Interview with Anatolian shepherd breeder and published author, Gilles Galand, located in rural Belgium, close to Mons.
By Laure-Anne Viselé
About the interview
Gilles Galand’s reputation as a breeder reaches far and wide throughout Northern Europe.
He has bred multiple award-winning dogs, and even published a book on the breed. Our family dog being an Anatolian shepherd, I am a big fan of the breed, so I came to find out more about the life of this successful breeder.
Also, it was a good excuse to stage-dive in a crowd of Anatolian puppies.
About the kennel
The ‘Chenil des Poteries’ (literally translated: Pottery Kennel), is run by 75 year-old Gilles Galand. The multi-facetted dog business includes:
- a high-end pet food store,
- a dog breeding business for Briards and Anatolian shepherds, and
- a dog pension.
Before I even reached for the doorbell, a barking concert announced my arrival. No breaking and entering here, that’s for sure. Once I had been introduced, I was heartened to see that the giant dogs acted like 200-pound puppies
Giles himself is quite the character. His continuous baby-talk to the giant dogs speaks volumes about his devotion. He is a proud autodidact, and clearly does not suffer fools gladly. He speaks candidly of his no-nonsense approach in a world that is so influenced by regulations, politics and academia.
About the set-up
There are approximately forty 4m by 4m outside pens, and a sheltered enclosure in each of them. Many pens are equipped with promontories for the dogs to climb on. This is ideal for Anatolian shepherds who have a predilection for high places.
The domain is bordered by a patch of woodland, where the dogs can stretch their legs and burn some energy.
About the job
LV: So, what is a typical day like for you?
GG: I start cleaning the pens at 7am, come rain or shine (or snow, or hail!). Following on from that: an uninterrupted string of animal husbandry and administration tasks that keeps me busy until 8pm.
And that’s on a good day. Yesterday, for example. I stayed up all night to help one of the dogs whelp. She gave birth at 5am this morning. It all went well, I am delighted.
LV: Sounds back-breaking. Would you say it is financially viable to run a dog breeding business given the efforts involved?
GG: I would not get into it for financial gains. Especially given the fact that rules and legislation can be stifling for profit. Nearly all aspects of the dog breeder’s work are regulated nowadays:
- construction material for the pens;
- cleaning routine;
- feeding (you can’t just take the left-over meat from an abattoir);
- and so on.
If you really want to get into a canine profession, the pension business is more profitable for less effort.
LV: And the vet bills!
So, what sort of a relationship do you have with your veterinarian?
GG: As a breeder, I see my vet so frequently we have become quite good friends.
But I have also become quite a dab hand at some medical interventions myself, like assisting with the whelping. So I am not as dependent on the vet as a less experienced breeder would be.
I also have a different kind of relationship with animal science academics, as I provide them with data and they help me with specific questions I might have.
I do not necessarily agree with every single veterinary position on husbandry practices, so that can cause some friction. Take nutritional needs, for example. I have quite strong opinions on the matter as I have years of trial-and-error experience. They do not necessarily match today’s veterinary consensus on the optimal diet.
LV: Have you ever been injured by a dog in the course of your job as a breeder?
GG: Yes, but not by one of my dogs. Someone had thrown their abandoned Rottweiller over the wall of my property and I startled it by accident. He went for repeat laceration bites. I ended up in the hospital for weeks.
LV: Why would someone throw a dog over your wall?
GG: Everybody knows I have a pension. They must have thought I would look after him.
The dog bug
LV: How long have you been fanatical about dogs?
GG: When I was four years old, my uncle he took me to an agricultural fair where I thought I’d seen a ‘Bouvier des Flandres with a long tail’ (they all got had clipped at the time, so an impossible sight). I could not get that dog out of my head and, one day, my uncle came back with what turned out to be a blue briard puppy. That is what started my love for briards.
A few months later, and my family had one giant (salt and pepper) schnauzer, one (gray) Bouvier des Flanders, and one (gray) briard.
Three very large mouths to feed for a working class family at the onset of World War II. One day, my father declared that they would have to ‘go and live on a farm’, a euphemism for destroying them.
We begged and begged and begged until, against all odds, the dogs were allowed to stay. They lived through the war (and long beyond that), surviving on leftover goat milk, potato peel, and garlic.
This speaks volumes about today’s approach to animal care. These dogs never got vaccinated, and only saw the vet once in their entire lives. Yet they lived to 15, 16 and 17 respectively.
About the breed
The Anatolian shepherds are breed number #331 in the FCI. They belong to Group 2: Pinschers, Schnauzers and Molossoids.
LV: There seems to be some confusion about the breed name. I’ve heard them referred to as:
- Coban kopegi;
- Akbash; and
What is the difference?
- Coban kopegi is the Turkish name for the breed. It means ‘sheepdog’ in Turkish;
- Karabash is the beige type with the black mask (the most common type at the moment);
- Akbash is the plain white type; and
- Kangal is the name of the village from which, reputedly, the breed originates. This is synonymous with Coban kopegi, or Anatolian Shepherd. Most of the Turks I meet in my line of work claim to have grown up in Kangal. That would make Kangal a virtual metropolis if I added them up!
LV: When I walked through your pens, I was surprised at the coat variety. I only knew the Karabash variant (our family dog is one). So what kinds of coats and patterns are allowed in pure-bred Anatolian shepherds?
The coat length can be medium or long.
Interestingly enough, one of our dogs has long hair, despite being born to two short-haired parents.
The most common coat pattern is Karabash (beige with a black mask). But we also breed bi-colours (with black, camel or brindle patches).
Recently, we got a solid brindle dog after five generations of the Karabash type!
We do not breed the white ones (aka Akbash), as they have a reputation for irritability, but they are officially recognized in shows.
LV: I read in your book that their life expectancy could be up to 20 years. That can’t be right!
GG: They do live particularly long for a large breed. I am convinced that this is related to their modest dietary habits. Anatolians are not voracious eaters. I always think to myself: “Do you ever see fat one-hundred-year-old humans?”
LV: Do they make good guardians?
GG: They make excellent guardians. They are known for their technique: they intercept and immobilise burglars until the owner’s return.
They do not easily get roused: they just growl and stare the thief into a corner. Recently, customers told me that their dog kept a burglar in check like that for an hour and a half!
LV: Our own Anatolian is so gentle he isn’t even defensive toward visiting male dogs. Is low territoriality a typical breed trait?
GG: This is surprising! Anatolians are generally rather attached to their territory, and very guarding-minded.
I have even heard of one of the dogs I sold who frequently returned to its old home after his owners had moved away.
LV: Are they well-adapted to our climate?
GG: In their native Anatolian mountains, they face temperatures from -40 to 40 degrees C. So, as long as they have shelter, shade and water, they can take quite a lot.
If you are building a kennel, though, do avoid tin roofs, as they make the pens very hot in the summer.
LV: As they are such a large breed, are they particularly affected by hip dysplasia?
GG: Actually they have a relatively low incidence of it, but I maintain that the development of HD is strongly environmentally determined. This is backed up by authorities on the subject. One must remember that only a pre-disposition to the condition is genetically determined, not the condition itself.
So preventive measures like moderation in physical exercise in the first ten months of the puppy’s life, and a suitable diet (low in fat, calcium, phosphorus and vitamins) are adequate precautions.
LV: Is there much difference between the Anatolian Shepherds you breed compared with their counterparts back in Turkey?
GG: The European specimens tend to be taller (80 to 85 cm at the shoulder, as opposed to 75 cm in native conditions). This could be related to diet as, in their native environment, they have to scavenge for food, so may suffer from malnutrition at critical stages in their development.
About animal husbandry
LV: What do you feed your dogs?
GG: I have special kibble especially imported from Canada. It has no fillers in it (i.e. carbohydrates), and is composed of 70% meat and 30% fruit and vegetables. I am very particular about the fact that food must not have been processed at more than 90C, as I am convinced that higher temperatures affect the nutritional value. Most commercial food nowadays is processed at 220 degrees.
I also often feed them fresh meat (at room temperature), and I fast them once per week.
I had a fertility problem at some point (well, not me, the dogs!), and after a lot of formal academic research, it turned out that the problem was related to the females’ diet. After much experimentation, I found the optimal diet. I have not had a problem since.
LV: Do they require much physical exercise?
GG: They do not really need as much exercise as people think. They require about three sessions of moderate exercise (about twenty minutes-long) per day. Sudden, intense exercise, or very long walks are not only unnecessary, but can also be detrimental.
LV: How many pups are there in a typical litter of Anatolian Shepherds?
GG: It can literally range from 1 to 14 pups.
LV: Is there a gender bias in the market demand for pups?
GG: Absolutely. The male to female ratio is 10:1! By carefully synchronising fertilisation with the bitch’ cycle, you can significantly influence the odds. Basically, the earlier in the cycle fertilisation takes place, the more males there will be in the litter.
LV: How many (Anatolian Shepherd) pups do you sell per year?
GG: Between 80 and 120 pups per year.
LV: Do you conduct formal temperament tests on the pups?
GG: I am familiar with Campbell’s tests well (where specific temperament traits are tested to predict the pup’s adult propensity to show the same traits). But from what I have observed, the adult character is 80% education.
LV: How do you deal with sub-standard pups that are not up to pedigree standards for one reason or another?
GG: If the fault is severe, we have to euthanise the pup to avoid passing on the trait. If the fault is milder, I try to find it a good home among the local farmers. Everyone wants my dogs, so it’s not difficult to find a home.
LV: Do you run a formal socialisation programme on the puppies?
GG: Not specifically, no. But because of their husbandry needs, I manipulate them several times a day (worming, chipping, health-check, vaccines, weighing, etc.). This allows me to detect the shier ones. I then invest more time pleasantly interacting with these.
LV: How old are the pups when they leave for their permanent family?
GG: Between 2 and 3 months of age.?
LV: Can you import fresh founder stock directly from Turkey?
GG: Not easily. The process is heavily regulated. A lot of people import them illegally (they snuggle pups in the country [Belgium] by sedating them), but these would not get a pedigree.
LV: Do you have strict criteria for prospective owners, in terms of temperament, garden space, working hours, and other lifestyle aspects?
GG: Prospective buyers complete an official form that gives out that sort of information.
But to be honest, the size of the garden does not matter that much. Even in a giant domain, a dog will just rest all day unless it is encouraged to take physical exercise.
LV: But do you often have to reject prospective buyers because of their intentions to exploit their dog for unethical means? It is a huge breed, and it is quite popular in the criminal world.
GG: Not often, actually. I guess the kind of person who wants an attack dog will more likely get it smuggled in.
But some homes can be unsuitable for other reasons unrelated to unethical intent: first-time dog owners, for example. I try to tactfully discuss alternative breeds with them, or I explain that there will be a long delay before I find them just the right pup. It is important not to offend people, but you have to give these dogs responsibly.
LV: Would you readily take a dog back from the buyer if there was a problem?
GG: My return policy is to allow owners to return the dogs within a certain period of time after purchase. I avoid accepting returns beyond that date, or people with commitment issues would just find excuses to return a dog on a whim.
Some have more valid reasons than others, of course. They range from the redecoration of the house, a change of jobs, moving house, a divorce, or an allergic child.
LV: How many other Anatolian Shepherd breeders are there in the country [Belgium]?
GG: There aren’t any, actually. People come from far and wide to get these dogs. The patronage of famous French actor Jean Rochefort has also greatly increased my web of influence.
Despite my personal reservations with regards to professional dog breeding (in light of the overflowing shelter system), I have tried to give an objective view of that ancient, noble and skilled profession.
With his years of success, Gilles is certainly a worthy representative of the profession. His decades of experience have greatly contributed to the fields of canine genetics, animal husbandry and nutrition.
Before you rush off to order your Anatolian pup, do bear in mind their gargantuan size. They are so powerful that they can’t be controlled on the leash unless they are 100% leash-trained. #