The Anatolian Shepherd Dog Explained

We asked the following questions to various experts involved with the breeding & showing of Anatolian Shepherd Dogs.  (Above  Photo from the article “Judging the Anatolian Shepherd Dog” by Catherine Emanuel – appearing in ShowSight Magazine, May 2015)

  1. Where do you live? What do you do “outside” of dogs?
  2. How many years in the Anatolian Shepherd Dog? Showing? Judging? Breeding?
  3. What, in your opinion, is the secret to a successful breeding program?
  4. The Anatolian is currently ranked #90 of all 192 AKC breeds. Is this a blessing, a curse, or immaterial in your breeding decisions?
  5. Do you feel that the general public is provided sufficient information about the breed?
  6. What is your favorite dog show memory?
  7. Is there anything else you’d like to share about the breed? Please elaborate.


Lesley Brabyn

I live in Northern California, about 90 minutes north of San Francisco, on the Sonoma Coast where I own and manage a 400 acre organic livestock ranch, along with my husband of 40 years.

I am primarily known for my Salukis, which I have own, bred and shown since 1967, Shelties before that. In 2007, my husband and I bought the ranch and needed something to guard the livestock. That’s when we brought in the Anatolians, initially not thinking we were going to ever show them. But show them we have and they’ve done very well, winning specialties, multiple Group placements and most ending up in the Top Five when shown. Our current Special was BOB at Westminster this year and is the number one Anatolian (breed stats through May), although she just turned two years old. I’ve been judging for 19 years, primarily sighthounds, and more recently achieved permit status for Anatolians. We’ve bred three Anatolian litters, producing nine champions, although the majority of our puppies have gone to strictly working homes.

The secret to a successful breeding program is tenacity, a knowledge of the practical application of genetics, a good eye for a dog, resilience, a thick skin and luck. Understanding the relationship of structure to movement, participating in continuing education programs as new evidence-based research becomes available and being willing to change your opinion can be very beneficial. A no holds barred assessment of the dogs you use for breeding and their relatives is essential. It’s all about selection and the balance of conformation, temperament and health factors. Just because you produced a dog, kept it, loved it and finished it, even when its wins might have been big, does not necessarily make that dog worth incorporating into your breeding program and sometimes, you may have to admit that, even if in retrospect.

Is the breed’s ranking a blessing, a curse, or immaterial in your breeding decisions? This is immaterial to me. My goal is to produce healthy, sound dogs with good temperament that adhere to the breed standard and that are better than their parents. The Anatolian is not a beginner’s dog and I would venture that it is a minority of people who have the space or knowledge to manage them well. I would not want to see the Anatolian become popular as in the wrong hands, it could be disastrous.

I would like to see more public outreach targeting agriculturally related events: sheep and goat shows, community ag days, etc. While more people are becoming aware of dogs who guard other animals by seeing info about the Cheetah project on TV and the like, many are not aware of the intentional and selective breeding that goes into making that happen. In this day and age of “let’s get a rescue to do the job”, I’d like more outreach about the importance of genetics and selection in relation to purebred dogs, structure, instinct and purpose.

My favorite dog show memory? I would have to say that at the moment, it is Tallulah’s Best of Breed win at the Westminster Kennel Club this year. In 55 years of showing dogs, I’d never been to Westminster and had no idea what to expect. It is truly a show like no other.

The Anatolian is a unique balance of the Mastiff and sighthound: Too much of the former and you get huge, heavy, cumbersome dogs completely unable to pursue predators over mountainous terrain. Conversely, too much like a sighthound results in light bone, lack of body and nothing a predator would take as a serious threat. Breeders need to keep to the middle ground and aim for a large, powerful and athletic dog who can fly up a cliff, intimidate lurking predators by size and when necessary, dispatch threats with efficiency. Another issue is that the Standard calls for a level topline when moving, yet many dogs in the ring move butt high, with fronts that do not match the rear, resulting in unbalanced movement. Unbalanced movement is neither efficient nor effective. And then there is the confusing issue of Anatolian tail carriage: the Standard states, “When relaxed, [the tail] is carried low and with the end curled upwards. When alert, the tail is carried high, making a “wheel”. Both low and wheel carriage are acceptable when gaiting…”. Some judges will penalize a tail that is not carried high and even curled over the back. Yet, is the dog supposed to be “on alert” in the show ring? My observation in the field is that the tail acts as a flag to the livestock. When there is reason to be alert, the dog raises its tail and the livestock see that and muster around the dog for protection. If the tail is always up and curled, it indicates nothing to the stock as it doesn’t change, whether there is danger or not. Judges need to be aware that the tail serves a critical function: to alert when there is danger. Hopefully, that is not in the show ring.

Heidi Krol

We live in Southern New Hampshire on an 80 acre working farm. I farm full-time and also run a vintage jewelry business. Our farm consists of dairy goats, heritage breed chickens and pigs, a few Arabian horses and some geese, all protected by our
Anatolian Shepherds.

I have raised working Anatolians since 1996. However, my husband spent some of his childhood in Turkey and his family had two Turkish Shepherds (Anatolians) back in the 1970s on their farm. Between the two of us, we have a very long history with the breed. Together we run Stonecoat Farm.

We started showing in AKC shows in 2015 when we imported an exceptional example of the breed from Australia, Tribocie Puck. In his first year of showing he earned BISS and GCH titles.

Successful breeding programs are developed over a long period of time, not overnight. You must have visions and goals for your program and love and passion for the dogs you are breeding. Additionally, for me, raising a working breed, I strive to produce dogs that can and do work. Those of us who breed working dogs cannot lose sight of the dogs original purpose. One of my main goals is to preserve working ability. The only way I know whether or not my breeding stock possesses correct working temperament is to raise them and evaluate them(over a period of time) in a true working setting. A true working setting for Anatolians, means outside 24/7 protecting livestock in a predator rich environment. Without selecting for correct working ability, the purpose of our breed will be lost. When I raise dogs in a working setting, I can easily see which dogs are built for it, both in mind and body. Those are the dogs I want to carry on my line.

Know your standard and breed to it. The standard is the blueprint for your breeding program. For example, the topline is one of the hallmarks of our breed. The standard calls for a dip behind the withers and a gradual rise over the loin. The topline should resemble a “lazy s” when viewed from the side. Lately, I see a lot of dogs with really flat toplines being put up in the ring. Flat toplines may be a show dog thing, but should never be an Anatolian thing. Stick to the standard, avoid trend breeding.

Being able to set emotion aside and evaluate our dogs objectively is also important. Write down the pros and cons of each dog you are considering breeding. Then find a mate that balances that list. Many times, people seek out dogs that are similar to the dog they are breeding, including similar flaws. Not everyone has an eye for detail or a mental image of what they are trying to produce. Don’t be afraid to ask for someone else’s opinion.

Lastly, seek out a mentor. Find a breeder who has more experience than you, but similar goals. Ask them to evaluate your dogs, ask their opinions on matings, etc. Have an open mind and be willing to receive the insight. I have been very fortunate to find friendship and mentorship in Erick Conard of Lucky Hit Ranch. He is a wealth of knowledge and always very willing to share it. A true ambassador for our breed.

The Anatolian is currently ranked #90 of all 192 AKC breeds. Is this a blessing, a curse, or immaterial in my breeding decisions? I believe they have been right around that ranking for a few years now, which is a good thing. If they were to move up in ranking, I would hope it’s because more people realize the Anatolian is a superior guardian breed and the need for a good working dog is up. The current ranking doesn’t have much of an impact on our breeding decisions. We will continue to breed dogs that are both structurally and mentally sound, that will perform the job they were intended to do.

I don’t feel the general public is provided sufficient information about the breed. Anatolians are not a breed for everyone. Years ago people who were interested in the breed received their information from (mostly) long time breeders. Now with the use of social media, information is more easily obtained, although it’s not always correct information or sound advice.

My absolute favorite dog show memory was winning the 2016 National Specialty. That year it was held in California, 3000+ miles from our home. I bought a transit van to accommodate Puck, packed up my dogs and my then 12 year old son and hit the road. We made stops along the way, spending a few days in Yellowstone and Jackson Hole, before arriving in California. It was a huge entry that year, I believe 88 total entries, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. When the judge, Ms. Sharon Newcomb, sent Puck to the front of the line, we were thrilled to say the least. At just shy of 19 months he became BISS CH Tribocie Puck. It was an experience we will never forget.

Being a breeder who raises working dogs, I’d like to touch upon the working Anatolian in the ring. Generally, the traits that make a great working dog, do not make a great show dog. When selecting for working traits, a few of the traits we select for are dogs that are aloof, observant, protective, alert to surroundings, suspicious of strange people and strange dogs, and ones that walk through the livestock with their head and tail down (head and tail up alarms the stock). We do not pick for showy, bouncy, animated dogs, it goes against what is required for them to be successful in the pasture. On occasion, young dogs, extremely confident dogs and highly trained Anatolians will gait around the ring with head and tail up. But, don’t overlook the ones who don’t.

When looking down the line up, Anatolians should be rugged, powerful and muscular. A dog that can withstand the elements and defend against large predators.

We work very hard to get our working dogs into the ring and have them stand for examination by a stranger. Many working Anatolians resent the touch of a stranger. Judges should approach from the side, allow handler to show the bite, the exam should be done briefly and with light hands. Heavy hands, grabbing of the muzzle, direct eye contact, crinkling of paper or use of squeaky toys for animation and response should be avoided.

Remember these dogs have been bred for thousands of years to independently protect livestock against predators. They are first and foremost a working breed. I would hate to see the breed divided into two separate types, working vs generic show dog. With continued education on correct working temperament and structure of our breed, judges can help preserve the very thing that makes our breed what it is, working ability.

Catherine O’Brien

I live near Richmond, Virginia and I am an accountant by day. My husband and I are weekend warriors when it comes to dog showing, because we both have to work on Monday morning.

My kennel name is Skyview Anatolians and I have been showing Anatolians since 2006 and had my first litter in 2008. Anatolians keep things interesting. Their personalities are varied and they are so smart – you learn something all the time. There are no cookie cutter dogs in this breed—each one takes a different approach to training etc. What works for one, will not work for all. You have to listen to, and learn from, each one of your dogs.

I think a successful breeder does three things: recognizes potential and views the whole dog , takes risks, has a plan with goals and a vision

A successful breeder recognizes when a dog isn’t going to work out for their program, regardless of whether they purchased it or bred it, which can be heartbreaking. On the flip side, they also recognize a good dog when they see one and they are willing to take a chance on keeping that dog if they bred it, or purchasing that dog if it has tremendous potential. I also think it is important to remember a bitch that nicks well with one stud, may not produce the same quality with another. A good breeder will keep track of dogs produced and note any health issues that crop up and longevity.

There is a lot of financial risk to breeding and decisions have to be carefully weighed, but ultimately decisions have to be made in order to move forward. In other words, don’t get stuck in a place where you are afraid to make decisions. An excellent opportunity won’t wait—sometimes you have to go against convenience.

I do a lot of planning, and often breedings are thought about years in advance and generations away. Do my plans work out? Sometimes, but a lot of times they don’t and I have to keep my goal in focus. Without planning I don’t have anything to base future decisions on – that’s why planning is important. Planning provides you with a framework for reference and allows you to make decisions quickly when necessary. A wise person once said keep two bitch lines going forward. Bitches provide the foundation for a breeding program. Get/keep the best you can.

Health testing is important in any breed and provides decision points for the breeder. The results are tools to use in your program. However, the whole dog should be viewed not just the test results. A bitch with OFA excellent hips and skin issues is not going to compare to a male with OFA fair hips and is lovely in every other way. I see too many breeders get hung up on OFA “Fair” and won’t breed a dog with Fair hips. Fair means nice, normal. The dog has normal hips. Forty years ago when someone said a lady was fair, it meant they were beautiful. OFA hasn’t changed, but the societal meanings or interpretations placed on a word has. I wish that OFA would rename “Fair” to “Normal”. When you have a mammogram and you are over 50, “normal” is the best word ever. I think breeders that have such a strict view are narrowing the gene pool unnecessarily. However, I look at the whole dog – the entire picture.

The use of Estimated Breeding Values (EBV) for inherited traits is a tool that I use with every breeding. I research relatives and the offspring (if any) of the subject dog in order to have an idea of what that dog may produce genetically. An established breeder will have their own personal data from breedings they have done and can do research to help fill in the gaps on more distant relatives. EBVs can be used for a variety of traits and improves breeder selection.

I also use the co-efficient of inbreeding (COI) calculation in the planning stages of pairings. I value diversity. Yes, it may mean the pups don’t look like carbon copies of each other, but you take exceptional individuals and you bring them into your established lines in the future. There is risk in every breeding decision you make, but if breeders keep breeding from the same dogs, generation after generation, the end result is breeding depression and loss of
genetic diversity.

To me, a successful breeder plans with a vision in mind, recognizes dogs for what they are, and assesses risk and then
breeds accordingly.

Is the breed’s ranking a blessing, a curse, or immaterial in your breeding decisions? The ranking of the Anatolian at #90 out of 192, is immaterial to my breeding decisions, but overall very good for the breed to be mid-range. I cannot control what other breeders do. I carefully vet my homes to the best of my ability and I try to encourage others to breed and show. A little bit of “popularity” is a good thing—without it the number of viable breeding dogs dwindles and breeds become extinct. Having a healthy breed population ensures the health of the breed and provides choices to a breeder. A breeder’s puppy people are the future of the breed. They become the face of the breed going forward.

I think it is also important to keep in mind “popular pure bred” doesn’t mean the same thing it did 20 years ago. People with registered dogs are not the majority or common anymore. For example, where I work, there is only three other people with registered dogs.

When asked if there is sufficient information available to the general public about this breed, I would have to say yes and no. There is so much inaccurate information on social media that it is frightening. Anyone with a computer and internet connection can become an expert overnight. I literally cringe when I read some of the posts and comments on Facebook. Anatolians have been bred for thousands of years to guard livestock. They are bred to be intelligent and independent thinkers, which translates to stubborn and extremely smart. They can easily outsmart an owner. They also don’t mature until two years or much later, which means diligence on the part of the owner to raise the puppy for the dog they want, whether that be a family companion, estate guardian, or a guardian in the field with stock. They are protective and they view situations and think differently than the high-prey drive dog breeds that most people are familiar with.

There are just a few good books out there including Anatolian Shepherd Dog: A Comprehensive Owner’s Guide by Richard Beauchamp, which is now available again for purchase.

Breeders are a wealth of knowledge. The AKC information sheet included with registration certificates has good information in it. This combined with the clubs ASDCA (AKC parent club) and the ASDI (Anatolian Shepherd Dogs International) has code of ethics breeders listed and good articles.

My favorite show memory is winning Sweepstakes and Best of Winners for a five point major at my first Specialty with my first Anatolian, who was still a puppy. I had only been showing for
five months.

This breed is a guardian and is reserved with strangers. Reserved doesn’t mean unsocialized, it doesn’t mean the dog has been mistreated, it doesn’t mean the dog has a bad temperament—it doesn’t mean any of those things. It means they are a discerning guardian and that individual is not as comfortable in chaotic environments. There is a range of personalities in this breed and reserve with strangers is normal. It is written in the standard, “reserve around strangers and off its territory is acceptable.”

Judges that approach in a friendly, calm manner and make eye contact with me first and speak to me are greatly appreciated. My acknowledgement of the person approaching means that for the dog—that person is “Okay” and I am at ease. Allowing the handler to show the bite is also preferred—not only for keeping the dogs happier, but not encouraging the spread of contagious disease, which has been a concern for the last several years with the canine flu viruses. As someone that has very old dogs and sometimes young pups at home, I am always grateful for that.

On the flip side, I have a couple of very socially confident dogs that enjoy attention from people. They know they are at a show. So a judge is going to see a range of personalities in his/her ring. The reserved dog should not be faulted for not being thrilled about being in a show environment. Many of us that show these dogs literally pull them off the field, clean them up and away we go. They have a job outside of dog showing to do.

Teresa Rogowski

I live in Raymond, Ohio. I have been in dog showing since childhood. My kennel names are HFO Anatolians, HFO Danes, and Tiara Rain Akitas. I also run a meat goat farm, as well as have eggs and hay under the name Green Akers Farm. I am a
veterinary technician.

I live on a small farm just Northwest of central Ohio, in a town called Raymond. I operate under the farm name of Green Akers Farm and my kennel name is HFO Anatolians.

Outside of dogs, I am a veterinary technician in a large practice. I also enjoy horseback riding, hiking, and reading, when I’m not working on the farm.

The farm consists of a menagerie of animals: boer goats, belted galloway cattle, a christmas donkey, chickens, penkin ducks, turkeys, cats, and my other dog breed—Great Danes. Therefore, I don’t get a lot of “down time”.

I have owned Anatolian Shepherds since 2008. I was born in to a dog show family, so showing just came naturally. My parents bred and showed Old English Sheepdogs. My mother likes to tell the story about how she and one of the dogs were pregnant at the same time. The puppies were four weeks old when my mother gave birth to me. The Akita is the first breed I chose to own personally and started showing them in 1993. I have been showing dogs in several breeds since 1993. My personal breeds being Akita, Great Dane and Anatolian Shepherd Dog. I have bred a small number of litters. I usually only breed a litter if I am looking to keep a puppy for myself to show or work.

The secret to a successful breeding program? When I look at putting a breeding together, I look for type, temperament, conformation, working ability, and health. All of these things as a whole make a successful breeding program.

Is the breed’s ranking a blessing, a curse, or immaterial in my breeding decisions? The Anatolian is not for a first time dog owner, so I’m not sure I want to see an increase in popularity. There has already been a jump in popularity ranking since I started in the breed, which was not too long ago.

The two Anatolian Shepherd Dog Clubs (Anatolian Shepherd Dog Club of America and Anatolian Shepherd Dog Club International) have done a nice job with information. I would like find a way to make this information more accessible to the public. Perhaps at some events such as 4-H, agriculture events/fairs, and meet the breeds or judges education.

My favorite dog show memory? I have many good show memories, but two humorous ones stand out in particular.

The first one was quite awhile ago. I was in the ring showing my big male Great Dane (Iceman) on a brand new leather leash. The leash must have had a defect in it because on the go around it broke. Iceman didn’t bother any other dogs in the ring or attempt to jump out. However, when the judge clapped his hands and said, “Here big guy”, he promptly trotted over and buried his head in the judges groin. The judge doubled over, but managed to get ahold of his collar. I apologized profusely. The judge didn’t hold it against us as Iceman was awarded RWD that day.

The second is fairly recent. I was in the ring showing my male Anatolian (Sahmi). Sahmi is now seven years old and had been a retired champion for six years. I decided to bring him out to a couple of shows to see about getting his Grand Championship. The first show weekend he was fine. The second weekend he was not really feeling like being shown again and had lagged behind the first two days. The next day I told the judge “I’ll do my best to get him to move faster, but he has just turned seven and has not been shown for a long time”. Well, Sahmi must have been offended by my statement, because he decided to make me look silly by acting like a six month old puppy. He jumped up, whirled and pulled my jacket all the way on the down and back. He then grabbed my jacket and presented me during the go around. When I got back to the judge he was laughing and said “Seven huh?”. Sahmi got SD that day to finish his Grand Championship.

This breed is loyal, intelligent and independent. The Anatolian is a fast learner, they’re just not going to do obedience as fast or with as much enthusiasm as other breeds. We do have several people in the breed that do other activities (rally, tracking, barn hunt, therapy dog, etc) with their dogs and have been very successful. Many of the Anatolians that are shown in these types of events, as well as conformation, are also working with live stock. The Anatolian is very versatile. They must be socialized starting at a young age.


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