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Pooch protection: The Turkish sheepdogs guarding Aussie livestock

Kangal Source: Courtesy by Murat Öğüt

Australian farmers trying to protect livestock from wild dogs and foxes have found that Anatolian Shepherds, or Kangal dogs, as they are known back in Turkey, are keeping their animals safe like few other breeds.

“Get an Anatolian Shepherd.”

That was the response Adelaide farmer Phillip Marriot received when he asked a Norwegian friend how he could best protect his sheep and geese from ravenous foxes.

Joanne Cox on NSW's South Coast was told the same thing when she sought a dog to guard her livestock.

“We have five Marremma sheep dogs,” Cox says of her previous attempt to protect her flock with dogs, but also says they provided no lasting solution to her wild dog dilemma - a growing issue for Australian farmers. She had some knowledge of the Anatolian Shepherd, or Kangal, decided to try the breed.

Both Marriott and Cox looked for local breeders online, and that’s where Murat Öğüt comes in.

The 35-year-old Sydney GP has a passion for the breed as he grew up with Kangals back in Turkey. Several years ago, he decided to relive a bit of his childhood and started to look for pure-bred Kangals in Australia.

Dr Murat Öğüt
Courtesy by Murat Öğüt

While Kangal's are traditional sheepdogs used by farmers in the region of Anatolia for thousands of years, the first professional efforts to preserve the purity of the breed were launched only recently.

Having failed to acquire one that measured up to his demanding standards, Öğüt decided to contact the Turkey-based Dog Breeds and Cynologique Federation, which is a member of the Federation Cynologique Internationale.

kangal
Courtesy by Murat Öğüt

Due to Australia’s quarantine laws, bringing dogs into Australia is a process that takes about eight to ten months.

Öğüt brought five pure-bred Kangals to Australia five years ago, and after a preparation phase of a few years, he started to commercially breed Kangals at his NSW farm, specifically for Australian farmers. 

“Not every Anatolian sheepdog is a Kangal,” says Öğüt. He says there are other local breeders across Australia and in New Zealand.

Anatolian Shepherd Dog - Kangal
Courtesy by Murat Öğüt

In the past two decades, Australia has developed a serious wild dog problem, which Australian farms and flocks bear the brunt of. Öğüt believes he has just the right solution.

“A single wild dog attack can cost up to 40 sheep,” he says, noting that Australia is in desperate need of Kangals.

The Kangal is bred to protect livestock against wolves, jackals and bears in the Anatolian highlands, its name comes from a particular region in Turkey, from where it is believed the breed originates.

Kangals have also been sent to Namibia and Kenya in recent years, where they protect livestock from lions, cheetahs and other big cats. Authorities imported Kangals to stop farmers from killing the big cats that were attacking their animals.

Anatolian Shepherd Dog - Kangal
Courtesy by Murat Öğüt

Known as a loyal and brave breed, Öğüt says Kangals need almost no training. Even the puppies, or adults that have never seen a herd, know instinctively where to stand guard, he says.

Öğüt, who is licensed by the Australian National Kennel Council to breed dogs, also says that while Kangals have a very gentle temperament toward humans, they are very attentive while constantly on alert for potential danger.

Marriott has not looked back since flying his dog in from Sydney.

He said the aim was to allow his geese to freely roam in his orchard and prevent foxes attacking sheep during lambing season.

“In the past, we had a lot of lambs taken," Marriot says. "We haven’t lost a lamb this season with the new dog yet.”

Anatolian Shepherd Kangal
Courtesy by Murat Öğüt

Cox is equally pleased with the decision to try out the Kangals.

“Unlike Maremmas who are eager to run, Kangals are happy to play within the confinement of the fences.”

She said that once the pair she purchased had adapted to the new environment, they were immediately on guard duty, protecting against all dangers from land or air.

“They even watch the eagles as they fly,” she says.

The pair is also very protective of her three year-old child, says Cox.

However, some also warn that the Kangal is hardly a household pet to play fetch with. It loves large and open areas, while it is reputedly gentle with small children, seeing family as its flock and guarding them accordingly.