In this file photo, a Turkish Kangal dog, a huge, adorable and possibly the best herd-protecting dog in the world, is seen standing tall with its owner. (Xinhua)
by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, Feb. 19 (Xinhua) -- The Kangal dog, huge and adorable and possibly the best herd-protecting dog in the world, is a national icon in Turkey, but its existence is now at risk mainly due to dwindling sheep farming.
This is largely because sheep farming, which used to be a primary source of income for many Turkish farmers, has been hit by bad economy which led to the decrease in sheep flocks.
This dog of intimidating size is farmers' best friend as it is capable of killing wolves, jackals, bears and scaring away sheep thieves.
"This is the best herd protecting dog breed. They are not shepherd dog. They protect the sheep," Yahya Ozdemir, a breeder from the Kangal town, told Xinhua.
The 37-year breeder, who works in a state-owned farm, explained that he has always had an interest in this fearless dog since he was a boy in his remote village of the rugged high plateau, 3150 km east of the capital Ankara.
"We breed only pure blood Kangals, the typical livestock guardian dogs of Anatolia. We have 150 of them right now," explained Ozdemir.
"It's forbidden by law to export these hard-working animals but some unscrupulous breeders always find a way to sell puppies to foreigners even when they know that they are going to be fined for this," he said.
Starting at the age of four or five months, the dog is exposed to a wolf's pelt to sharpen its ability to recognize the predator once he will be in charge of livestock.
Kangals, known to be independent and resilient to extreme cold weather, can grow up to 2 meters standing up and weigh 70-150 kg. The massive dog with remarkably big paws usually has a collar with large spikes to protect them from neck bites.
But nowadays, explained Ozdemir, because of industrial farming, sheep flocks have gotten smaller, which reduced the need for the dogs.
"We now receive calls from people in the cities who want a watchdog for their homes rather than shepherds, and the overall number of Kangals guarding livestock is declining," Ozdemir said.
But there is a new job opportunity for the Kangals as the Turkish armed forces and police have started to use them this year at border posts as security or drug enforcement dogs.
"If you train a Kangal it will have the intellect of a six-year-old child. They are quite intelligent," Yilmaz Toprak, a veterinarian from Kangal town who knows everything about the native breed, told Xinhua.
Istanbul police forces have already used Kangals for special operations, but the humidity is an adverse factor for this supersized breed which prefers the cold weather, Toprak said.
Turkish riot police are also training Kangals to replace German shepherds. Despite their formidable appearance, these dogs are very protective and loyal to their owners.
They are also used for psychological therapy for mentally challenged children.
There are also other types of dogs which are typical to the Anatolian region, including the Aksaray Malaklisi, Anatolian bandogs, and Anatolian whiteheads, according to the official data.
Even though exporting Kangals is prohibited, the Kangals are very appreciated in the U.S., Australia and some parts of Africa where they are used for guarding livestock.
There are also people seeking to buy Kangals to use them in dog fights, which are strictly prohibited in Turkey.