Do you have a farm and hear coyotes yipping in the distance and worrying about your livestock? Have you seen a giant tan dog in another farmer’s field of goats and wondered what breed it might be? It could be a Kangal. Let’s explore this powerful breed and see if he meets your needs.
One of the most important things to know before adding a Kangal to your farm is that they may be on your state or local government’s list of dangerous dogs. This is primarily because they top the charts as far as bite force goes. The Kangal’s bite force has been measured at 743 PSI, or pounds per square inch, the strongest bite in the dog world. For comparison, the American Pit Bull’s bite force is 235 PSI, and a wolf/dog hybrid bites at 406 PSI. If a Kangal bites, it has the potential to do a tremendous amount of damage, and that must be a consideration if you choose to keep one.
Kangals need a job. Although some farmers allow them to come into the house, they are not house pets. The Kangal is a type of shepherd known as an LGD, or Livestock Guardian Dog. Like Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherds, a Kangal without a job to do may develop nuisance behaviors from sheer boredom. Other LGD breeds bond more with the stock than Kangals, who often patrol the perimeter more than bed down with the herd. Their high activity level patrolling fences and chasing off threats keeps them healthy and happy.
In order to understand the history of the Kangal, one must also understand the history of the Anatolian Shepherd. The Akbash, Turkish Boz, Anatolian Shepherd, and Kangal were developed to guard flocks of sheep from large predators such as bears and wolves. Their jobs required them to be gentle enough to cuddle newborn lambs, submissive enough to listen to the shepherd, but fierce and intelligent enough to position themselves between bear and lamb and make split-second life or death decisions.
The progenitors of the breed were likely Molosser (Mastiff-type) dogs dating back to 600 B.C. The Kangal does resemble the Mastiff but is lighter and more nimble. One theory about the origin of the Kangal is that they came to Anatolia (Turkey) in the 11th century with the migrating Turkic tribes from Asia.
There is debate about whether the Anatolian Shepherd and the Kangal are separate breeds. Some say the term “Anatolian Shepherd” is a generic term for any shepherd from Anatolia, while the Kangal is a specific breed. At this point, the American Kennel Club (AKC) only recognizes the Anatolian Shepherd, while the United Kennel Club (UKC) only recognizes the Kangal.
Kangals are the product of centuries of breeding for a single purpose: guarding the species with which they bond. They will place themselves directly between a predator and their flock or herd. They show these protective tendencies towards their family’s children, as well, and position themselves to guard their family humans against anything or anyone they see as a threat.
Kangals are not family pets. Although deeply attached to their humans, they crave purpose and need to see their owner as the Alpha and not a resource to be guarded. Inexperienced dog owners may find themselves overwhelmed by this intelligent and highly sensitive breed. Raising one’s voice to a Kangal is generally sufficient. If needed, shock collars provide remote correction but will likely be effective in a surprisingly mild setting. As strong as Kangals are, they are sensitive and therefore require a firm but gentle trainer.
Kangals may be too tired to play during the daytime as they spend much of the night barking and policing the fenceline to scare off predators. These giants are gentle and affectionate with their families, especially with children. They have a long period of adolescence, and dogs up to two years old can exhibit puppy behaviors. Remember, they may knock over small children in their exuberance.
Size And Appearance
The general height range is between 28 and 32 inches at the shoulder and between 90 and 145 pounds. Long-legged and deep-chested, the Kangal can move with surprising speed.
As the Kangal is only recognized by the UKC, we must look there for the breed standard. The Kangal breed standard outlines what a perfect example should look like. Although you may not seek a show dog, many points of conformation have to do with health and long-term soundness. A working dog that spends much of its time traversing pastures needs to stay sound. With a broad, domed head and round eyes that range from deep brown to amber, the Kangal’s expression reflects gentle intelligence.
In Turkey, shepherds usually crop Kangals’ ears to mitigate the risk of severe injury from fights with predators. These giants present a general impression of muscular athleticism. One distinctive feature of the Kangal is how he carries his tail when alert. Although his tail hangs loosely with a gentle curl when he is at ease, he carries it curled tightly, high over his back on alert.
Coat And Colors
The Kangal’s double coat protects him from extremes of both heat and cold. The undercoat is soft and dense and in winter, insulates him against the cold. His outer coat is designed to shed the weather. In warm weather, the thick winter undercoat sheds heavily to leave a flatter, cooler coat for summer.
In the United States, the Anatolian Shepherd breed comes in a wider range of coat colors, including brindle. But in Turkey, the breed standard requires the dog to be a solid light tan, dull gold, or steel gray, depending on the amount of black or gray in his outer guard hairs. This solid body color is accompanied by a black mask which may completely cover the muzzle or over the top of the head, with black ears. Only small white markings are allowed. The tail tip of the tail is often black, too.
While not as prone to escape and roaming as the Great Pyrenees, securely fence your Kangal. His height makes it easy for him to climb out, and his digging ability makes going under the fence likely, too. They tend to dig holes in which to lie to stay cool in hot weather, but they also have been known to dig an escape route.
As an LGD breed, they thrive with a flock to guard. In the US, Anatolians typically guard sheep or goat herds. With early socialization and careful training, you can train your dog to guard poultry. Even with his strong instinct to protect, farmers must work with their LGDs and guide how they interact with their charges, especially when the livestock gives birth. Some farmers who use LGDs recommend starting pups in a pen sharing a fence line with the herd, but some allow pups to be born right in the pasture to learn from their dams.
Kangals generally can be trained to get along with any animals with whom they have been socialized. Any wild animal or unfamiliar domestic animal that attempts to cross his pasture may be dispatched. If your LGD will work with other canines on the farm, introduce them carefully, and don’t expect your Kangal to welcome your neighbor’s dogs. Their herd’s space is sacred to them, and they will clear it of intruders.
In general, Kangals and LGDs have independent personalities because, as working guardians, a human shepherd may be unavailable to guide their actions when the chips are down, and the predator strikes. Most LGDs have this independent streak, but training them may present a challenge because of it.
Livestock Guardians need to see their owner as the Alpha or leader of the pack. They should not challenge the alpha nor chase other LGDs from the alpha as if they are resource-guarding. Don’t confuse their independence for stubbornness. They are actually highly sensitive and may act withdrawn if rebuked too harshly. All LGDs need to be socialized from a young age.
If you intend your Kangal to guard a specific species, begin socializing them with that species early. LGDs bond more naturally to four-footed livestock than poultry, so provide your pup with closer supervision and guidance in that situation. If you live on a farm with many visitors, allow your dog opportunities to watch how you interact with strangers. A Kangal will learn from what you do.
Guide this noble, sensitive breed gently. Kangals stray less than some other LGDs, but their size can make keeping them safe a challenge, and others may be afraid of their size. Farmers have created some intricate devices to keep their LGDs from straying, but a simple strand of hot wire at the top of field fencing may be enough to keep your Kangal home.
Hip & Elbow Dysplasia
Like many giant dog breeds, Kangals risk developing hip and elbow dysplasia. Choosing either an adult or pup from parents tested by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA-tested) helps mitigate the risk, but dysplasia also occurs from rapid growth as a puppy. Nutrition designed for large breed puppies is a must. Joint dysplasia in the hips and elbows typically presents as lethargy, general stiffness, and signs of pain.
Growing pups eat more than mature dogs. Follow the feeding chart on the brand of feed, but be sure to choose a puppy food designed specifically for large breeds. These formulas help mitigate the risk of musculoskeletal problems like joint dysplasia that are related to rapid growth.
As an adult, your dog may eat between three and four cups per day, but in winter may need more to sustain its body condition. Although many LGD owners supplement their working dog’s diet with scraps from processed carcasses, a kibble made for large breed dogs would be a good choice. If your dog is not maintaining body weight, see your veterinarian.
Free choice feeders are available to place in the pasture for your working dogs, but if you have your dogs with goats, the goats may steal the food. Verify your dogs are each getting access to the feeder if you have multiple dogs. You may not need to worry too much if your dog does not clean up his food at each feeding. As long as he is holding good body condition, he may not be hungry. Mature Kangals eat less than one may expect for a dog his size.
Their coats stay sleek and repel water and weather. If your dog covers territory containing cockleburrs and other vegetative hitchhikers, check him daily to remove any before they irritate his skin. As his fur is dense, you may need to run your hands through to the skin to check for ticks. The area behind his ears and under his collar is particularly vulnerable to these pests. Your dog will appreciate the attention, even if he is not a house dog.
Kangals, like other double-coated dogs, shed heavily in the spring as they lose their winter undercoat. An undercoat rake can help expedite this process and make your dog more comfortable as the temperature rises. Many LGD breeds enjoy digging a hole in which to lie to keep cool in the summer and may even appreciate sitting in a kiddie pool in a shady corner of the pasture on the hottest of days.
Breeders And Puppy Costs
Importing a Kangal from Turkey may prove expensive, so finding a reputable breeder locally is your best bet. Although the AKC does not recognize the Kangal, there is an American Kangal group that adheres to the vision for the breed.
Buyers will find Anatolian Shepherds more readily available in the United States, and while cost varies regionally, an unregistered pup generally costs between $400 and $600. Experienced dogs will cost over $1,000, but eliminating predator losses quickly earns back this cost.
Rescues And Shelters
The Kangal is a rare breed, but Kangals, Kangal crosses, and Anatolian Shepherds do end up in rescue situations for various reasons. A dog that has never been around livestock won’t be bonded to the species you raise. Turning it loose with your herd without supervision could have disastrous results.
Be especially wary of rescue dogs listed as Kangal or Anatolian crosses if the cross is unknown or any other breed than an LGD breed. Too often, guardian dogs are allowed to interbreed with herding dogs, and the high prey drive of the herding dog side makes their pups unsuitable as livestock guardians, although they may function as general farm dogs.
As Family Pets
In general, this breed is:
- A giant dog geared towards farm life. Expose Kangals early to any livestock they will protect.
- Quiet or sleeping during the day from patrolling the perimeter all night.
- An independent thinker who must see his owners as the Alpha.
- Protective of the very young but deadly to what they deem a threat.
- Loyal to their family and bonded stock.
- Reserved with strangers but will bark as strangers approach.
- Highly sensitive to harsh treatment. A stern rebuke can hurt a Kangal’s feelings.
- Needs a large, securely fenced (fence that cannot be climbed nor tunneled under) area.
- More likely to bark at night when predators are active, which deters most predators but may annoy your neighbors.
There is still debate as to whether Anatolian Shepherds and Kangals are the same dog or two separate breeds. In the United States, you’ll find more livestock guardians labeled Anatolian Shepherd, but dedicated Kangal breeders are breeding from exclusively Kangal lines. Character-wise, the breeds have the same strengths. Both are solid guardians of livestock and farm. They differ from the more heavily used Great Pyrenees in that they bark less, are more of a perimeter guardian than part of the herd, and have a lighter coat which may give them an advantage in the hot, humid Southeastern states.
Adding a Kangal to your farm brings challenges with the potential for immense reward. Double-check your fencing before bringing home your pup. Be sure your dog can access the shelter from wind, rain, and sun that protects your sheep or goats. If this is your first experience with an LGD breed, look for mentors in your local farming community. If none are available, read online resources specifically geared towards working dogs. You may find conflicting information, but you’ll benefit from the wisdom of hundreds of people with years of experience. Learn from their mistakes, so you don’t have to make your own.
Remember that you are the Alpha between you and your Kangal, but your partner will not tolerate mistreatment. With patience and care, you will enjoy a bond that is centuries old. When shepherds watched their flocks by night, they may have been doing so in the company of a livestock guardian like the Kangal.