Stewardship of Indigenous Working Breeds
There are hundreds of dog breeds in existence, developed for a variety of functions-- including the "lap dogs" bred strictly for human companionship, breeds developed for hunting or retrieving, breeds developed for police and military work, and breeds developed for various farm uses. Many modern breeds were deliberately created from other existing breeds, sometimes by a single person or small group of breeders. Examples would be the Doberman Pinscher, the Japanese Tosa, and the Leonberger. Other breeds are developed over a longer period of time, by a greater number of people who interbreed dogs from a particular region, selecting animals that possess useful behaviors as well as conformational attributes related to some useful function. Border Collies, various coonhounds, and Rat Terriers are good examples. These are breeds that develop over generations or centuries, without formal pedigrees or written standards. Most of the livestock guardian breeds existing today have been refined out of indigenous breeds that existed long before descriptive standards were written or clubs formed for their "improvement."
The Kangal Dog is certainly an indigenous Turkish breed of ancient origin. What sets it apart from most other livestock guardians, however, is that the Kangal Dog is still very widely used in its country of origin--Turkey--in exactly the same way that it has been used for centuries. Of course, one can still find Great Pyrenees in France, Komondors in Hungary, and Maremmas in Italy--but they don't play the important role that they once did in those countries. Large predators are no longer found in most of Europe, and traditional sheepherding areas are fairly well broken up by modern agriculture, fences, and urbanization. Purebred dogs can be hard to find, and it is difficult to find villages in which viable populations of purebred livestock guardian dogs are still maintained.
In Turkey, however, there is still a vast region far to the east of Istanbul and Ankara, where the majority of villages continue to depend on their sheep and on their dogs, where one can travel from village to village for days or weeks and encounter nothing much but simple villages, inhabited by people who subsist on the crops they grow and the sheep they raise. In the Sivas-Kangal region, you see one flock after another of black-faced Kangal Karaman sheep along the road, each flock with a shepherd and two or three beautiful, black-faced Kangal Dogs
These are amazing native-bred dogs--they existed for longer than anyone can remember, and they have "always" been big, pale yellow or greyish dogs with black masks, with courage and power to match their size. They constitute an incredible reservoir of genetic diversity developed through history toward a specific function: bonding with a flock of sheep and with the human owners, aggressively defending their charges against wolves and thieves, and yet remaining calm and gentle with sheep, lambs, and familiar people. Whereas in much of Turkey and neighboring countries, the livestock guarding dog populations have been scattered by industrialization, and subject to crossbreeding with dogs living on the urban periphery, Turkish Kangal Dogs remain a closely guarded treasure in their home region. They are the stuff of legends, and the object of pride among all Turkish people, country folk and city folk alike.
These are not western creations, developed according to a written standard by wealthy kennel owners. These are not obsolete dogs--while Irish Wolfhounds can no longer be used to hunt large animals, bulldogs can no longer be used to bait bulls, and sighthounds are coursed in the west only as sport, Kangal Dogs still have an important function in Turkey and in North America: guarding livestock from predators. These are not dogs that have been selected according to traits that will win in the show ring, or to be fashionable pets, or to look "perky." This is not to say that the Kangal Dog cannot fill other roles--the very same traits that make them great livestock guardians also make them wonderful companions and family guardians for the right owner. And yes, they can make a big impression at a dog show even when they don't look "perky."
But the Kangal Dog is a true livestock guardian breed, and it belongs first and foremost to the people of Turkey. This dog is part of the heritage of the Turks, and they have the right to decide what the breed is called and how the purebred ideal should look and behave. The value of the Kangal Dog should not be measured by whether the breed is "recognized" by the FCI or any other western organization. Rather, the value of this breed lies in its distinguished history, and in its solid hold over the hearts of the Turkish people. The many Turkish research papers, news stories, and documentaries about the Kangal Dog, along with government and university conservation programs, all reflect the importance of the Kangal Dog in Turkey. For those of us privileged to own them, we have a big responsibility. We must be committed to retaining the Turkish heritage of these dogs, and to maintaining the specialized genetic resource that they represent. We do not "own" this breed--we are stewards of it, and it is our happy job to work toward ensuring the future of the purebred Kangal Dog. And we are pleased that the United Kennel Club has the foresight to partner with us in this worthy effort.