Anatolian Shepherd Dogs International, Inc.



Anatolian Perspectives by Guvener Isik

The Sheep Dogs of Anatolia: Yörük Koyçis - by Guvener Isik (2014)

FLASH -See Guvener's NEW BOOK
Sheep Dogs of Anatolia: Yörük Koyçis

MORKARAMAN DOGS of AGRI (first published in Choban Chatter)

Black and white dog leading the flock Black and white dog leading the flock.

I chose this region because it is at the far end of Turkey and has a distinct and radical climate, geography, history, and culture.
However and most importantly, sheep flocks are abundant here. This province has been on my mind for several years. Therefore, I visited. The longitude of Agri is similar to Eskisehir and Sivas, which is just a bit south of Kars and north of Denizli and Konya. My observations during this trip were limited to six days in July 2013. This short period is normally not adequate to collect satisfactory information, but having previous experience with shepherds, sheep, goats, and dogs allowed me to focus on the critical details and to raise effective questions. During this trip, I did not focus on photo taking, which I find distractive and too touristy. Instead, I centered my attention on the activities surrounding the sheep, focusing my attention on six sheep flocks as I conversed with the shepherds.

White MorKaraman sheep
Morkaraman sheep.

Since I follow the flocks not the dogs, the best place to find flocks in Agri, based on my conversation with a Kurdish acquaintance, Zeki Pamir in Izmir, was the Diyadin (1925m/6315ft) region. The ethnic composition of this region is overall Kurdish. The people I dealt with described themselves as Kurmanchis and they speak a dialect of Kurdish. Everyone was friendly and helpful. Especially the assistance I received from Celal Gurses in Tapesor village was invaluable.

Geography, Climate, and Sheep

Agri, being geographically in the Southern Caucasus region, is located in eastern Anatolia at an elevation of 1650m/5413ft. The famous Ararat Mountain (5137m/16,854ft) is located here facing Iran. Many peaks in this province are over 3000m. The high altitudes and the lack of summer months allow neither Mediterranean nor Central Anatolian style agriculture. Additionally, 80% of the land is not suitable for agriculture, with pastures making up the remaining twenty percent (20%) of the land. The steppes make the region an enormous highland that can be comparable to Kars province in a way. One feels that he is in a free land when he faces forever rolling green steppes with various flowers and nice odors. When I look at American history, I tend to see it in two parts: pre-fencing and post-fencing. In Agri, one can walk almost nonstop for hundreds of miles. Lack of fencing is the best thing about this unspoiled land because fencing is actually chaining the land, destroying freedom, and brings self-imprisonment.

. Kaba and yarikaba dogs
Kaba and yarikaba dogs.

The average annual temperature here is 9C/48F, temperatures drop to -44C/-46F in winter, and rise to 37C/98F in summer. The snow remains on the ground for 120 days in Agri. As they say in Kars, Agri has also two climates: winter and spring. The village I stayed in on the first day of my trip, Diyadin, is considered semi-dry and semi-humid at the same time depending on the location and the elevation. However, northeast of Agri, Igdir has a dry climate where the precipitation drops down to 300mm/yr., whereas in Diyadin, it can reach up to 550mm/yr. Every element in this region is affected by the southern Caucasian climate. Even the local bees are Caucasian bees. These bees work well in cold or cold and wet weather and have longer tongues than the other bees, which allow them access to plants other bees cannot get. The above information is necessary because it helps the reader understand the conditions where the local sheep dogs live.

Tapesor (Red Rock /Hill, 2700m/8858ft) is one of the 558 villages in Agri and it is under snow for more than 200 days. In Tapesor, there are no motor vehicles; people transport themselves and their goods on horseback. So keeping horses is as important as keeping sheep. In July, snow remains on the ground at 2900m, it never melts and sheep flocks must go higher than this elevation on the southern slopes of the hills in order to find the freshest grass. Dogs are kept for sheep protection here, but in many other places, they are also kept for cattle. The flocks are rarely attacked by steppe bears, but are attacked mainly by wolves. Here, the packs are composed of 4-8 wolves. The local sheep are normally Morkaraman, which is a darker variety of Akkaraman of Central Anatolia. It has a fat tail, which ensures survival in times of drought and provides fat for local dishes. The wool hair color is generally reddish and even purple-like. Their wool is carpet grade and is ideal for felt and rug making. Black, grey, and white sheep are also part of the flocks. Nevertheless, in Tapesor, Gurses’ Morkaraman flock reminded me of the extinct Karabas sheep of Denizli, because not only they were mainly white, but also their body, skull and wool types were similar! Their main difference was their tail type. This is an imperative note for the future researcher


General Morphology

Ulukend dog Ulukend dog.

I saw dogs in all kinds of colors with yarikaba (semi short) and kaba (long) coat types. A great majority of the dogs were kaba. There was one dark brindle in Ulukend village (out of sixty dogs; almost all the dogs were in a remote highland), and two black and tan dogs in Mollakara (out of twenty dogs), but in Tapesor there was none of those colors. There were over thirty dogs in Tapesor and they were black, white, fawn, and pinto. This village, by itself, is a good example to see that the morphological variation is immense in this area. There was a general form for all the dogs, but body ratios, colors, neck, and muzzle types, along with paw structures, vary. One does not see the relative uniformity that he can see in sheep flocks. Thick bones, paws, torsos, and dense coats were the most notable general traits. This thickness can be perceived as a protection against extreme cold. Tail types along with forehead types also varied. There were dogs with curled tails and dogs with wolfish hanging tails. Most dogs did not have full curled tails. There were two dogs with almost no forehead stops. There was no dog with a horse type head. The distance between the ears makes their heads appear more equilateral (60?-60?-60?) than isosceles (70?-70?-40?), which makes the dogs look more bearish than wolfish. There was only one black dog with wolfish skull. The above angles are not rules or an attempt to make rules, but they put my visual observations into geometric relationships, which provide a new perspective. Most dogs had square body proportions. No dog presented a heavy gait as frequently seen in kennel-raised dogs.

A dog with a very thick neck in Topesur A dog with a very thick neck in Topesur.

Heavily coated kaba dogs of Agri face no wintering problems, but it is not unheard of dogs with shorter coats freezing in winter. The freezing dogs are mostly dogs brought from the southern and Central Anatolian plains or from the lowlands of Iran. In Sivas, I also heard stories about how and why dogs freeze in Uzunyayla highland. However, it is not only the coat type that makes a dog cold hardy, but also the structure. Cold hardy dogs have no hanging lips; they have shorter snouts, thicker torsos, rounder heads, smaller ears and eyes, bushy tails, thick necks with loose skin, and very dense and long wool around their neck and shoulder area. If one can ever touch one of these dogs, you would notice that the shorter coated local dogs have very dense wool that makes it impossible to see their skin. As long as they can winter like other dogs, no one has a prejudice against them. Compared to Central Anatolian dogs, kaba coat is more frequent and it is almost the norm. Another difference between kirik (short coat) and kaba dogs is that a kirik dog cannot have its hair get longer beyond its limits. The hair number per sq/inch can increase to the extent of the quantity of follicles. However, kaba dogs shed all their hair in the early spring and they remain less hairy then kirik dogs. In Agri, shedding takes place between July and August. At the end of September, they have their full kaba coat again that they need until the next June. Not all the dogs start shedding at the same time. Some of them just start shedding when the others are nearly finished.

Semi kaba dog Semi kaba dog.

One may ask why the dogs have to freeze and what kind of barbaric people keep these poor dogs? It is this exact mindset, which raises these questions and in turn, ruins these dogs. Any human help constitutes a weakening factor for this landrace. Although human-centric humans enjoy assisting dogs in order to feel good about themselves, they do so without ever realizing that they are infantilizing their dogs. The more dependent the dogs are, the more pleasure human-centric individuals draw out of assistance. The fact is these dogs are supposed to have their own natural insulation and they usually do. If a dog is missing the necessary insulation, then it is not a Caucasian.

Clearly wedge shaped heads
Clearly, wedge shaped heads.

One of the explanations of heavy coats is these dogs being tied in winter. An untied dog can manage to find a shelter. A dog tied in a place without shelter should have better insulation against cold than a wolf. This allows the shepherd to move the dog to a new location without erecting a shelter. Once the dog has a shelter it will confine itself, which negates the purpose of being alert. This is why sometimes dog tails are shaved or cropped. That way the dog cannot wrap itself around with its tail. A well-insulated dog does not need its tail to keep itself warm. That is one of the main reasons of the abundance of stub-tailed dogs in the region. When a dog is tied, another dog is let free to patrol. This way, dogs work alternately. To self counter argue my discussion above, it is possible that a coat type, which appears visually unfit, may have features that are not easily detected and can have several unknown advantages especially for dogs that come from nomadic tradition, in addition to allowing the dog to survive in the Caucasian winters. Coats types mentioned here are necessary to understand how coat types in relation to body types can tell us more about these dogs than understanding and classifying canine melanocytes (pigment cells). I must interpose here that sometime between 2004 and 2006 when I visited the southern regions of Derbent in Konya; I came across barns made of clay that looked like caves at higher elevations. The altitude was about 1600m and the dominant tree was black pine (Pinus nigra) which indicates the end of Mediterranean and the beginning of sub Alpine climate. Dogs were dark grey and dark red with full kaba coats. The dogs were tied to the small entry and exit holes of the barns, which ensured there was always a dog in front of the barn’s entrance. The holes were about three feet in diameter; additionally they served as aeration openings. I was told the wolves can only enter the barns through those holes and the dogs wait on the spot without any cover. A scared dog may become submissive to wolves and run away. To avoid this, sometimes two dogs were tied at the entrance at same time. This was done in order not to allow one of them to abandon the other. Two dogs covering each other’s back form a good defensive position. I called those dogs Yoruk, because of the inhabitants. They were not wrestling dogs and only they had the fierceness to stand against the wolves and the cold at the same time.

Shedding black kaba dog Shedding black kaba dog.

Dogs in Agri were not as large as Denizli and Konya wrestling dogs, which are usually above 80cm. The average size ranges of Agri dogs were 70-75cm for males and 65-70cm for the females. Although wolves are similar to dogs in size, large wolves (above 85cm) are spotted and sometimes shot. These size ranges are also valid for Denizli and Konya dogs where they were kept by traditional sheep and goat shepherds.

There were several typical Caucasian type dogs among these dogs, but what is a typical Caucasian? Since most of the dogs here were local and very few were possibly imported from Central Anatolia, they must be a sub Caucasian type. Some of them easily looked like old kaba native dogs of the Aegean region and some of them could be described as typical Sivas dogs, but overall they were not the same dogs. I do not believe that the differences can be quantified or safely described when the subject is a landrace population. We cannot claim any measurement with precision, but we can claim that things take place between point A and point B. Anything beyond that range may be considered invalid, and the values within this interval are excitingly complex. Classifying these dogs via DNA tests is irrelevant, intrusive, and plainly a distraction that does not deal with sheep guarding in any way. Not only the current picture of variation but also the historical variation and migrations-related genetic influx are part of the dynamics of chaotic landrace populations.

Primitive looking dog crop
Primitive looking dog.

Morkaraman dogs

Classifying Caucasians based on their color stems from the inability of grasping the whole landrace picture and believing that dogs as a breed were already ready waiting to be discovered by the entrepreneurs and their scientist allies. Grey wolf packs are made of various colors, such as black, white, red, and grey. So far, no scientists who have no ideological and political motives have attempted to study grey wolves based on their colors, especially if wolves occupy a certain geographical location. Arabian horses and Salukis/Tazis come in various colors, but no one thought of fabricating new breeds out of them. Karakul and Morkaraman sheep are also composed of red, purple, grey, black, and white colors. The brush goat of Anatolia is generally a dark colored goat but all wild types of colors are present in the flocks. Grey Anatolian donkeys are not a different breed from black ones. If a scientist decides to study Caucasians of Anatolia under a few arbitrary color codes, then he must do the same with Sivas (supposedly all fawn and black masked), and Eskisehir (supposedly all white) dogs. Anatolian Caucasians are different from Central Anatolian dogs but this difference does not come from the color, but structural and behavioral differences, in addition to adaptation skills in Caucasian lands. Once the scientist realizes this, he may direct a question for a meaningful forward step such as "Is a black and white Caucasian a cross between a black and a white Caucasian?" If he "cleverly" says "Yes" then I would assume that he believes that a Panda is a cross between a white and a black Panda! When a scientist is free from a freethinking mindset and curiosity, he can only be a bureaucrat who simply feeds on his university salary and becomes an assistant of statistics and computer generated papers instead of being the master of his own mind.

Fully shedded Ger (bt) color dog in Mollakara Fully shedded Ger (b/t) colored dog in Mollakara

If a sheep dog can live and work under traditional conditions without receiving assistance from its owner in a Caucasian climate and geography, it is a Caucasian dog. It belongs to the land; it deserves the title. Any dog who fails under the given conditions is not a Caucasian no matter what its family tree, body, and coat type is. The same is valid for being a Caucasian, Yoruk, and Central Anatolian sheep dog. Just because it has feathers, to what extent is a bird really a bird if it cannot fly? Devoting time and attention to the failing members of a population is nothing but backpedaling. Hoping that I am not contributing to historical confusion, I will generalize for the confused: Anatolian dogs, essentially and roughly, can be divided into Akkarraman and Morkaraman dogs, because dogs follow sheep. The rest of the major variations come from the interaction of these two main huge clusters. Anatolian Caucasians are Morkaraman dogs. Sheep dogs of Anatolia cannot be correctly understood by isolating sheep and goats from the matter.


Temperament and Health

None of the dogs were friendly and they are not supposed to be. Although a visiting, simply threatened, ubernational law enforcement officer may shoot them, friendliness is a negative trait for sheep dogs since they are not there to welcome restaurant customers. The sheep dogs of this region were certainly more aggressive than the sheep dogs of Sivas. This is a clear behavioral difference. Agri dogs were more like customs officers, not friendly but not vicious. They were all reserved, careful, and ready to move. I saw no sick dogs. They are all in good shape even in the absence of intensive and intrusive health checks required of the authoritarian clubs of the west. The simple reason for their good health is that they live in the right environment, eat traditionally, work, and are not tortured by humane interventions. Any raw dog as a product thrown into this system is processed accordingly. There is no prescreening for health. The results are released by the system without any written rules and formulae at the end of every year based on their performances. Any dog above nine months old that is still alive is likely to remain alive until it dies for any cause. The breeding age here is not decided by the "experts" but by the dogs themselves. I saw one dog without cropped ears. The reason for that was the owner missed the cropping age (preferably during the first month, but not after five months old) and he let the dog go intact. The explanation for ear cropping was to facilitate improvement in the dogs’ hearing ability. People do not pay much attention to dew claws here as they do in Central Anatolia. Slightly more than half of the dogs had dewclaws and no one thought they were detrimental to the dog’s health. Although ears are partially removed, dewclaws remain intact.

Dogs have to stay outside and cannot get relaxed on a sofa in front of the fire because sheep in winter are not totally kept in barns but they are taken on long walks for exercise and for fresh air. Some flocks have free access to open parts of the barns where dogs have to watch. A dog that stays outside is better protection than a relaxed dog becoming a sheep among sheep. These dogs are happier spending the entire year out in the open. They have no allergies or flu; the soil they sleep on and the air they breathe vaccinate them.


A fawn dog in summer coatA fawn dog in summer coat.


Dogs lose sheep to wolves especially during the grazing months. Shepherds are not bothered much with this because their losses are not heavy. I saw no hatred against the wolves here. Any heavy losses are due to the ineffectiveness of the dogs, which is when the shepherds’ expertise comes in. Three dogs generally escort flocks composed of 200 sheep. Dogs choose which ends of the flock to cover and there is no training for this. It is not unusual for the dogs go without eating for two to three days. They always endure this with patience. This happens especially when the shepherd loses the food for some reason or the flock gets lost because of heavy rain and fog. Kaba dogs can last longer when it is wet, cold, and no food is available. The night and day temperature difference in this region is normally about 20C/32F, but it can be more. Dogs get wet in the evening and the water on their coats freeze when it gets dark. One needs to be exposed to cold July rains at 2700m and observe wet dogs performing 24/7 in order to appreciate this perspective.

Brush goats with Kashmir grade wool
Brush goats with Kashmir grade wool.

Wolf color pinto
Wolf color pinto.


Dogs can be eaten by the wolves. However, if dogs kill the wolves, they eat them. People do not go to the government like helpless children who go and complain to their teacher when the wolves eat their dogs. Shepherds of Agri make no noise, produce no tears but improve their dogs and their own shepherding skills. However, what is rewarded in the "developed" countries is helplessness. Weakness is welcome and praised. As mercy is offered, strength and pride are penalized. Dogs then become folkloric ornaments for farms. Moreover, the owners of ornamental dogs cannot talk about the real issues since real issues are nothing more than fictions to them, so they create some instead.

Dogs always stay with the flock even in the absence of the shepherd which is expected anywhere throughout Anatolia. A dog that requires human encouragement, which shows a feeble personality, is not ideal for this post. Only loving these dogs is for the frail hearted, who is a potential destroyer of this cultural and genetic beauty. The stoicism, loyalty, courage, affection, fierceness, stamina, and reliability of these dogs give excitement to the original developers. How can I not admire and respect both parties? I keep going back to them wherever they are kept original to their cause. My respect for them allows me to dare opposing the dog clerks, who insert these free spirits into molds. These pastoral beauties are puzzles to me at times and I resist solving the whole puzzle. Once solved, they are invaded; they will not glow the same. Yes, I want to understand them, but penetration, even in the form of information pursuit, is a prying business. Dogs should have personal space and private history too. Caucasians of Agri were in their best forms in their ancestral land in the absence of people who pretend to repair them. It was not difficult for Kurmanchi shepherds to take their dogs as dogs, not interfere, and let the dogs glow.

Sep 15 2013

Acknowledgements: The expenses incurred while conducting research for this article were reimbursed by the ASDI, per the board’s approval.

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/

See Guvener Isik's New Book

Other reading on Anatolian Shepherd Dog Breed History

[ Back to Puppourri ]

___________________. o O * O o .___________________


This page copyright by Anatolian Shepherd Dogs International, Inc. ® .