Interview with Anatolian shepherd breeder and published author Gilles Galand.
By Laure-Anne Viselé, April 2010
About the interview
Mr. Galand has built up a Europe-wide reputation as a dog breeder.
He has bred multiple award-winning dogs, and published a book about Anatolian Shepherds. Our family dog came from him, so I came to find out more about his life and practices.
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 seventy-five-year-old Gilles Galand. His dog business includes:
- a specialty pet food store,
- breeding 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.
About Mr. Galand
Mr. Galand is quite the character. As he ushers me in, he continuously baby-talks his gentle giants. He is a proud autodidact, and does not suffer fools gladly. He speaks candidly of his no-nonsense approach in a world that he feels is too 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. The pens are equipped with promontories for the dogs to climb on. Anatolian shepherds having a predilection for high places, it’s a nice touch. I would have strongly preferred to see a smaller scale operation where each litter was bred in the house to ensure proper socialization, but this is one of the many points where regulations/academia conflict with the economics of breeding dogs professionally.
The domain is bordered by Mr. Galand’s patch of woodland, where the dogs can stretch their legs and burn some energy.
About the job
L-A: 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). Then it’s an uninterrupted string of animal husbandry and administration tasks until 8pm.
And that’s on a good day. Yesterday, for example. I stayed up all night to help one of the bitches whelp. She gave birth at 5am this morning. It all went well, I am delighted!
L-A: Sounds back-breaking. Would you say it is financially viable to run a dog breeding business?
GG: I would not get into it for financial gains. Especially with so many profit-stifling rules and regulations. Nearly all aspects of the dog breeder’s work are regulated nowadays:
- Waste disposal;
- Construction material for the pens;
- Cleaning routine;
- Feeding (you can’t just take the left-over meat from an abattoir);
If you really want to get into a canine profession, the pension business is more profitable.
L-A: 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 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 academic/veterinary position on husbandry practices, so that can cause some friction. Take nutritional needs, for example. I have strong opinions on the matter as I have years of trial-and-errors behind me. They do not necessarily match today’s veterinary advice on the optimal diet.
L-A: Have you ever been injured by a dog in the course of your job?
GG: Yes, but not by one of my dogs. Someone had thrown their 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.
L-A: 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
L-A: How long have you been this fanatical about dogs?
GG: When I was four years old, my uncle took me to an agricultural fair where I saw a ‘Bouvier des Flandres with a long tail’ They all got docked at the time, so that couldn’t have been it. 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 pup. That is what started my love for Briards.
A few months later, and my family had:
- one giant Schnauzer (salt and pepper) ,
- one Bouvier des Flanders (gray) , and
- one Briard (gray).
Three very large mouths to feed for a working class family at the start 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. [L-A: I do not necessarily agree with the causes for this difference in longevity]
About the breed
The Anatolian shepherds are breed number #331 in the FCI. They belong to Group 2: Pinschers, Schnauzers and Molossoids.
L-A: 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 to my count!
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 technically allowed in pure-bred Anatolian shepherds conformation?
Both medium and long coat lengths are allowed. Interestingly enough, one of our dogs has long hair, despite being born to two short-haired parents.
The most common coat marking 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.
L-A: I read in your book that their life expectancy could be up to 20 years. That can’t be right, surely, particularly for such a large breed.
GG: They do live particularly long. 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?”
L-A: Do they make good guardians? I must say our dog is incredibly tolerant when introduced to someone.
GG: They make excellent guardians. They are known for intercepting and immobilising burglars until the owner’s return. They do not easily get roused: they just growl and stare the person into a corner. Recently, customers told me that their dog kept a burglar in check for an hour and a half!
L-A: 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 had sold who returned to his old home after his owners had moved away.
L-A: Are they well-adapted to our temperate climate?
GG: In their native Anatolian mountains, they face temperature extremes of -40 to 40C. 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.
L-A: 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. [LV remark: This is a well-established fact that environment and genetics play a role in the expression of HD] 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 only moderate physical exercise in the first ten months, and a suitable diet (low in fat, calcium, phosphorus and vitamins) are called for.
L-A: Is there much difference between the Anatolian Shepherds you breed compared with their counterparts back in Turkey?
GG: The European ones are bred taller (80 to 85 cm at the shoulder, as opposed to 75 cm with the natives). 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
L-A: What do you feed your dogs?
GG: I have 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 220C.
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.
L-A: 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, they can be detrimental.
L-A: How many pups are there in a typical litter?
GG: It varies enormously, from 1 to 14 pups!
L-A: Is there a gender bias in the demand for pups?
GG: Absolutely. The male to female ratio is 10:1! By carefully synchronizing fertilisation with the bitch’ cycle, you can influence the odds. The earlier in the cycle fertilization takes place, the more males there will be in the litter.
L-A: How many (Anatolian Shepherd) pups do you sell per year?
GG: Between 80 and 120 pups per year.
L-A: Do you conduct formal temperament tests on the pups?
GG: I am familiar with Campbell’s tests [LV remark: Specific temperament traits are tested to predict the pup’s adult propensity to show the same traits. Campbell’s tests are poorly validated when tested in formal research settings]. But from what I have observed, the adult character is 80% upbringing.
L-A: How do you deal with pups that are not up to conformation standards for one reason or another?
GG: If the fault is severe, we have to euthanize 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.
L-A: Do you run a formal socialization programme on the puppies?
GG: Not specifically, no. 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.
L-A: How old are the pups when they leave for their permanent family?
GG: Between 2 and 3 months of age.
L-A: Can you bring dogs directly from Turkey?
GG: Not easily. The process is heavily regulated. A lot of people import them illegally (they snuggle pups in Belgium by sedating them), but these would not get a pedigree.
L-A: Do you have strict criteria for prospective owners: in terms of temperament, garden space, spare time, and other lifestyle aspects?
GG: Prospective buyers complete an official form that gives out that sort of information. The size of the garden does not matter that much to me. Even in a giant domain, a dog will just rest all day unless it is encouraged to take physical exercise.
L-A: But do you often have to reject prospective buyers because of their potential ill intentions? It is a huge breed, and it is quite a popular intimidation status accessory in the criminal underworld.
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: 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 home these dogs responsibly.
L-A: 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 the 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, or a divorce, to an allergic child.
L-A: How many other Anatolian Shepherd breeders are there in Belgium as far as you know?
GG: There aren’t any, actually. People come from far and wide to get my 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 (mainly in light of the overflowing shelter system), I have tried to give an objective view of that ancient and skilled profession.
With his years of success, Mr Galand is certainly a worthy representative. His dogs have contributed to the fields of canine genetics, animal husbandry and nutrition through his collaboration with veterinary research universities.
The kennel is located in rural Belgium, close to Mons.
Address: Rue Bériot 175, 7332 Sirault, Belgium
Telephone: +32 (0)65 621 066
A word of warning
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 150% leash-trained. And if you are thinking of getting a dog, please first do the Reality check.
I always value your input and comments. I particularly look forward to hearing from you if you:
- Have direct or indirect experience with Anatolian shepherds
- Have a positive or negative opinion about breeders
- Are a breeder yourself and recognise yourself in Mr. Galand’s story, or are in complete disagreement with his views