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The tall, lean, white-coated Akbash is a livestock guardian breed from Turkey. He is also a flock guardian in this country, but he can be a family companion or show dog as well. The Akbash has many good qualities, but he is not the easiest dog to live with. If you want the calm, confident dog that is the Akbash at his best, be prepared to do a lot of homework to locate him and even more work to train and socialize him once you bring him home.
The Akbash takes his name from a Turkish word meaning “white head.” He still works as a livestock guardian in rural Turkey, protecting sheep from wolves and other predators.
The Akbash is large, strong and fast, as befits a dog whose job it is to guard valuable flocks of sheep. When he’s not taking on wolves, he is a calm, quiet and steady dog with an independent frame of mind and the ability to think for himself in different circumstances. He is accustomed to working with people as a partner, not as a subordinate.
In the United States, there are fewer jobs guarding flocks for the Akbash, so he has moved on to become a family companion and property protector. With his family he is gentle and affectionate, but intruders, including other dogs, will be sorry to meet up with him.
While his protective nature is attractive, the Akbash is not the best choice for a novice dog owner. He needs someone who can guide him with kind, firm, consistent training, never force or cruelty.
Like most dogs of this type, the Akbash matures slowly. Give him plenty of time to grow up. He won’t reach his full size or achieve his full mental abilities until he is two to three years old.
Chaining an Akbash out in the yard and giving him little or no attention is not only cruel, it can also lead to aggression and destructive behavior. The Akbash can live outdoors, but he should spend plenty of time indoors with his family.
Flock-guarding dogs are almost always white, so as to blend in with their charges and give them the element of surprise when a wolf or thief comes calling. The Akbash, a Turkish breed from that country’s western plains and mountains, is one such dog. Little is known of his origins, but he is thought to be ancient. Looking at him—tall, powerful, with a tucked-up flank and a far-seeing gaze—it’s easy to see that he was likely a blend of mastiff and sighthound.
Americans David and Judy Nelson became interested in the Akbash in the 1970s and imported many of the dogs to the United States. The United States Department of Agriculture took an interest in them as well, using them in its predator control program. The United Kennel Club recognized the Akbash in 1998. He is categorized as a guardian breed.
The Akbash is quiet, watchful and protective of his family, including other pets. His goal is to keep them safe from two-legged, four-legged and winged predators, and he tends to watch over them from a central or high area that gives him a good view of his surroundings. He is suspicious of strangers and can be aggressive towards dogs he doesn’t know. Expect him to place himself between you and anything that seems dangerous.
You may be interested in an Akbash because you have heard that the dogs are “good with kids.” They certainly can be, when they are full grown and if they have been brought up with children, but an Akbash doesn’t come ready-made to live nicely with children. Akbash puppies are mouthy—meaning that they bite in play—and they play rough. These are big, strong puppies, not soft, sweet stuffed dogs. They can knock small children over without a thought. It can take two to three years of careful, conscientious management and training, especially during the first year, before an Akbash is “ready for prime time,” including interacting appropriately with children.
Begin training as soon as you bring your Akbash puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size. That 20-pound ball of white fluff will quickly grow much larger, and a young Akbash will test you to see what he can get away with. Many Akbash breeders recommend a nothing-in-life-is-free program, requiring puppies to “work” for everything they get by performing a command before receiving meals, toys, treats or play. It’s always a good idea to take an Akbash to puppy kindergarten, starting when he is 10 to 12 weeks old, immediately followed by basic obedience classes, especially if you are working with a trainer who understands the Akbash mindset. This will help you to build a strong working relationship with him. Continue practicing his training throughout his life.
Early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent an Akbash from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase an Akbash puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people, before they go off to their new homes.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
The mature Akbash has a low activity level, but puppies are active and need room to run in a safe, traffic-free area. He is best suited to a home with a large yard surrounded by a solid fence that is at least five or six feet high. This is a territorial breed, and he must learn his boundaries. Do not rely on an underground electronic fence to keep him contained. The shock it provides is nothing to this tough dog, and he won’t let it deter him from leaving the yard if that’s what he wants to do. Remember that this is a giant breed, weighing 90 to 130 pounds.
Like any dog, Akbash puppies are inveterate chewers and because of their size, they can do a lot of damage. Don’t give them the run of the house until they’ve reached trustworthy maturity. And keep your Akbash puppy busy; a bored Akbash is a destructive Akbash.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from an Akbash, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
In the Akbash, possible health problems include orthopedic problems such as hip dysplasia; epilepsy; a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy; and a common hormonal disorder called hypothyroidism. The breed may also be prone to gastric torsion and umbilical hernias. Not all of these conditions can be screened for, but many can. Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Ask the breeder to show evidence that a puppy’s parents have OFA or PennHIP clearances for hip dysplasia and OFA heart and thyroid clearances. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.
Don't fall for a dishonest breeder's sales pitch. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines, her dogs have been "vet checked," or any of the other excuses bad breeders have for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping an Akbash at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Akbash has a beautiful white medium-length or long double coat that sheds dirt but also sheds hair. Brush him at least once a week to remove dead hair and keep the skin and coat healthy. Bathe the Akbash on the rare occasions that he’s dirty.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every few weeks. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids.”
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Akbash and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Akbash Dog Association of America or Akbash Dogs International. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by ADI’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to obtain recommended health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of an Akbash puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Akbash might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy.
With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for an Akbash in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Akbashes available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for an Akbash. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Akbashes love all Akbashes. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Akbash Dogs International's Rescue Network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Akbash rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring an Akbash home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Akbash, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter, or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, a breeder purchase or a rescue, take your Akbash to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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