THE DISPUTE: One or several breeds of Coban Köpegi

Is there one breed including dogs with different colour variations and dogs from different regions of Turkey? Or are there several breeds recognised by region and appearance, meaning coat colour or length? Are the differences significant enough to separate the Turkish shepherd's working dogs into different breeds? Turkish people call these guardian dogs often kangals - true. But they don't collectively consider kangals only fawn coloured with short coat. To many Turks kangals are shepherd's dogs = coban köpegi, which vary in colour and coat length. But, to many Westerners a kangal is "pure" only when fawn and short coated, and therefore they are reducing the genepool of these true and rare primitive dogs. By criteria, which are of secondary importance in working dogs.

This dispute has been going on since the Turkish shepherd's dogs first became known outside Turkey. It is worldwide and, unortunately - as it seems, eternal. The situation and evidence is not at all so clear as it is stated on some websites. On the contrary, there is a lot of evidence, which speak for the benefit of the Turkish shepherd's dogs being one breed. And kangal, akbash, kars etc. being only variations within this ancient breed. Genetic studies have been done by e.g. geneticists Prof. Roy Robinson and Dr Malcom B. Willis. They both clearly state that these variations can not be regarded as different breeds.

In Finland we feel that the decision FCI made in 1989 is correct. The best name for our breed is Anatolian Shepherd Dog, because it reveals that these dogs come from a vast area in Turkey and not only from the Sivas-Kangal region. And, because within Kangal region also, there can be seen other than fawn coloured short coated working dogs.

It is said that there are three different types of guardian dogs in Turkey and stated that they are clearly different breeds, but what is the main difference between them? Only appearance, meaning coat colour and length. Of course Tazi, the sighthound, is definitely a different breed apart from the livestock guardian dogs of Turkey and, to my knowledge, we all interested in Turkish dogs agree on that.

All these big Turkish shepherd's guardian dogs do the same job; protect sheep and other livestock. The true working dogs have the same character and the same conformation all over Turkey. Differences in colour should not be important enough to divide these dogs into different breeds, or as in Belgian Shepherds, sub-breeds. Neither give one of the types a status of a special variety of the breed, since these types = different colours are born in same litters. Even though I accept different coloured Turkish shepherd's dogs as equally good samples of ASDs, I still do think that ASDs have very distinguished "breed marks" such as conformation among other things. So, not every "mongrel" found in Turkey is an Anatolian Shepherd Dog. To me their profile looks very different than that of COs, CAOs, M-As and other LGDs. ASDs have e.g. "plenty of leg" and also the tail carriage is a quite specific trait of their own.

According to geneticists Dr Malcolm B. Willis and late Prof. Roy Robinson, fawn colour is NOT pure breeding in these dogs and other colours can NOT be prevented from being born. For example, one of my males (BOS/WW at Helsinki Show 1998) is short coated fawn with black mask, born out of a fawn female and a reddish fawn male, both short coated. But, in the same litter there were three more fawns plus one red long coated plus one greyish fawn long coated plus one white (cream) short coated.

Should we register different breeds from one litter? Or, in Dog Shows, show the fawns in some special variety kangal-class and the other, differently coloured littermates, in a different class? Or, if this continues, after a few years, the two longer coated from this same litter in a kars-class? Three different classes for dogs from one litter? After all, not even the kangal-enthusiasts can tell the "difference" between a kangal and a fawn Anatolian Shepherd Dog. Of course, we will always have mostly fawn coloured dogs, since fawn colour is dominant in our breed. According to studies by Prof. R. Robinson, recessive colours will be born after several generations despite of strict culling. Along the way, in the fruitless strive to get "pure breeding" fawns by culling, we will loose a lot of other, more important, qualities such as health, size and temperament as already has happened in some kennels.

There are a lot of examples in England, where some breeders have tried to breed only fawn coloured dogs but not succeeded. Two examples (among many): One from the early days is a very rough coated male, used several times in karabash breeding. His descendants in e.g. Australia still to this day "throw" rough coated puppies in their so called pure kangal/karabash litters. The other example is from more recent years, a karabash litter with several tricolour puppies (fawn with many white markings on legs, chest, neck and face) and even one with very rough coat. The "mis-marked" puppies of that litter were sold as pets, but a rough coated male got famous by escaping and causing some kind of traffic jam and got his colour picture published in Daily Mail, so he was no secret anymore. Short coated and fawn littermates were sold as "pure bred" karabashes and one of them ended up in Norway and is now advertised as "pure bred" kangal and has had "pure bred" kangal puppies. Every Anatolian line in the UK carries longer coats and tricolours, so there are also other examples of tricolour puppies born in karabash kennels.

Fawn and short coat is dominant in our breed, I'm not at all denying that. The majority of ASD puppies will always be short coated fawn, it is a genetic fact. But I also accept, as a genetic fact, to have non-fawn coloured dogs too. In one of Robinson's studies about coat colours, there was an example of a mating that took place in Turkey in a remote village. A tricolour working bitch was bred by a white working male, all puppies (born in quarantine in England) were fawn. A lot of puppies, not just a few. So, even if the dog's phenotype is fawn, the genotype can "hide" different colours. And, yes, in several cases two fawn dogs, bred with each other, have produced (mostly fawn, of course) also a few puppies of other colours, even white!

At Saki Paatsama Seminar in Helsinki at WDS-98 Dr Paschoud (president of the breed standard committee in FCI) said that all the big white guardian dogs (Pyrenean, Maremmano-Abruzzese, Kuvasz, etc) are genetically the same breed and that they could be bred with each other in order to widen the genepool, despite of different nationalities. Why then single out kangal as a different breed from the other Turkish guardian dogs? These Turkish dogs are found at least within one state and nation and, most importantly, born in same litters! I understand that Turkish people are proud of their dogs and don't want to be told by westerners what to do with their own breed. But why support this narrow breeding, when it has taken us a century to learn the hard way what the outcome is, proof of that being the large quantity of dying breeds. Couldn't we share with the Turkish cynologists, not just the theory, but also the "knowhow" and experience of genetics and health aspects and try to help them to realize the essential points in breeding, vitality of a breed in whole and not just some types of colours. Do the flockmasters all over Turkey care what is done and decided at e.g. Ulas Breeding Center? Flockmasters just want their dogs to work properly despite their colour or coat length, just as they have done for thousands of years.

FCI is willing to accept crossbreeding, e.g. schnauzers and pinchers, of which we already have a litter in Finland, bred with special permission from our KC and FCI. Why then promote kangals as a special pure breeding type? It already is proven to be genetically untrue. As Dr Malcolm B. Willis says in his book "Practical Genetics for Dog Breeders", page 111: "In many breeds dislike of specific colours is often illogical. When Anatolian Shepherd Dogs were first brought to Britain they were fawn with black mask. Later other colours appeared in their litters or were brought in and it was alleged that these non-fawn colours were not pure-breds. Since no registration policy existed in Turkey there was no way of ensuring the "purity" of any import and since breeders in Turkey were free to breed as they chose the argument for only a fawn ASD is without logic. Many fawn Anatolians will, and do, produce other colours including white markings and the breed is not pure-breeding for fawn with a black mask despite what some breeders may claim. Breeders would be wiser paying attention to conformation, character and hip status than expending the energy they have in fighting for fawn colours."

In our Dog Magasines and where ever dogs are discussed nowadays, the main issue seems to be the health and vitality of breeds. Geneticists and veterinarians all over the world seem to be very concerned about the breeding programmes being too strict in many breeds. At the Saki Paatsama Seminar veterinarians and geneticists seemed to think that several breeds will face extinction if not "saved" by crossbreeding. To divide Turkish working dogs into different breeds or varieties would be completely against recommendations and would drive the breeding of Turkish dogs down a very narrow path.

Everyone is allowed to like some colours and dislike some other colours, like I do too. In general I don't like white animals, e.g. geese, but that doesn't mean that I want them to extinct. Or, in dogs, excluded from breeding, if they are healthy and a benefit to the breed as a whole. Surely the first choice for breeding stock should be made by type/conformation, health and correct temperament, but not by colour.