Problem of preservation and development of the Central Asian sheep-dogs, native populations as well as produced in Russia and other European countries, is very difficult. The points of view of different experts on these questions are rather inconsistent and at present times contradictory.So-called Central Asian sheep-dogs dogs of natural selection, rather various in the sizes, the ex-terrier, types of coat , color, aggression and a number of other parameters. Thereof it is difficult to classify them by a "breed". Many experts adhere to similar opinion, and best in were proven by A.G.Labunsky in " The Dog of Central Asia”, Dnepropetrovsk, 1994) Therefore below we shall speak not about "breed", but about “pedigree group”. We understand that we will have to step away from so common for citizens of former Soviet Union name “Central Asia”. But the new name was not established yet, we shall use, for old time's sake, the habitual name “the Central Asian sheep-dog”, or the Turkic term “Alabai”. In a literal translation it means “the motley rich man” though the word “bai” in the different Turkic countries, or the languages which have been influenced by Turkic - is used and in others, but always values having valid sense. Earlier a word “Alabai” named dogs of the certain type coloring. Now in Turkmenistan it is used for a designation of all native Central Asian shepherd's dogs.Most of the ideas which we here bear to court to the fans of the Central Asian sheep-dogs, have debatable character and consequently it is useful to inform the reader on what I am basic my opinion. During four decades I have been observing Alabais. Since 1956 and until 1978 I have lived among them in Badhyzskom preserve. Here, in the extreme south of Turkmenistan, in Kushkinskom, Serahskom and areas of Tahtabazarskom, the good livestock of Alabai has been kept. It was possible to observe the work of the shepherd dogs, behind their mutual relations in pack and between different packs, and also with wolves and other animals, including striped hyenas and leopards. The annual expeditions proceeding till now, have allowed to get acquainted with dogs of all Turkmenistan and some areas of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Intrusions over the country border of Turkmenistan of flocks of sheep from the adjacent states have enabled to estimate dogs of northwest of Afghanistan, and northeast of Iran. In Mongolia (6 field seasons), on Caucasus and Transcaucasia, in Bulgaria (5 seasons) it was necessary to observe the shepherd dogs similar with Central Asian. A number of years Alabais live at in my house. By way of lyrical digression I shall add, as now when I am editing these lines, sitting s in my office near Moscow Chernogolovke, seven similar to bear cubs Alabais try to pull down slippers of my feet.
Problem of preservation and development of the Central Asian sheep-dogs, native populations as well as populations in Russia, and other European countries is very difficult. The points of view of different experts on these questions are rather inconsistent and at times self-defeating. In particular, E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenkogo's in the book “The Central Asian sheep-dog” (?., 1996) has caused high concern in me and of some my colleagues, publishing house " Ipol ", 194 pages). Extreme questionability of sights of these authors on development of pedigree group (they prefer to use the term "breed") has forced us to check up closely on reliability of the material stated in the book and conclusions, made on its basis. We shall conduct the further statement as discussions with the specified authors.E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenkogo's credo about “the Central Asian wolfhound” as they frequently name Alabai, is stated in the foreword “from authors”: “... It is our domestic breed, and nobody can specify to us (interestingly, to whom personally? - ?.?.) What this dog should be. The Central Asian dog will be such, what we, the Russian selectors, we shall want, and is so good, as far as we are capable to make it ” (page 4). The point of view is both incorrect and disrespectful concerning our colleagues from the countries where native populations live. Unfortunately, it is not ours, not Russian breed. The given pedigree group is connected to deserts, semi deserts and mountains of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kirghizia, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Iran. Within several millennia the shepherd's dogs of the listed countries were formed by the people and natural selection in rather specific severe conditions and at poor feeding. When dogs of this breed are brought into an average strip of Russia, by some of its morphological, ecological and other qualities, begin to some extent vary during several generations. To keep in Europe pedigree group in its primary kind is really possible only by maintaining a regular inflow of fresh blood of natives.
However maintenance of a variety of pedigree group, with working qualities inherent in it, outside of its area also is impossible and not meaningful. To keep, and if necessary to restore, a populations of Alabais is a problem of dog breeders and shepherds in places of dwelling of native dogs.E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenkogo's statement, that such rare jewels as the Central Asian sheep-dog, requires a facet (page 4), that” progress in breed goes very quickly”, is inappropriate. Hardly is it possible to speak seriously about progress in the pedigree group established by the people and nature during more than four thousand years. We already had to protect the native Central Asian dogs from offers "to improve" breed. Then the question was about fleet-basins (. “Hunting and the hunting facilities”, ?12,1988?.) In general “the Soviet creative darvinism” to improve traditions appeared to be hardy. Thus, that what is good and that what is bad and how "to improve" is left to dog breeders possessing the authority and based on the their taste, and depending on characteristics of their dogs. To tell the truth, based on available in Russia and in the different European countries livestock, meanwhile still Central Asian sheep-dogs, it is possible to deduce new factory breeds. It will be useful and has the right on independent existence as a dog, but not Alabai. In due course they will differ from the ancestors the same as deduced in Europe decorative “Afghans” differ from native dogs of Afghanistan. Naturally, work at a modern level “ on improvement ” of old breed, is more true on creation of new breeds on the basis of old, demands the certain vocational training, including knowledge of genetics and the evolutionary doctrine.
How is it put in a case which we here consider?
E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenky declare that before becoming experts - kinologists, they were biologists (page 3-4). Meanwhile, in their book there are surprising pearls of biological illiteracy, for example: “it is frequent enough that puppies of the Central Asian sheep-dogs are born with a short tail. It is completely normal phenomenon, taking into account how many centuries these dogs had their tail cropped” (page 100). Former biologists should remember A.Vejsmana's experiences which hundred years ago has proved, that no matter how many generations of mice would have their tail cropped, a short tail in its posterity does not appear. Strange the paragraph on page 42 sounds, which the uninviting posterity, with essential lacks at crossing of the Central Asian dogs of different types, is, connected with “infringement of stability of genetics of the populations” - “populations have been separated for a long time, so that their genetics are badly combined”. First, there is no such thing as “genetics of a population”. The term a gene concerns to a kind (the Biological encyclopedic dictionary, M. of 1989) though sometimes it is used concerning an individual, but in no event - to a population. Secondly, populations of one pedigree group cannot go separate so that it is becomes different in the genetic attitude. The non-standard of evolutionary sights of E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenkogo are visible from their statement, that “the origin of the Central Asian sheep-dogs is closely connected not to geography and a landscape, but with history of nomads of cattlemen” (page 32). Here authors ignore action of natural selection, which plays a special role in formation of Alabai whose life cycle happens in the nature. This paragraph contradicts not only common sense, but also own point of view of authors stated on page 18. Let's consider system of proofs with E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenky's, which will help give reason for their ideas. We shall begin with how they use the literature. It is natural, that in the book having character of the report, the significant part of a material is borrowed from different sources. Unfortunately, in the book there is no list of the used literature and, with one exception, references to those.
It is impossible to think, that nobody have written earlier about the Central Asian sheep-dogs, and that in the last years there weren't’t some reports devoted to these dogs. For the lack of references it is difficult to check up some of resulted materials that cause questions, and even doubts and, probably, are borrowed by authors from other sources. For example, a mention about Tibetan mastiff’s natural selection (page 37), or about presence of " isolated groups” (where, as well as how isolated? - ?.?.) of Central Asian sheep-dogs in Caucasus Mountains (page 41.) Who, where and when observed use of Alabai as an etching dog at hunting for wild boars (page 21)? Whence authors have taken even more improbable data such as that small cat can attack lambs of house sheep (page 24)? Who, where and when it observed? From what stories have undertaken a fable that in Central Asia the shepherd's dogs struggle with spotty hyenas (page 24)? Hyenas live in Central Asia are striped, spotty are found in Africa.Publications of authors are ignored, whose points of view disagree with E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenkogo's opinions. Work by A.G.Labunskogo (1994?.) is not mentioned at all despite that fact that it is very interesting, and constructed on original observations.
However, hushing up of the literature, perhaps, not is so bad, as misrepresentation of other authors. The unique literary reference in the text to the book, considered by us, deforms a material of quoted scientists. Professor V.G.Gepner writes that the weight of desert subspecies of the wolf reach up to 35-40 kg. (Mammals of Soviet Union, ?. II, part I, ?., 1967, page 114), i.e. that weigh is in the largest specimens. E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenky assert on page 49, that as per V.G.Gepter, “at the wolf even the finest subspecies living in sands of Turkmenistan, weights 35-40 kg, in other places of region wolves are larger”. In general average weight of the deserted wolf about 30 kg in males and 26 kg in females. E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenky's deal with their own material as loosely as with others. They consider, “incorrect to define reliability of a difference on measurements of dogs of the different types, received in different years” (page 45). By the way, to me, it is not clear why it is impossible to use measurements of different years. Nevertheless, two pages lower, these authors unite measurements of the exhibitions the cities and native dogs made during different time. Thus do not specify number of the measured dogs. Average and maximal parameters on five measurements are resulted and are not specified minimal. Separate tables of measurements of city and of farm dogs, unfortunately, are not present. It is necessary to note E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenkogo's free reference to morphological terminology. The vivid example - instead of “a grasp of a head” is used “a grasp of a skull” (page 46, fig. 5). It, to put it mildly, is not the same.
E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenky pay heavy attention to interrelation of types of body and color (page 31). It is necessary to tell, that in the majority of regions of Central Asia, without dependence on type of body structure of the dogs, it is possible to meet Alabai of all usual colors. It is possible, that statistical processing of the large amount of material would reveal their correlation, but nobody has yet engaged in such research. So this statement repeatedly stated by E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenkii, actually has only presumable character. By the way, authors should notice it and in that specific case mark, that at bear-headed dogs color cannot serve as a marker. In the description of dogs by E.N.Mychko and ?.? Belenkii the idea is presented, that the taller and heavier the dog, the better it is. The emphasis is done that at struggle against the wolf (page 48), “that it is important for the techniques of fight peculiar to the Central Asian sheep-dog, it should be heavier than the wolf” (page 49). Who, where and when studied techniques of fight Alabai with wolves? By the way, techniques of tournament fights of dogs Alabai and techniques of fight without rules or on other rules as gregarious, and with wolves, differ radically. In the chapter “From mastiffs - to the Central Asian sheep-dog” E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenky retell old and widely spread assumption, but not confirmed with the strong facts, that ostensibly the center of formation of mastiff group is Tibet (page 9). Any reasons confirming this hypothesis, authors do not produce.
The earliest and best known mention of the Tibetan mastiff concerns to 1121 BC. Meanwhile four thousand years ago in the Altih - Tepe (Southern Turkmenistan), there were findings of bones of large dogs, of type and the size close to the Central Asian sheep-dog that are alive now. Here the terracotta figurine of mastiff type dogs as powerful as Central Asian Kopek (dog) with the docked tail and ears (??sson "Nature", 1983, ? 5, page 42-43; Shishkin “By the walls of great Namazgi” ?., 1982, page 180). Figures of similar dogs are available on cups, concerning approximately to 2000 BC, found in northern Afghanistan (T.M.Ivanov. “Moloss in Russia”, ?1 (3), 1997 ?, page 56, 61). According to E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenkogo” laymen assert that Turkmenistan – is the center of occurrence of the breed.... Sources of this error are coming from the relative accessibility of the plains of Turkmenistan” (page 32). Who in this case are laymen? As we mark above, in southern Turkmenistan and northern Afghanistan the earliest finds of dogs of this pedigree group already formed four thousand years ago. By the way, the problem of the origins of the breed and modern accessibility of the region, have no relation. There is no reason to talk about isolation of the parts of territories of Turkmenistan in the past. Almost all of it is crossed by old routes of “Great silk route.” Only the preserve of Badhyzsky, which is 70 km long, crosses three ancient roads. Intensity of movement on them was such, that now they are 3-5 meters below the surrounding plain. According to the found subjects, from pre-Mongolian times, there was transportation of goods from China. Caravans were accompanied by dogs.
E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenkogo's historical digressions to “Great Steppe” (page 10, 12) are not clear. Their brochure, without the initial data, devoted to the Central Asian sheep-dogs, is named “Guards of Great Steppe”. In the settlements Andronovskoj cultures (bronze) also repeatedly mentioned in the book “the Central Asian sheep-dog” (page 12, 13, 18), the rests of this pedigree group are unknown, though other dogs, in very insignificant quantity, are there. Authors do not produce any data on ancient distribution of the Central Asian sheep-dogs neither in steppe, nor in semi-desert of which “the Great Steppe” consists. Formation of mastiff type shepherd's dogs is connected first of all to development of sheep breeding. Domestication of sheep occurred in Forward Asia (Shnirelman “the Origin of cattle breeding”, ?., 1980). From here sheep breeding has promoted to the Central Asia. So a question from the East to the West or initial promotion of shepherd's of mastiff type in Asia has on the contrary remains open. The second variant, in our opinion, is more probable. Naturally, during centuries-old history of dogs of the Central Asia, the exchange of genes between separate populations and between different pedigree groups has gone in all possible directions. As far as Alan dogs are descendants of Central Asians, as categorically account E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenky (page 10), is still necessary to find out. Also, there is a concern about Anatolian Karabash, which also have attributed to descendants of Alabai (page 16).
The solution of the problem, who is the basic ancestor of the Central Asian sheep-dogs, will be resolved by studying gene-geography of dogs. Unfortunately, the first works of such span, on pedigree group in interest, leave much to be desired (S.P.Knyazev, etc. "Genetics" ?3, 1993; S.P.Knjazev, “Scientific collection ??? ” ? 1, 1997). Samples of the Central Asian and Caucasian sheep-dogs of one city of Novosibirsk have been investigated. Thus the most typical “(from S.P.Knyazev's point of view and co-authors - ?.?.)” representatives of breed have been taken, which lowered a genetic variety of a material even further. From tables and figures it is visible, that the Central Asian sheep-dog directly adjoins to the European group of dogs, and Caucasian are between them and the Japanese breeds. From this authors draw a strange conclusion, that the Central Asian sheep-dogs have originated from the Tibetan mastiffs who came in to Central Asia during great resettlement of peoples (4 - 7 c BC), i.e. already after Alabai have lived in Turkmenistan and Afghanistan for at least thousand years. Authors did not investigate any Tibetan mastiff. In more detail on the Central Asian dogs we shall consider S.P.Knyazev's works in other publication.
In connection with a problem of an origin of the Central Asian sheep-dogs the question of their hybridization with the desert wolf and about possible participation of wolves in formation of pedigree group is interesting. For some reason E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenky consider it a legend the existence of the wolf-dog hybrids (page 10-11). Disputes on the presence of such mixes in the nature are imprecise. Hybrids are registered in many regions, including in Turkmenistan (N.Ishadov, “ Ecological bases of protection and rational use of predatory mammals ”, ?., 1980, ??? 107-109). I repeatedly had to observe them in Badhiz. There is a corresponding amount of museum material in support of this. Thus, judging by a different degree of formation of the ears, there are hybrids of different number of generations. There is more discussion on a question of impurity of wolf blood in populations of the Central Asian sheep-dogs. Such hybrids are also mentioned in N.Ishadova's mentioned above publication. In areas in which the good livestock of Alabai was kept, in particular in Badhiz, alongside with heavy headed dogs there are dogs with narrower skull, rather lengthened muzzle, and tightened jowls and with noticeably advanced occipital lift. Their weight reaches 45-50 kg. Between them and heavier dogs there are all kinds of variations. Lighter and long muzzled Alabai do not concede in working qualities to heavy headed specimens. They run faster and overcome wolf with the same proficiency. I do not exclude idea, that some features of the Central Asian sheep-dogs, in particular their care and very precise observance pack restrictions in tournament fights, speak of some inflow of the wolf blood. It, in any measure, does not mean that in factory cultivation of Central Asians, they should be crossed with wolves. The heightened cautiousness of such hybrids, in city conditions, seems like fearfulness. High aggression in some hybrids, which is not excluded, is also impractical in city environment.
By the way, one of E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenkogo's arguments in support of the thesis, that the wolf is not mixed into number of close relatives of the Central Asian sheep-dog, has only linguistic character and is a cause for amusement: “by definition the wolfhound presses wolves, instead of (page 11) crossing with them ”. The term "wolfhound" is purely Russian. Turkmen do not call Alabai "wolfhounds", but “Goun-iti” (the sheep dog) or “Chapan-iti” (the shepherd's dog). E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenkogo's other proofs about weakness of nervous system of the wolf-dog hybrids, that it is not necessary to worsen dogs, coupling them with weaker wolf (page 11) suit a substantiation of inexpediency of such crossing industrially, I spoke about it above. As arguments, to evidence confirming absence of the wolf blood at the Central Asian sheep-dogs that these authors assert, they do not suit. The question on affinity of Alabai and deserted wolves will be solved only after thorough genetic inspection of several populations, respectively. In the nature during a significant part of year the relations of the Central Asian sheep-dogs and wolves words are better defined as “armed neutrality”. Wolves avoid skirmishes with Alabai even when they in the majority, for example, in case when one dog protects a lonely sheep or a lamb. Dogs drive away wolves from herd of sheep, but do not pursue them far. Mainly from second half of summer and up to the middle of winter wolves attack flocks of sheep, trying to disperse herd or cut the sheep that have got off on a heap. Thus they try to avoid fights with dogs. Female Alabai, most often, do not participate in fights with wolves, more often.
The relations, of dogs with other larger wild animals, are different. E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenkogo's statement that, that Central Asian dogs struggle with a tiger or the leopard and win skirmishes with hyenas (page 24), is a little bit doubtful. Once hearing or smelling a leopard or a striped hyena, dogs more often quite down and keep close to the owner or to a flock of sheep. If the wild animal is leaving from them in the afternoon, dogs pursue it in group accompanied by a loud barking, wile observing a safe distance. Attacks on a leopard are extremely seldom and only with participation of the owner.Now in many areas of native dwelling the numbers of Alabai are on the decline. In E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenkogo's opinion “the difficulties experienced by breed in the native land, are connected to full or nearly full disappearance of the wolf in flat areas of traditional sheep breeding. After extermination of predators in the areas, shepherds have no reasons to keep wolfhounds.”(Page 42). True, number of wolves in some areas has fallen. However, deterioration of a livestock of dogs is defined not by that, and loss of traditional experience of sheep breeding. In the spring of 1996 I traveled around the southwest part of area Kyzylarvatsk – a connection of mountains of Kopet-dagskih and Meshed - Messar plains. There are enough wolves, but sheep are herded by the young men, who become shepherds to avoid army service. Majority of them have no interest in sheep breeding and furthermore in dog breeding,. While briefly examining more than 100 dogs, we have not found any good and even average dogs. In mountains of a southeast part of the same area in Kyzylarvatsk, there are on occasion examples of excellent dogs. In the extreme west of Turkmenistan, about Karabozgola, in particular, in the village of Kashoba, where the present hereditary shepherds live, Alabais are very good.
The solution for a current problem would be restoration of private cattle breeding. If the owner has a flock of sheep, about thousand heads, he will be interested, in its protection by 5-6 good dogs, and will have an ability to maintain such pack of dogs. To imagine a pedigree group of Central Asians, we shall look at how they were formed.In free mating the largest and strongest male had an advantage. For centuries, shepherds left only a part of the litter, selecting the most big-headed and active puppies. Nevertheless, the average size of the dogs was kept. Natural selection selected the most viable puppies, and artificial selection eliminated dogs that were too heavy, since they were not capable to drive away fast wolves and keep up with the herd.Shepherd females are almost not feed, therefore they do not differ by strength or by size. Usually only three to four puppies are left from the litter, and most of them do not survive either. A single puppy is frequently given a nickname “Akimen” that means "unsociable", "loner". E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenky for some reason translate this word as "unique, that is incorrect. It is natural, that such puppy is more viable, and that not always coincides with the best ex-terrier.In their book ?.? Michko and V.A.Belenko repeatedly mention large (roughly of height in shoulder of more than 90 cm, - ?.?.) and with angled eyes. Authors refuse them the right to belong to the Central Asian sheep-dogs. (Page 40-41) Although there are no other dogs of mastiff type, except for Alabai, in the areas where these giants live. Presence of such dogs in the nature is indisputable, but, probably, areas in the mountains, inaccessible to researchers, do not promote their study. A.G.Labunsky did not meet any during his expeditions. And this researcher has done a bit of traveling in these areas. I, in 40 years of research, have seen only one, and by mere luck. The dust storm with a strong southern wind has driven a flock of the Afghani sheep, lost by shepherds, into Turkmen territory. With sheep there has come very large light grey, almost white dog, with normally planted eyes. The dog was of extremely good nature. For some time he lived on the border of Badhyzsk preserve.
E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenky write, that they “saw 11 dogs of more then 90 cm” (page 48). It would be desirable to know, where and when they saw them, and how many from them belonged to unknown mountain giants. By the way, I would not recommend, completely exclude such form from cultivation of the Central Asian pedigree group as was suggested by E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenky..It is completely unnecessary to avoid native Alabai, which resemble in phenotype of Caucasian sheep-dogs, especially, if they meet more then one thousand kilometers from Caucasus. Thus, E.N.Mychko and V.A.Belenkogo's recommendations to exclude these dogs from cultivation (page 40), at least in Central Asian pedigree group, should not be followed .The history of the Soviet dog breeding knows of the fact that all Siberian huskies were bred into two breeds, and thus a loss of a unique genome, which now could be the pride of dog breeders of the country. It is not necessary to repeat this sad experience on Alabai. The Central Asian pedigree group should be kept in places of traditional cultivation in all the variety. It is another matter that on its basis, in other countries, due to selection of dogs of the certain type and factory cultivation new breeds will be created. In Turkmenistan, the first breed of such sort will be “the fighting dog ” (no matter what else it is called). It will be due to selection of large and heavy-headed dogs. In addition, strong attention will paid to females. Sexual dimorphism in natives, as a rule, is expressed sharply. Large, factory cultivated females of Central Asian origin, probably, will be imported from nurseries of Russia and other countries. Due to constant inflow of large shepherd “kopek”, new breed will retain better qualities of pedigree group, in comparison to the breeds created on the basis of the Central Asian sheep-dogs, in Europe.The parade of sovereignties of the young states, in the regions of traditional cultivation of Alabai, will promote creation of several breeds. It will be very good, if it will be possible to restore Kirghiz and other mountain sheep-dogs. Creation of local new breeds can be welcomed in all cases, except for when the genetic variety of representatives of the pedigree group, which were not included in the new breed, was not kept.
In Russia new breed is already made on the basis of the Central Asian sheep-dogs. These are large, though frequently overfed dogs. Sexual dimorphism in them expressed more poorly, and it is reflected in new standards. Even short-haired Alabai, brought to Moscow suburbs from Kushka, tolerated winter easily when kept outside. Nevertheless, for protection of objects in the open, long-haired morphs are suited better. In due course it can lead to division of breeds. And at last, in order to create fewer contradictions with dog breeders from places of traditional cultivation of the Central Asian sheep-dogs and, proceeding from common sense, it is desirable to soften some of the standard of the breed in regards to dental structure. On the contrary, to dog breeders of the Central Asian countries, it is better to be more concerned with a condition of a bite of the new breeds based on Alabai.Summarizing what was said told above, we consider: the pedigree group in places of traditional cultivation should keep in all varieties. Since, it has deserved it after four thousand years of existence and in addition, it is possible to create new factory breeds on its foundation.
Master of Bio.Sci., Senior scientific member of Institute of Problems of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Science of A.N.Severtsova
By International Club of Central Asian Ovcharka
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