Breed type: Guardian dog
Country of origin: Turkey
Popular names: Akbas, KopegiSize: Large
Height: 75-85 cm (males), 70-80 cm (females)
Weight: 40-60 kg (males), 35-50 kg (females)
Best suited as: Livestock guardian
Lifespan: 9-11 years
The Akbash dog is an ancient dog, deliberately developed from sight hounds and molossers in an effort to create a breed with keen eyesight, a fast pace, and a large, sturdy body capable of protecting a wide variety of livestock.
Though not recognized by many kennel clubs or organisations, the Akbash plays an invaluable role on farms in its native Turkey and throughout the world.
The Akbash is a large mountain dog with a sturdy build and gazelle-like gait. Some dogs of this breed are massive, which is a testament to its molosser roots, while others are slender and long-bodied, a trait inherited from sight hounds. There is a visible difference in size between males and females of this breed. The average male Akbash is 75-85 cm in height and weighs 40-60 kg, whereas the female averages a smaller 70-80 cm and usually weighs 35-50 kg.
One of the most recognizable physical characteristics of this breed is its striking white coat, which may also be seen in a light tan or pale brown colour. Its smooth coat ranges in length from medium to long, both of which are beneficial in keeping the Akbash warm during cold weather. The Akbash has a thick double coat and its fur has a slight wave or ruffle. The skin around its neck is loose, providing protection in the event that it is bitten around the neck while protecting livestock.
Its tail is long and thick, often hanging low while at rest and curled onto its back during periods of activity. The tail, legs, and mane are feathered in dogs with a longer coat. Its folded, low-hanging ears are set at eye level and are skilled at listening for predators on or around the property.
In kennel clubs and breed organisations that recognise the Akbash, dark brown, almond-shaped eyes are preferred, whereas eyes of a blue or gold colour may be penalized. Black pigmentation around the eyes, nose and mouth are also preferred. This helps to protect the Akbash against damage from the sun.
It is widely believed that the Akbash originated as many as 3,000-5,000 years ago in the region presently known as Turkey. Once considered Asia Minor, this land is thought to be among the first locations in which settlers with livestock sought permanent residence. Their need was for an animal that would guard and protect the valuable livestock around which their livelihood was based.
The name of this breed comes from the Turkish word for “white head,” which is a tribute to the Akbash’s beautiful white coat. Despite the number of centuries that have passed since the development of this breed, the striking white coat of the Akbash remains. This colour is beneficial to landowners, as they are quickly able to distinguish the dog from predators that pose a threat to livestock. The white coat also allows the dog to blend in with sheep and other light-coloured animals in an effort to trick or startle predators.
The Akbash, which is highly regarded in its native Turkey, is thought to have influenced the development of other well-respected guardian dogs such as the Anatolian Shepherd.
Despite its long history and deep roots in Turkey, the Akbash has only recently been introduced to other parts of the world, so it remains largely unknown in Australia and other areas outside of Europe and Asia.
The Akbash is valued for its fearlessness, bravery and dedication to protecting livestock. This breed develops a fierce and fast bond with its charges, which can be llamas, chickens, cows, sheep, or any other type of livestock. The relationship that develops is very maternal in nature and the Akbash will not hesitate to protect and defend, even at the risk of injury or death.
The Akbash was bred to work independently and does best in an environment in which it can roam and guard livestock on its own or with other dogs. It is extremely gentle with livestock, displaying patience, loyalty, and tenderness towards animals as small as birds and as large as horses.
This breed is often mistaken for a herding breed because of its close relationship with livestock, though its skills lie with protecting the animals in its care rather than driving them. Furthermore, the Akbash does not share the high-energy nature of herding dogs. In general, its energy is reserved for instances in which it must guard and protect its charges. Its keen vision, hearing, and sense of smell provide invaluable assistance as it guards livestock. This breed may behave proactively and inspect the property throughout the day and night, or it may remain at rest unless a threat is perceived. When the situation calls for it, the Akbash’s first instinct will be to bark or chase a predator off the property and away from animals, though it will engage in physical combat when necessary or provoked.
If kept as a family pet, it is imperative that the naturally suspicious Akbash be thoroughly trained and exposed to a variety of animals and people beginning at an early age. This will help the breed learn to properly differentiate between threatening and non-threatening behaviour.
The Akbash is an intelligent, self-motivated breed that craves physical and mental stimulation. It is crucial for this dog to have a large, secure outdoor space in which it can roam. A safe and sturdy fence will help prevent the Akbash from wandering away in pursuit of a scent or sound. This breed thrives in open spaces, so it is not well-suited for city life or for living indoors.
The Akbash is committed to its role as guardian and has a strong sense of responsibility. If kept as a companion, this dog will dutifully and devotedly protect its family and other household animals, though it is happiest and most-fulfilled when guarding livestock in an outdoor setting.
Care and Grooming
The medium or long coat of the Akbash requires little care or upkeep. Its thick double coat serves as protection against harsh elements and is largely shed during warm seasons.
The coat of the Akbash has a texture that prevents matting, which reduces the amount of time spent in order for it to maintain a healthy coat. Its low-maintenance fur will benefit from regular brushing, as this will help reduce shedding. This breed should be bathed only when necessary, as its white coat tends to remain clean.
As with many large breeds that grow rapidly as puppies, hip dysplasia is a genetic disorder that is a possibility with this breed. Other genetic disorders that breeders must be mindful of include retinal atrophy, blindness, and deafness.
The Akbash may also be prone to gastric torsion or epilepsy.
This breed is also at risk for Osteochonritis dissecans, a condition in which cracks form in the joints, causing discomfort that may interfere with the dog’s guardian work. Surgery may be necessary in severe cases, though some dogs successfully heal with rest and periods of inactivity.
The Akbash lives to be an average of 9-11 years, though it may live several years longer barring any serious illness or disease.
Sustainability as a Pet
Should the Akbash be kept as a pet, it is crucial to the well-being of the dog that it have a large and safe outdoor space in which to roam. This breed will not be content in small spaces and this unhappiness may present itself in the form of destructive behaviour.
Consistent and ongoing socialization and training will help the Akbash learn to behave and thrive as a family pet, though the true skills and talent of this breed lie in its tireless devotion to protecting and guarding livestock.