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."

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

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Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]


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