As most of you guys know, I love to show and trial my Anatolians. This is a hot topic in the working LGD world. Show dogs can't be working dogs. There is no need to show a good working dog. And don't get me started on performance! Anatolians don't do obedience, agility, etc. Anatolians shouldn't ever be off leash. No one cares about performance titles. So why do I do it?
So what is conformation showing for? Conformation showing is about judging how closely a dogs conformation, or physical characteristics, fit the written standard for their breed. While I evaluate all of my own dogs, I also want other peoples opinions. When I show, after breed judging is over, I will often take the time to ask the judge why they placed the dogs the way they did. Different people will have an eye to different aspects of the dog. This does not mean I only breed based off of shows, but it is a tool in my box for evaluations.
Why performance? I mean, it doesn't demonstrate any kind of ability to guard... And it is counter productive to their independent thinking and decision making. Isn't it? No, it doesn't, and no it isn't. What it does do, is demonstrate a level of mental stability in your guardian dog. The ability to know when aggression is not needed. The other thing, that is more important in my opinion, is that in the process of training for trials, whether obedience, weight pull, or agility, you build a solid working relationship with your dog and having some fun. Unless you are using old school, force based training methods, teaching obedience or other performance sports, does not take away from the dogs ability to make decisions, and think for themselves. In exposing them to different situations, you create a more level headed dog that is more likely to make correct decisions independent of you.
At the end of the day though, it really isn't about the show, the trial or the ribbons. Your dog doesn't care about any of that. And there are an awful lot of people who don't necessarily care what ribbons your dog has earned. Your dog doesn't need show wins, performance titles or anything else like that. Whether your dog is a companion, a full time guardian, or some combination of the two, it really, truly is about the journey, the time spent with your dog and having fun with them.
A special thanks to Hounds in Motion Photography, Kaytlin Winkles Photography and Jenna Soltis for some amazing photos of my dogs.
The pinto puppy featured in the first part of this article is one who did start into training with me as a Service Dog and eventually washed out. Her name is Adara and she is currently living with a wonderful family as their companion and protector! You will also see pictures of some of my other dogs training in public and on the farm.
I occasionally get inquiries about Anatolian Shepherds to train as Service Dogs, so I decided to write about why they are very often not the ideal breed for owners needing a service dog. As a note for people to keep in mind while reading this, I do train and work with my Anatolians in a variety of situations in the public eye. So, this isn't just generics based on dogs that solely work in the pasture, this is coming from personal experience with having a number of dogs in many, many different situations.
Let's first look at what a Service Dog is. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) or work performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability. Tasks can be many different things including guide work for people who are visually impaired, hearing tasks, mobility work, medication reminders, alerting to blood sugar changes, alerting and responding to panic attacks, seizures and many other things. The criteria here, is that the handler is disabled, and the dog is trained in a behavior that directly helps mitigate the persons disability.
Lets also look at what a Service dog is not. Emotional Support and Therapy dogs are not considered Service Dogs because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task. In other words, if the only thing that the dog is doing, is just being there, and that is comforting to the owner, that dog would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.
The law does not exclude any dog breeds, so why not use an Anatolian? They are amazingly intelligent and intuitive, and they care about their owner! They also have the size to assist with mobility tasks and PTSD tasks. When I am home they alert me to medical issues! And they have helped me when I have fallen! So why wouldn't I work with that and shape the behavior for public access?
Well, lets look at what makes a good service dog. They must be non aggressive to both humans and animals. They cannot show any protective aggression unless the handler is being immediately threatened and it would be reasonable for a human to react aggressively in the same instance. They must be under control at all times. They need to be very stable in every sort of environment that you could encounter in public. Service dogs also need to be very biddable, or obedient to the handlers directions so as to carry out the work or tasks they are trained to perform for the handler.
Practically speaking, this means the dog must be attentive enough to the handler that the dog doesn't need to be constantly reminded to pay attention to the handler when they are asking the dog to do something. If the handler needs assistance with something that only the dog, and not the handler, would be aware of, such as for hearing assistance, or alerting to blood sugar, heart rates, or other chemical changes in the handlers body, the dog must be extremely attentive to the handler and be both willing and able to respond to things without direction from the handler.
So, lets examine the Anatolian both in light of what they are bred to do, and in light of these requirements. Anatolian Shepherds have been bred over centuries to be very independent, thoughtful, and intelligent guardians of livestock. The AKC describes the Anatolian as "Developed through a set of very demanding circumstances for a purely utilitarian purpose; he is a working guard dog without equal, with a unique ability to protect livestock". What this means in real life, is that they do have the instinct and willingness to protect both their human and animal charges using aggression if they feel it to be necessary.
Looking at our criteria above, a service dog needs to be attentive to its handler and biddable. Because of their breeding for a unique job, more often than not, an Anatolian will evaluate a situation, and make a decision without checking with their owner for input or guidance. The independent evaluation and acting without direction, are needed behaviors in a guardian dog. This also means that most of the time, an Anatolian will not be naturally attentive to the handlers needs when out in public. Rather their attention will be focused outwards, watching events unfold and examining each one for potential threats. This also means that the Anatolian will hear commands and directions, and evaluate those in light of the decisions they are making about all other events that are occurring. The Anatolian may choose not to follow a cue, or they may miss a medical alert because they have decided that something else in the environment is a greater threat or problem. This is not them being stubborn or uncaring, this simply means that the Anatolian is doing the job their DNA is telling them to do.
Another criteria, Service dogs cannot exhibit any type of aggression. Guarding behavior, including growling and barking at strange dogs or people who act differently than the dog is used to, is not acceptable behavior for a service dog in a public setting. The law allows for service dogs who display behavior like this to be removed from public areas. But, this is very desirable behavior for an Anatolian who is guarding a flock as they have been bred to do. Another very desirable guardian behavior in working Anatolians is protecting vulnerable, sick, or injured livestock. What this looks like in real life, is that the dog may very well not allow a stranger to approach and help if their animals or human is unable to help themselves. This can be a problem both in public or in a home if the handler has either a medical emergency, or an accident and they are not able to easily direct the dog to allow emergency responders to help.
Another thing to consider is why do you need a Service dog? A person who needs a service dog, has the dog with them because they need the help. If you, or someone you know, needs that kind of assistance, consider whether you have the energy and ability to provide the amount of training and extra work a breed like this will require. Will you have the energy to be that much more alert to your surroundings to create the optimal working environment for your dog? Are you willing to put 18 months or more of training into a dog that has a high likelihood of not being able to work in this capacity? What then, are you able to keep the dog as a companion? Or will you need to return him or her? I am not saying that it can't be done, but these are serious questions and issues to consider before getting a dog like an Anatolian to train as a service dog.
In summary, Anatolians have been bred for centuries to become incredible guardians. They are intelligent, independent, phenomenal dogs. But the things that set them apart as unique from other beloved and wonderful breeds, more often than not makes them extremely incompatible with functioning as a service dog. You will find exceptions within the breed. There are some amazing handlers and trainers that have worked, and do currently work Anatolians as Service dogs. But, these are just that, exceptions to the rule that this wonderful breed is not best suited to being a service dog. If you are considering a service dog, or if you know someone who is considering this breed as a service dog, I would strongly encourage them to look at other breeds first because of the potential for the person to put a lot of time, expense and effort into a dog that will be amazing, but they will not be able to function in the way you need them to.
You step outside into the dark, leaving the lights of the house behind you and all is silent and still. You stop, look up and gaze at the stars high above. This one a tiny pin prick of light, that one a bright dot, and everything in between. You gaze at the moon, a soft glow, in contrast to the days brilliant sun.
You take a deep breath, the scents drawing an incomplete picture for you. Fresh mown grass. Damp earth and dead leaves. The sharp scent of pines. Barn scents float to you on the breeze that plays with your hair. Chickens and goats, the sweet smell of horses. Everything is silent. But is it? As you stand reveling in the silence, the stillness, it grows on you that the night is not so still and silent as it seems.
You stand still and listen to the Whippoorwill call. You slowly turn and hear the crunch of gravel under your feet. Movement catches the corner of your eye as an owl glides by. A rustle in the undergrowth catches your attention as a wild rabbit moves about, looking for food. You hear the distant yip of a fox.
The frogs start peeping their night time chorus. Listen to the chirp of the crickets. You hear a horse stamp and blow, and it settles again. You wander toward the barn and pause, hearing the grunts of contented goats, and the crooning of the sleepy hens. You hear a scratching and light thump from behind the barn door and then the rumbling purr of a barn cat as it settles down. Your ears catch the muffled whimpering and woofing as one of the guardian dogs dreams.
Then, a long howl comes from just beyond the pasture fence. The muffled whimpering and woofing stop and become full throated, booming barks that fill the night as the dogs run from the barn and race toward the sound, their feet only making whispers of noise. A second howl is heard and the barks become intermixed with snarling growls that echo through the dark night as the dogs warn off the predators.
When the dogs are satisfied, they trot back to the barn and settle back in, and quiet and calm reign once more. You start back toward the lights of the house, marveling in the sounds of the night.
You sit and watch the contractions rippling across the goats sides. This is an experienced doe who has always kidded on her own with no issues. You are getting concerned as she has been pushing for far longer than you like to see with no visible progress.
You decide to check her. You ensure your hands are clean. Then you insert your hand and feel a hard, hairy lump. No nostrils, no feet, no tail. Not what you wanted to find. You feel a bit further. Then a bit further. Finally you find a tangle of feet. All the while you are doing your best to work and feel between contractions.
You have six feet, all right under your fingers, and you cannot figure out which foot goes to which kid. The doe is understandably uncomfortable and tries to move away. You grasp her collar with your free hand to hold her still. You work your way back to the first kid and finally make out what is being presented first is the kids spine. You feel some more and find what has to be a tail.
You take a deep breath, this is definitely not what you wanted to find. The kid is just about folded in half, laying on its side, with its back presented first. The rump seems to be closer to you than the head as well. There is no way the kid is coming out this direction. To make things more interesting, the doe is very uncomfortable and shifts now and again, but seems to understand that you are trying to help.
In between contractions, you first push the kids head and shoulders away, then work to move the kids haunches towards you. Finally, after several long moments, the kid slides into a breach position and you help pull the kid as the doe pushes. All the while praying that you have not injured mother or kid and that the kid is still alive.
Now progress is being made and soon the kid is pushed all the way out, a big, beautiful red buckling. The doe immediately turns around and starts cleaning the kid. And you heave a sigh of relief as the kid starts shaking his head and sneezing. You help dry him by cleaning fluids away from his mouth and nose and vigorously rubbing his chest with a towel.
While you are doing this, the doe has a couple more contractions and the second kid, also a buckling, this one a cream color slides out, onto the ground. You quickly clean fluids away from this ones nose and mouth and then sit back, and watch while mother goat mutters to her new babies while cleaning them.
Soon they are struggling to stand. The second born quickly makes it and starts searching for his mothers teats to get his first meal. This first born struggles for a little while then curls up shivering and makes no more attempts, even with mother talking to him and encouraging him.
After a few moments of this, you vigorously rub him again and he starts struggling, but can't seem to get to his feet. You hold him up to his mothers belly and he starts looking for a teat. You hold him while he drinks and then set him back down in the straw with a full belly.
After watching for a while, you leave to tend to other critters. When you return, you bring your guardian dog to meet the new babies. You see that the first born, the weaker one, is now able to stand on his own and is quickly catching up to his brother in coordination.
Your dog is ecstatic to see the new babies. But she keeps herself under control and approaches mother and babies very respectfully. And you sit and watch them, goat, babies, and dog, your heart content.
Come walk with me a while. Come and see this land I call home. Come walk with me through the change of seasons. If you have the courage and heart, come, stand with me and witness my joy, my grief, the blood, the sweat, the tears that have gone into the building of this land I call home. Come see the circle of life, from birth to death.
Come and see. See the fall colors. The reds of the maples and oaks, the green golds of the birch and aspen. See the evergreen of the pine. Feel the rain fall cold on you. See the thickening coats of the animals. Watch the rivulets of water run away. Smell the cold damp earth, that speaks of coming winter. See the white of the frost as it coats the browning pasture land. Now see the sun come out and bring the colors alive. Feel its warmth on your face. See the animals sunning themselves. Smell the sharp, sweet scent of dying leaves.
Watch the dogs, really watch them. See the joy of life in their sparkling eyes. See them glory in just moving. See the content in just being. Hear the deep throated barks as they alert to predators who have strayed too close.
Come with me while a living creature gives its life so you can eat. Watch the life fade from its eyes, and the blood soak the earth. Taste the memories of watching that creature grow from birth to death, and feel the sorrow of a life gone. Now feel the satisfaction of food on the table and the knowledge that the animal lived a good life, cared for, and yes, loved.
Now feel the cold wind blow as winter sets in. Watch the world turn white with snow. Feel the sharp pang of anxiety, hoping that everything is done. See the heavy lead grey clouds that hide the sun for days. Then see them leave, the sun shining again. The snow sparkling in the light, and the landscape a thing of harsh beauty. Yes harsh, cold and unforgiving of mistakes but a thing of beauty nonetheless.
Watch the steam puff from animals nostrils. See the frost gathering on the surface of fur coats. Dig your fingers deep into those fur coats as the dogs lean on your legs. Feel the warmth soak into your hands and the undying love of a working partner. Look deep into their eyes, these dogs, these partners of mine, and see the wisdom of ages shine through as they look back, confident, unafraid, sure of themselves and their place.
Watch with me as the old one struggles and despite all care, she dies. See the dogs grieve the loss of one of their charges. But life goes on. Stand by my side as I find a healthy young rooster who wasn't smart enough to seek shelter, dead. Feel the sorrow, the disappointment. But life goes on.
Smell the wood smoke from the fireplace. See the grey column against the blue sky. Now straight, now bent as the breeze plays with it. Hear the trees crack from the cold, and their branches rattle in the breeze. Hear the song of the lake ice, creaking and groaning as pressures from cold on one side, and water on the other, give it no rest.
See the stillness of the night. The bright stars against the black sky. Hear the song of the wolves. Hear the response from your guardians, deep barks that boom through the clear night, a distinct message for all to hear, this is my home, these are my charges, stay away, and if you come, I will stand and fight.
Now hear the song, the death song the dog pack sings as one of their own passes away. Come, stand with me and witness my sorrow, my grief as one who was a partner and friend is no more. See the tears and heartbreak that few will ever see. Stroke his fur with me one last time. Then again as it is unbearable to let him go. Now see my memories of his gold eyes that sometimes laughed, and were sometimes sober. Remember the mischief he made and the fun he had. Remember the care he had for the infant critters. Remember the unwavering loyalty and love that he carried in his heart. And see that I will always and forever carry him in my heart.
If you have courage left in you to walk with me some more, come feel the warmth of the spring sun. See the new goat kids born in the night. See them take their first staggering steps, and suckle for the first time. Go on, pick one up, cuddle it close to your heart, smell the sweetness of its fur. Look at mother, see her caution and concern for her little one. Feel the nose touch of one of the guardian dogs as they let you know they are watching too.
Now put the baby down and watch it frolic with the others. Turn around, see the ones there? Once again, there is joy in life, but also sorrow as this set was born prematurely. And life still goes on. See the gosling's? Little balls of yellow down. Feather light in your hand as they cheep. Hard to think that in a few short months, they will look like real geese.
Smell the damp earth again as the sun warms it and melts away the snow. The sun that shone so coldly during the winter months, is once again, a thing of warmth and life. Bend down, part the dead brown grass, see the new growth starting.
Now look around again, see the tiny green and red buds that will be leaves on the trees. See the apple trees bloom and smell the delicate, sweet perfume as the breeze brings it to you. See the tiny spring wild flowers that hug the ground. Purple, yellow and white. See the horses toss their heads and run, just for the joy of living.
Now walk with me into summer. Feel the heat of the summer sun as the fence must be repaired and rebuilt. Hear the roll of the thunder, see the flash of the lightning, and feel the drops of needed rain. See the dry brown pasture come alive again, turning a vibrant green in the aftermath of the storm.
Hear the buzz of the flies. Watch the dragonflies glide around the barn. See the eagles and ravens circle overhead. Watch as the guardian dogs tirelessly patrol. Hear the song of the birds. Smell the hot earth. See the beautiful colors of the wildflowers and the bees that feed from them.
Come see the new pups, little helpless things. Watch their first clumsy steps, and hear them try to bark and growl, imitating the adults. Now the sounds make you smile. In a few short months, they will be learning their job from their parents, and their sounds will not be cute any longer. They will be powerful, loyal, confident dogs with the wisdom of ages in their eyes.
See the colors start to turn. We are back at fall. Now come sit with me a while. Sit and watch the sun rise on a new day. A sunrise of a new day, so much beauty, so full of hope, a new day. Now sit awhile and watch the sun set. The end of a day, some days one is relieved to see the end as there was much sorrow. But the end of a day is beautiful too, you see, the end of the day comes before the beginning of a new day, a new tomorrow. At the end of the day, you think, and remember and sorrow in the losses, and take joy in the being, the living. Then you take a deep breath, and look for the new beginning. Every day, a new beginning and the circle of life goes on.
You walk through the gate, hearing the creak of the hinges. Your puppies greet you with wagging tails and wriggles of delight. Your adult waits patiently behind the puppies, confident that you will not forget her. You touch each puppy, and in doing so, look into each of their eyes and seeing their adoration.
You make your way through the pack, and greet the adult, you look into her deep brown eyes, and she looks into your soul. You see her love for you shine out of those eyes and your soul melts just a bit more. As you start to turn away, her jaws part and she quivers in anticipation of the walk she knows you are going on.
You start to walk away and she springs smoothly into action while the puppies run, stumbling behind. You feel her jaws close for just an instant over your elbow and you turn and to see her spring back, jaws open, laughing at you. You smile.
You walk to the end of the paddock, where another gate will let you out into the wide open space of pasture with rolling hills, and shallow valleys. You step through the gate, the puppies and the adult following you.
You start to walk, taking deep breaths of cold air. You feel the cold of the winter breeze. You see the brilliant blue of the sky, the deep green of the evergreen trees. You both hear and feel the crunch of the layer of crusty snow beneath your feet, the rustles of dead, brown grass as the dogs pass by.
You watch the adult who moves with beautiful ease and grace, her muscles rippling beneath her golden coat. She stretches into a smooth run, it almost appears as if she was flying, a concept at odds with her massive size. You watch the pups try to match her, clumsy, still learning where their feet go. They fall behind and she circles back to them, leaping over the ones who are not fast enough to get out of her way.
Then, she speeds away over the hilltop. The puppies following her. All except one, you look at her as she looks with longing after her pack. Then she looks you full in the eyes and you know she has taken it upon herself to guard you until the rest come back.
You reach the reach the top of the hill and pause, you lift your face to the sky, soaking in the rays of the pale winter sun. You revel in the contrast between the chill wind and warm sun, and breath deeply of the clean air. Your cares melt away and you are content.
You look around and see the dogs coming back to you. The one who stayed behind wags her tail ecstatically. Soon you are surrounded by your pack again. You continue your walk, over hills, back through a shallow valley. The pups and adult playing and running all the while.
You watch their joy and delight in the scents they find, in just moving their bodies. When they look at you, you see their love shine bright in their confident gazes. And you find joy in the moment, your spirit lifting to soar in delight.
You make it back to the gate you came through, the hinges creak as you open it back up. Your whistle is high and clear, and cuts through the wind. The adult and pups pause and most start your way. You whistle again, and call, and the rest reluctantly leave what they are doing and come.
When all are inside, you shut the gate, that latch clicking shut. As you walk back through the paddock, the puppies crowd around you, asking for hugs and pets. You oblige, even picking up the smallest one who drops her head onto your shoulder and breaths a contented sigh.
You get back to the first gate and pause. The adult comes to you and leans into your legs and lifts her face to yours, wordlessly asking for a hug. You lean down and wrap your arms around her powerful neck and breath in the mixture of scents from her coat. And for a moment in time, there is nothing else in the world, but the two of you.
The moment comes to an end as you release her and walk through the gate, leaving her to her job of guarding livestock and supervising pups that are not even hers. Even though the moment came to an end, the memory will stay with you forever, and the content still lingers as you walk away.
I am Alison. I enjoy writing now and again, I love my simple life with my dogs, my horses and other critters.