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Have you heard about the Kangal? Although the breed is relatively rare in the United States, they have been prized sheepdogs in Turkey for centuries and are likely descendants of Mastiff-type dogs shown to have lived in the Assyrian Empire as early as 600 BC.
So, what is the Kangal dog, and is it a breed you should consider owning? Let’s learn more about this ancient large breed dog.
The Turkish Kangal is a large dog with short but thick hair that is always some shade of tan all over with a black face. Adult males can weigh up to 145 pounds, and females can weigh 100 pounds or more. They are slightly longer than they are tall, and they have a tail that curls up and over their backs when held high and proud.
They can live an astonishingly long time for a large breed: 12-15 years! That’s due in large part to the fact that they have few inherited health disorders apart from hip dysplasia and fatty tumors. This is likely the result of careful breeding in their native Turkey since they are such prized animals.
Kangals were bred to follow herds of sheep or other livestock around all day and need a large, fenced property to roam to be happy and healthy. Even with regular leashed walks, a Kangal may become depressed and lethargic in an apartment or a home with a small yard.
Kangals and Anatolian Shepherds are often confused for one another. While they are closely related, they are two separate breeds.
The Anatolian Shepherd was bred throughout the Anatolian Plateau of Turkey, while the Kangal was bred specifically in the Sivas province. Since Kangals were developed in a relatively small area, they have a more uniform look than Anatolians. While Anatolian Shepherds come in a variety of colors including brindle, Kangal dogs are exclusively tan with black faces.
The Kangal dog was developed in the Sivas province of Turkey in the early 12th century from ancient mastiff-type dogs to protect flocks of sheep. They are Molosser dogs that are gentle with children and livestock but can ward off predators like jackals, wolves, and bears. In fact, they have the strongest bite force of any dog breed, coming in at 743 PSI. That’s more than triple a Pit Bull’s 235 PSI!
The Aga of Kangal family was made up of chieftains and landlords who used the Kangal to protect their flocks of sheep from predators. Soon, other villagers started breeding Kangal dogs to protect their own livestock. Since this region of Turkey is relatively isolated, there was little to no interbreeding with other dog breeds, which means the Kangal has been relatively unchanged for several hundred years.
In Turkey, as well as farms and ranches around the world, Kangal dogs spend their lives outdoors with the flocks that they are guarding – they aren’t house pets for most people, although they can adapt to a home life if they have a property to roam and a family to protect.
The first Kangal dogs were brought to the UK in 1965 and to the United States in 1985. Around 6-10 Kangal dogs are imported into the US from Turkey every year to maintain the purity of the breed and keep strong, varied bloodlines.
The Kangal is prized in Turkey to this day and is recognized as the national dog. It can even be found on Turkish coins and stamps.
Slightly longer than they are tall, Kangal dogs have small black ears, a curly tail, and a short, thick coat that sheds twice a year. They are always some shade of tan with a black face, and white marks are discouraged although allowed on their feet.
While the Kangal’s ears are left natural in most western countries, they are often cropped in their native Turkey. Some people believe cropped ears help the dog hear better, although many other people find the practice to be cruel and it is forbidden in the UKC show ring for dogs bred in the United States. Exceptions are made for dogs bred in Turkey or other regions where ear cropping is common.
Kangals are very protective of their family, flock, or herd. They won’t be happy to allow strangers into your home, and they should always be kept on a tight leash when they’re walked in public. Since Kangals try to warn away predators before attacking, they are prone to barking, which could be a problem if you have close neighbors.
Interestingly, since Kangals are bred to be livestock guardians, the UKC breed standard states that dogs in the show ring can’t be penalized for “honorable scars or other evidence of injury resulting from working in the field.”
Like many giant breed dogs, the Kangal takes a long time to mature and isn’t fully grown and ready to protect a flock until it’s around 2 years old. Care should be taken to feed puppies appropriately as they grow, so they don’t grow too quickly and develop conformational problems as a result.
This breed has an incredible life span for such a large dog. They can live an average of 12-15 years! The primary health issues they are prone to are hip dysplasia, entropion (where an eyelid curls under and irritates the eye), and fatty tumors.
Kangal dogs shed their undercoat twice a year and benefit from a good brushing to help them get rid of the excess fur. This is more important for Kangal dogs who live in homes, although brushing Kangals who live outdoors can help them manage their body temperature better. The Kangal dog should also be bathed a few times a year and checked for parasites like fleas and ticks. Check out our guide for the best tick repellant here.
Like most large dogs, Kangals require a healthy diet with plenty of protein to keep them strong. If you go with kibble, look for a high-quality diet that lists a whole protein (not meal or byproduct) as the first ingredient and meets AAFCO guidelines. Check out our guide on the best foods for large breed dogs and talk to your vet to see what they recommend, especially for puppies because they grow so fast.
Kangals that live indoors tend to become bored without a job to do and toys are crucial for keeping them entertained. Unsure what type of toys to buy for such a large dog? We talk about some of the most durable toys on the market here.
Just because your Kangal stays outside with the livestock they’re guarding, that doesn’t mean they don’t need a sturdy dog house to help protect them from the elements. If you have several different pastures, consider placing a dog house in each pasture where your Kangal can keep an eye on the flock while remaining protected from the blazing sun or torrential rain. You can look at our top picks for the best dog houses to get you started on your search for the perfect dog house for your Kangal.
The Kangal doesn’t immediately charge at threats. Instead, it prefers to bark first and try to warn away the predator while staying between the flock and the predator. If that isn’t enough, the Kangal can let loose a mighty roar, and if that still doesn’t scare away the predator, they will attack by knocking over the animal and going after its throat or legs. The Kangal can ward off predators as large as wolves and bears.
Kangals work best in pairs or teams so one dog can go up a nearby hill to keep an eye on the whole flock and watch for danger from a vantage point, while the other dog or dogs patrol the flock and look for nearer threats. Kangals are also quite social dogs and benefit from having other dogs around instead of being left alone with a herd or flock.
While Pitbulls are the favored breed for dog fighting in the United States, the Kangal is commonly used in Turkey for the same dreadful purpose. Dogfighters will breed the most aggressive dogs and introduce other breeds into the bloodlines of their Kangals in an effort to win dogfights. Sadly, drugs and steroids are also used to make Kangals more aggressive for dogfighting.
Since Kangals are fairly rare in the United States, puppies are not cheap. They often range in price from $2000-4000. It’s important to find a reputable breeder who does genetic testing to keep their lines as healthy as possible. A good breeder will have as many questions for you as you do for them because they will want to make sure their puppies are going to ideal homes.
Since Kangal dogs aren’t right for everybody, there are two reputable places to find rescued Kangal dogs. The Kangal Dog Club of America and Kangal Dogs International both run reputable rescue organizations for Kangal dogs.
In an attempt to protect livestock and prevent farmers and ranchers from killing cheetahs, the Cheetah Conservation Fund has given around 500 Kangal dogs to farmers in Namibia since 1994. Livestock losses have improved up to 100% in these areas, meaning that farmers no longer feel the need to kill cheetahs to protect their livestock.
Since the Kangal is a large, strong dog that is used to working with other dogs guarding livestock all day, they aren’t good pets for new dog owners. They need firm, consistent positive reinforcement training. They also don’t do well in homes without quite a lot of fenced property to roam – a minimum of 5 acres surrounded by a tall, sturdy fence is best.
Kangals are naturally good at protecting livestock, but they may be raised to protect their family instead. They are friendly and gentle, but they require a lot of socialization as puppies to become well-mannered house dogs since their natural tendency is to work alone outside the home tending a flock.
Related: 8 Best Guard Dogs for Families
If you own livestock, however, the Kangal dog is one of the best breeds you could own to protect your sheep, goats, or even cattle from predators. Working in pairs or teams of 3, Kangal dogs can safeguard a flock of 150 to 250 sheep. If you ranch in an area where you lose a lot of livestock due to predators, a pair of Kangal dogs could be worth their weight in gold.
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