Anatolian Perspectives by Guvener Isik
THE GREYHOUND OF ANATOLIA: TURKMEN TAZI
(first published in Choban Chatter)
THE prominent Turkish author, Yasar Kemal, talks about a red Tazi with curly coat in a poetic manner in his book, "The Murder in the Iron Smiths Bazaar". He describes the color of the Tazi as "henna". It has a thin neck and a bow shaped waist with rimmed eyes and hanging ears. It is tall and strong.
Tazi is a hound that is as ancient as the shepherd dog and can be seen in all parts of Anatolia. Tazis spot their prey with their eyes and chase the prey and they can catch and retrieve. Their narrow waist, large fish like chest and long legs enable them to run much faster than the shepherd dogs.
Tazi has a soft and non-aggressive personality. They rarely bark. Their tendency is not to fight. These traits of Tazi allows one to keep several tazis together, although in practice they are not kept in packs.
Height and Weight
They are about 60-70 cm (24 27.5 inches) on the withers and weigh about 30 kilograms (65 lbs) or less.
Turkmen Tazi is no different from the Iranian Tazi. Generally they all are thin skinned. There are two coat types: the very shorthaired with no woolly undercoat and the dogs that do have undercoats. No long hair is observed on the ears and tail in the first group. This is full "kirik"1 type. This group is adapted to the warm climates and mostly seen in the low steppes and valleys or flat highlands where there are no topographic obstacles. The veins on the legs can be easily seen in Kiriks especially after chasing hare. This groups body shape is slightly longer than taller. The second group of tazis has semi long hairs, which are semi kaba.2 This group is seen in the rugged highlands and their body shape is square. It cannot be claimed that they are separate breeds. Some small variations within these two groups are observed and exchange of blood between them is seen frequently. Kiriks are almost no different than Arabic tazis in terms of their skin and hair type. The semi kabas are the same with Iranian tazis. Both types are sensitive to cold and require wearing coats made of wool in the wintertime.
The widespread color is fawn. Black mask (karabas), white mask (akbas) and reversed masks are all seen. Some tazis have black and tan Kopay color, some others could be red, white, black, brindle and pinto. The ones I have seen in Diyarbakir, Urfa, Mardin and Manisa were pale fawn with pale black masks. The reason for this color variation is because tazis are selected based on their speed and/or their hunting abilities. Just as the wolf cares not about the color of the shepherd dog, the colour of the Tazi is irrelevant to the hares they prey on.
The eyes of tazi are oval in shape and brown in color. One rarely sees yellowish eyes. According to the general observation, there is also no correlation between the color of the eye and visual acuity.
The information we have about their speed comes from the timings reported when they chase along with the cars and trucks in the open spaces. They can reach 65km/hr (40mph) and keep this speed for 1 km. (.6 miles), 50-km/hr (31mph) speed for 2km (1 mile) and 40km/hr (25mph) speed for 5km (3 miles) can be maintained. Unlike English Greyhounds, Tazi are best at long distance running. The lines that are specialized in hare hunting are faster than Tazis specialized in Gazelle (Ceylan) hunting. The long distance runners used to be abundant in Adana, Urfa, and Mardin where Gazelles were abundant until the 1960s.
Tazis are better at taking sharp curves compared with English Greyhounds. Unlike racing horses or most of the dog breeds, when tazi gallops all four feet are suspended in the air. This is also called a light gallop. The double suspension gallop can also be seen in some shepherd dogs as well. According to DVM Gurkan Kalayci, the white shepherd dogs of Siirt, a city in the South East of Turkey, were able to reach 65 km/hr (40mph) for about 400 meters (.2 miles). The speed of these dogs was measured when Kalayci was in a military Jeep in 1986-87. When he informed me about these dogs describing them as shepherd dogs, he clearly did not mean Tazis. I consider the source a reliable one and then I can safely assume that some Tazis should be able reach up to 75 km/hr (47mph).
Although their paws show differences, the common feature is their large size. The mountain type kaba tazis have thicker pads. Some Tazis have dewclaws and although they are not removed, the ears may be cropped like shepherd dogs especially in the Southeast and sometimes in the Central Anatolia. Obviously the dewclaws do not constitute a negative factor in their running. Some feathered tazis have tails that form almost complete circles in the colder parts of Turkey, and the tail drops down during a chase.
Tazi has been used to add speed to the shepherd dogs in so many parts of Anatolia, just like wolf crossing. I have encountered this practice in Denizli, Konya and and Kayseri. The selection in tazi breeding is done by the skills and ability of Tazi. It is not bred for its looks. The function determines the structure and the importance of the structure is negated by function. The criterion is the speed and the intelligence. Unlike the sheep dogs, Tazis are bred under supervision.
Anything that runs or moves attracts the attention of Tazi. The initial training given to Tazi in Anatolia is taking the young one to the hunting field with the experienced Tazis. It is not preferred to have a six-month-old Tazi chasing a hare, because its skeleton and muscle system is not yet mature. The young Tazi either watches the experienced Tazis chasing the hare and gets used to the activity mentally or just wrestles, runs and plays with its peers in order to gain and master speed and agility.
When Tazi catches and retrieves the hare, some hunters give a few pieces back to Tazi as a reward. Others give Tazi only lamb meat in order to avoid Tazis eating the hare.
The skin of a hare, fox or a wolf is given to the Tazi for it to play with it. This helps Tazi to understand and recognize the hare and prepares the Tazis willingness to chase the prey.
Some Central Anatolian and Erzincan shepherds report that Tazi used to be employed for wolf hunting. As the shepherd dogs quality decreased and they became less brave, a Tazi who caught a wolf was killed by that wolf when no help was received from the shepherd dogs. Thus, the quantity of Tazis was decimated.
These Tazis, which cannot afford to have any sort of anatomical mistake on the rugged steppes, are seen in fawn and black color with square bodies. The local shepherds informed Tulubas that the history of their Tazis is as old as the shepherd dogs.
Serife and Mustafa Ay inform that Tazis from Denizli, Cal could be seen in both coat types and they come in whitish fawn or black colour. I believe that Ays information about the jumping and suspension abilities of Tazis are worth further study.
DVM Murat Ilgaz, reports that he saw a tan color kaba Tazi in Kars, Sarikamis. Kars is the North East corner of Anatolia and the region has a typical Caucasian climate. This reminds me of the Kirghiz Tazis dominant color and their hair type. In addition to that there are common features between two geographical areas like the climate and the altitude.
A black and longhaired Tazi is mentioned in Dede Korkut Oguznameleri, which is a Turkish saga written before 15th century A.D. The mentioned Tazi type is seen in the Central Asia today, and it should not be an exaggerated assumption to assert that a closely related blood type can be seen in less concentrated forms in Anatolia today.
In Turkey, Tazis do not hunt in groups like foxhounds necessarily. The quantity of the Tazi used for hunts is not much different than it is in Kyrgyzstan or Iran. We cannot see these dogs in crowded numbers, although they can be kept as groups, especially during the transportation. Besides, there is not a kennel concept in Turkey. According to Ays, hunters used to own at most two tazis, because keeping them was considered costly. I have seen Tazis in the Southeast and Manisa (western Turkey) with sheep flocks and there were never more than three. Nowadays some shepherds rarely keep them for occasional hunting reasons, but some can guard like ancient Afghan Hounds. One can also see Kopay (hare flushers) with the sheep flocks along with the shepherd dogs. They are to flush hares for the shepherds who hunt.
The behavioral structure of the Tazis and Shepherd dogs do meet under certain conditions. Some shepherd dogs are almost as fast as the Tazis, and some Tazis are thicker boned than the others and aggressive. These deviations do not fit into the general temperament description of both types of dogs, but the models developed to understand the facts better are good for scientific studies to make generalizations. Perhaps what Kalayci saw in Siirt were Tazi-like shepherd dogs. They had the speed and the guarding and the chasing instinct altogether. Chasing can be considered as a "preemptive" guarding.
Although the Tazi is no more a wolfhound than English Greyhound, the Anatolian Tazi can go wolf coursing. When the wolf coursing ends with success which is a rare incidence, the victim is usually a young or a sick wolf.
Wolf hunting with tazis in Turkey is not a well-known and popular subject, but it is known among some shepherds; especially when the wolves cause damage on several flocks and disappear. When the shepherd dogs of various flocks are helpless against the wolves, then shepherds and hunters get together and start a wolf-chasing event which can cover about 40 sq miles. Then some hunters with pointer-like dogs and some other with tazis join the chase. Some people bring their shepherd dogs too. When the hunting dogs or tazis spot the wolf and if the hunters are away from the wolf or if it is dark and if the shepherd dogs are unwilling to attack the wolf, then the hunting dogs and tazis are killed by the wolf/wolves.
Shepherd dogs that join in these wolf hunts are the dogs that have chasing and killer instinct. These wolf killers are frequently employed in wolf hunting. Mostly regular shepherd dogs have no interest in pursuit; however wolf killer shepherds (kurtcul or kurtbogan) disappear after the wolves for days and some never come back. The wolf killers make a very interesting subject and they are not conventional shepherd dogs. Some shepherds and regions specialize in them. I have seen a few wolf killers and I could not see major structural differences, though their minds are different. They were mostly average or below average size-wise!
Just as one single Kurtbogan chases a wolf, a single, experienced Tazi can also chase a jackal or a wolf. The difference is that the Tazi will not and cannot effectively fight the wolf. It is hard to tell whether it is true or not; but even so if a singly trained Taigan3 can kill a wolf by himself, an experienced Turkish Tazi in good condition should be able to keep a wolf occupied. These Tazis are often larger and thicker boned specimens compared to the tazis used for small game. Nevertheless the Tazis that are too large are no good for large game either, since their acceleration and maneuverability decrease. The conformation differences of these tazis can easily be noticed by the trained eyes of the native hunters. The Tazi used for wolf hunting has a wider chest and a more muscular back than the typical Tazi used for hare, providing the Tazi chasing the wolf has more strength. These Tazis also have broader heads in general.
Wolf hunting is the most difficult task for the Tazis, and "Kurtbogans" are great assistance to them. Kurtbogans probably do not consider the Tazi as the part of their pack, but as one of their possessions. When inexperienced Tazis get too close to a wolf, they have no chance of surviving against the wolves sharp teeth and claws. An experienced tazi would try to bite the back tendons and spring back instead of clearly fighting the wolf untill it receives help in the form of the hunter or Kurtbogans. It can also grab the neck of the wolf from the side, but it will be thrown aside in a few seconds. Kurbogans, on the other hand, handle the wolf differently. The tazis grew up with the shepherd dogs by accompanying the flocks and have no problem getting along with the shepherd dogs. This is where the wolf, the tazi and the shepherd dog crossings would become a new subject.
It is recently reported that the Kyrgyz Turks who live in the Ulupamir village of Ercis, Van use the tazis for wolf chasing currently. However we do not know what kind of tazis and methods they are using.
Tazi has been historically bred purely for coursing ability. The climate, the terrain, the prey species and the native peoples culture has shaped their physical and mental formation. Today 4W jeeps replace the Turkmen Horses, and rifles and binoculars replace the tazis. The worse change is the culture: it is replaced by human arrogance against the children of nature.
1Kirik is a short coat, but it is not like a pit bull short hair. It literally means,"broken", which can be interpreted as "something does not grow enough".
2Kaba is for long coat, but it does not necessarily mean that all kaba dogs have long coats. It means "wooly" or "a substance that is light yet it has volume". All the kaba dogs have thick, bushy tails, but some kaba dogs have longer hair on their body coat as well.
3According to Kyrgyz cinologist Kurmankulov Almaz Berdigulovich, "The taigan is a hound from Kyrgyzstan. It can live and function at elevations of 2700 metres, which gives it a tremendous advantage over other breeds including Afghan Hound. Taigan has a wide head, with flat check bones and its tail is long and ossified at the tip. Its fur is long in the back of the head, also the neck, shoulders, front part of the chest, the fore and hind legs, as well as between the toes. The fur is short on the other parts of the body. Taigan can be used as a bloodhound and can guard."
Kyrgyz call some of their Taigans "uchar" meaning "can fly". That word means the same in todays Turkish!
[Editors Note: Now that hunting is no longer a way of life, taigan are very rare and the total number of the pure breed is estimated at about 1000.]
From the Author:
Other reading on Anatolian Shepherd Dog Breed History
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