Erick Conard's Lucky Hit Ranch

Physical Characteristics of Working Anatolians
By Erick Conard, Lucky Hit Ranch, Leander, Texas
Conard's Tawny Kat warning off an intruder
Conard's Tawny Kat warning off an intruder
Physical Characteristics of Working Anatolians

I have owned working Anatolians since 1985, when I purchased my first breeding male, a strictly working Anatolian. The focus of my breeding program is the selection of behaviors that produce superior working ability. Working behaviors will be lost if breeders cannot correctly identify and select Anatolians with superior working ability. Breeders must also make working ability a major consideration in all Anatolian breeding decisions. Responsible breeders will not breed an Anatolian with poor conformation or genetic flaws. Similarly, responsible breeders will not breed Anatolians lacking excellent flock guardian ability.

For the first two years of my pups' lives, I flock test them in the pasture with serious predators for superior working ability, demeanor, and behaviors to select only those Anatolians with the best working ability for breeding. From pups identified as possessing superior working ability, I next evaluate physical characteristics and eliminate dogs with physical traits unsuitable in a working Anatolian. Some of the physical traits that exclude an Anatolian from breeding are:

            - Unsatisfactory OFA results (anything other than fair, good or excellent)
            - Genetic defects (entropion, thyroid problems, etc.)
            - Excessively small stature (unable to handle larger canine predators)
            - Excessively large stature (resulting in loss of agility, etc.)
            - Delicate bone (resulting in sight hound traits)
            - Massive bone (resulting in Mastiff traits)
            - Poor conformation (improper angulation, cow hocked, splayed front, straight back, etc.)

No dog is without flaws. Therefore, once an Anatolian has passed both the behavioral testing (generally a two year period with livestock and predators) and the conformation evaluation, I list the female's positive and negative traits and search for a male who excels in the areas the female lacks and who might also improve some of the female's positive traits. I consider the potential traits the pair might produce (both physical and temperamental) and select the mate I believe has the best chance of producing superior working Anatolian pups. For example, if the female is smaller with a sharp temperament I breed to a male who is larger with a more mellow temperament. Naturally, at this point in my selection process, none of the negative traits are outside the acceptable range for a working Antolian.

Since my focus is working behavior, over the years most discussions I've had regarding Anatolians has involved working behavior. However, since my working male, CHAMPION BIRINCI'S YAHSI (HANDSOME), obtained his Championship fresh off the ranch in two show weekends, I've spoken to many people whose primary interest in Anatolians is show rather than working. I have been surprised how many of those individuals don't raise their Anatolians with livestock and therefore lack a real world understanding of Anatolian working behavior. Discussions with some of these people have been both fascinating and terrifying because of the beliefs they hold regarding the physical and behavioral characteristics they want in their show Anatolians characteristics they favor without an understanding of how that characteristic will impact working ability. Therefore, I decided to share my ideas regarding the physical characteristics I look for from a working viewpoint.

The 2004 National Specialty Judge Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp provided a general description of my male, Champion Birinci's Yahsi (Handsome), in his article, "Critique of the Regular Classes for the 2004 ASDCA National Specialty in Atlanta, Georgia, September 16, 2004". Judge Beauchamp's description of "Handsome" succinctly describes the basic physical characteristics I am breeding for in my working Anatolians. The following is an excerpt from that article.

"The Open Dog, BIRINCI'S YAHSI, impressed me from the moment he entered the ring. Calm, dignified, observant -- a picture of strength without lumber.

He maintained the correct silhouette both standing and in motion. Slightly longer than tall, with what I call the "lazy-s" topline (a very gentle curve downward behind the withers then arching slightly up over the loin area).

The correct and matching front and rear angles allowed him to move easily along. Coming and going confirmed what his side gait led me to anticipate -- total soundness.

Good head properties -- power without coarseness with beautifully made and placed ears and a well shaped eye of good color."

It is encouraging to realize that experienced and knowledgeable Anatolian judges like Judge Beauchamp have the same concept of an Anatolian's general physical appearance as someone like myself who is focused on the working characteristics of the breed. However, there have been other physical traits I've heard a great deal about from some breeders that concern me. A discussion of these traits follows.

Working Anatolians must be agile, fast, athletic, and strong and should possess superior stamina. Their genetic development was shaped by the working environment in which they lived. Appearance, including size, weight, and coat color, was not the criteria for which these dogs were bred. Function was selected for above appearance. They are a breed that can work under arduous conditions, including extreme temperatures, without much food and water. Selection should only be for those traits that enhance their ability to perform flock guardian duties under the harsh conditions in which the breed developed.


Recently a strong emphasis has been placed on breeding larger and larger Anatolians. When I obtained my first Anatolian twenty years ago, the average male weighed 100 to 120 pounds and a 100 pound female was really large. Some females now weigh a massive 160 pounds or more and, incredibly, some breeders claim to have males that weigh as much as 200 pounds. While many people seem to believe the increase in average size is a good thing, our smaller early dogs, not many generations from Turkey, were excellent working dogs with an excellent combination of strength and agility. My first male, Ebeling's Kasif (Case) weighed 115 pounds. He was a terrific working male who faced a heavy coyote and wild pig population daily and handled his job easily, never losing an animal under his care.

Since a well muscled Anatolian with good bone has a better chance in a fight with a larger predator, I maintain a minimum size for my dogs. Unfortunately, as Anatolians become larger they lose speed and agility, so I also maintain an upper size limit. A working Anatolian's size must be kept at the optimum size for both strength and agility in order to be effective against major predators. Bears require size, big cats require speed and agility, and wolves require size, speed, and agility. Working Anatolians must be able to deal with all three predators effectively in order to survive encounters with them. Fortunately, the optimum size closely matches the size of goats and sheep (which generally weigh 135 pounds or less). Being a size similar to their flock allows our working Anatolians to easily blend in with their herd and to be more effective guardians.

Responsible Anatolian breeders resist the temptation to produce heavy, large boned goliaths even when they sell well to a public hungry for an impressive pet or when they become the current fad in the show ring. Breeding for any physical type at the extreme end of the Anatolian range of acceptable types can eventually result in the destruction of the gene pool.

In the working Anatolian, the PROPORTIONS that maintain the optimum level of both strength and agility are more important than size considerations. That is why maintaining correct Anatolian type is vital.


I have been amazed by the intensity of feeling I've seen regarding the "correct" Anatolian tail, an upright tail that curls. Most often I've heard people say "The curled tail is what distinguishes our breed from other breeds." Since many breeds have curled tails I find that statement confusing and illogical.

Years ago I watched my goats faithfully stand behind my male, Casy, as he barked into the dark night to warn coyotes of his presence in the flock. As he moved either left or right, depending on the movement of the lurking predators, the goats would scoot right or left to keep Casy between them and the unseen predators. Since so many were short, I couldn't understand how they knew exactly where to move to be so directly behind him. Always curious, I got down on all fours, in the dark, in the middle of the herd, with my eyes level with most of the goats' eyes. The only thing I saw was Casy's tail standing stiff and glowing lightly in front of the herd. From my position his tail looked like a short white pole until he moved left. Then I could see it curl forward. All the goats and I shifted until the curl was hidden and all I could see was a straight line. I was again directly behind Casy.

From that and similar experiments, I believe the curled tail has a definite safety function related to guardian duties. Therefore, I prefer tails that go up when danger is present or the dog is moving to another location and wants the herd to follow. If the tail curves too tightly the smaller animals in the herd will have greater difficulty seeing the tail signal and not know where to shift, as I've seen with my dog Autumn's tightly curled tail. If the raised tail doesn't curl sufficiently forward, the herd can't assess the direction from which the greatest threat lies. From a working standpoint I favor the tail that stands tall with a nice curl toward the top similar to a shepherd's crook.

One caution remember that a genetic flaw exists that causes kinks in tails (which make them appear more curved). If kinks are selected for to produce a curled tail, the malformations will eventually enter the back and create permanent physical deformity.

Another interesting thing about an Anatolian's tail is it is (and should be) a direct link to the emotional state of the dog and therefore a cue to the goats. Over time a flock learns what different tail carriage means. For instance, when a large number of predators lurk around the herd, a good working Anatolian may decide to circle the herd in agitation, tail up and waving energetically back and forth like a flag, and head back to the barn and a safer environment. The goats immediately follow him since his tail is held high and waving in agitation.

When the herd moves across the pasture with deliberation to reach a distant location (without grazing), my dogs hold their tails high but not waving in agitation (although the tail might sway in a relaxed manner). In this manner the goats know to follow my dogs but do not feel alarmed or in danger.

When the goats are grazing and a dog moves with or through the herd without disturbance, the dog holds its tail relaxed and drooping, curling it up slightly toward the end. Sometimes this droop is more level with the dog's back and other times it droops toward the ground. This lowered tail is a very important signal to the flock that all is well and they can continue grazing.

Tail high and waving - Signals agitation and danger; the experienced herd will follow if the Anatolian circles and moves out or will stand behind the Anatolian who stands still and barks,
Tail high and still - Signals movement across a territory lacking danger,
Tail relaxed (droops and curls up slightly) - Signals calmness and relaxation (goats ignore the dog),
Tail relaxed and straight down - Signals exhaustion or mild apprehension (goats ignore the dog), and
Tail between legs - Signals strong apprehension and a willingness to comply completely (goats ignore tail signal but respond to body posture).

I also believe that the correct use of tail signals in Anatolians is a function of proper working behavior.


Good ear placement and shape are important traits at dog shows but are unimportant traits in working Anatolians. As you know, in Turkey the ears are cut off, since they are easily torn in fights and bleed excessively. When one breeds for "good ears" one must remember it is a trait without real consequence in a good working dog. While I like seeing a dog with a good ear set, it is a trait that I place very low in my overall selection process.


Tight feet are a real asset for working Anatolians, especially when Anatolians work in rocky terrain or in areas with tough roots lying near the surface. As they run explosively, my dogs dig their feet into the soil with force for traction. This pushes their nails into the soil. Occasionally a toenail will catch inside a crack in the rock (or under a tough root) and break the captured toe as the dog moves forward at great speed, making it appear flattened and lengthened. Dogs with longer toes seem to push their nails further into the soil, increasing the chance a toenail will be hooked and break the toe. I have one Anatolian who, over time, broke four toes in this manner, greatly reducing her maneuverability and limiting her activity as a guardian. (See the last paragraph of this section for an alternate possibility for the flattening of the toes.) Another reason I favor Anatolians with tight feet is that tight feet maintain good condition longer and seem to withstand the stresses placed on them by the vigorous physical activity required in times of heavy predation.

A dog breed's function influences the shape of that breed's feet. Compact feet (sometimes called "cat feet") have toes that are relatively equal in length, forming a half-circle around the central pad. Cat feet are found in breeds required to move over rocky or uneven ground and improve a dog's grip on uneven surfaces. Cat feet are useful in breeds required to be agile when moving quickly in all directions or over rough and rocky ground. Anatolians fighting off serious and agile predators require cat feet for the greatest chance of success.

However, dogs bred to run fast in relatively straight lines, such as the Greyhound, tend to have a more elongated foot shape (termed "hare feet"). In hare feet, the first and second phalanges (bones) of the third and fourth digits (starting with the dew claw as the first digit) are longer than those of the second and the fifth digits, so those two middle toes are noticeably longer than the outside toes. This type of elongated foot is believed to provide an advantage when running in straight lines by providing additional grip for forward motion. In Anatolians, escaping predators should be chased only a short distance from the herd. Then the Anatolian must stop and return. Being too far away from the herd can leave them vulnerable to predators, who might be sneaking in from the other side of the herd. Agility and flexability (cat feet) are far more useful in Anatolians than running very fast in straight lines (hare feet).

The superficial digital flexor tendon inserts on the distal second phalanx of each toe, so the dog's toes are spring-like, allowing for improved impact absorption. Repetitive strain to the superficial digital flexor tendon of one or more toes can cause permanent lengthening of these tendons. This results in an increase in the angle of extension at the carpus, and flattening of the toes, reducing the ability of the carpus and feet to absorb impact.


After reviewing numerous old pictures of Anatolians with their flocks in Turkey and of early Turkish imports, I realized many of them had narrow heads compared to the heads of some Anatolians being bred in the US today. I also noticed that the Turkish dogs displayed great variability in head width. I have not been able to determine a working justification to dictate appropriate head width in my working Anatolians. Therefore, I currently believe that Anatolian head width is basically a personal preference based on one's own concept of beauty or dictated by the current fads.

However, the slope of the stop is dictated by working necessity. Working Anatolians must have a nicely sloped stop to reduce the chance of injury should they receive a kick to the head from a cow or a horse. I learned how important the slope of the skull is when my young female Anatolian interceded to slow down my mare's dash through the goat herd. As the Anatolian threw herself between the mare and her goats, the mare whirled and kicked out viciously and with great force, her hoof sliding across the top of the Anatolian's head from the tip of the dog's nose, along the top of her muzzle, and across her right eye. The blow was delivered with such extreme force that her hair and some skin was peeled off as the hoof slid across her head. However, due to her nicely sloped skull, the hoof slid off without fracturing bone. A dog with a steep stop might have been killed from such a blow.


Well angulated legs promoting smooth movement and a minimum of stress to the joints allow a working Anatolian a longer working life and more years of physical comfort. Structurally correct legs are vital since working Anatolians face an incredible array of physical stresses to their legs. Only working Anatolians with excellent leg structure will be able to withstand the stresses of the working environment without breaking down prematurely. A crippled or lame Anatolian is not an effective guardian.

    Legs: Front Angulation and Shoulder Assembly

Dog shoulder assembly is attached only with muscles, tendons and ligaments, making it more susceptible to being overloaded when engaged in repetitive activities. These muscles must be kept strong to minimize excessive load through the joints (shoulder, elbow, carpus) and to provide much needed support to neighbouring tissues. Strong front ends are vital to Anatolians. Their working performance is improved and their risk of injury is reduced by increasing their front end strength!

Dogs evolved over hundreds of years (and Anatolians over thousands of years) to perform specific tasks and roles. In response, their structure evolved to perform these breed oriented activities. A greyhound bred to run at speed is likely to have a straighter front and more extremely angulated hind legs than an Anatolian, whose job requires the Anatolian to be able to trot over long distances as the herd is moved hundreds of miles into new pasture and to fight ferocious predators in tight situations while twisting, leaping, and whirling with agility and speed. While the greyhound's build and structure allows them to have a larger stride with more speed, it creates difficulties when whirling and leaping and gives them a much harder time performing sharp turns. Anatolian breeders need to be aware that just because it looks pretty in another breed doesn't mean it's good for Anatolians!

In the shoulder assembly, the more caudally (toward the tail) the dorsal-most (top) aspect of the rim of the scapula is positioned, the greater the angle of the scapula. Sufficient angle of scapula is highly desirable because it allows greater shoulder joint extension and thus more forward reach of the thoracic limb (shoulder assembly).

Scapula (Shoulder blade)
Anatolians with greater angle of scapula (greater layback angle) generally have more developed shoulder muscles, particularly the supraspinatus, infraspinatus and triceps muscles. These three muscles support the shoulder joint when angled in the standing dog. When the scapula is more vertical, the bones play a larger role in support than the muscles and so experience more concussion in the shoulder joint, especially when landing while the limb is in extension (when landing from a jump or when gallopping). The well-angled shoulder with greater shoulder muscle strength and greater length of the muscle/tendon units can better flex to absorb the shock of landing and elongate to withstand the contraction of the supraspinatus and biceps muscles as the dog's body falls forward.

Humerus (Upper Arm)
A second structural variable of the canine thoracic limb is the length of the humerus, which effectively determines the angles of the shoulder and elbow joints. Ideally, the humerus should be long enough to place the dog's radius and ulna in position so that it can efficiently help support the weight of the chest when the dog is standing and the radius and ulna are perpendicular to the ground. When an Anatolian has an optimal length humerus, a line from the top rim of the scapula to front end of the humerus is equal in length to a line from the front end of the humerus to the back of the elbow in the standing dog.

Bottom line - in Anatolians excellent layback of the scapula with an upper arm (humerus) that reflects the scapula in length and layback is essential!

    Legs: Rear Angulation

Excessive pelvic limb (rear) angulation is often associated with instability. Since a powerful driving movement requires stability, Anatolian breeders must never breed for rear angulation that leads to any degree of rear instability. (Cow hocked Anatolians clearly lack rear stability.) All lateral movement dissipates an Anatolian's driving power and stability.

Biomechanically, there is an inverse relationship between rear angulation and stability - the greater the rear angulation the less the stability. An Anatolian requires a correct balance between sufficient pelvic limb angulation (to provide for power for acceleration and continued movement) and stability (to apply that power effectively against the ground). Balance can only be achieved by breeding for moderate pelvic limb angulation. In addition, large breeds with more moderate pelvic limb angulation generally have a lower prevalence of hip displasia.

However, at the other extreme of pelvic limb angulation (insufficient angulation) are breeds with very straight pelvic limb angulation. While minimal pelvic limb angulation has been more typically seen of breeds originally developed for guarding, some individuals of the usual Working Dog breeds also have relatively limited pelvic limb angulation. Biomechanically, minimal pelvic limb angulation tends to increase the potential for torque along the axis of the limb and may result in increased stress on the ligaments of the stifle and tarsus. Both extremes of pelvic limb angulation should be avoided when selecting Working Dogs.

I caution breeders and AKC Judges to avoid working together to achieve a sweaping rear in Anatolians by increasing rear angulation. While this look may be visually pleasing to the eye, excessive rear angulation will reduce the functionally of the Anatolian in the pasture and lead to a high incidence of hip dysplasia and lumbosacral disease.

Advantages of increased angulation in the rear
Faster ground speed (not too important in Anatolians)
Longer stride

Disadvantages of increased angulation in the rear
Less stability (important in survival in predator fights)
Harder to turn sharply (sharp turns are ESSENTIAL when fighting predators)
Less accurate sit (unimportant)
Slower lying and getting up (speed in response to predators is essential)
Hyper extension injuries (an injured protector cannot protect effectively)
Spinal compensation


Anatolians are resistant to heat exhaustion and have an instinctive ability to conserve their strength by limiting their efforts to a minimum unless exertion is required. They sometimes appear sluggish, lazy, disinterested, or tired, which is only an illusion. Anatolians can suddenly leap up, even from a sleeping position, and surprise intruders with their impressive agility and tremendous speed. The appearance of sluggishness when resting is an asset for working Anatolians as long as they also possess agility and speed.

An adult Anatolian whose basic personality is highly energetic and animated disturbs its flock unnecessarily. High spirited play with herd members reduces grazing time, agitates its charges, and takes the Anatolian's attention away from its guardian duties, decreasing its effectiveness as a flock guardian. Although occasional playful fighting between guardians is expected, when I see an adult Anatolian that enjoys extended high-spirited play with its flock or its human companions, I see a poor prospect for working situations.

Concluding thoughts

Dogs are commonly bred to meet show standards, both the written standards and the unwritten standards necessary to win - in some cases with only commercial gain in mind and in other cases in the pursuit of Championships at all costs. Emphasis placed on size without concern for the dog's overall conformation and the affect excess size has on working ability can result in dogs that are too heavy and lacking sufficient agility to work well with all predators. Emphasis placed on movement without concern for the dog's overall conformation can result in light boned delicate dogs unable to handle larger predators. Emphasis placed on obtaining a sweet temperament without concern for the necessity for these dogs to also be incredibly protective can result in a loss of ability to perform guardian duties.

The best working Anatolians are a physical compromise between agility and strength; they are an emotional compromise between sweetness and ferocity. Each conflicting concept exists at its maximum level without interfering with the other. With that in mind, superior working behavior, demeanor, and ability are more important to Anatolians than any physical trait. An Anatolian without correct working temperament will not only be likely to fail as a good guardian, it will also be likely to fail as an enjoyable companion animal. Working temperament provides behavioral inhibitions that are required to safely co-exist with an animal possessing the Anatolian's incredible speed, power, and ferocity.

When making breeding selections, we must imagine our Anatolians working in their formative environment and understand the characteristics our Anatolians required there to work effectively. With our small gene pool, care should be taken to identify superior lines through pedigree research. Great emphasis must be placed on producing offspring with a balanced appearance, excellent conformation, superior working abilities, and a stable, harmonious character. Only with this type of dedicated effort will the great abilities and heritage of our wonderful Anatolians survive.

Please remember, the essence of the Anatolian Shepherd is their superior working ability! While conformation is an important component, it is only a small percentage of what constitutes the complete Anatolian. "Breeders" who fail to test their Anatolians for working ability (the essence of the breed) are only dabbling. All serious Anatolian breeders can provide extensive details regarding how they are ensuring the preservation of the breed through the variety of tests they employ when assessing their Anatolians' level of superior working ability. Excellent Breeders will be able to discuss at length what traits they test for and the various traits they believe are essential in a superior working Anatolian!

Working ability can only be accurately determined by raising Anatolians in a true working setting - with sheep and/or goats in a predator rich enviornment. Anything less and the "breeder" is just guessing!

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