In the highland steppes of Sivas province in central Turkey, the Kangal dog is a local icon:
The huge, sand-colored breed is named after a town in the southern Sivas province, where Kangals emerged as a distinct breed about 6,000 years ago. Kangals can grow to about 145 pounds and up to 33 inches tall, surpassing most other massive dog breeds like Great Danes. Today, in Turkey and increasingly in the United States, the viciously protective dogs are known and celebrated as wolf fighters.
The dogs boast an intimidating size, a thick coat that protects against bites, and fearlessness—they’re capable of killing a wolf but sometimes the sight of a Kangal alone is enough to scare large predators away.
The shepherds whistle and shout all the time at the sheep, directing them this way and that, but it’s not common for the Kangals to face anywhere in the direction of the flock. Their heads are always pointed towards the horizon or the nearest hillside; they are always on watch. When we load into an SUV at the end of a bitterly cold day, they’re still looking out into the distance with no desire to turn in.
Ranchers in the U.S. are now starting to take interest in Kangals. Breeders in western Montana have imported the dogs since 2009, and 20 Kangals were imported from Turkey in 2014 for a joint research program on wolf predation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Jan Dohner, the vice president of the Kangal Dog Club of America, says there’s been substantial interest in the dogs recently, “especially as livestock raisers search for nonlethal methods of large predator control.”
The dogs have been paired with farmers since they can guard against bears and wolves, but they get along with people. And they’re tough, too—able to work through windy winters and dry, hot summers. For Vose Babcock, whose cattle ranch is situated outside Missoula, Kangals are the perfect dog for rural living. “They’re good with house guests and baby livestock, but don’t like thieves.”
The sight of the huge, watchful dogs may become more common on American ranches in the coming years—the USDA will continue to breed the dogs imported in 2014. Babcock sees no downside: “They can fight off a wolf, mountain lion, or bear and then come home and be polite with grandparents and grandchildren.”