Overall, while in their day-to-day interaction, CAS dogs show a level of distance and lack of trust toward strangers and other, strange dogs, it needs to be emphasized that they are non-aggressive. However, non-aggressive should not be considered friendly. They should be stand-offish. I must restate: In situations when it is needed, CAS dogs will show “fearless aggression”. If a CAS constantly is in a state of “fearless aggression” than probably this CAS is too high strung and should not be bred.
Support for this statement can be found among aboriginal dogs and in written documents. A. Rasaq Qadirie says that: “Although Koochee dogs had the ability to drive off any predator, they were not bred for aggression. Quite the opposite; if a dog showed too much aggressive behavior, that dog would be culled, either by humans or by older, stronger dogs in a pack.” Most importantly, “besides their fierce fighting ability, dogs of the Koochee people had to be instinctively gentle and protective of even the most delicate members of the caravan, that often were the children or the elders traveling along.” This clearly indicates the multidimensionality of the temperament. It is also important to keep in mind is that what also affects the behavior, beyond the genetic component, is the socialization of the dog. I will address socialization in my next segment/blog post. However, I must note, that even the best socialization cannot “fix” the poor breeding and, on the flip side, lack of socialization can ruin the best breeding.
Let me show you how our CAS females react to a possible threat. This is a video taken by a cell phone and was not staged. In the video we were walking our females when we encountered two loose dogs. Note how Elza and Saba (our females, you can read about Elza here, and about Saba: here) are interested. They sure do not act friendly but they also do not show aggression. Even though they are leashed, they do not show the desire to attack but rather they just show a level of interest. They assess the situation and, eventually, lose interest. While we could artificially increase their response by screaming, jerking or pretending to be threatened, there really is no need to do that.
Their natural response is perfectly normal.
Keep in mind that in the video above, the shepherd is with the dogs. It is likely that the researcher spent some time talking with the person so there was no perception of threat. The situation looks entirely different when, on a different occasion, the shepherd is absent. In the video below, you can see Central Asian Shepherd dogs in their natural environment guarding sheep. The shepherd is absent. Their reaction to the car and the group of researchers looks entirely different. The researcher describes the situation: "We traveled to remote areas of Tajikistan and drove close to a flock of sheep without a shepherd . Our car was immediately attacked by a pack of Tajik shepherd dogs . They tried to stop the car , block the path and to bite tires and tear off the bumper. These magnificent animals bravely guarded the flock till the shepherd did not call them back. " Please see the video below.
Like chickens are bred/used for meat and eggs, goats, sheep and cows are bred for meat; milk, and sometimes wool/hair/ hide, shepherd dogs are bred to guard. This means that the guarding ability as part of the whole temperament plays a critical role. This is valid for all livestock guardian dogs (LGD). Certainly, because of that reason, many LGD type dogs have similar characteristics, They all, however, are also unique in their own way. Because we raise and breed Central Asian Shepherds, this post is about this breed, though I am sure some of the statements are applicable to other LGD breeds.
Similarly to the description of Tajik CAS that is cited above, A. Rasaq Qadirie, the author of a book entitled “The Koochee Dog” elaborates on the purpose that the CAS dogs play to the Afghani nomads: “All of them (CAS dogs, added for clarity) had a purpose and their dogs clearly were bred and kept for the purpose of guarding the nomads themselves, and their animals, in the same way that the ancient bloodlines guarded the caravans on the Silk Road all across Middle Asia.” Regardless of the source of studies, guarding people and livestock is the most frequently cited and the primary reason for keeping the CAS dogs. Naturally they have to have a level of aloofness toward predators and strange people.
So how are they really toward people?
A. Rasaq Qadirie describes his experience when observing Central Asian Shepherd dogs from Afghanistan: “Often in the morning and early evening villagers (and I) would go and buy fresh cheese and milk from the nomads. Their dogs would sit beside the tent, sometimes on a leash and sometimes free, confidently and carefully watching the actions of the customers I never saw any of these dogs approach a stranger for attention”. As you can see, the dogs were in their position, some chained (probably those who were on the tougher side) and others loose. The key element is that dogs kept their distance. One thing to keep in mind is that these dogs were accustomed to customers and people interacting with their masters (nomads). Those who were not used to those scenarios, most likely would be behaving differently. By differently, I do not mean eager to be petted.
A. Rasaq Qadirie continues: “The only time a customer would be able to pat the dog would have been when the owner stood next to it and allowed it. Similarly, a nomad could quiet his dog with a simple hand gesture, which assured the dog that everything's O.K. “ In a photo below you can see one of our dogs, Athena, petted by strangers' child. Here petting was encouraged as part of socialization process. Athena allows the petting to take place because she was socialized heavily in the past. This behavior should not be expected to come naturally in CAS who are not exposed to people and children on frequent basis.
I hope that in this post I provided with you with evidence to agree with us and experts across the world regarding the temperament of a Central Asian Shepherd: CAS are serious dogs capable of fearless deffenssive engagement to guard their family and/or livestock but they also are very loving of their family and extremely independent. Their intelligence allows them to asses the situation well and work independently of their owner. The owner does not have to be there for them to guard the belongings of the owner. However, when they are with their owner, they are very in tune with them and are willing to defend them or step down and let the owners handle the situation. However, CAS are certainly not stranger friendly. They can, however, be tolerating if properly introduced. Without a doubt, though, CAS love their family members whether two or four-legged.FInally, in a Western Society lack of socialization can cause serious problems but this is a topic for our next post.
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To be petted by strangers is not something that Central Asian Shepherd dogs desire. Most CAS will tolerate it; some need proper introduction to do so, while others will need more time than this. Most CAS will not eagerly ask to be petted unless they are familiar with the person. Yoruk Koycis in the book entitled “The Sheepdogs of Anatolia” makes a generic statement about shepherds and how their dogs are expected to interact with others: "Shepherds generally do not like their dogs to be friendly with strangers or having them being touched by visitors. Their dog's behavior constitutes part of their pride." Simialr thought process can be expected from the shepherds in Central Asia. Petting a CAS is more of a western world phenomenon and, as noted earlier, requires heavy socialization. Once again, I would like to emphasize that willingness to be petted by strangers should not be expected as something that comes to CAS naturally regardless of the environment or the country where it lives. Even the United Kennel Club (UKC) standard describes the seriousness of the breed’s temperament: “While these dogs are very devoted to their family members, they expect to be treated with respect. They are inclined to be suspicious of strange people or dogs. Central Asians are steady, even-tempered dogs who adjust well to change in their environment. When threatened, they react quickly and with complete seriousness (for full UKC standard, please click here).
In a video below, you can see a researcher who studies Tajik dogs (Central Asian Shepherds from Tajikistan) and his attempt to take photographs of CAS in their natural environment. The dogs keep their distance. They are naturally suspicious but do not show aggression. There is no need for such behavior. The dogs are not in a permanent camp. Most of people would define it “off-territory”. Even treats thrown by the researcher, though reduced some distance, do not make the dogs act friendly in any shape or form. The dogs remain suspicious.Though suspicious of strangers and other dogs for that matter, CAS should not show unnecessary aggressiveness but they can become much more defensive when it is necessary.
Aboriginal Central Asian Shepherd Dog from Tajikistan and the camp, Photo Latif Latifi 2014
What about predators?
When working, “On most occasions, these dogs (CAS, added for clarity) could probably just scare off an overly curious mountain lion or wolf, but every once in a while these dogs had to face the predators in direct combat, and show fearless aggression in deterring a threat to their flock” (A. Rasaq Qadirie). Therefore, we can conclude that CAS should not show unprovoked aggression to want to engage in deathly combat. They should actively engage in deterring the threat by barking, posturing or even lunging when the other attempts did not succeed. Only then, if the threat continues and, possibly, increases, the response of a CAS dog should intensify. Francesco Spigga who studies and imports aboriginal CAS further discussed the temperament of CAS who live in more remote areas (that receive less to no socialization): CAS dog is “very temperamental and does not fear those who it does not know. Its aggression, if not induced by training, is more like an attack from wild dog that tends to bite several times, without fear.” Again, this clearly shows that only defense driven aggression is appropriate. He further states that he is against training of aggression or defensive responses: “I do not find it appropriate to instigate these dogs for the classic "attack" tests as proof of defense drive, and it is not what the shepherds do.” In the picture below you can see a victim of CAS protective drive: this coyote was rather offensive in its whereabouts encroaching on property and the well-being of the pack. Other coyotes, who, though visible from distance, did not affect the pack, thus were left untouched (photo credit: Manda Thompson).
Addressing Misconception Part 2: Temperament by Dr. Ania Rynarzewska, published: 1/25/2015
There seem to be some misunderstanding in terms of the temperament of a Central Asian Shepherd dog. Some people seem to believe that CAS are aggressive, nearly impossible to manage dogs that are out of control and out there to get the predator (either four or two legged). On the flip side of the misconception, is that CAS are friendly and cuddly. Neither one is correct in its entirety.
Because of that, in this post I would like to discuss the temperament of Central Asian Shepherd dogs. Please be mindful that any animal or even human being is a complex creature and so is their temperament. That being said, in this post I will address only one or two aspects of CAS temperament that ought to be within a particular range of behaviors. The topic is so big that I will continue to write about CAS temperament in my frequent blog posts.
Let us get started…
Central Asian Shepherd dog is a powerful breed of natural protectors. These are nomads’ dogs that were bred for centuries to protect their owners and their families as well as their livestock. “The aboriginal dogs of Central Asia, the ones who live beside the shepherds, in countries such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, are primitive guardians, and here they have well-known enemies such as a variety of predators, parasites and marauders “ (tagiko.com). To read more about their guarding ability and what it means that CAS are nomad dogs, please read here.