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Akbash dog breed

Breed overview

  • Breed group — Guardian Dog Group (United Kennel Club)
  • Height — 27-30 inches
  • Weight — 80-120 pounds (females), 100-140 pounds (males)
  • Coat length & texture — Medium length double coat
  • Coat color — Signature white coat that is maintained by puppies through adulthood
  • Exercise needs — Average
  • Intelligence — High
  • Barking — When necessary
  • Life span — 10-12 years
  • Temperament — Loyal, courageous, and hardworking
  • Hypoallergenic — No
  • Origin — Turkey

Akbash fun facts

  • The akbash originated as a livestock guardian dog in Turkey. These dogs were bred by Turkish farmers to protect sheep from predators like wolves. The signature white coloring of their coat helped them blend in with the flock.
  • Akbash means “white head” in Turkish. The term “akbash” directly translates to “white head,” a nod to their signature coloring.
  • The breed is rare outside its home country.  The akbash is not a common breed and not very popular in the United States, but they are beloved in some parts of the world.
Akbash dog guarding sheep

Akbash temperament and characteristics 

The akbash is a large, muscular dog known for its loyalty and strong protective instincts. For the right owner, an akbash can make an excellent and loyal dog. But they do require a pet parent who is experienced in dog behavior and basic training, as these big dogs can be stubborn and strong-willed. Because they were originally bred as working farm dogs, the akbash does best in a home where they have a job to do. Agility training is a great option for this dog, and will also help combat the akbash’s tendency to laze around.

Akbashes do best in a home without other dogs or small animals, as they are naturally prone to being dog-aggressive due to generations of guarding sheep against wolves and other wild animals. The akbash also does better in a home with older children and in a space where they have lots of room to roam around and observe. It’s not impossible to train them to be social, but it requires a dedicated and consistent pet parent who is committed to training.

Common akbash health problems 

The akbash can suffer from many of the same conditions other large dog breeds may develop in their lifetimes. Dog owners should be aware of these potential health risks and look out for the symptoms of these common conditions.

  • Bloat. Also known as gastric torsion but commonly referred to as bloat, is a very serious and potentially fatal condition. Bloat is caused by a dog’s stomach expanding with air and twisting, cutting off their blood supply. Small meals throughout the day, as well as elevated feeding bowls, reduces the risk of bloat.
  • Hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia typically affects large breed dogs like the akbash. This condition occurs when a dog’s hind leg doesn’t fit neatly into their hip joint. If left untreated, it can lead to canine arthritis and joint degeneration.
  • Heart conditions. The akbash’s larger body makes them prone to possible heart problems. Symptoms for pet parents to look out for are dramatic changes in behavior, developing an exercise intolerance, fainting or persistent coughing.
  • Hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism  is a common endocrine disorder that causes weight gain, lethargy, skin and hair changes. Akbashes may be prone to this condition from their already fairly relaxed dispositions.

Cost of caring for an akbash

One thing to consider with any new pet are the upfront and future costs of healthcare for your pup. If your dog develops health conditions during their lifetime, emergency fees or ongoing veterinary care may end up being thousands of dollars.

There are some great options available to help offset surprise veterinary costs. Pet health insurance is a great investment that can save dog parents thousands in the long run. A pet savings account may also be a viable option to set up a rainy day fund for future veterinary costs.

History of the akbash

The akbash is a rare dog breed with a long and somewhat mysterious history. Not much is known about the true origins of the akbash, but they are thought to be bred as long ago as 3000 years in Western Turkey. Shepherds specifically bred these distinctly white-colored canines to be guardians of their sheep flocks. It’s thought that the signature white coloring was for the shepherds to be able to tell the akbash apart from predators at long distances. The breed is also known as the Coban Kopegi or the Akbas.

The akbash was first introduced to the United States in the 1970s. Judith and David Nelson, who were American researchers in Western Turkey, brought the dog into the states. While not yet recognized by the American Kennel Club, the United Kennel Club officially recognized the breed in 1988 under the Guardian Dog breed group. Today, the akbash can be found as a loyal companion and even as a hardworking member of The United States Department of Agriculture, which uses these pooches in their predator control programs.

Akbash dog close up

Caring for your akbash

Large dogs like the akbash might seem intimidating to care for at first. But starting strong with early vet visits and proper vaccinations can help set you and your new pup up for a lifetime of success. Another way to get you and your new puppy started right is to make sure to puppy-proof your home and prep for the dreaded teething process all puppies go through. No one likes to think about their pup going missing, but FidoAlert can provide an added buffer of protection. It’s a community-based tool for quickly recovering missing pooches, and can help you locate your pup if they should happen to wander off.

Exercise

Although the akbash is a large breed dog, they don’t require intense or vigorous daily exercise. Historically, the akbash would watch over their sheep flock from a hill, rather than constantly running or moving with the sheep. Despite their long legs and big bodies, akbashes are actually prone to low energy levels, so they may need to be convinced to go on a daily walk. But it is important to make sure your dog gets at least one good half hour to hour walk in per day, as well as a few shorter walks or play sessions. The akbash is prone to weight gain, which can lead to joint or heart problems later in life, and daily exercise will help prevent these problems.

Akbash dogs walking exercise

Grooming

The akbash has a thick double coat that requires regular grooming. Their coat is non-smelling and non-matting, but regular grooming helps control the above average shedding of the akbash. Aim to give your pup a good brushing at least once weekly. The akbash is a shedding breed, so twice a year (during the spring and fall) they will go through a shedding season. During this time your dog should be brushed daily. An akbash typically needs a monthly bath, and it’s important to keep your dog’s floppy ears cleaned. They should also receive monthly nail trims, and their teeth should get daily brushings.

Diet and nutrition

The akbash is what’s known as an “easy keeper” dog, meaning they don’t need a lot of food daily to stay healthy. Talk with your veterinarian about the proper amount of food to feed your dog at all stages of their life. The akbash does well on a nutritionally balanced dog food formulated for large breeds. Because they are prone to weight gain and gastric dilation, it’s important not to overfeed an akbash. To prevent bloat, feed your pup multiple small meals a day rather than one or two larger meals. Don’t let your pup drink too much water before or after more strenuous exercise. It’s also important to keep your dog from excessive play or exercise after meal times to give them time to digest their food properly.

Training your akbash

Because the akbash is more independent than other dog breeds, they need a dedicated pet parent who is committed to their training. Akbashes are best in a home with an experienced dog owner. They are highly intelligent but can also be stubborn dogs. Training for your Akbash should begin the moment you bring them home as a puppy to reinforce good behaviors and prevent bad behavior. Always use positive reinforcement training methods. Never yell or physically harm your dog when they do something wrong. Instead, give lots of praise and treats for good behavior and redirect them when they do something you don’t want them to do. Because this breed is socially wary, lots of social interaction from an early age and positive reinforcement can help curb some of their natural territorial natures.

Akbash puppies playing on grass

Breeds similar to the akbash

Not quite sure that an akbash is right for you? Even if you are, it’s worth taking the time to research and consider other similar breeds. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Great Pyrenees. The Great Pyrenees has a very similar temperament and look of the akbash, but is a bit easier to find and has a fluffier coat.
  • Newfoundland. The Newfoundland or “Newfie” is a less independent breed and gets along well with other people and animals.
  • Leonberger. A Leonberger needs lots of human interaction and affection to be happy, while an akbash is a more independent dog.

Frequently asked questions

Are akbash dogs aggressive?

Although akbash dogs are large and seem imposing, they are a very gentle and affectionate breed. They love their family, though they may be wary of strangers.

What’s the difference between an akbash and a Great Pyrenees?

An akbash and a Great Pyrenees are two distinct purebred canines. The Great Pyrenees tends to be stockier, and the akbash is a descendant of a combination of sighthounds and Mastiffs.

What is an akbash and what is its origin?

Akbash dogs are Turkish purebred dogs first bred as livestock guardians. The name akbash directly translates to “white head,” named for its distinctive coloring.

What type of temperament does an akbash have?

The akbash is a gentle, loyal and affectionate dog to their families. They also make excellent guard dogs, as they are also highly intelligent and protective of their owners and homes.

What are common health issues for an akbash?

Akbash dogs are prone to bloat, heart conditions, hip dysplasia, and hypothyroidism.