9 Hardy Facts About Anatolian Shepherds

The Anatolian shepherd is known for its good looks and fierce loyalty. Learn more about this impressive (and impressively large) breed.


The Anatolian shepherd hails from, not surprisingly, Central Anatolia in Turkey. Likely the mix of a mastiff and a sighthound, the stocky breed is both muscular and agile. Anatolia's climate can be harsh: summers are very dry, and winters are very cold. The Anatolian shepherd was bred especially to endure these extreme conditions. It’s believed that the dog first emerged roughly 6000 years ago. The dogs are still employed in Turkey by modern-day shepherds; there, they’re called Coban Kopegi, which translates to "Shepherd's Dog.”


Anatolian shepherds aren’t herders: The bulky dogs are mostly used to guard livestock from predators and poachers, and, thanks to their speed and large size, are generally successful. Often, shepherds will outfit their dogs in spiked collars to keep their throats safe during attacks.


Anatolian shepherds are excellent at taking care of themselves and the people or animals around them. They were bred to be protectors, so they tend to “adopt” whomever they consider family. In the past, the dogs were left alone to live with flocks of sheep, which would become their responsibility. The independent canines needed very little help from humans and often weren't fed past puppyhood. As adults, they would survive on gophers and other small prey that they found and hunted themselves. Today, the dogs are still fiercely independent—which means they have a tendency to become defensive or possessive. Owners should make every effort to train their dogs early, before they get their own ideas about how things should be.


Chris vT, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Anatolian shepherds' popularity took off in America thanks to ranchers and working dog lovers in the 1950s, but the ones imported then weren’t the first of the breed to arrive. Two decades prior, a pair of Anatolian shepherds were provided to the U.S. government by the Turkish prime minister.

At the time, Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace was working on a federal project aimed at finding the world's best sheepdog. In the 1930s, synthetic clothing materials had yet to be invented, so wool was an extremely important commodity. Wallace hoped to hone in on the dog breed that would best protect the animals producing said commodity. Wallace mentioned his project to the Turkish Prime Minister during a White House dinner; the prime minister suggested he consider the Anatolian shepherd, and promised to send him a pair.

When the dogs arrived, however, the female was pregnant and sick with a parasite. After an enormous amount of trouble caring for the dog and helping her through labor, a litter of 12 healthy puppies were born—which quickly grew and ate the facility out of house and home. In the midst of the Great Depression, the government couldn't afford to keep the project going and the whole thing was shut down. The pack of giant shepherds was discreetly sold to a buyer from the Virgin Islands. After that, no one knows what happened to the 14 enormous dogs, but Wallace was glad for the whole thing to be over.


The Anatolian shepherd we know today is a distinct breed that was refined in the United States and Britain. In Turkey, there are three other distinct flock-guardians that look very similar, but have their own traits and ancestry. Each group is designated by its origin location: the Akbash, the Kangal, and the Kars. The Akbash is an all white dog with a curled fluffy tail from Western Turkey. The Kangal is a stocky breed with a curled tail from Sivas, Turkey. Finally, the Kars has a brownish coat and comes from Northeastern Turkey.


These giant dogs are no Jack Russells, but they have managed to land some coveted roles. Butch, the leader in the movie Cats & Dogs, was played by an Anatolian shepherd. The breed was also seen in Friends With Benefits and Kate & Leopold. The 2014 Turkish movie Sivas centered on an Anatolian shepherd and its bond with a young boy. The foreign film was submitted as the Turkish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, but didn’t get the nomination.


In Namibia, cheetahs are considered a huge threat to area farmers. The powerful cats can quickly take out dozens of sheep at a time. Cheetahs are a protected species, but because they can endanger the food supply, shepherds are allowed to trap and kill the predators. In an effort to protect both the cheetahs and their prey, U.S. biologist Dr. Laurie Marker proposed bringing in Anatolian shepherds.

Since 1994 the Livestock Guarding Dog Program has been bringing dogs to Namibia and training them to protect sheep. Cheetahs are deathly afraid of the massive dogs, so they avoid areas patrolled by the canines, making it a win-win: the cats escape uninjured and the farmers get to keep their livestock. You might remember this story from the time a cheetah hopped up on David Letterman's desk on The Late Show.


Great Danes are on average the tallest breed, so it makes sense that the tallest dog in the world was a Great Dane named Zeus, who was 44 inches tall from paws to withers. Lagging not far behind is Kurt the Anatolian shepherd who is 40 inches from paw to shoulder. Currently in the running for Britain’s biggest dog, the enormous animal weighs about 11 stone (154 pounds). His owner, Tracy Buckingham, spends about £100 a month on his diet of raw meat and bones.


Just like in Namibia, officials all over the world are using Anatolian shepherds to keep both predators and livestock safe. One new place adopting the method is Yellowstone National Park. Park officials are hoping that the protective dogs will keep people and predators—such as wolves and bears—separate and safe from harm. "We send these dogs to different countries around the world. They serve nature. Officials are highly satisfied by their skills," Muhammet Karakoyun, president of the Turkish Shepherd Dog Research, Production and Introduction Center, told Daily Sabah. "I am proud of them."

NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
Researchers in Singapore Deploy Robot Swans to Test Water Quality
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

There's something peculiar about the new swans floating around reservoirs in Singapore. They drift across the water like normal birds, but upon closer inspection, onlookers will find they're not birds at all: They're cleverly disguised robots designed to test the quality of the city's water.

As Dezeen reports, the high-tech waterfowl, dubbed NUSwan (New Smart Water Assessment Network), are the work of researchers at the National University of Singapore [PDF]. The team invented the devices as a way to tackle the challenges of maintaining an urban water source. "Water bodies are exposed to varying sources of pollutants from urban run-offs and industries," they write in a statement. "Several methods and protocols in monitoring pollutants are already in place. However, the boundaries of extensive assessment for the water bodies are limited by labor intensive and resource exhaustive methods."

By building water assessment technology into a plastic swan, they're able to analyze the quality of the reservoirs cheaply and discreetly. Sensors on the robots' undersides measure factors like dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll levels. The swans wirelessly transmit whatever data they collect to the command center on land, and based on what they send, human pilots can remotely tweak the robots' performance in real time. The hope is that the simple, adaptable technology will allow researchers to take smarter samples and better understand the impact of the reservoir's micro-ecosystem on water quality.

Man placing robotic swan in water.
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

This isn't the first time humans have used robots disguised as animals as tools for studying nature. Check out this clip from the BBC series Spy in the Wild for an idea of just how realistic these robots can get.

[h/t Dezeen]

There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop

Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]


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