Komondors are counted among the group of dogs called Livestock Guarding Dogs, or LGDs. Although four of these noble breeds are recognized by the AKC, there are many more than that in the world. Some are already in the Foundation Stock Service, which allows them to be shown at Open Shows, but there are even more currently working in Europe and Asia.
These breeds were credited with helping to develop human civilizations by guarding the livestock being raised to feed nearby tribes. Archaeologic evidenced suggests that Komondors, although known as a Hungarian breed, began in China as a dog of the Cumans who lived near the Yellow River.
The Mongol expansion forced the Cumans out of their homeland to the west, to the Ural Mountains. As the expansion continued over the course of three centuries, the Mongols and Cumans continued to clash until they reached the border of Hungary. There were many serious conflicts between the Mongols, Cumans, and the established inhabitants of the area. The remains of dogs and horses were found in the Cuman graves, and the dogs were identified as being Komondors. In fact, scholars credit the Cumanian origin of the Komondor as the dog of the Cumans, or Koman-dor.
A band of Cumans continued through southern Russia where the South Russian Sheepdog (Owtcharka) can be found—a breed also thought to be related to the Komondor. As this part of the world was being developed and civilized, other bands of nomads were migrating from Asia through Europe, sharing genetic material with other local dogs. Many LGD breeds share features which clearly were useful for their job protecting the flocks; light color, drop ears, juvenile features, protective coat, and of course, similar temperaments.
Each breed was developed specifically for the environment in which they were working. Weather and terrain, as well as the predator they were guarding against, defined the dog’s size and coat. Since most predators were dark-colored with prick ears, the livestock were most comfortable living with guardians that looked more like the stock they were defending. This is still true today.
These breeds also share temperament features. Independent thinking, with the ability to make decisions without direction, is important for a dog working remotely; but this can be problematic for a pet. Because of this, these breeds need owners to understand their need to protect the flock (family) and always be aware of what their dog is thinking. These are not breeds to be taken lightly. They are serious and are capable of making decisions that might not be what you expect.
Because they are sensitive, training with a heavy hand can dampen their enthusiasm for life and create a sullen dog. But Komondors can be as goofy and playful as any other breed when they understand your needs and respect your opinion. They connect with the family just as they would a flock, and the depth of that connection can be felt strongly. Dr. Marion J. Levy who imported the first BIS Komondor was fond of saying, “You ain’t been loved ‘til you’ve been loved by a Komondor.” The same is likely true of all LGDs.
When I was in Budapest I visited every museum I could find looking for photographic or even artistic evidence of how the Komondor fit into the development of that country. I found nothing. There were some pictures of Kuvasz with people but nothing of the breed that worked farther out in the countryside. Little evidence exists, but there have been a few pictures of Komondors with their shepherds that survived WW2. The breed was nearly totally wiped out by the war and we are lucky that a few devoted breeders saved a few dogs along with the few that were saved in the Budapest zoo.
In my travels I was lucky to discover the Romanian counterpart of the Komondor, the Romanian Mioritic Shepherd. Romania and Hungary are next to each other and share a geographic feature called the Carpathian Basin. Since this area was divided only by a political boundary, it can be assumed that these two breeds shared genetic material. I imported a female from a breeder in Austria and the comparison with the Komondor is strong. Their coats are different, but I have seen some pictures of some dogs from the 1990s that were white and looked corded. In general, the Mioritic coat is brushed and does carry color, although a preponderance of white is preferred. Their temperament is very similar. Strong and active as a youngster, protective and very independent, my female fit right into our family.
In my travels I was lucky to discover the Romanian counterpart of the Komondor, the Romanian Mioritic Shepherd.
Shared genetic material has been a feature of LGDs throughout the ages and is still happening. Because each livestock dog is developed for a specific need and environment, ranchers and farmers continue to purposefully mix breeds that will work for them. It is up to those of us who are devoted to preserving these historically important breeds to continue to produce healthy and sound dogs. It is also up to us to not criticize those ranchers (who are raising our food) for developing a dog that works best for them. We must continue to preserve this history.
Article photos provided by the author.
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