The Urban Anatolian by Nancy Lane

Urban Anatolian ShepherdIt’s been just over a year since Aslan the Big Red Dog, my Anatolian shepherd, went to live with Mya his lady love on a ranch about an hour away. It was a tough decision to send him off, but with one toddler and a baby on the way it was the best option for all of us. He’s been a mighty happy dog since then, and no one would accuse him of resembling an Urban Anatolian now – but I’d like to pass on some of the experience of living with an Anatolian for six years in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Within two days of moving into our home in the Oakland hills, Aslan found a door left open and headed for freedom. He had previously been in an outdoor kennel with 30 minute “running free” breaks on a construction job site in Turkey, and he wasn’t yet acclimated to life in a house. Sure enough, about 30 or 45 minutes later he returned to the house, panting and grinning very contentedly. We looked at each other and thought, “Hey, this could be a good ideal – lots of wooded area here, smallish roads – maybe we could let him off on his own once in a while for a good run!” Fat chance. The next time he slipped out, about four days later, he returned after 30 minutes, again looking happy and well exercised. THIS time, however, he also had a suspicious collection of little fluffy grey feathers around his mouth, and we wondered if he had found a slow pigeon or quail.

The doorbell rang the next day. It was our new neighbor from a ways down the street, looking sorrowful and portentous. She asked, “Is that your dog?” (I don’t know why people ask this question when the dog is either in your house behind you, straining to get at the visitor, or on your leash. Are they expecting you to deny it? “No, no, this is just a big red dog I found wandering around the streets. I took him in just to feed him – yes, I did happen to have a 40-lb. bag of Nutrimax just hanging around – but he’s certainly not my dog!”)

The feathers were from one of her daughter’s chickens. Now, I live in Oakland, which is a city more renowned for drug deals and drive-by shootings than it is for its extensive chicken farming, so I too was a little surprised. Apparently her daughter once had a science project, to see if she could hatch an egg. Her success was such that there were five chickens – pet chickens, mind you – in a coop behind their house, enclosed in that puny little chicken wire that hardly keeps out a crippled Chihuahua. It had not deterred Aslan from busting in, grabbing a chicken and breaking its neck; nor had it protected Chicken #2, whose leg was broken and who spent a cold and lonely night in a hedge awaiting rescue. The others were unharmed.

I offered to pay the vet bill to set the leg of Chicken #2, but the offer was not accepted. Fortunately our new neighbor was very kind and just wanted to notify us of Aslan’s taste for chicken neck-breaking; she did not pursue the matter any further. Aslan went immediately into walks on a leash only, and settled very nicely into a night and morning walk routine that fit our working lifestyle. He got out only twice after this escapade, once when our babysitter left a door open and once following a lady friend with whom he had just mated. After a few years, he could even wander out the door onto the porch, sniff the air, wag his tail and come back inside without threatening to go AWOL – but this was at about six years of age and later.

An important lesson learned: an Anatolian is first and foremost a livestock guardian. (Just don’t buy one to guard your chickens.) If you don’t give him livestock to guard, he will consider you, your family, your home and your possessions as his job. If he is routinely allowed to wander, he will consider the wider area as his territory and the occupants as his livestock; he will then take an aggressive guarding stance to other dogs, people or animals encountered therein. In order to instill in him appropriate behavior for an urban or suburban area, you will have to circumscribe his territory, keep him leashed (or on voice command, if you work very hard and he is very submissive), and constantly monitor his interaction with other animals and other people. (For more on the critical importance of socialization, watch this column!)

Postscript: About a year after settling in Oakland, Aslan accompanied us to a cabin in the Trinity Alps region of Northern California. The cabin’s owner was the aunt of a friend who accompanied us. She assured us that there was no reason Aslan could not wander to his heart’s content, as there was just one cabin within a 10 mile radius and no dogs there; we let him head on out. He returned a short time later, checked that we were OK, and set off again. He came back again in 20 minutes, and left again. The third time he left us he was gone for much longer, but we didn’t think much of it.

Later that day we were coming back from town, with Aslan on a leash. We were approached by one occupant of the nearby cabin, and asked, “Is that your dog?” (That ominous question again!) I replied in the affirmative, at which he growled, “If I’d been home a while ago he would be a dead dog. He killed five of my wife’s pet chickens, and there are three more missing.” Why, oh, why do people always have PET chickens? Well, the three missing Mexican bantams were eventually recovered, we paid to have a new set of Silver-laced Cochin chicks brought in, and we resolved that from now on Aslan would NEVER be allowed off leash if there was another dwelling within 20 miles. Just too many pet chickens out there!

This is the first in a series of articles about living successfully with the Urban Anatolian. With more and more Anatolians moving into urban and suburban environments, there is a critical need for information about raising and training these dogs as family and property (rather than livestock) guardians. We are fortunate that Nancy has volunteered to share her experience in this area with all of us. Nancy Lane and her husband Paul lived in Turkey while working on a construction project there, and they brought Aslan of Murted home with them. Nancy, Paul, and their sons Malcolm and Richard live in Oakland, California.


  1. g gurbuz says

    I had a similar experience with my Anatolian, Laila who, unfortunately broke the neck of a hertiage chicken and injured another (broken leg I think) An expensive lesson ….
    I reside in Hendersonville NC but this happened in Banner Elk NC!

  2. Charlie B says

    This is our 5th year with our rescue Anatolian (Layla) and, fortunately, she hasn’t killed anything more than a bird of two and assorted rats and, yes, we’re very much in an urban setting in Tampa. Absolutely love this dog, but at bedtime I have to scurry upstairs or she’ll take my side of the bed, banishing me to my cave. We walk her regularly and we have to be constantly alert to any dog that comes too close, but years of sitting her and scratching her ears and telling her, “Good girl, we’ve got this. . .” has made walks a lot better than they used to be. That protective gene is strong. This has been a change for us after years of German shepherds, but the bond with your Anatolian is a very special thing.

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