Friday, 10 October 2014

A slippery slope comparison between a GP and a Sarplaninac

So often the question arises;
what are some of the biggest differences between certain breeds of LGD?
These questions are tough to answer!
Not only is it  difficult to compare each breed,
but one really also needs to take into account;
  the experience level of the owner,
or the experience the owner has in working with LGD,
 or, even livestock knowledge.

Temperament is so difficult to define,
we could easily get lost  in the semantics, the words and definitions.
So finding the correct wording or even scale to define qualities such as aggression level, bonding, proximity to stock etc
adds another dimension to making a fair comparison.

Temperament consists of a balance of various traits, that defines the job a LGD needs to do.
For each person, that job varies.

 Each person works and raises their dogs in a different way,
some people find training a LGD a  little easier than others,
and this certainly affects how we view the dogs.

Our own bias makes comparing a difficult task as we lean in a certain direction or value a certain trait higher.

Understanding these factors, makes making comparisons a tricky business.

 Gross generalisations is of course,  not really the “right” thing to do,
for every generalisation one makes,
hundreds of exceptions will  be found.

Coppinger, in his early study of LGD tried to do a breed comparison,
the USDA is now  testing various breeds in an attempt to quantify certain characteristics of certain breeds to the task of protecting livestock from wolves.

I do believe the general rule of thumb is:
 if you look at the map of Europe and move from west to east,
the breeds tend to get harder the further East you go.

Why would this be?
Perhaps it has to do with the number of years that the wolf has been extirpated in certain countries!
It is only since the 1990’s that wolves have really started drifting from Italy back into the French Pyrenean Mountains,  with an estimated 2005 population of about 90.
Many of the Great Pyrenees dogs have not seen or faced a wolf for generations and generations in their home country.
Most have probably not even smelt a wolf or a bear,
the nurturing nature  has probably been selected for over aggressiveness toward predators,
simply due to the lack of predator pressure for many generations.

 Italy has been a stronghold for wolves in Europe when many other countries had extirpated them.
In 2006 the estimated population of wolves in Italy was about 500.
The Maremma would rate higher on my scale for protectiveness and aggression than the GP.

The Swiss Alps may be home to just a handful of wolves.
In Romania, further east the wolf population rises to 2500 animals and Russia with its huge land mass has
25 000-30 000 wolves,
and is home of the Ovcharkas.
Canada has estimated population 52,000-60,000 wolves,
and the USA has, in the lower 48: 5368 gray wolves and in Alaska 7 700- 11 200
( US Fish and Wildlife stats 2012).

I have not even taken into account any other predators such as the brown bear or lynx.
The predator density will  play a big role in the selection of aggression and ferocity of LGD.

I do believe, it is primarily, the wolf,
 that has shaped the evolution of our LGD.

So, here is the disclaimer before I make a generalised comparison between the Sarplaninac and the great Pyrenees Dog.
 All I say here is MY opinion, based on my own bias, experience and preconceived ideas.
This is made from my experience, with dogs I know
and does not reflect every Sarplaninac nor every Great Pyranees dog.
There is no statistical logic in any of my comparisons!

(It is also hard to make comparisons when you have a huge population of GPs
and a handful of working sarplaninacs). 

Nothing is intended to insult or be hurtful,
as I said, for every generalisation made,
 there are, always exceptions to the rule.

So this is what I think and I know it is a very slippery slope to go down..

What would be the biggest differences between a GP and a Sarplanianc?

In a random order:
Maybe a bit larger
Medium to large
Mostly white
Mostly grey
Nurturing to livestock
Aggression towards predators
Ease to train
Low to medium
Medium to high
Suspicion of strangers
Low to Med
Med to high
Easy to train to fences
Intelligence ( tricky)
Conflicts with predators/success rate:
I would put my money on a shar.
Low to Med
Rough with stock in training period
Health status
Med to high

So, these are just a few of the parameters I looked at ( I am sure there are a whole lot more...).

 I personally believe there are enough breeds to select from,
to find, the right breed for your operation.
I am not really a believer in cross breeding,
as I cannot understand the logic behind it,
given you have a choice and opportunity to various breeds.

If a certain breed is not suitable;
 due to its body type, or coat length or working style or aggression level,
then perhaps,
 the breed you are looking at,
 is not the right breed for you.

Cross breeding to tone up or tone down a breed is senseless.
Genetics is never 50%,
you never get that perfect blend of characteristics!

 If you are on a small holding, are dealing with low predator pressures, have young kids on a mixed small livestock operation a GP may be exactly what you need.

If you are on a range situation , you may prefer the Akbash.

Akbash in Canada
You may need more athleticism, so take a better look at an Anatolian.

If  your climate is hot and you prefer a shorter coat,
then a Kangal maybe the perfect fit for you.

Kangal dog that we imported to Canada clearing a fence, he rates high for athleticism!
If your predator load is higher and you need a little more force, combined with a closer bonding type of dog, then a Maremma may be the right choice for your operation.

High predator load, with possibilities for conflicts, then perhaps a higher drive Sarplanianc is the dog for you.

Dealing with domestic dogs as predators or with human thieves perhaps the CAS should be a consideration?

Availability is also an issue, perhaps only certain breeds  are readily available and you may just have to make do with what you have.

So many breeds, so many differences, so many choices!
Our Sarplanianc Fena

The choice of breed, depends on so many factors; how your operation is run, set up, size, livestock.
 Perhaps the most important  in your decision making process,
 is the affinity you have for a certain breed.
 If you do not like the breed to start with,
 the chances of you making it work will be less.

I like the medium size, the strong will, the balanced body, the grey rough coat, suitability to our climate and  the activity level of the sarplaninac.

Despite the sar being high drive, and having a higher aggression temperament,
 they are balanced and they know when to use it.

Within our operation, and predator pressure,
the sarplaninac is the “right” dog for us.
I am positive that  there are at least 5 other breeds that would suit us just fine,
but right now,
this is the breed for us.

Sarplaninac Lucy running off to ward of a coyote.
Each breed brings a unique balance of “skills” to the proverbial table,
and to the discerning buyer,
the right breed is "out there"!

Sarplaninac is well equipped to deal with our Canadian winters.
While writing this, I realise,
 that there is a lot more to say about this topic
and a lot of information missing.

I think, I may revisit this topic sometime in the future.
Please feel free to share ideas and thoughts with me.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian Friends!


  1. Thanks for the comparison! Will look forward to further blogs on this topic :)

  2. Great article Louise! Thanks for sharing :)


  3. Thanks Louise, this was very well done.

  4. Beg to differ on your wolf numbers in the US the most conservative site I could find estimates at around 16,000. In addition, the USDA program is using only two or three breeds, I'm not sure what exactly they're trying to prove but when you limit a study in that way, it's difficult to really come to any kind of realistic conclusion. While pure breds have their place, LGD breeds are already becoming trendy and more and more are finding their way into the show rings, this will result in the same kind of mentality that turned Australian Shepherds, into big fuzzy balls of uselessness, and Siberian Huskies into fat, short legged little monstrosities. Not everyone is so naive as to think they will get a 50/50 result in a litter of cross breds, some are actually breeding to rid their purebred lines of structural issues such as straight shoulders and stifles, in some cases, that hybrid vigor that is either loved or hated depending on who you're talking to has it's place. As for this comparisons chart I guess it's your blog and you can say what you want but.....I'm not sure how in one comparison you can say the activity and patrolling behaviors of the Pyr is low and in the very next one, their roaming is high? You also state that they're more difficult to train to fences yet their athleticism is low, how do they get over the fences? Or am I misunderstanding your meaning?...also, if I can just paraphrase; you basically state that Pyrs are not as smart, tough, courageous, or able to win a conflict, as a Sarp, I'm so glad you qualified all of this with the statement that this was only based on your opinions, experiences, preconceived notions and biases! Finally I'm glad you mentioned the fact that there is so much more to explore here, as I imagine where the pup comes from, and how it's raised would change these characteristics as well.

    1. Thank you Hera for your wolf estimates, I have the following numbers of gray wolves taken from the US Fish and Wildlife (
      Lower 48: 5368 and Alaska 7 700-11 200. When writing this blog I was just thinking about the lower 48!
      I am not trying to "prove" anything, I am simply making a comparison of two breeds, this question I get asked almost daily, how I perceive the difference in breeds. I am not saying that one breed is better than another, but am saying that different situations may require a different dog. I clearly stated that this was my opinion based on dogs I know, and that is why I said it was a slippery slope to go down. Comparing breeds is tough and we can only base it on what we know personally. I think the Great Pyranees is one of the dogs that has changed the West. Great Pyranees are known for being "disapyr", roaming is very different to patrolling a sheep pasture. Yes, they are difficult to train to fences, they generally do not jump over fences but crawl under, between and slide through tiny holes. They are Houdini when it comes to finding a hole. When you paraphrase me you exclude all the disclaimers I make, you exclude that I have stated that this is just my opinion and my experience of the dogs I know and from people who I have spoken to. I have spoken to people who have GPs that roam, I have spoken to others about the lower activity level when it comes to GPs. I know for a fact that there are GP's who are as fierce and protective as some other breeds, just as I know of some shars who will never make a working dog in any way or from. There is a lot to explore. When people ask me for my opinion on something, it is my prerogative to give them that, my opinion. When I get asked at least once a week how a GP is in relation to an Anatolian and a shar, then this is what I say. That I write it down on my blog, is of course, for me to do. Perhaps the disclaimer note needs to be bigger, as I too realize that what I write here may not be the perception that another person has on that breed. I am not making a judgement call about each breed. I leave that up to the person deciding what breed suits their needs best.

  5. My Pyr has been an ideal guardian of her flock, warding off nightly coyotes and packs of dogs! She is as fierce as the the situation warrants and this is very typical of the breed.

    1. Deb, that is fantastic. Please do not misunderstand me, I am not saying that the GP is less than another breed. I think in most cases the GP is the ideal dog in a lot of circumstances.

  6. This is what I wrote "I'm not sure what exactly they're trying to prove but when you limit a study in that way, it's difficult to really come to any kind of realistic conclusion." I was referring to your statement about the USDA so I'm a little confused as to why you might think that statement was about you? In addition, I specifically mentioned the fact that it IS your blog, and that I was glad you put the disclaimer this specifically is what I wrote "I'm so glad you qualified all of this with the statement that this was only based on your opinions, experiences, preconceived notions and biases!" Makes me wonder if you even read my entire post or did you just skim over it, make assumptions as to what I was saying? Or maybe this is just a language barrier thing, as I see you responded to another poster by saying "I am not saying that the GP is less than another breed." I guess you mean not less than another breed in barking, escaping, or availability, (those in addition to nurturing) were the only characteristics you listed as "high" in the GP. So in your opinion, are there situations in which these characteristics are desirable or something one should look for in an LGD? Just a thought but, if you don't like a breed own that, at least an honest opinion is something to respect. Don't bash the breed out of one side of your mouth and then say you're not bashing that breed out of the other for crying out loud, that's just insincere!

    1. 1. I did not understand that you meant the USDA study, I do not know what that want to prove, you will have to ask them. I did not think it was about me, I was confused what you wanted to know about "proving"..
      2.Yes, I did read your comment, but your comments made me wonder if you had actually read the blog rather than skimming over it, I decided to clarify it again.
      3. If you decided to paraphrase what YOU regard as the worst characteristic of a certain breed and then compare it to the best of another breed, you are doing the injustice to the breed, not me. I think I gave a pretty balanced view. Yes, barking in our situation would be very valuable, but would maybe not be appreciated as much in an area with neighbors closer by. The positives and or negatives about a certain breed is per situation different.
      4. You seem to think that availability is a negative characteristic, and barking. Well, I disagree, but it really is dependent on the situation.
      5. I think it is pretty positive to have a high nurturing capability in the GP, and pretty negative if I think a young shar might roughhouse with stock more so. As, I said plucking our singular characteristics is not what I intended, rather evaluate a breeds suitability to a livestock operation by looking at the sum of all the values ( and more..).
      6. You seem to think this comparison is about which breed is better. Well, it is not! It is about which breed is better suited to a certain livestock operation.
      7. Now where, ever have I said I dislike a breed, so I have nothing that I have to "own". I believe, that their is a breed for every situation and people need to be more aware about what they need and require.

      So, in conclusion, I think I have given a balanced version of how I see things.If you do not like it, that is fine. If you feel I have not represented the GP in fairness, then that is fine too. Many other people have read this and have felt it was balanced, they understand that the ideal dog for a given situation is balance of all the different traits, it includes good things and bad things about both breeds. So, what if I think the shar is tougher than a GP? Your experience may be different and that is fine too. I take offence to you saying I am "bashing" the breed.

  7. I enjoyed this blog and found it informative. I think one big thing that makes this type of comparison so difficult is the amount of variation within the breeds. Individual dogs within a breed can be widely disparate on any of the characteristics mentioned.
    Also I read an article not long ago about researchers testing the effectiveness of GP's running bears off of land in I think Norway. First they sent them to take test from people who train service and police dogs, the GP's failed miserably. Then they patrolled with the dogs on leads and again they failed miserably. Then on the advice of the dogs owner they let them loose. Whoa!! Entirely different dogs all of a sudden.
    The point being even what you have observed may not be accurate in a different situation.
    You have a wonderful and informative blog. Thank you.

  8. I found you article informative ever since I read Cat Ukbit's book (spelling?) I have been fascinated reading about LBP dogs. I remember once as a Vet Tech having to deal with a Maremma who was a HOUSE PET for some crazy reason -stupid breeder should not have sold a dog to this person and we could not get near this dog & the husband was afraid of the dog. I couldn't help think why is there such a dog like this? Who breeds for this type of mentality? Now I know.. I have never even heard of a Sharplanic breed and sorry if I spelled it wrong, are they distantly related to Ovcharkas? They look similar. As i said I enjoyed the article & would love to read others just to learn more about ALL these breeds. There are so many factors besides breeds , though there can be a huge variance within a breed, so I personally think genetics and how the dogs are trained and raised have alot to do with their performance ..But then again if the fire & desire isn't there no training in the world will.

  9. Wow, I love browsing through this blog and finding all the "older" posts that I missed! Very, very well done. I've never owned a Sarplaninac before but I think you did pretty fair justice to the GP. I know each dog is different (speaking from experience!), but you did a great job of breaking each breed into its separate characteristics, based on your experience. I agree -- the GP's I know are not what I would call "high energy" dogs, but they are EXPERTS at getting out of the puniest holes and we always struggle with roaming.
    One question, would you rate the Kangal at a higher intelligence, stamina, and drive than the Sarplaninac, based on your experience? I have only worked with two Kangals here on our sheep ranch, and they blew all our GP's out of the water with those three characteristics. They are an amazing, gorgeous, but very challenging breed, in my opinion...the two I worked with were well-trained, fantastic guardians but also got a thrill out of trying to outsmart me...far more than our GP's ever did/do. Just curious?

    Thanks for the interesting and thought-provoking post.


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