Kangal Dog as Show Dog
By Sue Kocher
Originally published in UKC Bloodlines, March-April 2000
One of the most rewarding aspects of owning a Kangal Dog is knowing that this ancient livestock guardian breed can play a number of roles in modern society, and play them very well indeed. The question often arises, however: Will the conformation show ring "ruin" a great working breed like the Kangal Dog? I've seen a goodly amount of bandwidth expended on the internet in arguing for this point of view, using any number of breeds as examples of how the show fancy and the "popular breed syndrome" wrecks the genetic health, temperament, and instincts of working breeds while distorting their original looks. There is unfortunately a large grain of truth to these arguments, too. But there are several reasons why I feel our Kangal Dogs as a breed are unlikely to succumb to the pressures of the "show dog" fancy, and in fact, I think that the opportunity to take part in UKC shows offers many happy benefits for us, for our breed, and for our individual dogs.
For one thing, these dogs just don't lend themselves easily to being “show dogs.” They are not a breed for the faint of heart. Literally and figuratively. Kangal Dogs require strong-willed owners, substantial amounts of time spent in training and socialization, and a goodly amount of yard space if they are not kept with livestock. They are fairly “easy keepers” in such environments, with few health problems and steady temperaments. However, there are plenty of smaller, less dominant breeds that are a whole lot easier. Most people could not cope with a half dozen “Kangal show dogs” running around the house or jostling for territory in the backyard. Not everyone can justify buying the type of vehicle necessary for transporting more than one dog to a show. And flying is almost out of the question these days since few airlines allow XL or Giant crates anymore--and it's very expensive when they do. In sum, getting a Kangal Dog bathed, equipped, and transported to a show is a trial in itself that we should get ribbons for!
At any rate, people who get involved with Kangal Dogs do so for reasons that generally don't include dog showing as a priority. Even people who are interested in showing are aware that this is a working breed that still has a job to do: protecting the flock and family. Their ancient heritage, their rare value, and their unspoiled nature are what attract our club members to Kangal Dogs in the first place. Temperament and type must be maintained. Kangal Dogs are still exceedingly rare in the U.S., and we have no “show lines” or anything approaching such. Our breed is not AKC, and probably never will be--that's fine with our KDCA club members, and 'nuff said about that. All club breeders in the U.S. produce puppies that are carefully placed in both working and companion homes. At any rate, I think that we are in a good position to maintain our focus on true livestock guardian form and function in our Kangal Dogs.
I know that KDCA members are devoted to the task of preserving our treasured Turkish breed according to its heritage. Among those of us who have to settle for suburban living, we endeavor to temperament-test our pups and to place pups with the utmost care. Breeding quality pups go to working rural homes whenever suitable placements can be found. In this way, we strive to perpetuate the traits that have made our dogs superior livestock guardians. Fortunately, those same hard-working, handsome, courageous dogs also make splendid companions and yes, great show dogs too--for our special brand of dog owners.
The first UKC show weekend that I attended with my dogs was Thanksgiving weekend in Wesley Chapel, Florida, and I think the Turkish breed contingent made quite a splash! The sponsoring clubs, staff, and judges were very kind and helpful, and we had lots of people coming by to ask about our dogs (Oh my, what breed is that big dog?). For two days, our spot under the big oak tree, which we shared with our Akbash Dog-owning friends, was a flurry of activity, nay chaos, as we took turns getting confused about which dog to grab, with which show lead, and which ribbon to hang on which crate. But we had fun, and we learned about being better handlers, assessing movement, and ushering our dogs through a crowd. We also got fabulous photographs of a sizeable collection of big, handsome dogs lined up together--the fawn, black-masked Kangal Dogs nicely contrasted next to snowy white Akbash Dogs. For the most part, the dogs were calmer and more professional than we were (OK, I speak for me and my dogs!)--and a good number of them had been pulled out of the pasture just a day or two before.
I admire the “Total Dog” focus of the UKC. It's just too bad that the UKC hasn't come up with a performance test for livestock guardians yet. If only our dogs could win points for hanging around the livestock all day, barking at night, patrolling the fencelines, and chasing off predators! Anyway, I am excited about the UKC Premier in Kalamazoo this summer. I hope that many of our club members will be able to accommodate the trouble and expense of bringing their dogs to this event. It's a great opportunity to get together, admire each others' dogs, and talk late into the night. And I look forward to meeting all kinds of new people, and their dogs of many different breeds. Please stop by and say hello!