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Anatolian Perspectives by Guvener Isik
SIRTLAN (first published in Choban Chatter)

The authentic Anatolian in traditional rural Anatolia is not about the color, dog farming, conformation, or standards but is simply about practical shepherding. Nevertheless, people in the West have been immersed in color related discussions for several decades. For this very reason it would be beneficial to clarify and thus articulate the unusual but perfectly normal and natural dark coated Anatolians. The belief that the standard color for the Anatolian being fawn is not accurate. There used to be no standard color before the sheep dogs of Turkey grabbed the attention of westerners. Golden colored dogs with black masks were advertised as the pure stock by international visitors. This attitude painted the entire canvas to fawn and labeled the other colors as deviations.

Goat Dog Sirtlan Father of the two pups
Goat Dog. Sirtlan Father of the two pups.

General ?nc?l, DVM used the term Karayaka first in 1983 and considered it a breed. He referred to the dark colored shepherd dogs as a variant of Karabas dogs and observed that they had wolfish heads. Brindle, dark gray, and black ASDs are technically Karayakas. Prior to General ?nc?l’s book, two other Turkish books written in 1936 and 1979 about the dogs both used the term ?oban K?pegi for the shepherd dogs of Turkey and no other specific breed names were mentioned in those books. Currently, while some of the urban sheep dog fans in Turkey call dogs with dark stripes Sirtlans, the term Karayaka, which is coincidentally and only technically, is correct.

The same term was used later on by Kartay (2000) in his Kangal book and applied to the dogs with black stripes especially from the Sivas region. However, ?nc?l meant a different type of dog other than Sivas dogs with the term Karayaka. ?nc?l did not mention a specific location for Karayaka dogs. He could easily have seen them even in Thrace. I have seen several brindle and black dogs in the province Bursa where his military kennels were located. Subsequently, it is possible that he observed them in Bursa.

Kartay noted in his observation that Karayaka is probably a brindle or black Kangal since he saw brindle puppies in the same litter and he saw no behavioral and structural differences between brindle and fawn Kangals. It is not surprising that Kartay observed no anatomical differences of fawn and brindle dogs, because his observation took place within the same region: Sivas. Had he looked at them in Denizli or Diyarbakir, he would have observed a few phenotypic differences. Had he also looked at the nearby regions where he lived he would have heard the use of the term Sirtlan.

Goat dog is a brindle with dark grey base from Cal
Goat dog. Brindle with dark grey base from Cal.

Kartay reported he had seen brindle pups in a litter from fawn parents. Although his observation does not match up with the conventional genetic rules of the canines, I also have seen brindle pups produced from "visually" fawn parents. The fawn parents of brindle pups that I have seen could have been brindles with unnoticeable stripes. Rules of canine genetics are limited to the facts that the researchers collect. These observations negate the fact that brindle is dominant to fawn. However, it is possible there are different genetic patterns for both fawn and brindle Anatolians which the biological inheritance science does not yet know. The brindle color can possibly be masked by traits, which come together in a certain order that are not expressive by themselves. I prefer to argue that brindle is "usually dominant" over fawn with exceptions under polygenetic factors in relation to threshold traits and I would not be upset to find some fawn dogs with additive traits are, in fact, dominant to brindles. I have seen brindle puppies with and without black masks within the same litter. It is possible that pups without an apparent black mask had very pale masks. I have not come across any brindle with a reversed mask yet and it may not be genetically possible because the presence of stripes is dominant over lack of mask or the stripes simply cover the reversed mask area.

I had come across a vet in Antalya in 2004 when I was interviewing the Geyikli Mountain Y?r?ks of Antalya, and he mentioned the presence of dark fawn, dirty fawn, or smoky fawn colored Karabas dogs in Afyon. According to him, those dogs were definitely a distinct local strain and their sharpness was valued by the shepherds. So the wolfish skulls of ?nc?l’s Karayaka’s and the wolfish Y?r?k dogs of Afyon are possibly of the same strain.

Sheep dog from Cal
Sheep dog from Cal.

No matter whose Karayakas they were, they did not capture the attention among urban shepherd dog people in Turkey because of the heavy fawn Kangal publicity. Kartay, although he used the term and talked about them initially, later gave up on the dark dogs and finally eliminated all his "Karayakas" while trying to publicize Akbas by indiscriminately collecting dogs from unrelated strains, including white pups from Kangal dogs. He also did not keep his red dogs called Kizilyaka from Sivas in the following years. He continued working with pale fawn dogs with fewer white spots in accordance to his belief and advocated "improved purity," therefore serving the public better with the politically correct color!

The meaning of this problematic term can be explained by dividing it into two separate words. "Kara" usually means black in Turkish and "Yaka" is collar or side. Yaka has several meanings in Turkish and local meanings vary. Yaka is used as if it means body. Some dogs have grey chest colors but this does not qualify them as dark dogs. It looks like the term is not accurate in terms of exact meaning. Kara in Anatolians does not have to be a genetically dominant true black color as it is seen in Labradors. So far I do not know if a dominant black color exists in Anatolians, but I see no reason for its absence.

Kara, not always literally black, refers dark colors in folkloric Turkic cultures. Some brindles have thick and dark stripes that make it very difficult for an untrained eye to tell the difference. Mostly, the paws and the adjacent area give the clue about the true color of the dog. Shepherds are not interested in the genetic background of the dogs. They appoint color names, as the dogs’ colors are perceived. The opposite of Karayaka is Akyaka, meaning white or pale colored body. Certain cultures or practices prefer certain colors to others. Sometimes the color of the flocks can be a determining factor. At other times it is the terrain that determines the color choice of the dogs.

I have seen not many solid black Kangal type dogs so far. One of the few I had seen was in a village in Bala, Ankara and the others were in Diyarbakir. An active and influential Kangal person shared an old photograph taken in Erzincan where two of the three dogs were fawn; one them was black. I suppose they were all recessive agouti blacks as it is observed in black GSDs. I was told by a few shepherds who were from Malatya province that after the firearms became more available, people started shooting dark dogs especially at nighttime mistaking them for wolves. This had an impact on their decreasing numbers, in addition to the fawn shepherd dog mania. While no Kanman group agrees on what Kangal is, fawn colors are taken as Kangals in Turkey as in the west. Subsequently, most dark colored dogs were kept out of the gene pool in the last thirty years; especially the dominant brindle color which almost became extinct in Sivas and Kayseri regions.

Although currently solid black dogs are not favored in Western Turkey, I remember large black shepherd dogs of my childhood as far west as Aydin and Izmir as these regions seasonally experienced heavy Y?r?k migrations. I came across some Y?r?k type black dogs in Isparta, Antalya, Manisa, Balikesir, Bursa, Denizli, and Konya in the last five years. I have also seen black nomad dogs in the region of Karacadag Mountains in Southeast Anatolia. Brindles are still more numerous than black dogs; however, their numbers must be at the lowest point in their 6000-year-old history.

Black dogs, if taken as a dark color factor only, can be easily observed in the North East Anatolia among in the Anatolian Caucasians. However they show Caucasian traits and most shepherds and experienced sheep dog people are able to tell that they are not quite the same dogs of Sivas, Kayseri, and Malatya.

Since agouti black and brindle dogs are observed among Y?r?k and Kurdish nomad dogs as well, it is not realistic calling all dark coated dogs Karayaka as a breed. The term only can be correctly used when it intends to indicate a range of colors. I must interject here that the breeds of Turkey are basically Anglo-American made classifications. Landrace animals are not breeds. While Karayaka indicates the body color, Karabas indicates the head color. Yet Karayaka sheep from the Black Sea region are generally white sheep as is the so-called Akbas, "dog with a white head," another wrongly coined term, as it has a white body along with a white head!

Black Goat Dog with siblings
Black Goat Dog with siblings.

I have seen more dark colored dogs in the goatherds and some shepherds call them "goatherds- Ge?i Iti/K?pegi". These dogs, with narrower chests, are supposed to have better stamina than sheep dogs. Some of these dogs are agouti black and dark gray, but most of them are brindle and girik (short coat) or gaba (wooly coat). I saw a few very dark tan dogs, which some suspect they are mixed with import dogs, but since they can be seen even in remote regions and no counter argument is available to prove they are mongrels. Besides, there is no such thing as a mongrel in the landrace concept. It is nothing more than a rare color. Black and tan is seen in the Tazi and it is almost the norm for the hare flushing hunting dog of Anatolia, the Kopay. I have witnessed one black and tan pup produced by two fawn parents in a Y?r?k camp in Izmir. Another one was in Cal, Denizli produced by two fawn wrestling dogs. Generally, black and tan dogs are simply called black, because of the dominant color. I have no doubt there was a specific name for this color when the black and tan dogs were numerous, because black and tan brush goats with specific color distribution patterns are termed as Ger among Y?r?ks. Apparently, the free Anatolian does not play by the arbitrary standards.

Goat Dog with Saddle
Goat Dog with Saddle

As I have never heard of the term Akbas used by Turkish shepherds, I also have not heard the term Karayaka used by shepherds, which it is still merely possibly probable. Nevertheless, I suspect it is a kennel man’s fabrication as usual. Shepherds of different regions use various terms for the same brindle color such as Sirtlan (hyena), Sirtlan Alasi (pinto hyena), Kaplan (tiger), ?apar (mixed color), Sarma (stripes wrapped around the body), and Alazli (fiery; flammable). Even a dog with a few stripes and dots is technically termed Sirtlan. All the above terms point to striped markings on the coat, which indicates the term Karayaka does not necessarily mean black stripes but the darkness of the coat color in relation to yellow and red colors. Neither the originator nor the endorser of this term mentioned the presence of the stripes that the shepherds always knew existed.

A dog that is not dark coated cannot be Kara, because of the lack of a dark coat. A Sirtlan dog could technically be called Kara-yaka if the stripes are noticeable, but the reverse is not always true. Shepherds call the brindles Sirtlan, not Kara. The term Sirtlan however, whether the coat and stripes are dark or pale, red or gray, thick or thin, includes all kinds of brindles. Some Sirtlans have very few stripes or the stripes are so pale they can go unnoticed and Sirtlan pups can appear unexpectedly. It is hard to notice pups with stripes either when the pup is very dark, when the stripes are very apart from each other, or when the stripes are thin. Sometimes Sirtlans with pale stripes on a grayish gaba coat are hard to detect and they are called Kir?il whether they are gray or brindle dogs. Some Kir?ils are simply dark fawns and they can be called Isli" meaning smoky.

In the Anatolian steppes perception matters, not the biological codes. Blue is not used for shepherd dogs in Anatolia or at least I am not aware of it. However if Y?r?ks used it a generation ago, I would not be surprised. At present, I have a blue brindle pup. It has the color of blue volcanic soil. I call her G?kenik, meaning the Blue Pup. I call the dark brindle pup, Karaenik, meaning black pup. The terms do not have to be literally correct. The terms are used to make distinctions within the litter; I and the shepherds who saw the pups all knew the dark pup is actually Sirtlan.

There is a large gaba black dog living in a village on the other side of the mountain where I live. When the subject turned to that dog, one of the shepherds said Gapgara, Kapkara, meaning jet-black, the blackest of black like coal. Pale fawn dogs or dogs with extreme white spots can easily be called Akit or Akkus-white dog, although they are not snow white. Blue was considered sacred and had been used for a sacred wolf called G?kb?r? by the early Turks of Middle Asia and it can also be used for a goat or a pigeon but not for a horse or sheep. For example G?k Ge?i - Sky-Goat, meaning a goat that receives its color from the sky, a blue goat. Urbanites see it differently and they say "grey" goat. Turks, before Islam, made a distinction between grey and blue when they used them for animals.

Light Sirtlan fawn base. Wrestling Sheep Dog
Light Sirtlan fawn base. Wrestling Sheep Dog.

Dark dogs in a certain area could have become distinct from another relative population of fawn dogs and the longer the isolation persisted the more diverse they could have become. Therefore, Karayaka could have been a type if a concentrated population with similar structural and behavioral traits was located in a certain geographical location, but no isolated region has been reported so far. Alternatively, dog farmers may come up with a Karayaka recipe in the future as they did with Karabas, Akbas, Anatolian, and Kangal. However, as always, shepherds of Anatolia know better; they are well aware of the various strains but they do not mix the color with breed as they do not play with the genetic codes since knowing how the colors are transmitted to the next generation has nothing to do with functionality of the dog and knowing the color map of these dogs is unproductive. Nevertheless in this sense, the term Anatolian is relatively forgiving and uniting when the subject is the colors of sheep and goat dogs of Turkey. It is the urbanites who love pairing impressions with myths. After all, breed construction is preparing different dishes with the same ingredients. 20080405 Walkeringham, UK;

20120411 ?al, Turkey

Note: I have seen six pups from a fawn bitch and a black male of which three of them were fawn in Gabalar village of ?al in Denizli on May 3rd 2012. One of the black pups showed no agouti coloring visually and looked solid like its father; the other two black pups exhibited dark fawn shades. After I acquired the black male pup, I have seen an agouti pattern appear on the pup. The owner of these dogs was a goat shepherd and he liked black because it was hard to recognize a black dog in a black goat flock and he found black dogs hardier. I have to agree with him that pigmented animals are hardier which is why one can see more stray black cats in the cities compared to the villages, because being a stray city cat is harder than being a village cat in terms of germs and cats per unit area. The same is applicable to stray black dogs.


From the Author:
     I have owned shepherd dogs since I was 8 years old. My grandparents had them for guarding their properties and animals. I grew up hearing stories about them from my father and my grandmother. My grandmother still talks about her dogs. I have always been attracted to their primitive looks but more importantly to see them in action as working dogs.
      Writing something about these dogs occurred to me in 1993, but I really didn't have the knowledge required to fill a book. I had to wait until 1997 with a clear intention to collect data about them. When I research them I research a life style. These dogs are one of the windows that one can see and analyze the circumstances of the rural people and nature. I had to learn about sheep, goats, donkeys, horses, cattle, bees, cats, wheat, carpets, forests and wolves along with history and genetics in order to have a multifaceted perspective about these dogs or about everything surrounds them. The main motivator behind studying these dogs is my uneasiness about the disappearing rural life styles in Turkey. I know that we need native sheep and goat flocks and wolves in order to preserve these dogs. Without these we can only preserve dogs with diminishing quality at every generation. We cannot choose and preserve them without the combined interaction of the flocks, shepherd and the wolf with these dogs. It feels like we are trying to keep water from running through our fingers. It will disappear in the end
------  Visit Guvener Isik's website at http://yorukanatolian.com/


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