by   David Hancock

In my book The Mastiffs - The Big Game Hunters I concentrate on the mastiff breeds used as holding dogs, the strong-headed, broad-mouthed, modified brachycephalic type, used at the kill in medieval hunting and as capture-dogs since, the world over. These dogs have been used as hunting mastiffs or matins for several thousand years. There are in addition however, what might be called 'running mastiffs', huge par force hounds that hunted using sight and scent, more often on boar. Their surviving examples are breeds like the Great Dane, the Alano of Spain, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the Broholmer of Denmark and the more recently developed Black Mouth Cur, a 'treeing hound' of the United States. These often originated as hounds of the chase, too valuable to be sacrificed at the kill, not trained or bred to be recklessly brave and much more prized for their handsomeness more than any holding dog breed. I have referred elsewhere to the unjustified false grouping of many of such dogs by modern kennel clubs. On the continent of Europe, the Great Dane is known as the Deutsche Dogge or German Mastiff (literally), but the boarhound/running mastiff ancestry is strangely denied by a number of kennel clubs, including the club of Great Britain, which classifies this breed, not as a hound, but in the Working Group, for show purposes. This is a travesty.

But what do the more authoritative writers say on this subject? The esteemed 'Stonehenge' in his 'The Dog' of 1867 writes, on the subject of The Boarhound: "This is the Great Dane, and is used for boar-hunting in Germany and for hunting the elk in Denmark and Norway." Drury, in his 'The Twentieth Century Dog' of 1904 refers to "the great Dane, or boarhound, as it is also called." Dalziel, in his 'British Dogs' of 1881, stated that: "...the Saxons brought with them their Great Danes, and hunted boar with them in English forests and fens."  These were the influential writers at the time when our KC was being founded and expanded in its scope; it is difficult to understand why their words were ignored by the KC, even in its infancy. But other knowledgeable writers were ignored too, perhaps out of undeclared ignorance!.

   MB Wynn, in his 'The History of the Mastiff' of 1886, writes that: "...readers and translators should be very guarded how they render molossus as a mastiff, for the true molossian was an erect-eared (altas aure) slate coloured (glauci) or fawn (fulvus) swift footed...dog, identical or almost so, with the modern Suliot boarhound." This is a significant statement coming from such a Mastiff devotee. Hamilton-Smith, writing at the end of the nineteenth century stated that Great Danes were most likely the true Molossian hound of antiquity. Interestingly, he also states that Caelius and others refer to a race of blue or slate-coloured Molossi (Glauci Molossi). The strangely under-rated Scottish writer, James Watson, in his masterly "The Dog Book" of 1906, writes on the Great Dane: "As to the origin of the dog there is not the slightest doubt whatever that it is the true descendant of the Molossian dog." I support these distinguished knowledgeable authors.

  Sadly too, once, later on, kennel clubs around Europe wrongly accepted the Molossian dog as a broad-mouthed or mastiff-type dog, the genuine possessors of the Molossian dog phenotype: modern breeds like the Great Dane, the Dogo Argentino and the Broholmer, were lost to hound groups. But, as explained earlier, the word 'Dogge' in medieval Europe meant a running or a hunting mastiff not a catch or capture dog like the broad-mouthed breeds. Hartig, in his 'Lexicon for Hunters and Friends of the Hunt', published in Berlin in 1836, wrote that "The stature of the English Dogge is beautiful, long and gracefully muscular. The stature of the Bullenbeisser is less pleasing." In referring to the 'English Dogge' Hartig meant the hunting mastiff from England. The Bullenbeisser was a catch-dog, the ancestor of the Boxer. Even then, the essential difference between running dog and seizing dog was appreciated. This is not a matter of mere semantics but has fundamental significance in the design of modern breeds for function. When you misunderstand their past function, you get the breed design not just wrong but damagingly so.

  A wide range of powerful dogs bred to protect livestock have been utilized from the upland areas of Iberia in the west, right across to Iran and on to the highlands of Eastern Europe, from mountainous Balkan regions in the south and northwards to former Soviet states. Sometimes they are called shepherd dogs, others mountain dogs and a few dubbed 'mastiffs', despite the more precise use of that word in modern times. Their coat colours can vary from solid white to dark-grey and from a rich russet to solid black, often with tan. Many that developed as breeds are no longer used as herd-protectors and their numbers in north-west Europe seriously declined when the use of draught dogs became a victim of the mechanized age. A number of shared features connect these far-flung types: a dense weatherproof jacket, a substantial build, an impressive magnanimity and a strong instinct to guard livestock placed under their supervision. As a group, they would be most accurately described as the flock guardians; in Britain in the distant past they were referred to as 'shepherd's mastiffs', but they were valued all over Europe. In what is now Turkey, you have the Anatolian Shepherd Dog, the Kangal Dog and the Akbash Dog. Their breed title is essentially different; their role and employment one of protection not hunting -certainly not seizing and holding. But their origin may well have been as a running mastiff, rather like the Assyrian mastiffs in the famous depictions in bas relief.

Because the Molossian hound and the Molossian flock-guarding dog were fierce and at times savage (as Aristotle records) they were lumped together with the other "canes pugnaces or bellicosi". Statius wrote of the soldiers of the Molossi weeping over their faithful canine companions slain in the war. But the Molossi used their huge dogs as outpost sentries not as war-dogs, as the Hyrcani did. Even in the last century, the Suliot dog (from the Suli mountains in Epirus) was used to guard outposts in the war between the Austrians and the Turks. It is highly significant that the Romans referred to the broad-mouthed dogs as Canes Pugnaces or Bellicosi and not Molossi. The French professor Pierre Megnin, in 1896, defined four basic canine skull structures: lupoides, braccoides, graioides and molossoides, and listed the breeds of dog identified then either in these groups or from a mixture of them. At that time Megnin was unaware of the Sumerian hounds or the pre-dynastic dogs of Hierakonpolis, but clearly knew of the Molossi. Felice Cesarino believes that some of the Saharan graffiti showing heavy-skulled dogs could be from the "grande fauna selvaggia" phase, ante-dating the Sumerians. Johan Gallant, President of the Africanis Society in South Africa, who pointed this out to me, shares my belief that an update of Megnin's classification is long overdue.

The travels of steppe nomads further west into Europe and the establishment of the Ottoman Empire ensured that the big steppe flock guarding dogs became known further afield, from SE Europe, including the Balkans, to SE Russia and NW to Austria and a part of Hungary. Ash records a misadventure with an Albanian flock guarding dog in 1859, the writer dubbing it the 'Albanian king of dogs, who is undoubtedly first cousin to the Turkish one.' This account was sparked by a visit to the Islington Dog Show and a sight of Frank Buckland's Turkish Guard Dog being exhibited there. Hamilton Smith writes in 1840 of the dogs used in Persia to guard flocks of sheep, the dog of Natolia, stating they were a deep yellowish red, with a few of them black and white - 'believed to be cross-breeds'. Smith records that a similar dog was found in Central Asia to the Bosphorus.

   Fanciers of flock protection dogs in Anatolia might find that of interest, although the title of their breed still causes controversy. Firstly they are not shepherd dogs in the strict sense, secondly, in their native country, the black-faced ones are called karabash dogs and the white ones, akbash dogs, (now a separate breed in the USA) and thirdly, the Kangal Dog is the title favoured by many (and now recognized separately by the KC). In a country the size of Turkey it is likely that local differences would be found in the national flock-guarding dog. People in Moslem countries are sometimes alleged to despise dogs but Ash quotes a 1662 account that states that 'There is no people in the world that looks after its dogs and horses as well as the Turk.' Perhaps there is a worldwide difference of attitude between those who use dogs and those who don't.

   The recognition, outside Turkey, of their national dog, the Kangal Dog, tells you much about lobbying in the show world and not much about the pursuit of accuracy in breed titles by the various kennel clubs of the world. Enthusiasts are vital in any breed, but when they follow their own path, despite neither researching thoroughly nor respecting the country of origin’s position on their national breed, they can be a menace. The flock guardian/livestock protection dog of Turkey is the Kangal Dog. The recognition by the KC here of the breed, in 1983, under the title of Anatolian Sheepdogs then Anatolian (Karabash) Dogs has long been disputed. Thirty years ago, I was invited to speak at the annual seminar of the English breed club by the leading enthusiast here, the late Natalka Czartoryska, about the background and likely history of the breed. On presenting my doubts about the validity of both the KC-accepted title and different breeds for this Turkish dog, based on evidence given to me by Susan Goldhor, Director of Agricultural Research at the School of Oriental and African Studies, supported by Dr Sebastian Payne, a British zoo-archaeologist, specializing in the origins of domestic animals in Turkey, in 1982 (also provided to the Chairman of the KC of the time) it was made abundantly clear to me that my views were unacceptable. Now, the KC has recognized the Turkish Kangal Dog but only alongside the continuing recognition of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog. This important step is a result of the work of Margaret Mellor, whose influential book, with Lesley Tahtakilic, The Kangal Dog of Turkey of 2009, is the best breed book and the convincingly-argued case for the correct title.

  I suspect that this impressive breed has influenced this type of dog across a wide spectrum; their phenotype, temperament and identical use is found in any number of countries, especially those adjacent to Turkey or once part of the Ottoman Empire. An acquaintance of mine, who, unusually, travelled widely in Albania in the 1990s, found identical dogs there performing their time-honoured role. The influence of the Kangal Dog can be seen in the Balkan flock guarding breeds. Such links are important; if and when a breed is found to have inherited defects, other related breeds need to be examined too, in their own long-term interests. The Kangal Dog of Central Turkey is expected to have a coat with solid colours varying from sand to pale grey, with the black mask considered ‘characteristic’. The white dog, or Akbas Dog of Western Turkey has made good progress in North America. The KC has decreed that, from 2005, in their breed of Anatolian Shepherd Dog, all coat colours are acceptable, with or without the black mask. The KC recognized the Turkish Kangal Dog in 2005. It could be that in the course of time, every solid-coloured, sand to pale-grey dog with a black mask, is transferred to the Turkish Kangal Dog register, with the other type lapsing, out of a paucity of registrations.

It would be foolish to argue of course that modern breeds like the Mastiff are direct descendants of the Assyrian Hunting Mastiffs or of primitive Anatolian types. But, interestingly, when you study early portrayals of the Mastiff of England, you can see the long-established Kangal Dog type quite clearly - in coat colour, in head shape and, before the disastrous outcrossings to the Great Dane, the Alpine Mastiff and the Tibetan Mastiff in the 19th century by English Mastiff breeders, the torso configuration. The breeders of the Kangal Dog, down the centuries, have respected type and bred good dog to good dog without the crippling restrictions of only being allowed to breed within a closed gene pool. This is a fixed type, maintained for centuries, and, if respected, produces a set type - unexaggerated and sound. The breed of Mastiff no longer has a fixed type, you can spot the Great Dane or even Bloodhound genes in the same show ring. In anatomy, the Kangal Dog epitomises the running mastiff group, as the Rhodesian Ridgeback does too. If only the contemporary breed of English Mastiff could look more like a running mastiff and less like an Alpine Mastiff then the real Englische Dogge could be restored to us and a far healthier breed re-emerge.