Meet the Anatolian Shepherd

Anatolian Shepherd Dog
Thank you for your interest in the Anatolian Shepherd Dog. We hope this information will answer some of your questions and help you decide whether the Anatolian is the right dog for you. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog is an ancient breed from Anatolia, the central part of Turkey. For apparently thousands of years, shepherds have used these dogs to protect their flocks from predators. Over time, the shepherds have developed a dog that will adopt the flock as his own and live with it, be calm so as not to frighten the livestock, and be capable of working independently, without constant supervision.

The dog is large so it will be intimidating to predators, and it is strong and fast and agile, but it is also calm and gentle with young stock, dependable about staying on the job and with its flock, and intelligent enough to try to warn and chase away predators before resorting to the use of force.

Many Anatolian owners have heard, and believe, the account of a Turkish shepherd and his two Anatolians who took their sheep into the mountains for summer grazing. The shepherd did not return in the fall, so his fellow villagers began searching for him. They found him dead. Nearby, his flock grazed peacefully. His two Anatolians were feeding and training their litter of puppies, and they were still guarding the flock.


The Anatolian is basically an alert, watchful, dedicated working dog with a calm, steady disposition and low activity level (so it won’t frighten the livestock). Because of its job, the Anatolian should be able to adopt and get along with livestock, other pets, and children. Whatever it adopts in your family, the dog will want to guard and protect it (that can include your property also). Most of these dogs absolutely do not miss any new or strange thing that happens to their “family” or in their territory, even when they’re asleep. Most of them bark only when they think they need to alert you or warn a possible intruder.

The Anatolian is a dog which can be extremely intimidating but is self-confident and discerning enough to know when, and how much, protection and intimidation are necessary. Therefore, it should be non-threatening as long as no threat exists. The Anatolian is extremely intelligent, extremely loyal, and extremely independent. These dogs can be very loving with family but are generally reserved around strangers.


Protection is the job of the Anatolian. The dog is bred to adopt whatever it lives with (e.g., livestock, you, your family) and to watch over and guard its adopted charges. This is a working guardian dog, and the Anatolian has a real need to have a guardian job to do. Most Anatolians, no matter how “easy” their lives are, feel protective toward their charges and take their jobs very seriously–this is not a game to the Anatolian. Anatolians can be wonderful, valued companions, but they very definitely are not primarily pets. They are primarily working guardian dogs.

The dogs protect by patrolling their territory (or the area around their flock) periodically throughout the day and night. They bark to warn intruders off and attract your attention to unusual happenings. They have a repertoire of escalating barks and behaviors, depending on the seriousness of any particular threat. A good Anatolian should use barking and intimidation to chase away intruders; biting and attacking should only be a last resort. Read Ruth Webb’s article about “The protective behavior of the working Anatolian” for a more complete description of the protection methods and behaviors.

In North America, Anatolians are being used as guardians for various types of livestock, including sheep, goats, cattle, llamas, horses, poultry, and ratites. Many dogs are also working as property guardians and family companions/guardians.


In Turkey, Anatolians have been selected and maintained solely for their working ability, rather than appearance. Therefore, they are generally hardy and healthy dogs. The average life expectancy is probably 10-15 years–longer than many other giant breeds–although some dogs live longer. However, dogs working on ranches with livestock usually die at much younger ages because of injuries and accidents.

By far, the most common–and most serious–health problem in this breed is hip dysplasia. In this disease, the dog’s hip joints do not develop properly as it grows from puppyhood. The poor fit and resulting degeneration in the joint mean that the disease gets progressively worse as the dog gets older. At its worst, hip dysplasia can cripple a dog. Hip dysplasia is an inherited disease, and there is less chance that your puppy will be afflicted if its parents, and their parents, etc., have been x-rayed and found to be free of symptoms of the disease. The good news is that hip dysplasia is not nearly as prevalent among Anatolians as it is in many other breeds, and reputable breeders are working to produce dogs and bloodlines that are physically sound.

Entropion is also inherited. It is a condition in which the dog’s lower eyelid turns inward and irritates the eye. Although entropion can be corrected surgically, affected dogs are more likely to produce affected offspring, and this condition occurs in some bloodlines of Anatolians.

A few Anatolian bloodlines (particularly some inbred ones) have problems with thyroid deficiency. This is a disease with multiple, wide-ranging effects on a dog’s health. Individual dogs that are afflicted can be treated with thyroid medication, but the treatment is a lifelong proposition. Some breeders have started testing their breeding stock for normal thyroid function.

Finally, there is some evidence that Anatolians are slow to build up immunity to parvovirus. Some breeders use special vaccination schedules for their breeding stock and young puppies. It is also beneficial to restrict contact with strange dogs until after a puppy’s initial vaccination series has been completed (about four months of age).

Reputable breeders guarantee their puppies against any inherited health defects.


Anatolians are generally hardy and tolerant of extremes in weather. They can adapt to living outdoors, indoors, or both.

Because Anatolians must be calm enough to live with livestock without frightening them, these are low energy dogs compared to many other breeds. This means that Anatolians may not eat as much as other giant breeds and often can maintain themselves in good muscular condition on a moderate amount of exercise.

Not every Anatolian requires a huge acreage to do its job; some can be happy protecting a house with a good-sized yard. However, this breed absolutely is not suited to living in a cage, in a kennel, or on the end of a chain. An Anatolian in such a situation would be unsatisfied–it would lack a territory and a “flock” to patrol and protect–and consequently thoroughly miserable–it wouldn’t be able to do its job.

In virtually all situations, it is necessary to confine an Anatolian in its home territory with escape-proof fencing. As we said, Anatolians work by patrolling their area several times a day, whether it’s your pasture or your house and yard. Except on remote ranches, an Anatolian that is allowed to run loose will continually expand its territory, to include your neighbors’ properties in addition to your own–regardless of whether your neighbors appreciate the protection services of the dog. Furthermore, it is a virtual certainty that a dog running around loose will eventually be killed or lost in some tragic accident.

The Anatolian has a double coat for protection from the weather. Anatolians need only minimal grooming. Their fur sheds dirt and burrs and resists tangling. They generally just need to be brushed during shedding. (Dogs with long coats may need to be brushed more often than others.)

Shedding of the undercoat occurs in spring and fall. In climates with cold winters and hot summers, the spring shedding is much heavier. Dogs that live in warm climates may not grow heavy undercoats at all.


Anatolians are generally easy to live with, but “basic training” is absolutely essential. These dogs must be socialized and trained properly. It is the owner’s responsibility to teach the Anatolian what constitutes the “normal” routine, so the dog will know when to warn you that something unusual has happened. Also, the dog must learn some basic good manners, like being polite to your guests and/or customers, greeting strange dogs if you live in a suburban situation, respecting your tools and your furniture, and behaving during veterinary exams. You must teach the dog not to interpret any of these events as a threat.

Many owners take their Anatolians to obedience classes for some of this basic training. The dog learns some good-manners habits, and it also gains valuable experience meeting a variety of strange people and animals.

Anatolians are very intelligent and can learn quickly, but they become bored easily, especially with repetitive training methods. Also–and this is extremely important–their independent nature means they are less eager to please than many other breeds and will not always wait for instructions from you. If they think something is threatening their charges, they will disobey you instantly and deliberately until the threat has been eliminated.

Because the Anatolian is an independent worker and will “take charge” on its own, this is not a dog that can be expected to be reliably obedient when off-leash, nor is it a dog that will sit in the front yard and watch you rake the leaves. The Anatolian can go off to investigate something in the blink of an eye, and it will.


The Anatolian’s independent and protective nature combined with its very large size mean that it is not the easiest dog in the world to control. In reality, a good Anatolian should be submissive to its livestock, so the “perfect” temperament is self-confident but deferential to the leader. However, Anatolians will eagerly assume the role of “boss” if their owners are not in charge. Almost all test their owners at some time(s) during adolescence or young adulthood to see if becoming Number One is indeed possible. Untrained and unsocialized Anatolians, and those whose owners refuse to be leaders, can become over-protective and aggressive and, sometimes, uncontrollable. Living with an Anatolian that has learned to intimidate people can be frightening indeed.

These dogs need to be socialized well and taught to behave politely if they come in contact with a lot of strange people and animals. Some Anatolians, even socialized ones, will not let strange dogs come on the home territory. And most intact male Anatolians cannot realistically be expected to live with other intact males–at least not uneventfully.

As we said before, fencing is virtually required, because Anatolians are independent and will expand their territories voluntarily. (Some are hard to keep home even with fencing.) A great many Anatolians like to dig. Anatolians use barking in their protective behaviors, so a certain amount of noise goes with the dog. Many puppies go through a destructive phase, and those behaviors can become habits if the dogs are not supervised and corrected while still young.


If the Anatolian fits your needs and your personality and your life style, it can be a wonderful companion and a valuable working partner. Many Anatolian owners are devoted to their dogs; this one says it very well: “I bought my dog because she was supposed to be smart. She was supposed to know how far to push a predator to get it away from her charges and her territory. She was supposed to be loyal, even if it meant disobeying me if she knew I was in danger. I have never found anyone who questioned her loyalty, nor her ability to carry out her task. I don’t know of any other dog I have ever felt so completely safe with.”

This article is reprinted from Anatolian Shepherd Dog Information Guide © 1998 by Anatolian Shepherds’ Dogs Worldwide, Inc.