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Turkmenistan Shepherd Dog

Considered by many to be just a regional variant of the Central Asian Ovcharka, the legendary Alabai is a respected working breed in its native Turkmenistan, where it is highly valued for its purity and personality traits, as well as its superb resilience and guarding abilities. This impressive Molosser is one of the oldest natural mastiffs in the world, having remained virtually unchanged for nearly 5000 years, with only occasional limited interference from humans, whose requirements and high standards ensured the survival of only the best working bloodlines. Although popular belief classifies the Alabai as a descendant of the Tibetan Mastiff, this is most certainly incorrect, since the mighty Turkmen Volkodav is much older than the dogs of Tibet and has been protected from the influence of other breeds for centuries by the geographical isolation of its home region. Some authorities believe that the Alabai is the original Asiatic Mastiff and the key progenitor of most world breeds, including the mythical Tibet Dogge. Like with other ancient breeds, there are many folk stories and legends mentioning the Alabai, some of them describing it as a result of matings between leopards and sheep, as well as tigers and wolves and so on. The old proto-Turkmen Huns and related Asian tribes were known for their dogs and strict breeding rules since ancient times, a practice which has resulted in the establishment of their superb working breeds, the most famous of which are the Tazy and the Alabai.

Rugged, obedient and protective, the Chokcha has traditionally been kept as a settlement watchdog and livestock guardian, prized for its size, strength, agility and courage. Over the centuries of warfare, this region of Central Asia has been invaded by many conquerors, including Alexander the Great and the Turks and Arabs, all of which introduced new customs and beliefs to the area. Alexander the Great was very fond of Asian mastiffs and has brought many dogs back to Greece with him, from where the Alabai influenced a great number of European breeds and became one of the most important mastiffs in the legendary Molossian foundation stock. This majestic breed also played a role in the development of other important historic Molossers, from the very influential Alaunt and the large mountain dogs of Kavkaz and the Balkans to the mastiffs of Italy, France and Spain. In its home region, the Chokcha suffered greatly during the islamization of Asia in the 7th century, due to the conquering Arabs' opinion that the dog is a vicious and filthy animal, resulting in systematic destruction of large aggressive mastiffs, which were until then considered near-sacred by the Zoroastrians of the area. The nomadic Turkmen tribes were allowed to keep a limited number of dogs with their herds, so they chose only those examples which posessed the best working qualities and calm, reliable temperaments. From this carefully selected group of dogs, the modern Alabai has inherited its fantastic working abilities, appearance and personality that make it one of the most impressive Molossers in the world.

Over the years, some specialized crosses were established, such as the powerful and fast hunting variety known as the Gayyn, which is a cross between an Alabai and the Tazi, or the type known as Hunnush, achieved by introducing wolf blood into the Chokcha. While these crosses were quite common, they weren't allowed to be bred back into the Alabai bloodlines in Turkmenistan, but were regularly sold to visitors from Russia and neighbouring regions, where they influenced other varieties of the Central Asian Shepherd Dog. To this day, the most respected representatives of the C.A.O. are said to come from Turkmenistan, but in its homeland, the mighty Alabai is viewed as more than just a type of the popular Russian breed and is on its way to a possible separate recognition, which it very much deserves. Although it is fairly popular to use the name "Alabai" when describing the C.A.O. in the West, it is simply incorrect, because the Turkmen Volkodav is not just a sub-type of the Central Asian Ovcharka, but is in fact its pure ancestor. Some Alabai enthusiasts would even go as far as saying that the C.A.O. is a type of Alabai and not the other way around.

As is the case with some other working Molosser breeds, the Turkmen Alabai still participates in fighting tournaments in Asia, which are more than just dog-fights organized for entertainment, but are actually held for testing of the dogs' strength, courage and skills. Only the strongest specimens that have proven themselves in conflicts with other Volkodavs, wolves and bears are allowed to breed and pass their genes onto the next generation. These methods have been successful for many centuries, but unfortunately in recent years a number of unpure dogs has been encountered, valued simply for their fighting skills and not for their livestock guarding abilities or correct temperament and health, which is a sign of the westernization of the region and the loss of traditional values. This is endangering the purity of the Alabai breed, which has already suffered enough from matings with the modern C.A.O. and its cousins from Iran, Uzbekistan and other neighbouring regions.

This is an even-tempered, intelligent and loyal dog, protective of its owner, but not at all vicious or overly aggressive towards strangers. Calculated, noble and obedient, it responds well to training and makes an amenable companion for experienced owners. Although it is gentle with children, docile and generally well-behaved, the Turkmen Volkodav still requires early socialization and responsible handling around other dogs. The Alabai is a well-boned, muscular and agile mastiff, with a large head, powerful muzzle and strong neck. Wide-chested, straight-backed and long-legged, this is a resilient and athletic Moloss, well-adapted to the harsh climates of its native country and long working hours of guarding livestock. Sadly, while powerful, a fair number of representatives, most notably those from modern fighting lines, have poor pigmentation and bad hips. The ears are carried low and are usually cropped. The majority of working examples have docked tails, but unaltered dogs can be seen on occasion. Two main types of the Alabai are the heavy mastiff variety known as Chokcha and the leaner shepherd type called Koyuntchi, both of which can be found within the same litter.

The coat is short, thick and densely undercoated, naturally becoming longer during the winter months. Although the most valued colouring has traditionally been uniform white, the Turkmen Wolfdogs can also be bicoloured, always white-based with markings of cream, fawn, brown, grey and black shades. Average height is around 32 inches, but smaller specimens exist.

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