a thick, dense double coat, short on the body but slightly longer around the neck. The common coat colors for Kangals are light dun, tan, gray, and cream. The head is large and broad with a black mask on the face and black ears. Their ears are medium in size, triangular shaped and pendant. Kangals have an intimidating appearance because of their massive size, wide skull and dark mask.

Male Kangals typically stand 30-32 inches at the shoulder and weigh 90-150 pounds. Females are a bit smaller, standing 28-30 inches tall and weighing 80-120 pounds. Their body is longer than it is tall, giving them an athletic but sturdy appearance. The Kangal’s tail is long and curled, either hanging down or curled up and over the back. Their legs are thick and strong, with large round paws. Overall, the Kangal Dog presents as a well-balanced, powerfully built dog with impressive size and strength.

Temperament

kangal temperament

Kangals are highly protective guard dogs, renowned for their loyalty and courage when defending their territory and family. They have strong territorial instincts and will alert their owners to any potential threat with loud barking. Despite their imposing size and protective nature, Kangals are gentle giants when it comes to their owners and family members. They form close bonds and become very attached to their people, remaining calm and docile indoors when properly socialized. Kangals are sensitive dogs that do not respond well to harsh training methods, but will thrive with firm, consistent training from an early age. They are obedient and eager to please if treated with patience and positive reinforcement.

When raised alongside children and familiarized with friends/guests from an early age, Kangals are incredibly affectionate and patient. They have a natural wariness of strangers, but are not inherently aggressive if socialized properly. Kangals mature slowly compared to other dog breeds, reaching full maturity around 3 years of age. With early socialization and continued exposure to a variety of people, environments, and situations, Kangals can become well-rounded family companions despite their guarding tendencies.

Controversy Around Purebred Status

There has been much debate around whether the Kangal should be considered a purebred dog breed. For many decades, the Kangal was not officially recognized by major kennel clubs around the world. The Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), the world governing body of dog breeds, only recognized the Kangal as a distinct breed in 2018 [1]. The Kennel Club in the United Kingdom recognized the Kangal in 2021[2]. The lack of formal recognition for so long has fueled debate on whether the Kangal should be considered a distinct purebred dog, or more of a landrace or regional dog breed.

Those arguing the Kangal is a distinct purebred claim it has existed as a breed for centuries in the Sivas-Kangal region of Turkey with unique physical and behavioral characteristics. They argue the lack of formal kennel club recognition was simply due to the breed’s rarity outside of Turkey until recent decades.

On the other hand, some claim the Kangal is more akin to a regional landrace rather than a distinct purebred dog. They argue the breed has not been subjected to the closed breeding programs and detailed breed standards used to create most modern purebred dogs. There are also limited pedigree records tracing Kangal breeding lines.

Arguments That Kangals are Purebred

arguments for kangal as purebred

There is strong evidence to suggest that Kangals are a longstanding and distinct purebred dog. Some key arguments that Kangals are a purebred include:

Kangals have a long, documented history as a distinct dog type in Turkey, with origins tracing back hundreds of years. They have been bred and valued by Turkish nomadic cultures as livestock guardian dogs since ancient times, with the first written descriptions dating back to the 14th century (https://www.ukcdogs.com/kangal-dog). Their existence and purpose as flock guardians in Turkey is well-established.

In addition, Kangals have been bred for specific traits over centuries in Turkey to create an ideal livestock guardian. Breeders have selectively bred Kangals for generations to enhance qualities like strength, protectiveness, independence, and loyalty. This dedicated breeding has led to a uniform dog with a clear set of behavioral and physical characteristics (https://vgl.ucdavis.edu/breed/kangal-dog).

There is also genetic evidence that Kangals are distinct from other dog breeds. Genetic studies have shown the Kangal breeding population in Turkey to be genetically divergent from common dog breeds. Their gene pool appears quite distinct, supporting that they are a purebred rather than mixed breed dogs (https://www.ukcdogs.com/kangal-dog).

Arguments Against Purebred Status

arguments against kangal purebred status

Some argue that the Kangal dog should not be considered a purebred for the following reasons:

Only recently established as standardized breed – The Kangal dog breed as we know it today is a relatively recent establishment, first recognized as a standardized breed in its native Turkey in the 1960s. Therefore, some argue there has not been enough time and effort to establish the Kangal as a genetically distinct purebred dog.[1]

Closely related to other Turkish shepherd dogs – The Kangal shares close genetic ties with other Turkish sheep guardian dogs like the Akbash and Anatolian Shepherd. The breeds likely stemmed from the same ancestral working dogs and some view them more as landrace dogs rather than distinct pure breeds.[2]

Limited genetic diversity – Due to their relatively isolated geographic origins and recent breeding efforts, some claim Kangals have limited genetic diversity compared to older established breeds. This raises questions about their genetic health and viability as a purebred.

Recognition by Kennel Clubs

The Kangal Dog has been recognized by several major kennel clubs, starting with the United Kennel Club (UKC) in 1998. The UKC focuses on “total dogs” and was established over 100 years ago as a respected dog registry. They were the first major American club to recognize the Kangal Dog as a standardized breed (Source).

In 2009, the Continental Kennel Club also fully recognized and endorsed the Kangal Dog breed. This opened the door for greater breeding programs and events for the breed in North America (Source).

Most recently in 2020, the Kangal Dog was admitted into the American Kennel Club Foundation Stock Service program. This is the first step for a breed towards full AKC recognition. Currently less than 10 breeds are part of this program, putting the Kangal Dog on track to become a recognized AKC breed in the coming years (Source).

Kangal Breed Popularity

Despite remaining somewhat rare compared to other popular dog breeds, demand for Kangal dogs has increased outside of Turkey over recent decades. Their imposing size, protective instincts, and loyalty make them desirable as guard dogs and companions.

One factor contributing to Kangals’ growing popularity internationally is the breed’s frequent portrayal in social media as powerful and devoted guardians of livestock. Viral videos and images often depict them heroically fending off large predators like wolves, hyenas, and bears. This exposure, though sometimes dramatized, has raised awareness of their strengths.

According to the American Kennel Club, Kangal ownership in the United States has increased gradually since they were first imported in the 1980s. However, the breed was only formally recognized by the AKC in 2020, so their population remains limited compared to breeds with longer establishment. But interest continues rising as Kangals become less obscure.

While no longer considered obscure in Turkey, the ancestral homeland of Kangals, ownership there is often still purpose-driven for guarding sheep and goats. International demand is more for companionship and home protection. But whether in Turkey or abroad, their popularity reflects admiration of the breed’s power, courage, and devotion.

Conclusion

Based on the evidence presented, Kangals likely do merit recognition as a distinct purebred dog breed, though some controversy on the subject remains. Kangals have a long history and their own unique physical and behavioral characteristics that set them apart from other breeds. However, their relatively recent recognition by major kennel clubs and lack of a fully closed stud book has led some to question their purebred status.

The debate around Kangal purebred claims underscores the need for careful, responsible breeding practices. While they exhibit many desirable traits, Kangals face potential health problems common to large breeds like hip dysplasia. Maintaining genetic diversity through occasional outcrossing may be beneficial, but should be approached cautiously to preserve the essence of the Kangal as a breed. Breeders aiming to uphold the highest standards need to make breeding choices that prioritize health, temperament, and functionality.

Though the controversy around their origins remains, Kangals have earned global recognition for their notable abilities as livestock guardian dogs. Careful breeding programs geared towards maintaining the breed’s working functionality and genetic health will be integral to ensuring the Kangal’s longevity as a treasured purebred dog.

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