Central Asian shepherd dogs – my experience and an interview with an expert on the breed

A Central Asian Shepherd, affectionately known as a lioness, checks out on her charges at Chopaan Guardians Home of the Central Asian Shepherd Dogs

He may have died protecting his flock of sheep and the young shepherdess and now even his bones may have become part of the terrain he once had walked majestically.

Our two dogs, a female German Shepherd named Cinderella (Cinders for short) and male Doberman named Zorro, hiked side by side my kid brother Owais and me. I am sure they must have made a formidable combination on the trail. Turning a blind corner formed by dense foliage, we came face to face with a flock of sheep being herded by a young shepherdess of what we knew was a Kuchi (nomads of Afghan origin) girl. All of a sudden, a massive dog, which I later learned was a livestock guardian dog (LGD), appeared from the centre of the flock and took position between the flock and us. Both of us brothers were alarmed at a possible confrontation between the huge LGD and our dogs.

Wafaa, A Central Asian Shepherd, is bringing up the rear at Chopaan Guardians Home of the Central Asian Shepherd Dogs

Here were two very intimidating ‘urban’ dogs against a very protective LGD.
As my brother and I were about to grab collars of Cinders and Zorro, the LGD gave us a pleasant surprise. He looked back towards the flock and then confidently sat down as if to say, “I mean no harm and I am sure you mean no harm too”.

The whole flock passed by our side. The Kuchi dog blended back into the sheep and the young Kuchi girl stared at us and our dogs while walking past us perhaps trying to figure what were we doing in her part of the world.

We had immense appreciation for the bravery and intelligence of the Kuchi dog. This led me to respecting the LGDs as they are used across the globe mostly for the protection of livestock, but also of property, and persons.

Livestock guardian dogs

Most dog breeds in this category are large and muscular – Great Pyrenees from France, Maremmas from Italy, Kangal and Akbash from Turkey, Caucasian and Central Asian shepherds, Komondorok and Kuvaszok from Hungary, Tatras from Poland, Šarplaninac from Kosova and Serbia, Tornjaks from Bosnia and Croatia, Karakachans from Bulgaria, Bakarwahls from Asian sub-continent, etc.

Mili, affectionately known as the Lioness, shows her size and determination

The LGDs can prove to be effective for the following three reasons:

Reason # 1 – Protection of livestock

As the above story indicates, LGDs are bonded to the livestock. They protect their charges (cattle, sheep, goats, chicken, etc.) from predators and bandits wherever they move for grazing. They will challenge a dangerous intruder if they perceive it as a threat to their charges, which is livestock in most of the cases.

A Kuvasz stands guard over its charges at Redmoon Farms in BC

Reason # 2 – Protection of wildlife, especially predators

When a wolf frequently seen in and around Yellowstone National Park that went by many names — 832F by researchers, “rock star” by wildlife enthusiasts, “famous” by others — was shot and killed in 2012, I was in grief for months on end. Although shot legally during hunting season, many like me were upset, and the Humane Society of the United States even filed a lawsuit against the decision that allowed wolf hunting in Wyoming.

Wolf 832F

I heard two similar stories of a snow leopard and a common leopard getting shot and killed in separate incidents occurring in two different hilly parts of Pakistan, a country of my origin, after they had killed sheep and were feasting on the carcasses.

What could be a good solution that is non-lethal to the predators in the region?
In Namibia, Anatolian Shepherd Dogs (ASDs) are effectively saving endangered cheetahs from being killed by the local farmers and cattle and sheep grazers.

Dogs save Cheetah

The Cheetah Conservation Fund breeds and provides ASDs to these local people for guarding their livestock. Now if a cheetah sneaks in, it is confronted by these vicious large size dogs. No cheetah will want to get into this dangerous confrontation and will return to Savannah to hunt its natural prey. The results show that the number of cheetahs killed by humans has drastically dropped ever since ASDs have been employed for livestock guardian duties.

Use of LGDs is predator friendly as it discourages the latter from making easy meals out of livestock and therefore, getting killed by humans.

Reason # 3 – Protecting people and pets in the land of large carnivores

During my hiking trips in areas where coyotes and black bears flourish and even pumas could be lurking around, I have observed big trail side homes where children are playing in the sprawling estates. Living in the land of large carnivores can become life threatening for both humans and their pets. LGDs are the best bet for protection in these cases.

Two Maremma shepherds warn K2 and me against trespassing

I have to admit that growing up in the Northwestern province of Pakistan, which is adjacent to Afghanistan, my younger brother Fuzail and I were always in awe of the Kuchi dogs (a variant of Central Asian shepherds that we used to call ‘da Kuchiano Spai’) that accompanied the Afghan nomads and their livestock entering into Pakistan. The Kuchi children appeared very safe and confident in the presence of their dogs. The dogs’ imposing sizes right next to the children playing their games used to be a scene to behold.

We always wanted to have one, but knew that those were not for us. However, people living in certain areas of California should know that they now have cougars and wolves moving in from neighbouring states and therefore, keeping one and preferable more CAS may keep them safe from an unwanted confrontation with those large carnivores.

Central Asian Shepherd in recent book

In her book titled, “Shepherds of Coyote Rocks”, Cat Urbigkit has written on her adventurous life as a shepherdess herding her flock of sheep in northwestern Wyoming under the protection of three LGDs, out of which one is a CAS. In a separate book and a research paper, she recommends keeping CASs, Kangals, and few other large sized LGD breeds in wolf territory.

Cat Urbigit’s Central Asian Shepherd (left) and Akbash

My love for Central Asian Shepherds took me to make friends with and recently interview an amazing person in Frauzon Zekria, of California, which I have found to be a well educated person and who breeds, keeps, and train dogs of this breed and also is an all breed dog handler for dog shows. If you are interested in getting a Central Asian Shepherd then she is THE go to person. Here is an interview I had with her to help those people looking to acquire a CAS or two to understand her and her dogs well.

  • Scribe: Why and how did you get into livestock/poultry keeping?
    Frauzon Z: “I was always very close to my grandfather and he was always passionate about being a shepherd and about animals, living off the land and growing his own food where you know how everything was grown and treated.”
  • Would you like to tell me about your farm?
    We are a small hobby farm that has goats, sheep, poultry and our livestock guardian dogs that we breed, raise and train. We are working on choosing a farm / ranch name and planning on being in the meat market and selling farm fresh free range non-GMO (genetically modified organism) eggs as well. These are plans for the future and nothing is set in stone as of yet.
  • Why and how did you get into keeping LGDs?
    “We are originally from Afghanistan and have had the Central Asian Shepherds from the times of the nomads way back before the rest of the world discovered the breed. They have always been a part of our culture and our way of life in Central Asia.”
  • With what breed(s) of LGDs you work with?
    “Central Asian Shepherds (also called CAS, Central Asian Ovcharka or CAO for short, Alabai, kochee dog).”
  • Why this breed(s)?
    “This is a breed that we are very passionate and is very near and dear to our hearts. It is a breed that has always been from the beginning of times part of our lives, our families, and our culture. We are first generation Afghan Americans and our goals in our breeding program is to improve the breed and future of this majestic breed in the USA where they are not in their element and using LGDs in its proper ways is still very new.”
  • What livestock/poultry do you have that are guarded by the LGDs?
    “Sheep, goats, chickens and hoping to add peacocks as well.”
  • Have you tried any other non-lethal measures to protect your livestock/poultry from predators? (Example: fladdery, noise making devices, electric fencing, etc.)
    “We have cameras throughout the property and honestly because our dogs have done so well protecting our property and all humans and animals within it, we haven’t had the need to add any other means of protection, devices or electric fencing, etc. “
  • What are the predators of livestock/poultry in your area?
    “The predators our dogs have had to deal with are: Black bears, mountain lions, packs of coyotes, feral dogs and packs, fox, possums, racoons, many other varmints, birds of prey, humans trespassing and trying to steal and lurk…the list goes on and on”
  • What is the major threat predator to your livestock?
    “We are surrounded by unincorporated areas so all the above mentioned are a daily struggle that thank goodness our dogs do an amazing job keeping them all at bay and helping us coexist with what we are surrounded by. So far, we have had zero losses of any of our property or animals.”
  • How do you bond your LGDs with the livestock?
    “They are raised with them from the minute they are born and their mama’s are with them 24/7 so they also learn by example through watching the rest of their pack at work.”
Bonding starts at puppyhood
  • Can your LGDs present a threat to humans who are just passing by?
    “No. I can honestly and confidently say they have not as of yet at least. Our dogs are not over the top extreme to the point where they go seeking people or even predators. They are NOT causing any problems or a potential threat as in encroaching onto our property or threatening our animals in any way. We have plenty of people that use the trails around us or the easement in front of our property to go for walks, bike rides, etc. and you won’t even realize we have dogs (Aside from our signs we have throughout our property saying so), unless again you are too close to our property or if you in any way threaten the safety of the animals or humans within our property.”
  • Can, in your opinion, an LGD be trained only to be protective of livestock but not aggressive toward humans?
    “Depends on the situation and every living thing and that includes dogs, who are different with their own unique personality. Our dogs are well mannered and have been trained to look to us on certain occasions, therefore, we can properly and safely introduce humans and they will allow them on our property as we accompany and escort them around. They will keep a very close eye and watch for any sudden “fishy” moves made and feed off what signs we show. Our dogs also do a massive amount of PR work in public venues, have been shown, gets their CGC, Advanced CGC, ATTS and so on.”
Bonding is very important
  • Can, in your opinion, an adequate number of LGDs (with perhaps spiked collars on) be employed, along with secured penning, use of other non-lethal methods, etc. to protect livestock from a cougar that may have come into your area?
    “Yes, and our dogs have had to on several occasions without the use of spike collars etc.”
  • How about a pack of wolves taking up residency in your area?
    “This would depend on how many wolves and how many dogs and in this case, I would definitely add the spike colors to the equation. “
  • What additional advice can you give in such a case?
    “Massive amount of proper adequate training, please please please DO NOT adopt the hands off approach type of ideology. Build a strong and trusting relationship between you and your dogs. Look to them as a partner and fellow shepherd and keeper of your ranch/farm/animals. Have a healthy respect for their work and strength. Look at them working WITH you and not FOR you. Please don’t take short cuts and put more enfaces and importance in price rather than quality and years of precise goals and hard work put into creating a line a breeder has put tears, blood and sweat into for many years and thousands and thousands of dollars.”
  • What are your other interests within the dog world?
    “I am also an all breed dog handler/show/train. I also offer litter evaluations and temperament testing. I enjoy speaking about this breed so I welcome any invites to speak at any events / venues/ lectures, etc.”
  • Any other supplementary hobbies?
    “I am involved in dog shows, I am a freelance makeup artist as well.”

2 Comments

  1. What a beautiful story that is about the LGD that just sat down between you and its flock. It speaks to an inherent wisdom in the animal about how to defuse conflict by merely asserting its presence. Thank you for this wonderful and informative post!

    Like

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