Reflections of a Kangal Dog Owner
By Bill and Brenda Ridenour
Originally published in Sept-Oct 2001 UKC Bloodlines under the title: Why Flock Guardians?
We are currently the proud owners of Kangal Dog Burak, as well as three Kuvaszok (Hungarian flock guarding dogs). In addition, we have a Newfoundlands, two cats and a cockatoo. How we got to this state in life is an interesting tale.
With a lifelong love for big dogs, it is natural that we eventually became interested in the flock guardians, large dogs that defend their flocks against wolves, wildcats, feral dogs, wild pigs, bears and other predators. We were also intrigued by the ability of flock guardians to exercise independent thinking while guarding their flocks. While we considered other large dog breeds (the Great Dane was an early leader) our research indicated that flock guardians had a much longer life span-11-14 years versus the 7-year life span of a great Dane or Irish Wolfhound, for example. We could not bear the thought of losing a beloved pet so quickly. Brenda says that Bill’s height- - six feet seven inches - probably also had a lot to do with his interest in big dogs! “I’ve wanted a big dog all of my life,” says Bill, who admits that the Walt Disney Movie “Old Yeller” and the Jack London book “Call Of the Wild “(the heroes were both big dogs) also had a big influence.
We initially became involved with Kuvaszok (plural for Kuvasz ), a white coated Hungarian flock guardian that has become increasingly well known in the United States since its introduction after World War II. However, after owning and showing six of them (two to championship) over a 15 year time frame, (Bill says that Brenda as the show expert while he is the resident dog-petter) we began to research large dog breeds to try something new. More specifically, we were interested in identifying a flock guardian breed that had not yet been widely introduced to the United States and whose temperament and physical characteristics as a flock guardian were unchanged by more “show oriented” breeding practices.
Several years ago, Bill happened to be leafing through a magazine, which listed many of the rare breeds as well as those recognized by US kennel clubs. There was a picture of a huge brown dog with a black mask and ears standing on its hindlegs, towering over a woman, with its paws resting on her shoulders. It was a Kangal Dog. We both became intrigued with the breed and began to research it through various Internet web sites and friends of ours who were also flock guardian aficionados. While neither of us are sheep or goat ranchers, we do own 5 acres of partly fenced in land, much of it with designated wetlands by the US Army Corps of Engineers and therefore not available for development. We believed that we were in a good position to own and care for a large, active dog such as a Kangal, especially because of our two decades of experiences in raising and training Kuvaszok.
What We Learned About The Kangal Dog
Our research continued to excite us about the breed. We learned that the Kangal Dog is an ancient Turkish flock-guarding breed that is considered the national dog of Turkey. In fact, the Turks have a Kangal Dog, complete with the breed name “Kangal Kopegi” on one of their postage stamps, a clear indication of that the Kangal Dog’s esteem in Turkey. We knew that the breed was a member of the ancient mastiff family (as opposed to the sighthound or greyhound family) and that the Kangal Dog is a large dog, with males reaching a height of 32 inches or more. We were intrigued by the black faces and black ears and the pale gold or even gray looking body color . However, the tail is a masterpiece; typically when the dog is alert, it forms into a distinctive single or double curl carried over the back. With its strong jaws, huge teeth, and well-developed chest, its calm, even-tempered, and tolerant disposition, the Kangal Dog seemed to be exactly what we were looking for.
We quickly discovered that only three national kennel clubs outside of Turkey presently recognize the breed, the United Kennel Club being one. We realized that it would be a challenge going in to work with a dog breed that had only relatively recently been introduced to the U.S., but we were interested in the challenge of being involved in the “front end” of the breed’s development in the U.S.
The Arrival Of Baby Boo a.k,a. Burak
After lengthy discussions with the breeder who wanted to assure himself that we were proper owners for a Kangal (expect this to happen to you as well when you contact a Kangal kennel owner about purchasing a pup) we eventually made arrangements to purchase a male Kangal puppy. He arrived in May, 2000, at 11 weeks of age. We immediately named him Burak or Thunderbolt in English (his mother’s name translates in English to “Lightning”). Kangal Aga Tokat Kadir Burak was immediately enrolled in obedience training.
We have always believed that early obedience training is must for the owner to be able to handle any large dog--especially flock guarding dogs, which are known to be quite independent thinking and stubborn-- and that continued refresher training after the dog reaches puberty is also important to reinforce and relearn the basic commands as well as owner dominance. Otherwise, your big dog may end up telling you what to do! Inappropriate dog behavior that might be overlooked or tolerated in a smaller breed needs to be corrected when you own a large breed. A flock-guarding dog definitely needs to recognize you as the alpha members of his family.
As part of his own training and socialization process, Baby Boo was also entered in a UKC puppy match in Canton, Ohio, which gave him his first show ring experience. Both owners and pup survived, and Burak has shown at other UKC sponsored shows with plans to earn more points toward his UKC championship this fall. At first he didn’t enjoy the show routine, actually laying down in the show ring! We have been told that other Kangals sometimes behave the same way. We also take him to any place, such as pet stores and parks, where he will be exposed to other people and dogs. This has been a consistent part of our training and socialization of our Kuvaszok and Newfoundland as well.
Burak has grown steadily since his arrival. He is now 18 months old and stands 34 inches tall at the withers, weighing close to 140 pounds. We expect him to add a few more pounds (a Kangal is expected to continue to develop until it is three years of age).
Burak has also made a friend for life. Our eight-year-old Landseer Newfoundland, a much older dog, has been the perfect playmate, companion and older woman for Baby Boo, tolerating his puppy gaffes and providing much needed companionship.
Several things have surprised us about the Kangal Dog breed. Its incredible strength has been one big surprise. We have been handling big dogs all of our lives, but we had no idea that the Kangal would be so much stronger than our Kuvaszok. Although in hindsight, we probably should have expected that a 140-pound dog composed of nothing but muscle would have been much stronger than our 100-115 pound Kuvaszok. For example, one of Burak’s favorite pastimes is pulling large saplings and small logs around our 100 X 150 foot square foot fenced-in yard.
Another huge surprise has been Burak’s intelligence. We first noticed indications of this when Burak, then a six-month-old puppy, was left in the back seat of our car during a visit with relatives. Shortly after we had made ourselves comfortable on the patio, they heard the car horn blasting away--three short honks followed by a loud long honk. When we arrive d at the car, we found Burak seated in the driver’s seat, with his paws on the car horn. Thinking it was a simple accident, we returned to the patio. Three repeat performances by Burak within the next half hour caused us to change their minds!!
A second more recent episode involved “Burak the Lockpicker”. When Bill was returning from checking his mailbox, he was shocked to see Burak romping up their 300-yard long driveway. As he watched, Burak promptly jumped into the local pond and began to swim. Thinking he had forgotten to unlock the front door to the house, Bill thought nothing more of the episode. However, he later was amazed to watch Burak unlock the dead bolt lock to the front door by grabbing it in his mouth and pulling it to the right, moving down to the door latch, grabbing it with his mouth and pulling it downward. He then pulled the latch toward himself, opening the door. Bill caught the miscreant pooch just before Burak went for another swim. We are at a loss to explain how Burak learned to unlock the door, except to say that he watched them do it and learned the three-part sequence -- unlock the deadbolt, pull down the latch, and pull the latch forward. We have since replaced all of their door latches with doorknobs to prevent Burak from escaping the house as well as entering a room unexpectedly. We don’t let Burak see anything that we don’t want him to learn to do by himself. Other Kangal Dog owners have shared similar uncanny experiences with us. We think that the Kangal Dog is so close to its traditional role as flock guardian (Burak’s dam was imported from Turkey directly from her flock guarding job) that its keen intelligence and powers of observation are undiluted by human intervention.
Interestingly, other Kangal dog owners have reported the same signs of superior intelligence and the ability to literally problem-solve. One of our friends advised me that she never allows her Kangal to actually watch any activity that she doesn’t want him to learn and duplicate. She told me that on one occasion she tied her Kangal to a tree and later returned to learn that he had somehow untied the knot and escaped. Burak has also proven to be a natural watchdog, letting us know with his deep bark whenever strangers appear. We sometimes get the feeling that, for a Kangal Dog to be completely happy, it would like to lock its family inside the hous e and lock all strangers out! Meter readers, UPS men, strange dogs and door-to-door salesmen are all candidates for Burak’s warning barks. However, he accepts people who have been properly introduced to him.
Six Good Things A Kangal Dog Owner Must Know
1. This dog is very large (its size standard compares to that of the great Dane) and it is in fact one of the largest, if not the largest of the flock guarding breeds. Be sure that you have the home and property to house this magnificent animal. A large fenced-in yard (six foot tall fencing is the minimum height recommended) is a must for any Kangal Dog owner. The ideal owner should also have a large property with plenty of room between him and his neighbors, since a Kangal Dog, like all flock guarding breeds, will tend to bark at strangers and strange occurrences. Make sure that you don’t have any large rocks, logs or lawn chairs nearby that your Kangal Dog can use as a launching pad to leap or climb over the fence.
2. The Kangal Dog requires early and consistent training and socialization . In spite of its size, the Kangal Dog is tract able and responsive to its owner. One breeder tells potential owners that a Kangal Dog is a lot like Ferdinand the bull: big on the outside and gentle on the inside. Like all large dog breeds, you will want to be able to control it rather than have it control you. Also, an early introduction to strangers and other dogs will teach your Kangal to behave appropriately. Finally, you may wish to show your Kangal at a UKC dog show. In this case, conformation (show) training is a must. Remember that in UKC shows, the owners must handle their dogs in the show ring, so you will be in for a learning experience during conformation training as well.
3. The young Kangal Dog thrives on exercise. Kangals thrive on reasonable activity and, in fact, they need a certain amount of exercise to grow and develop properly. Daily exercise is essential. Remember that the Kangal Dog is NOT a Saint Bernard or Newfoundland. They are athletic working dogs. The young dogs particularly are active. Exercise is one way to keep them from thinking up new pranks to pull on their owners. If you want to start an exercise program, the young Kangal Dog would be a tough personal trainer!
4. What kind of dog is that? Be prepared to answer a multitude of questions about your Kangal Dog since most folks will not be familiar with either the name or the breed. We finally started to hand out brief pamphlets explaining the breed to others and continually point out web sites of Kangal breeders to interested parties. Be prepared to make new friends through your Kangal Dog!
5. They can be chewers . Compared to Kuvaszok, in our experience, Burak has exceptional jaw strength and is a very aggressive chewer. We have learned through experience that Burak will chew most natural and synthetic toys and bones within an hour or two. Providing your Kangal with a SuperTuf NylaBone is highly recommended.
6. Use your breeder as your mentor. Your breeder will be a source of experience and knowledge of this breed for the first time owner. Your breeder will have proven advice on training, habits, feeding and socialization of your Kangal Dog and should be accessible to you, if you have problems. We used our breeder’s knowledge to our advantage and avoided a number of possible problems.
The Kangal Dog is not a dog for everyone. You must have the space to house and exercise it, the time to train it and the patience to answer many questions. Also, be prepared to receive an extremely intelligent dog! Be sure to talk to the breeders and other owners for more information o n the breed and its special traits. The more you know about the breed, the better prepared you will be to make a decision to own a Kangal. We believe that it is essential for you to visit a breeder and check out his kennels, if possible, so that you can see the breed first hand. But for those lucky dog lovers who are a match for this breed, be prepared for a wonderful experience with a unique dog breed.