Erick Conard's Lucky Hit Ranch

Anatolian Shepherd Guardian Dogs Page

Breeding for Working Behavior:
Anatolian Behavioral Conformations

Anatolian Shepherds evaluate both human and animal activity and respond with either submissive or aggressive behavior, as appropriate in a flock guardian environment. Anatolians in Turkey with improper behavioral responses are killed, leaving only Anatolians with correct flock guardian behaviors to reproduce.

Responsible Anatolian Shepherd breeders in the United States believe it’s as important to select for correct flock guardian behaviors and temperament as it is to select for superior conformation. Since Anatolians with poor flock guardian ability may prove useless, I only consider breeding Anatolians who have demonstrated superior flock guardian behaviors, demeanor, and ability. When selecting Anatolians for correct flock guardian behaviors, one must first correctly identify the form those behaviors take.

I find that correctly evaluating flock guardian behaviors is more complex, difficult, and time consuming than correctly evaluating physical conformation. To evaluate behavior, I observe a dog in its own flock, and occasionally off territory, over time. Since much of the time Anatolians are resting, many hours of observation are required for me to glean a small amount of useful behavioral information. Although it’s possible to make predictions regarding a pup’s future behavior, to feel I truly understand a dog’s basic behavioral responses in guardian situations, I need to observe a dog from birth through two years of age.

Lucky Hit's Autumn Shade and Lucky Hit's Autumn Tawny and goats
Lucky Hit's Autumn Shade and Lucky Hit's Autumn Tawny, pictured here at four months, are sitting among their goats and llamas in the big pasture. Observing pups in working situations over time allows on owner to correctly evaluate pups for working behaviors, demeanor, and ability.

The book, Dogs, A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution, by Raymond Coppinger and Lorna Coppinger, is an excellent source I’ve used to improve my understanding of general dog behaviors as well as a wide variety of guardian behaviors. This excellent book is also the base source of much of the behavioral information found in this article.

The phrase “dog behavioral conformations” refers to the patterns of movement (i.e., a dog’s behavioral patterns) to which a dog conforms in reaction to environmental stimulation. Since Anatolians Shepherds inherit behavioral conformations (working behaviors) just as they inherit physical conformations, in making breeding decisions I chose only dogs with superior behavioral conformations to breed. From that group I then consider physical conformations in making my final pick.

A simple example of behavioral conformation is standing. Standing is a behavior. Using that viewpoint, a cow-hocked dog has poor behavioral conformation – he is just standing incorrectly and has “improper” posture even though his conformation may be excellent. From another viewpoint, a show judge will say a standing dog with cow-hocks has poor conformation. Saying “the dog has poor conformation” rather than “the dog has poor posture” implies the dog’s structure doesn’t allow the dog to stand straight. That assumption is incorrect if a dog with good conformation is merely standing improperly, as sometimes happens.

Lucky Hit's Shadow Kasif (Case) standing in a working pose that exhibits a working expression and demeanor. Note the serious look of concern on his face.

Lucky Hit's Shadow Kasif (Case) exhibiting a working pose, expression, and demeanor.
Lucky Hit's Tawny Shadow standing with her goats in an alert guardian posture.

Note that a head that is level with the back can indicate either a relaxed state or wary watchfulness. However, a raised head indicates an alert state of watchfulness and will be seen prior to initiation of an escalated level of aggression.

Lucky Hit's Tawny Shadow standing with her goats

Just as Border Collies have an inherited behavioral “shape” to their outrun when running out and around a flock of sheep, Anatolians have an inborn behavioral conformation or “shape” for each action they perform as flock guardians. Like standing cow-hocked in the show ring causes a dog to lose points for its standing behavior, an Anatolian should lose “points” for the “shape” of its guarding behavior if, for example, it grab-bites its charges.

To evaluate an Anatolian’s guardian behavioral shapes with accuracy (i.e., to evaluate their performance as a flock guardian), the Anatolian’s body movements must be evaluated through time and space in a flock guardian environment. Although one may suppose what an Anatolian’s working behaviors may be without placing the dog in a flock guardian environment, I believe vital information regarding the Anatolian’s ability to interact with flock animals (sheep and goats) is lost and the “evaluation” may be more appropriately designated as a guess.

A pup’s early experiences shape the development of its growing brain, affecting the pup’s adult behaviors. To develop a guardian pup’s brain to its maximum flock guardian potential, the pup must grow up among and properly socialize with goats and/or sheep in a flock guardian situation. Therefore, a properly structured flock guardian environment is also required to maximize the development of a pup’s flock guardian behavioral shapes.<

Lucky Hit's Shadow Samson (below left) and Lucky Hit's Shadow Kasif (Case) (below right), like all my pups, were raised with goats from birth. Lucky Hit's Shadow Sampson (Sam) 'bowing' respectfully

In these pictures both Sam and Case signaling their submission. Note that when Case lay completely down on the ground, the a goat became completely relaxed. This type of early and frequent flock interaction allows a guardian pup's brain to develop to it's maximum flock guardian potential. It also enhances the development of flock guardian behavioral shapes in a maturing Anatolian. A Lucky Hit puppy with a training goat

The extent the pup’s environment can modify its behavior has genetic limitations (i.e.; a dog’s learning limitations are genetic). At birth, all dogs possess the same number of brain cells. Behavioral variations between breeds result from the way each breed’s brains are “wired” as the brain develops. This “wiring” is partially influenced by nature and partially influenced by nurture.

Currently in the United States, Anatolians possess behavioral conformations that genetically predispose them to perform flock guardian tasks better than non-guardian breeds. The performance of these tasks involves the “shape” of their behaviors rather than the degree of their “intelligence.” Unfortunately, if care is not taken to maintain the correct balance of these behavioral traits for flock guardian ability, over time Anatolian guardian abilities will be altered or, eventually, even lost to the breed.

Intelligence is dependent on both the number of brain cells and the way those cells become wired together. Since the way brain cells become wired together is partially nurture and partially genetic programming, if two pups are raised together in the same environment at the same time but behave differently as adults, their behavioral difference occurs because they have genetic programs that “wired” them differently. By observing the subtle differences in the behavioral shapes of Anatolian littermates raised in a flock guardian situation, I improve my chances of selecting the pups with enhanced guardian ability.

Lucky Hit's Tawny Shadow (at right) moves with the herd accompanied by a kid who feels safe at her side. Note Shadow's lowered head and relaxed tail. Shadow's body language signals her herd that all is well. Her proper demeanor engenders feelings of safety and comfort in her flock.

Anatolians properly bonded enjoy spending time with their goats and can frequently be found wandering the pasture with their charges, as seen in the Lucky Hit Anatolians below. An Anatolian's owner is responsible for providing an environment that enhances innate bonding behaviors in their young pup.
Lucky Hit Anatolians and goats
Lucky Hit's Tawny Shadow with lowered head and tail to signal all is well

The brains of livestock guardians are different from the brains of other breeds. We know this, in part, because different breeds have different kinds and quantities of neurotransmitters (i.e., the brains of different breeds are wired differently).A neurotransmitter is a brain chemical that either inhibits or assists in the transmission of signals between one nerve and the next. When neurotransmitter activity differs, behavior differs because each of the many parts of a dog’s brain contributes its specific role in affecting the dog’s behavioral decisions. In a very real sense, behaviors are hardwired into brains.

Dopamine, an “excitatory” neurotransmitter, is found in higher quantities in the easily excitable breeds than in livestock guardian dogs. This difference in neurotransmitter quantity is easily predicted by observing a dog’s behavior. When mature, superior guardians waste little energy bounding around in play behaviors, an activity alarming to flock animals. Show ring judges, breeders, and potential Anatolian owners can use excitable, high-strung, high-energy behavioral “shapes” to help identify adult Anatolian Shepherds who may have poor flock guardian potential.

Neurotransmitters also play a part in producing the highly desirable “aloof” Anatolian personality. They are also involved in the “shut down” mode seen in well bred Anatolians when off-territory. No amount of training can successfully circumvent basic behavioral responses in guardians when these responses are a part of the dog’s “wiring.” When I talk with someone looking for an Anatolian pup that dislikes a basic guardian behavior and asks if that behavior can be trained out of the pup, I suggest they purchase a breed more closely suited to their needs.

Another behavioral “shape” that can be used to predict poor guardian behavior is an off-territory dog consistently holding its head high. Appropriate off-territory flock guardian behavior is to signal a neutral or submissive demeanor, showing they are not a threat. Anatolians signal this safe attitude by holding their heads near level with their back (sometimes even lower), even while moving. Some off-territory Anatolians may keep their muzzles near the ground, clearly signaling appropriate demeanor (imitating grass eating -- a non-aggressive behavior).

To signal a lack of neutrality, an Anatolian raises its head high above back level (as well as holding its tail stiffly upward). Anatolians who consistently hold their heads high when off-territory are not “shut down” and, in my experience, have a greater tendency to behave improperly, sometimes more aggressively, when off-territory than those Anatolians who hold their heads level or lower when off-territory. When my Anatolians raise their heads high they are on-territory, on alert, looking for a predator, and/or clearly signaling their readiness to take all necessary action. When one of my dogs is off territory and raises its head high, it is signaling that it believes an imminent threat exists and it is prepared for conflict. This is not a signal I feel comfortable seeing Anatolians display off territory, especially in the show ring.

Although a dog’s learning limitations are genetic, a pup’s hardwired behavioral programs can be modified a bit during the critical period for social development (two to sixteen weeks) by manipulating its environment. An Anatolian pup cannot be guaranteed to be trustworthy, attentive, and protective with goats or sheep as an adult because the pup’s adult behavior varies depending on the quality of its early environment, especially the important first sixteen weeks of its life. However, if the pup doesn’t have the proper flock guardian brain “wiring,” it won’t be able to assume the correct behavioral “shape” no matter how much training it is given. Therefore, selecting a pup whose parents both have proven working ability increases your chances of obtaining a pup with strong working behavioral “shapes.”

For this positive behavioral conformation to have the greatest likelihood of being expressed in Anatolians, the pup must be properly bonded during the important first 16 weeks of its life. After that critical time has passed, the bonding has less likelihood of being as close. When an Anatolian pup is fully and correctly bonded, the pup's behavioral conformation causes the pup to feel pleasure in accompanying its flock. Lucky Hit pups being raised with goats
Lucky Hit Autumn Shade, pictured here at eight months, enjoys spending time with his goats, frequently following them around the pasture. Lucky Hit's Autumn Shade around seven months

Breeders have no control over the methods a buyer uses to raise a future guardian dog and therefore can’t be certain the adult dog will behave properly with sheep and/or goats. The new owner may inadvertently provide an environment that promotes poor guardian behavior. However, since livestock guardian dogs lack the genetic predisposition to show eye-stalk behavior (the border collie clapping motor pattern), a breeder should be willing to guarantee this flock disturbing behavior will not be displayed by an Anatolian as an adult. In addition, responsible Anatolian breeders will be able to discuss both the pup’s parent’s conformational pros and cons as well as the various flock guardian behavioral “shapes” the pup’s sire and dam display.

Behavioral conformation can be visualized as easily as physical conformation when you understand conformational “shapes.” A dog standing in a show ring has a shape that is judged and a herding dog clapping at a sheep-herding trial has a shape that is judged. Just like the shepherd directs the “shape” of a herding dog toward sheep, a show-dog handler directs the “shape” of the standing or trotting dog for a judge. Although show “shapes” may not cause sheep to move away, sheep run from the eye-stalk “shape” of the herding dog. Since show “shapes” are unrelated to working “shapes,” show titles indicate superior conformation but are unrelated to a dog’s working ability, demeanor, and/or behaviors.

Breeds are behaviorally unique because of the shapes of their motor patterns and the sequence in which the patterns appear. These shapes and sequences are a result of artificial selection by man and to maintain them requires ongoing selection.

Three items used in creating breed differences are

      1) the number of predatory motor patterns displayed,

      2) the intensity with which they are displayed, and

      3) the age at which they appear.

Although different breeds display predatory motor patterns in a range from “all motor patterns are displayed” through “no motor patterns are displayed,” the extremes are rarely seen.

Eye-stalk is a behavioral shape never seen in the best livestock guardians. However, even good guardians may engage in chase and grab-bite, but not usually until they are six months old. When chase and grab-bite is displayed by guardian dogs, it isn’t done with the intensity seen in a border collie and is generally initiated as a part of the dog’s social play behavior. Young dogs are learning their limits. Without being punished by sheep or goats (or an alert owner) when pups become too rough, a pup may occasionally tear an animal’s skin and may not realize it is behaving improperly. In this case, the pup’s owner failed to provide the correct environment for the pup. The owner must correct the pup’s environment immediately by surrounding the pup with animals who swiftly correct the pup for all improper (rough) behavior.

If one of my pups tears skin, I know I failed to keep the correct training animals with the pup. I immediately replace any weak animals (weaker than the pup) with animals strong enough to demand and obtain the pup’s respect. Older females, large horned animals, and older males generally demand the highest level of respect. My objective is to extinguish all unwanted behavior by housing the pup with animals capable of punishing the pup for improper behavior. When a guardian is immediately punished every time it displays the delayed and weakened predatory behavior, that behavior is extinguished. Owners who don’t place their pup in an environment that automatically extinguishes improper behavior are responsible for bad habits the pup develops as it matures.

Lucky Hit's Shadow Sahara, shown here at 1 1/2 years, leads her goats when entering new pasture each day. Note how serious and watchful she is, since there are many predators in the area. Bonding like this is most successful when a pup is kept with flock animals that are neither too aggressive nor too weak.

Lucky Hit's Shadow Sahara leading her goats through the pasture.
If the animals are too aggressive, they may damage a pup physically. Or the animals may be so aggressive that the pup feels abused and learns to avoid the flock. However, if a pup's "training" animals are weak and skittish, the pup may learn to play roughly with its charges or even injure them, requiring work and time to correct. The owner is responsible for placing the pup with animals of the correct level for that pup's stage of development. If the owner fails to maintain "training" animals of the correct level with the pup during the pup's development, the owner is responsible for enhancing bad behavioral conformations seen in the pup. Lucky Hit Anatolians eating in a circle with goats eating in the background
Older Lucky Hit Anatolian pups eating in a circle with goats eating in the background. My Anatolians are taught that they can only eat from the bowl I give them and that they are not allowed to move a less dominant dog from their bowl. They are also taught to accept my little West Highland White, Sugar.

In dogs, the predatory motor sequence is generally just play behavior. In guardian dogs, these predatory signals appear only after the critical period for social development is over. Therefore, predatory behavioral patterns can’t develop fully and if the dog is raised with flock animals it can’t chase them with predatory intent… the chase will be for play even if some injury occurs.

Livestock guardian dogs who display submissive or playful motor patterns (social) in front of flock animals will not hunt and kill them. They are displaying dog social behaviors (i.e. treating the flock animals like they are another dog). This behavior indicates that social bonding has taken place. However, a guardian dog who eye-stalks flock animals, even as a social game, creates trouble because flock animals automatically retreat from eye-stalk behavior. A breed like the border collie can’t be raised to protect flock animals because in border collies predatory onset begins during the critical period.

The frequency a motor pattern is displayed and the context that elicits the display are also breed specific. Although all breeds can have individual dogs that are aggressive, some breeds are aggressive only rarely and only in certain circumstances while other breeds become aggressive frequently with little provocation. This variation is a result of the breeds’ behavioral conformation and is a result of selective breeding.

A general carnivore has the following hunting, killing, and eating sequence:

Orient > eye-stalk > chase > grab-bite > kill-bite > dissect > consume

The order of this sequence may vary and there may be some deviations. Wolves, coyotes, foxes, and some Anatolian Shepherds replace the chase motor pattern with a forefoot-stab or “mouse jump.” Also, canids have several kill bites, including head shake. Unlike felines, canids have predatory motor patterns that are loosely connected because they can begin their predatory sequence starting with any motor pattern. This makes canids excellent scavengers.

All predatory motor patterns (except consume since all dogs have to eat) can be modified through selective breeding. Consume is the only predatory motor pattern found in the very best livestock guardians. The dissect motor pattern is another pattern rarely found in livestock guardians. Even if guardian dogs show some predatory patterns, when guardians are raised properly with flock animals those unwanted predatory behaviors will not be triggered by the flock animals. Unfortunately, certain improper environments bring forth the dormant predatory motor patterns. Chase and grab-bite are the predatory behaviors seen at the highest frequency in guardian pups and are triggered most easily by weak, skittish flock animals. Eye-stalk is virtually never seen in guardians.

All behaviors are internally motivated even though the intensity of the reward varies with each different behavior. Animals seek environmental situations that release their internally rewarded behaviors. Internally rewarded behaviors create internally pleasurable sensations. Dog courtship is an easily understood example. A dog does not need a treat or a pat on the head at the conclusion of courtship to externally reinforce courtship behavior. The behavior is internally motivated and internally rewarded. Breed specific behaviors are also internally motivated and internally rewarded.

Lucky Hit's Seven of Nine and Lucky Hit's Shadow Kasif (Case) with Goats
Lucky Hit's Seven of Nine
and Lucky Hit's Shadow Kasif (Case)
interacting frequently with their goats.
Maintaining Anatolians with a large number of flock animals in a small space results in a greater frequency of Anatolian/flock animal interactions. This increase in the frequency of interactions is beneficial for enhancing working behavioral conformations in a pup's developing brain, especially during the first crucial 16 weeks of the pup's life. It is also useful in obtaining detailed information regarding an adult Anatolian's true behavioral conformations.

To develop good working Anatolians, I raise my pups in an environment that allows them to experience as many internally rewarded flock guardian behaviors as each pup’s genetics allows. Following are some of the innate behaviors I watch for in superior flock guardian pups.

   1. Low activity (High energy/high activity dogs alarm flock animals.)

   2. Responsive to sheep and goat posturing (respect toward charges)

   3. Easily bonds to flock animals (The dog perceives the flock as a part of their pack. When stressed, a pup moves toward the flock.)

   4. Suspicious of new people and new things (An example of this is a dog that will not eat food touched by a stranger no matter how tempting the treat.)

   5. Shut down when off territory

   6. Aloof personality (Initially curious and checks out something new and then moves away to watch quietly if needed.)

   7. Few or no predatory behaviors

Because Anatolian Shepherds inherit behavioral conformations, I place working behavior as a primary consideration in all Anatolian breeding decisions. Behavioral conformations are strengthened when an Anatolian pup is raised in a properly structured flock guardian situation, the only environment in which one can fully evaluate an Anatolian’s flock guardian behavioral conformation.

Young goats trust guardian dogs with highly developed behavioral conformations required in flock guardians. This type of trust is seen in the kid (below) crossing the spring with Lucky Hit's Tawny Shadow. Note that this kid leans against Shadow for safety as if Shadow were her own mother.

Lucky Hit Tawny Shadow drinking with kid

Early interactions between Anatolian pups and their future charges increase the closeness of bonding. Lucky Hit's Seven of Nine enjoys the company of two of her training goats.

Lucky Hit pup in training

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