It has been little over a year, and new experiences in our kennel inspire new ideas. We added an Akita pair, and later a Central Asian Shepherd pair for guard/watch dogs. For most of our kennel years we have only dealt with freight huskies. Bringing aggressive guardian breeds into our kennel changed the dynamic of our kennel. In the past some of the freight dogs had some guardian breed genetics crossed in for size and other traits, to improve our dog breeding plans. Occasionally a new dog in the sled team would turn out to be a fighter, and fighting is bad news for a dog musher. It means stitches and vet bills that injure the tender wallet in my back pocket. It can even mean the death of a less aggressive but valuable sled dog, if the human involved does not intervene.
I can not tell you how disturbing the stress of mangled dogs can be for a musher, especially if one is dependent upon them to get a necessary job done. Only those who have experienced this first hand can understand the feeling of finding a torn up sled dog. Many dogs from the north, particularly the breeds common to the Inuit ethnic group, are notorious as fighters. Over the decades these fighting impulses were discouraged, and careful breeding weeded out the aggression trait. This ultimately culminated in the present day, docile but athletic Alaskan Husky that is now world famous. A modern Alaskan Husky is far different than their more violent ancestors that helped the stone age Inuit hunt polar bears and caribou.
So the historical wheel of canine development has turned full circle in our kennel, returning to dogs that require a more aggressive nature to deal with threats that one might encounter in the wilderness of Alaska. Typically, a modern husky is more likely to help a robber load your property into his truck, than he is to growl and bite him.
Now that we have two pairs of large powerful aggressive dogs, we have to use and manage them very differently than a team of sled dogs. Akita are generally dogs that can not tolerate other dogs as competition. They tend towards possessiveness and jealousy. They do not want to share their human companions with other dogs, and if not trained properly will try to remove(meaning destroy) any canine competition for their position in the family. They also are (if they are a good specimen of the breed) naturally suspicious of unfamiliar people. A good Akita should not be happy to meet a strange visitor, nor invite friendly pats on the head. After all, a friendly gregarious Akita is the kind a home intruder wants you to have. If a bear wanders into close proximity to your family, you don't want an Akita that wants to play with the bear, or hide behind the owner. Unfortunately, because Akita are strikingly beautiful dogs, intelligent, and loyal to their human owners; they are often sought out as a pet by people who expect it to behave contrary to what it is meant to be. Many Akita are bred to go to shows, let judges (who are total strangers) touch them for physical examination, and be led on leash in the company of many other dogs without hostility or vigilance.
Such dogs are loosing their original Akita genius. They are being tamed and bred to be a polite couch companion. Such breeding forgets that the Akita originally hunted wild boars, bears, and guarded wealthy Japanese homes that were more like fortresses than suburban McMansions. That required a different Akita than what we see today in the show ring. A real Akita is a fighter, and to try to make an Akita that doesn't fight is like making a Marine that can't pull the trigger on the battle field. Perhaps someone wants or needs a docile Akita, but such a dog is no longer an Akita in the original meaning of the word.
If I ever find myself on a battle field, I would prefer to have a United States Marine at my side rather than a modern metrosexual (whatever that is). When confronted with an armed robber or bear, I want a dog that thinks and acts like a classical Akita. My Akita are fighters, they want to eliminate threats, and they jealously guard me like I am their treasure. They have a sense of territory, and that boundary should be known an respected by those passing by.
The Central Asian Shepherd (CAO) is a similarly aggressive breed, but at present hasn't caught the attention of kennel clubs in North America yet. It is still a relatively unspoiled breed. Few are humiliated with having to put on a show for judges and crowds, and wear pretty ribbons (unless it is to fight with other dogs in their country of origin). I hope that it continues to stay that way. Most kennels of the breed still breed them as livestock guardian dogs and home/family protection dogs. Although they do not have the stunning beauty of a well formed Akita, they do have one trait common to them that would attract the wrong kind of interest... Males can grow to be over 150 pounds. Thus the giant dog fad threatens them. It attracts those who have some sort of personal inadequacy involving size, and it may be the undoing of the breed in the long run. Those who want the biggest dog in town, or in the state, will try to breed primarily for that trait, at the expense of the other traits that make the breed what it is supposed to be. It is an independent guardian dog.
Watch this video link of two CAO killing a wolf that got too close to a flock...
Thus the breed needs to have intelligence, aggression, excellent hearing and sight, physical endurance, powerful proportions for killing wolves and other predators. Size is not the primary or even secondarily important trait. In their aboriginal origins, most are not giant dogs, but their temperament and intelligence is keen and brave. Since the breed primarily was used to drive away and/or kill predators for thousands of years, they have a natural hostility towards any canine that is not apart of the pack that protects the herd. That makes the breed a dog aggressive breed to strange dogs. In the countries of origin this trait is so important that the shepherds have annual dog fights to prove the aggression and bravery of their dogs. Only dogs that will fight and not give up are chosen to breed. A Central Asian Shepherd will not survive a confrontation with wolves if it is not aggressive, powerful and brave. This is so essential to the needs of Shepherds that without such dogs they would not be able to maintain their herds. I watched a video of an entire team of Turkish Kangal dogs that had been slaughtered and partially eaten by a pack of wolves, so the danger in doing battle with wild predators is a real one for the dog that protects flocks.
If you want your CAO to get along with strange dogs roaming the neighborhood, then you are expecting it to be something it was never meant to be. When you need the dog to really do it's job, you better hope that it is still a fighter. With that in mind there is a difference between Akita and Central Asian Shepherds. Yes, both are fighters, but where they differ is in their ability to form a pack structure.
Akita generally are more solitary and do not form a pack structure as well. If they ever do, it is only with Akita of the opposite gender or siblings, but even then there is the possibility of hostilities and jealousy. The Central Asian Shepherd, in contrast, naturally forms a pack structure. As working dogs they often guard hundreds (sometimes thousands)of sheep, thus a team effort is the rule. And they are often dealing with wolves in packs. Thus a lone Central Asian Shepherd could be lured and ambushed by a clever pack of wolves. So shepherds breed them to be able to work in packs with an alpha male and Alpha female.
Here is a video of two rival CAO packs fighting over territory while protecting their herds...
(please forgive the goofy background music)
The Central Asian Shepherd forms it's own canine family, usually related to each other. And early on some fights occur to establish a chain of command among them. They are prone to defend each other against strange intruding canines and have a certain loyalty to each other much like wolf packs. This all makes sense in the original work setting that created the dog. So if one wants to have a team of guardian dogs, the Central Asian Shepherd will adapt better to the situation. If you only want one or two dogs, an Akita is the better choice (provided that they are opposite genders or siblings).
Another difference that I have observed with my dogs is about gender. Among my Akita it seems that male and female are equally aggressive. Whereas among Central Asian Shepherds gender makes a difference. CAO females tend to be more vigilant as watch dogs, and are the first to perceive intruders and threats, but are less inclined to immediately attack. The large dominant males, on the other hand, are more leisurely but explode into aggressive attack once alerted by the female. Many owners of the breed have commented upon how sudden and surprising that aggression happens when a threat shows up. At first one sees what appears to be a large, lethargic lazy dog; then all of a sudden the dog is up running down a coyote or other threat. The explosive and powerful athletic aggression can shock people and animals that are unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of such action.
Most of the time the CAO generally pursues the threat less than a mile until it determines that the threat has left for good. Shepherds don't want the dog too wander to far from the flock, for there is a history of solitary wolves luring the dog away so the rest of the pack can attack the sheep. But if a wolf or bear does not leave, a good CAO will not quit until the threat has left or is dead. Yes, they can and often do really kill wolves. Generally they kill wolves as a team, but solitary dogs have been known to kill a wolf. Being in Alaskan that has dealt directly with wolves, this impresses me, for killing a wolf that is capable of taking down a full grown moose is no small feat of martial skill.
You can see and example in this video link of 5-6 dogs taking on one wolf...
As a team, one CAO tends to grab a leg of the wolf and flip it over, while another grabs a rear leg to restrict movement of the doomed wolf. While it is being pulled in two directions and pinned down upside down, another dog will crush the throat. Sometimes another dog will bite the belly to pinch the diaphragm so the wolf can not inhale, thus the strangulation and asphyxiation kills the wolf even faster. I have seen wolves and wolf hybrids do this to other canines also.
In the last decade there was a wolf pack that was killing dogs and eating them in Fairbanks Alaska. the wolves employed a similar technique for killing dogs and then eating them. Once a victim canine is being pulled from the front and rear by powerful jaws, it is doomed, for it can not maneuver enough to fight back. CAO operate in a similar way when one has a team of them.
The two breeds respond differently to threats in another way. Because Akita were used in the past to hunt large dangerous game like boars and bears in Japan, there is still some baying instinct. That means that they tend to circle and hold the threat in a fixed position, not allowing it to leave. They do this to give their human partner the opportunity to terminate the target. They tend to have a circular strategy unless the target is smaller than them.
In contrast, the CAO is a straight forward attacker. It tends to get directly between the threat and the people/flocks/property that they are protecting. They tend to attack in a straight line, and break off pursuit if the threat covers enough distance in retreat. I have observed this personally when returning to camp right after sunset. My children were sleeping in the canvas tent, and I was coming through some brush. Upon hearing this my CAO male jumped into action from his usually lethargic state. I teased him from cover by making grunts and growls to simulate a large intruding animal. As long as I continued he continued to advance with growling and barking, and as I advanced on the tent he always positioned himself between the children in the tent and I, regardless of what direction I approached from. I am certain that he would never retreat and hide. My Akita would have quietly circled and ambushed from behind trying to distract the intruder.
Finally I should mention a distinctive trait of the Akita that is uncommon for guardian dogs. Akita, at least a typical classic Akita, tends to be a quiet dog. Even in confronting threats Akita tend to be quiet, and do not bark that much. It is one of the traits that I really like about Akita, for dogs that are compulsive barkers are annoying to me. When an Akita barks, I get up and investigate, for they never do so without a good reason. Many other breeds will bark endlessly if they are bored, or at anything that breaks the mundane routine of their lives. It is like the lesson of, "never cry wolf," which has a literal application in Alaska. Akita do not do this. So every vocalization of an Akita should be taken seriously.
For Alaskans that live in or on the edge of the Northern wilderness, these two breeds are good choices for guard/watch dog needs. If wolves, bears, or human intruders threaten your little slice of the Alaskan paradise, then perhaps they may be the the solution for you. They require proper management to prevent undesirable conflicts, but when you need protection you feel better when a good dog rises to the challenge.
I have considered crossing the two breeds to make a hybrid Guardian dog that combines certain traits that I desire. I may also cross both breeds with freight huskies to increase their guardian instinct. Having crossed my huskies with Akita to make what is commonly called, "Huskita," worked very well. They have a mild watch/guard instinct, but still work well together in the harness. The difficulty is that they don't get along well with dogs they are not related to, so introducing new or strange dogs into the team can arouse conflicts. If one was doing harness work with a very small team they would do well.
I suspect that the CAO will cross well with our freight huskies, for they have a stronger pack instinct. They would have a guardian instinct, but be able to cooperate in a team for harness work. What would they be called? Perhaps, "Volkodav Huskies," or, "Alaskan Wolf Hounds." What ever they will be called, I think the hybrid cross can result in a large, powerful freight dog that will also guard the homestead. My ultimate goal in the beginning of this adventure was to fuse three primary traits into one dog line. I need a dog that freights, guards, and hunts. It must be winter hardy, large, powerful, intelligent, and loyal. As the next few years pass by, we will see how this plan works out. The genetic variations and possibilities are great, so we have many options in the breeding plan.
Making cookie cutter dogs that can be produced like a product from a factory may appeal to other kennel operators, but I am more interested in making designer dogs that fit my environment and needs. I suspect that others may want similar dogs.