"Anatolian Shepherd Breed Designaton"
By Erick Conard, August 2021
Someone asked me if Anatolian Shepherds were correctly designated a breed. They had been told that there was a lot of physical variation in the foundation Anatolian Shepherds since they came from all over Turkey and lived in a variety of environments. They wondered if all these variations should each be designated a different breed. The key to understanding the answer to this question is understanding the definitions of "breed" and landrace.
A breed is defined as "a stock of animals or plants within a species having a distinctive appearance and typically having been developed by deliberate selection." For example, I originally raised Doberman Pinchers. Their exact ancestry is unknown, but they're believed to be a mixture of many dog breeds, including the Rottweiler, Black and Tan Terrier, and German Pinscher and perhaps the Greyhound and Weimaraner. The Doberman was developed by Louis Dobermann of Germany in about 1890 and officially recognized as a breed in 1900. Although developed through crossbreeding of a variety of other breeds, no one today doubts that the Doberman Pincher is a breed!
A landrace is "a domesticated, locally adapted, traditional variety of a species of animal or plant that has developed over time, through adaptation to its natural and cultural environment of agriculture and pastoralism, and due to isolation from other populations of the species."
Since the term "landrace" is frequently misunderstood, the following are some general features that characterize a landrace:
1. morphologically distinctive and identifiable (a landrace has particular and recognizable characteristics or properties, yet remains "dynamic" in response to external factors.),
2. genetically adapted to and able to withstand local environmental conditions, including climate, disease, and pests, and even cultural practices,
3. not the product of formal breeding programs (tends to lack systematic selection, development and improvement by breeders),
4. maintained and fostered less deliberately than standardized breeds, with genetic isolation due to geography affecting animals that humans bring to a given area,
5. a historical origin in a specific geographic area (like Turkey) generally given a variety of local names, which are often designated by identifying features,
6. where desired characteristics can be measured (like successful flock protection), a landrace will show high levels of ability, even under adverse conditions, and
7. with genetic testing, its heredity shows a degree of integrity while maintaining some genetic diversity.
The "Anatolian Shepherd" was the name designated to begin the process of converting the Turkish livestock guardian landrace into a European style "breed." It was decided that this "breed" would consist ONLY of working livestock guardians whose genetics originated from inside Turkey. As a landrace, livestock guardians extend throughout Turkey and continue north and east of Turkey as well. Greater variation in the landrace occurs with greater distance, different geographic conditions, and different peoples. The identification of the Anatolian Shepherd "breed" as consisting only of Turkish origin helps in their conversion from a "landrace" into a recognized "breed." Additional physical requirements were added that assisted breeders in the process of molding a landrace (selected specifically for guarding sheep and/or goats in a predator rich environment) into the European concept of "breed."
Those who object that the different regions of Turkey with different variations in regions, topography, and climate have evolved these dogs into different variants or breeds have made a nonsensical objection. It is irrelevant that there are some differences in this newly developed breed. While a landrace shows a degree of integrity, a landrace always maintains some genetic diversity and variability. Through European style breed designation, over time one expects to see greater conformity of type develop.
In breed development there is frequently a great deal of initial genetic diversity, as shown in the development of Doberman Pinchers, since the foundation stock for Dobermans, which contains other purebred dogs, was dramatically different. Yet no one questions whether or not Dobermans are a breed! The unifying factor for Anatolian breed definition is that they are a superior working livestock guardian from Turkey. Genetic differences and variations in Anatolian Shepherds enhance greater genetic strength, as long as the unifying factor (superior livestock guardian abilities) is maintained. If a misguided concept of absolute purity and conformity for "breed" designation were carried to its extreme, Turkey would have hundreds, maybe even thousands, of livestock guardian "breeds." It is important to keep in mind that "superior livestock guardian ability" has always been the key component and the guiding principle in Anatolian Shepherd breed development! All other aspects of the breed are less important when selecting Anatolian Shepherds for breeding!
Some have asked how so many dogs from the same "breed" could look so different. That is easy... they were not from the same "breed," a recent European concept; they were from the same landrace - dogs selected for thousands of years to guard sheep and/or goats in a predator rich environment! Once the landrace was established as the "Anatolian Shepherd" breed, (and therefore viewed through the more recent European concept of "breed"), breeders have been slowing turning the original Turkish landrace of superior livestock guardians into the European framework of the Anatolian Shepherd breed.
Hopefully, all Anatolian Shepherd breeders understand that the single unifying factor for "Anatolian Shepherds" was NEVER THEIR LOOKS! The unifying factor has always been (for thousands of years) their ability as superior livestock guardians of sheep and/or goats in a predator rich environment!!!! Therefore, proven superior working ability must ALWAYS BE THE UNIFYING FACTOR AND PRIMARY CONSIDERATION when breeding well-bred Anatolian Shepherds, even under the European concept of breed!
When I was questioned how Anatolian Shepherds could be correctly designated as a "breed," the questioner used the term "clade." A clade is a grouping that includes a common ancestor and all the descendants (living and extinct) of that ancestor.
In an article called... "Where did your dog come from? New tree of breeds may hold the answer" By Elizabeth Pennisi, Apr. 25, 2017
She stated, "Almost all the (161) breeds fell into 23 larger groups called clades. Although genetically defined, the clades also tended to bring together dogs with similar traits: Thus boxers, bulldogs, and Boston terriers—all bred for strength—fall into one clade; whereas herders like sheepdogs, corgis, and collies fall into another; and hunters like retrievers, spaniels, and setters fall into a third. The grouping of different breeds that share particular jobs suggests that ancient breeders likely bred dogs for specific purposes, choosing to care for those that were best at guarding or herding. Then, in the past 200 years, people subdivided those larger groups into breeds."
In this article, the Anatolian Shepherd (through genetic testing) falls into a clade including Great Pyrenees, Pharoah Hound, Komondor, Kuvaz, Afghan hound, and Saluki.
As stated above, the term "breed" is a rather new concept in dog breeding originating in Europe. Most dog "breeds" we recognize today were developed in the last 150 years, spurred by what’s become known as the "Victorian Explosion." During the Victorian Explosion in Great Britain, dog breeding greatly intensified and expanded, resulting in many of our most recognizable dog "breeds."
Influenced by Darwin's ideas, Victorians became passionate about breeding to obtain the ideal of a certain breed. Many conformational traits we consider classic for a certain type of dog originated during this era.
We can contrast this explosion in the recent development of dog "breeds" to the thousands of years of development of landraces selected for a specific function. In breeding the Anatolian Shepherd, it is imperative we always follow breeding decisions which produce Anatolians with the most important characteristic found in the Turkish livestock guardian landrace... superior ability to guard sheep and/or goats in a predator rich environment!!!