A Snippet of Kangal Dog History

Large, impressive, alert, and responsive, the National Dog of Turkey is an ancient flock-guarding breed known as the Kangal Dog. The breed, possibly related to Mastiff-type dogs, arrived in central Turkey with Turkish tribes as they came from Central Asia in the 11th century, and references to dogs fitting the Kangal’s description go back to 14th century Turkey.  The breed may be far older: Some sources believe that images of the breed’s ancestors were depicted in art of the Assyrian Empire around 600 B.C.

Some believe the breed name may share a common root as the Turkic tribe, the “Kankalis,” while others maintain that the Kangal takes its name from the town of Kangal in Turkey’s Sivas Province. It’s known through genetic studies that livestock guardian dogs found in several Central Asian countries are related to the Kangal Dog, but mtDNA samples also show that it’s more genetically isolated than the Akbash, and for a longer time. 

Kangal Dogs have long been associated with “agas,” people of the ruling class who were chieftains and large landholders. Today, a majority are bred by common folk and villagers proud of their dogs’ effectiveness in protecting their flocks from predators. Traditionally, the dogs remain with their flocks by day working with their shepherds, and at dusk, return to villages where are expected to be good canine citizens by being gentle with children and tolerant of neighbors.  The dogs aren’t allowed to roam free, and at night, they sleep with the sheep or just outside the home.  For meals, they’re fed barley mash, scraps, and bones. 

In the 1980s, attempts were made to create a breed standard, and various Turkish military and university facilities are said to be working on conserving the breed with two breeding centers in Sivas.  The breed is recognized by the KIF, the national breed club, and it’s attempting to gain FCI recognition for the breed. The country has made it difficult, if not illegal, for non-Turkish nationals to export Kangal Dogs, and certainly not without a permit. We came across reference to the United Nations funding small grants for projects that demonstrate and encourage the use of Kangal Dogs in conservation efforts to protect wildlife, and in her book, “Farm Dogs,” Janet Dohner writes that in 2014, the Turkish government agreed to the exportation of twenty Kangals Dogs for a USDA predator control study. Before the ban on exportation, a Kangal Dog was imported into the United States in 1985 by David and Judith Nelson who’d studied the breed while they lived in Turkey.  It was this dog, and subsequent imports, who provided the foundation for the breed in America. The Kangal Dog was recognized by the United Kennel Club in 1998.

Kangal Dog by Judith Stein





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