Anatolians living in a working environment (with sheep and/or goats in a predator rich environment) must survive numerous predator attacks throughout their lifetimes while defending their charges. Wolf packs, pig packs, and mountain lions create special dangers for the Anatolian guardian. When the Anatolian is outnumbered (wolf, dog, and pig packs) or is dealing with a predator with great speed and power (mountain lion or bear), the Anatolian MUST possess a unique balance of agility and power to have the greatest chance of survival. One of the main physical attributes an Anatolian must have to achieve this balance of agility and power when leaping and whirling during a life-or-death battle to protect the Anatolian's charges and their own life is a correct topline. The correct Anatolian topline is described in the Anatolian Standard.
What is that? Anatolian toplines need to "appear level" AND "drop behind withers" AND have a "gradual arch over loin" AND "sloping slightly downward at the croup!" All that dropping, arching, and sloping doesn't sound like my definition of level! What is the Anatolian Standard trying to convey?
If you say the Topline will appear level when gaiting, you might be implying that the topline isn't actually level when standing. (As you see, it certainly isn't described as level in the Anatolian Standard.) The Anatolian Topline can't be LEVEL when the Standard says the topline drops behind the withers to a level Back and then gradually arches over the loin and slopes downward at the croup. That isn't level! And remember, the Standard says "appear level when gaiting!"
In 2005, I read an excellent description of a correct Anatolian topline written by one of AKC's most highly respected Anatolian judges, Judge Richard G. Beauchamp. He described the Anatolian topline as a "Powerful topline dropping gently behind withers with a gradual arch over the loin sloping slightly downward at the croup (an elongated or 'lazy s' from withers to tail)." I loved this description because it had been (and continues to be) my observation that Anatolians who possess the greatest agility and speed when leaping and whirling during a serious and potentially deadly fight also have a definite observable arch over their loins.
Looking at the genetic origins of Anatolians, I discovered research conducted by Elaine Ostrander and Heidi Parker, geneticists at the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, and their colleagues, who spend 20 years looking into how all the breeds developed. They sampled no less than 1346 dogs covering 161 breeds (not quite half of all kinds of dogs). They built a family tree by comparing the differences at 150,000 locations on each dog's genome. The results allowed them to group the 161 breeds into 23 larger groups, called clades, based on their common genetic ancestries. The clades were genetically generated and it was observed that these clades tended to bring together dogs with similar traits.
The Anatolian Shepherd was a part of a dog clade that included Salukis, Afghan hounds, Sloughis, Great Pyrenees, Pharoah Hounds, Ibizan Hound, Komondor, and Kuvasz. I was fascinated to see no mastiffs included in this genetically produced clade.
Seeing the number of sighthounds in the Anatolian clade, I realized some sighthounds have toplines with the "lazy s" structure and a gradual arch over their loin. I thought I might learn more about why Anatolians are required to have an arch over the loin if I examined why other breeds require an arch over the loin. I discovered that all breeds requiring the arch over the loin understand that the arch over the loin benefits their breeds' ability to perform. I noticed that the Ibizan Hound topline is described in a manner quite similar to the Anatolian topline and has similarities I believe are important.
The article, "Conformation and Structure," found on the Amberlithe Ibizan Hounds webpage, provides some enlightening information about a misunderstanding among some Ibizan breeders that the Ibizan topline should be flat. This isn't true in either Ibizan hounds or Anatolians. The author states "There should be a rise above the withers that supports the longer spires of the backbone." These longer vertebral spires, used for greater muscular attachment, are required for "strong well laid-back shoulders." Strong well laid-back shoulders are also required in Anatolians. The author also states that "the back is only that hand span behind the withers and in front of the loin." From the withers there is a drop to the back followed by a definite rise over the loin. This does not describe a flat topline either. In fact, it seems to describe the "lazy-s" structure described by Judge Beauchamp when describing the Anatolian topline.
"The Ibizan Hound is a galloping, jumping athletic rabbit hunter." While Anatolians must have great endurance at the trot, when a predator is located, Anatolians gallop at great speed to drive off the predator. If they meet resistance and the predator fights, Anatolians become jumping, leaping, and whirling blurs of speed and agility. Anatolians with a flat and under-muscled loin and no arch to their topline have greatly reduced athletic ability in the performance of these leaping and whirling maneuvers, resulting in a reduced ability to survive dangerous predator encounters. Anatolians with weak loins lack endurance and suffer in old age!
While some might think a flat topline looks attractive in an Anatolian trotting across a ring, knowledgeable working Anatolian breeders understand how dangerous the flat topline is to the survival of their working Anatolians. When I see an Anatolian with a flat topline, I see an Anatolian that will have trouble surviving dangerous predator encounters!
Anatolians need to be able to leap and whirl with superior speed and agility. To ensure the preservation of this required speed and agility, breeders must identify Anatolians with a long straight/level topline (a topline with no gradual arch over the loin) and when breeding these "straight/level backed" Anatolians with reduced agility, give special consideration to selecting a breed pairing with an Anatolian whose arched topline matches the arched "lazy s" topline described in the Anatolian Standard. Breeders must improve the toplines of their improperly straight-backed Anatolians to insure Anatolians maintain the structure required to have the greatest chance of survival.
Anatolians with their short backs (the vertebrae between their withers and their loin) can transfer forward motion more efficiently. The long, well-muscled, and arched loin of the Anatolian generates great agility and turning ability in the breed as well as enhanced power. The Anatolian croup must be sloped to allow their large thigh muscles to bunch and drive with the greatest power possible.
As reworded by Judge Richard G. Beauchamp, look for an Anatolian with a "Powerful topline dropping gently behind withers with a gradual arch over the loin sloping slightly downward at the croup (an elongated or 'lazy s' from withers to tail)." We breed for this "lazy s" topline, required by the Anatolian Standard, rather than a "straight/level" topline, because the "lazy s" topline improves Anatolian survival rates in true working situations.
The Anatolian structure was shaped by its function as a livestock protector for thousands of years. The gradual rise over an Anatolian's well-muscled loin, specifically required in the Anatolian standard, has an important breed purpose, to ensure the Anatolian can make spectacular leaps and whirl with speed and agility during the life-or-death battles the Anatolian engages in to protect its charges. Any change in structure that compromises athletic speed and agility when fighting predators is detrimental to the breed.
Unfortunately, there are an increasing number of Anatolians with significantly flatter, almost straight, (perfectly level?) toplines; the gradual arch over the loin, as required in the Anatolian Standard, is absent. As these flat-backed young Anatolians age, many become sway-backed, losing speed and agility even further! Because Anatolian toplines without the arched loin are so detrimental to the breed, I believe that Anatolians without the required arched loin should be severely penalized in the ring. The removal of the required arched loin in Anatolian structure is not a minor fault. It is not harmless. It negatively affects the functioning ability of the working Anatolian. In the pasture, we can count on the help of dangerous predators to insure Anatolians automatically retain the arched loin because powerful predators will eliminate those Anatolians who lack a correctly arched loin!
Another characteristic affecting the appearance of the Anatolian topline is correct Anatolian demeanor while trotting. An Anatolian positions its head to level, or just below level, as it trots among the herd. This head position is a signal to the sheep and/or goats that no trouble is detected and the herd can remain calm. While trotting with no sign of danger, correctly bred Anatolians with excellent working demeanor drop their heads on a nearly level plane with the withers and back line and often below the plane of their back.
This same head position should be maintained in a correctly bred Anatolian while trotting in the show ring and judges who understand the breed will know this. In all cases, this level head posture is intended to convey that the Anatolian doesn't perceive a problem. When the head goes up, in the pasture or in the show ring, the Anatolian with correct working ability is signaling that they have noticed potential danger and are on full alert, ready and prepared to defend and protect!
Interfering with the dog's proper use of this vital behavioral signal selected to alert the herd to nearby danger will ruin excellent livestock guardian ability - the essence of the breed! Dogs in the pasture who lack correct sheep/goat communication will be eliminated because of their failure as effective guardians. Dogs in the ring must not be ruined as effective livestock guardians by judges who think a dog looks "so much more beautiful trotting with its head up!" In Anatolians, head-up should always be a signal that the Anatolian suspects potential danger is nearby!
If an Anatolian maintains a head-up position whether or not danger is perceived, that Anatolian has lost one of the breed's most important working behaviors - a head position that correctly conveys the presence of potential danger to their charges. Judges who select Anatolians trotting with their heads held high no matter the level of danger will ultimately ruin another working breed!
In addition to vision, Anatolians (like wolves) use scent to perceive danger. When trotting the Anatolian topline should be similar to the wolf topline. Wolves usually carry the head hanging, not higher than the level of the back. One of the world's foremost wolf (Canis Lupis) authorities, Heptner Naumov, author of "Mammals of the Soviet Union, Volume II, Part 1a, (1998)," states "The wolf is a slender, well-proportioned, powerful animal. It has a strong trunk with sloping back, with high shoulders and a lower, but strong and wide croup. The rib cage is large, deeply descending, the abdomen is pulled in and the neck is powerful and muscular. The limbs are long and strong, the paws are relatively small and the digits are tightly compressed (in a lump). Head large, heavy, with strong jaws, a long but not pointed muzzle, and broad forehead…the wolf's head looks especially 'broad in the forehead.' The animal usually carriers it [the head] a bit hanging, not higher than the level of the back, and appears slightly stooping, with its high shoulders. Only the watchful wolf raises its head high." This observation could almost be the description of an Anatolian.
It is imperative that Anatolian breeders don't fall prey to show ring fads. When judges favor a level top line, they must not confuse level with "flat." The Anatolian topline must remain flexible in order for the dog to move and function properly. A level top line should mean that the withers and croup are on the same plane and the back (five vertebrae behind the withers) needs to be slightly lower than the withers and loin to maintain proper flexibility. Judge Richard G. Beauchamp's description continues to provide excellent guidance. The Anatolian must have a "Powerful topline dropping gently behind withers with a gradual arch over the loin sloping slightly downward at the croup (an elongated or 'lazy s' from withers to tail)."
The relative length of the upper arm and the scapula (shoulder blade) is another aspect of Anatolian structure that affects the topline. The scapula and upper arm should be the same length and, in Anatolians, they must be positioned to create a 90 degrees angle between them, 45 degrees upward from the horizontal to the shoulder blade and 45 degrees downward from the horizontal to the upper arm. The length of bone and angulation in the rear assembly must not be exaggerated and must match the front assembly. The rear assembly cannot extend so far back that the animal loses it secure footing. Just as the rear assembly can require more extension, the rear assembly can also become too extended. Anatolian structure must be moderate to function across a broad range of activities required of the breed.
In order to maintain the appearance of a level top line while stacked, it has become a recent fad among many breeders to extend their dogs' rear assemblies to a position causing the rear end to function less effectively and break down more quickly. At the same time, some breeders have incorrectly been breeding straight fronts with short upper arms, putting the front assembly in front of the dog instead of under it. The combination of these alterations results in a back that will sway between an incorrectly positioned front and an overextended rear.