Central Asian Shepherd, Guard dog
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Author: TopDog
February 4, 2009
A large dog always strikes man’s imagination, provoking the sense of confidence and participation to its might. A Central Asian Ovcharka is just the kind of such a dog. It is big and majestic. A CAO doesn’t stand up but rises on an enemy’s way, it doesn’t run but rushes, it doesn’t bite but strikes down. It is a dog from the past. A CAO has, at least, forty hundred-aged ancestry, only try to imagine this abyss of time. In reality, there are only a few dogs that deserve the pride name of a wolf-hound, but a CAO is one of the elite. The mother-land of this breed is enormous: Russia (the territory near the Caspian Sea, the Altai Steppes), Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmeniya, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan;

it is the mountain countries of Tibet, Tien Shan, the Pamir and a belt of the vast steppes stretched from East to West along five thousand kilometers. Century by century nations and tribes went there. The breed had been forming under the influence of many factors; unusual conditions had been creating a variety of its types.

To a great extent the civilizations of the very region had been nomadic for some centuries and to a great extent their existence depended on a dog. Every new migration was bringing dogs with itself; these dogs differed in something from those that had been living there already. The types of breeds were crossing, forming new combinations, that were pitilessly regulated by the natural selection to fit the existence in severe conditions.. The nomadic tribe dogs’ sense of property gradually transferred from the land on to the main owner’s property, that is to say-cattle: out of a guard an ancient Mastiff turned into a watch dog and, to some degree, into a shepherd dog. Waves of the nation migrations were carrying the originating breeds of Mastiff to new places. A CAO breed-formation zone is directly connected with Tibet – the formation centre of the Molossian breeding group, at that, the Great Steppe is crossing it (this term is used by historians and ethnographers to denote the vast steppe and semi-desert area stretched from Inner Mongolia and Northern China to the Danube, and from time immemorial the nomads ways ran through it. This region was neighboring to the ancient East states (they had their own Molossian breeds) and periodically was a part of them. So, a modern CAO has Tibetan dogs, shepherd dogs of different nomadic tribes and fighting dogs of Mesopotamia among its ancestry. So, the great breed of a Central Asian Ovcharka had formed on a vast area. This breed that is tightly associated with the household still had been having some inner breeding types as a reflection of the complex history of the region settling during the last 4000 years. However, now it is impossible to trace them back to the concrete tribes or geographical regions. A CAO is related to a Mongolian Ovcharka, a Tibetan Mastiff, Ovcharkas of Afghanistan and Iran, Anatolian Karabash, a Caucasian Ovcharka. It has a relative in West Europe also. It is a Spanish Mastiff, it was brought to its new home-land from Iran with cattle-herds.

As every ancient breed, a CAO was created by two mighty powers – man’s need and severe region nature. The main peculiarity of the region climate is its sharp continentality, only on the far East of the region the climate is getting milder because of the nearness of the Caspian Sea. The difference between the day temperature and the night one, especially in summer, is 25-30° C. And the annual temperature changes are also great: the average month temperature amplitude of both the warmest and the coldest month of the year top 40° C in some places. The climate continentally is intensified by the relief peculiarities. Few amount of the precipitation that falls in this arid region distributes extremely unevenly per every season. Maximum of the precipitation nearly all over the region falls in spring. In the Central Tien Shan the passes that are higher 4000 m are free from snow in summer and it the Pamir’s a snow-line is often above 5000 m. So, many summer pastures lie on a great height and sheep-migration from a summer pasture to a winter one and then back is difficult in itself. They differentiate between North Turan and the mountain region of Tien Shan situated in the temperate zone and also South Turan and the mountain region of the Pamir-and-Altai situated in the subtropical zone. North Turan (Kazakhstan deserts). Winters are frosty here, the temperature can be – 40° C and below. Snow doesn’t lie as a solid cover, strong winds often blow it away. Summer is too hot; the average July temperature is about 27° C. In the north regions autumn is early, as a rule, it begins in September. The mountain region of Tien Shan. In winter the temperature is a bit warmer at the height up to 1000 m than in the plains. On the west slopes the height of the snow-cover can be 2 – 3 m, and on the East slopes, in some places, snow doesn’t lie at all. In conditions of high in solution it is too wet in summer. First snow can fall at the height of 2000 m in September already, by this time the flocks must go away from the West mountain slopes. South Turan (Central Asia deserts). Temperature changes are usual in winter: the maximum and minimum January temperature amplitude in the inner region is 50° C, at the coast of the Caspian sea it is 40° C. Absolute January minimum is -25° C and maximum is +25° C, and the average January temperature in the majority of the regions is a bit above 0° C. In summer the weather is steadily hot: the average July temperature is about 30° C, maximum is more than 50° C. In day time the desert surface heats up to 70° C and more. Precipitation nearly doesn’t fall, the air moisture falls up to 20 –25 %, the air is too dusty. Day fluctuations of the temperature are great in autumn: fall of temperature up to -25° C within twenty-four-hours is possible. The mountain region of the Pamir-and-Altai. At the height up to 1000 m the average January temperature is a bit higher 0° C. It is sharply getting cold as you climb the mountains: at the height of 2000 m the snow-cover sets in quickly, it is about several meters in depth in the valleys opened to West. Winds, that carry heat and dry the air very much, blow often in summer. In spite of a not great deal of precipitation, the vegetation doesn’t get dry in the mountains. In summer, on the contrary to winter, the temperature with the height is getting lower relatively slowly, at the height of 3600 m the average July temperature is about 13° C, the day maximum is 30° C. Obviously, the work conditions of a Central Asiatic sheep-dog are different and changeable in its traditional places of living, but practically always severe. Breeds of national selection had been forming for a long period of time, the selection aimed at revealing working qualities and abilities and it was correlated with the concrete social-and-cultural structure. For instance, just the case with a CAO: it was correlated with nomad cattle-breeding. High adaptability to the aboriginal conditions and different types of conformation are characteristic of such breeds. A man always demanded excellent work from a dog. Naturally, breeds of national selection become too vulnerable, and even can die out on condition that the main social-and-cultural structure is changed.

Nowadays new horizons for the ancient breeds are opening only with their producing standardization. One of the major ways in the producing development of a breed is a decrease of dogs “types” number. Standardization and producing breeding of the CAO-breed started not so long ago. In the 30-s the USSR State Kynological Organizations conducted a series of expeditions in order to make up an official list of local breeds and to accept the producing standard to raise the effectiveness of their usage in household. They named breeds according to their natural habitat and to the main type of working usage for instance, Zapadno-Sibirskaya Laika or Sredneaziatskaya “Central Asian” Ovcharka. At that time they considered all the breeds that associated with sheep-breeding as Ovcharkas “Shepherds”. As the economic-and-geographical region of Central Asia existed there and it consisted of three republics Turkmeniya, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) they described a local shepherd dog as a CAO. In Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan there were described Kazakhskaya and Kirghizskaya Ovcharka “Shepherd” accordingly. Such division turned out to be inconvenient because it did not conform to the historical borders of people settling and did not specify really existing types of dogs. Moreover, that division did not include the large head of dog live-stock of North territory near the Caspian Sea, South Siberia and Altai. Conducting of breeding-work with the dogs that were brought from different places of their traditional breeding to the Russian producing centres was a starting point in producing breeding. This fact made it possible to conduct systematic animal technical work with the breed. In the course of research it became clear that division into Sredneaziatskaya, Kazakhskaya and Kirghizskya Ovcharkas was un justified. It was an ancient breed that was not correlated with modern geographical borders. The division of dogs into Tajikskaya, Turkmenskaya and so on according to names of the former USSR republics is not efficient, because the border-lines were set in the 20-s not properly. And as a result, people, tribes or even clans turned out to be beyond both sides of the border. Effective animal technical work on the breed made it (the breed) widely known and the CAO became really popular in the 70-s. Now, when the USSR is broken, the term “Central Asia” has lost its meaning. But as the breed was consolidating and developing under the name of a Central Asian Ovcharka, they considered it necessary to keep its historical name, because Russia is a mother country of this producing breed. As the breed by its working usage as well as its origin isn’t a shepherd dog, the name “a sheepdog” isn’t appropriate to it. That’s why it would be right to interpret the name of the breed from Russian into their foreign languages by means of transliteration that is Sredneaziatskaya Ovcharka. Now a well-consolidating type of a CAO has formed in the largest Russian centers of producing breeding. The existence of a CAO in its traditional places of breeding isn’t steady. The development of transport communications, ethnographical and demographical changes that took place during the last years led to crossing of breeds that were isolated for centuries. It brought other breeds to the places of pure CAO’s existence. Great crossing with the-so-called Alsatian sheep dog that is widely used by frontier guards, is obvious along the borders of the former USSR. Fortunately, crossbreeds of the first and next generations are easily recognized by characteristic type of a head with the high-set ears and a wedge-shaped muzzle and, very often by blanketed color. There are enough CAO’s in large regions which are out of the Working Dogs Clubs-system. But they use them mostly for fighting. The drawbacks of such one-line selection are obvious. Methods of national breeding in new conditions are of low effect because the head live-stock of dogs breeding and keeping in a traditional way is greatly reducing, and breed quality is becoming worse.