Both the Central Asian Ovcharka and the Caucasian Ovcharka borrowed from the North Caucasus dogs to gain bulk, which is why both breeds have a more beefed-up appearance than the landraces from which they originate.
Certain characteristics of the Armenian Gampr helped make the Caucasian Ovcharka what it is today, but the Caucasian Ovcharka is not a Gampr any more than the Central Asia Ovcharka is a native Tajik Shepherd Dog of Central Asia. As is the nature of a landrace, whose borders are somewhat porous, the Gampr and its neighbors have always benefited from occasional fresh inclusions of neighboring aboriginal dog genetics. This is normal for a landrace where the culture is seasonally nomadic. It is not appropriate nor helpful to include modern breeds such as the Caucasian Ovcharka or Central Asian Ovcharka, as selection criteria and breed development have not been consistent with the natural pressures that created the landraces. Change the selection criteria, and you change the breed.
There are many subtle characteristics we can see in dogs from the north Caucasus, Armenia and Central Asia that indicate what breed or breeds they actually are.
Take coat, for instance. The length of the Caucasian Ovcharka’s coat comes from the Gampr, but the density of the coat comes from the North Caucasus dogs. A Gampr coat consists of a very soft undercoat, like rabbit fur, with a long outer coat of guard hairs. The guard hairs are often twice the length of the undercoat, or more. The undercoat sheds easily on a Gampr, sliding out between the guard hairs in thick mats. On longer-coated dogs, the soft undercoat behind the ears sometimes creates a very small mat that does not shed until the dog scratches at it, but the rest of the coat sheds cleanly. There are short-coated and long-coated Gamprs, but still the looseness and the length difference are present.
The density of the coat of the Caucasian Ovcharka is from the North Caucasus dogs. The northern dogs have a much denser undercoat that is more even in length over the whole body, and less differentiation in length between areas of the body, as well as between the undercoat and outercoat. Shedding is often in smaller tufts, but follows the same shedding pattern as the Gampr – from the bottom line up, and from the front of the flanks to the back, head and tail last.
Skull shape is a metric by which scientists often determine species and their relationships. In studying evolution of species, relationships between populations and how to identify any individual skull, the shape of areas such as eye sockets is accepted as a reliable indicator of species. If peer-reviewed scientific publications accept this, we should as well. As can be seen in the two photos above, the North Caucasus dogs have a slightly more level placement of their eyes, and more cheek muscle. The Armenian dogs have a more streamlined head structure, eyes slightly angled upward and mouth less prominent. These characteristics can only be present if the skull is shaped to make them this way – and a different shape to the skull that is consistent throughout indicates a difference in genetics. Therefore, separate breeds.
In Armenia, dogs from Central Asia and from the North Caucasus are often called “Aziat,” which means “Asian,” even though the North Caucasus dogs are not actually central Asian. The Central Asian Ovcharka borrowed heavily from the North Caucasus. Both the Central Asian Ovcharka and North Caucasus dogs have a more level eye. The placement of the eyes and angle of the corners are a recognizable difference between Gamprs and other regional dogs. Additionally, many of the northern dogs and crosses of these have a more rounded skull. The Alabai, a type of Central Asian, usually has less rounded cheek muscle than the northern Caucasus dogs. The photos below show the more prominent cheekbone below the eye on most Turkmen Alabai dogs.
As these examples show, the various regional types of dogs from the Caucasus and Central Asia have characteristics, from coat length and texture to eye placement and shape, that clearly differentiate them. But there has always been, as is appropriate for landraces, genetic exchange among the regions. This leads to some blending of characteristics.
A little blending is historically correct. Shepherds move their animals frequently during summer grazing, and sheep and dogs are sold and traded seasonally. This prevents genetic bottleneck and ensures variety, which helps a landrace adapt to changes.
There have been many examples of this with Gamprs over the centuries: Before the current animosity between Armenians and Azeris, the latter brought their sheep to graze in the summer pastures of eastern Armenia. At that time during the mid-1900s, they bought many dogs to take home. There are historic sheep routes from the south Caucasus (Armenia and Azerbaijan) to the North Caucasus during which puppies and breedings were exchanged. Iran has been a consistent, heavy buyer of sheep, and consequently many Gamprs went south as well.
And the largest cluster of dogs “leaving Armenia” were the dogs of what is now eastern Turkey. Historically Armenian for many thousands of years – what is now included in Anatolia, Kars, the slopes of Mount Ararat and Van – these areas included thousands of Armenian dogs who were left behind during the genocide.
This lends credence to the concept often touted by breeders of fighting dogs, that the dogs of the surrounding countries were all Armenian originally, so why not use them?
Gampr puppies. The breed is at a crossroads in defining type. Photo: Rohana Mayer
But currently, the amount of genetic exchange between areas has been on overdrive, largely driven by the demand for fighting dogs. Breeding for fighting is competitive, and people import and trade all types, trying to create something better than all the rest. The influx of other types into Armenia has made it very difficult to find the historically accurate shepherd’s dog. Many of the shepherds themselves either inbreed in a closed pack to avoid contamination, outcross to fighting types to get away from the inbreeding, or carelessly let their Gamprs cross with random village dogs in the winter. Only a few shepherds actually manage their Gampr packs carefully. Also, the breeders of fighting dogs buy out many female puppies as mates for their large gladiator dogs, depriving the Gampr gene pool of many pure females, and adding back the mixed dogs.
Because this is a landrace, perhaps this is just the next stage for the Gampr. The historical boundaries are blurred now, travel is easier and quicker between areas, and the desires of buyers are more focused on might over utility.
If left to unravel and re-establish without interference, the Armenian Gampr would likely, eventually, settle into a type very similar to its historic version. The terrain is rugged and dog breeding fads change so rapidly that each passing preference in breeding and selection has limited time to make its mark before the next fad arrives. But the historic genome, and the last few dogs that have not joined the homogenization in progress, are a genetic artifact and a beautiful reflection of the history of the Armenian culture and landscape from which they originated. They do not need to be perfected; they have been molded to the rigors of physical and mental demands of a complex job. They have no extraneous characteristics needing to be stripped away down to the bare necessities for their survival under harsh conditions. They are the epitome of their function, derived from thousands of years of adaptation. To lose this work of art would be tragic.
Separate efforts underway in the United States and Armenia have the common goal of preserving the Gampr. As the very definition of the Gampr is complex, it may be difficult for these groups from opposite sides of the world to learn how to best support each other’s efforts. The Armenian club is primarily working with the Gelkheght, or wolfhound, variety, while the club in the United States is aiming to import and support breeding of hovashoon, shepherd’s dogs. The disparity among types has led to some confusion, but both groups are opposed to inclusions of more external genetics - Armenia has been flooded with them enough already. Both groups have a passion to protect the remaining gene pool, in different ways. This common goal and love for the breed will continue to help protect what is left. And hopefully the original Armenian Gampr will continue to be a resource for centuries to come.
Rohana Mayer is president of the Armenian Gampr Club of America.
By Aleksandr Molodkin
The Gampr is a dog with a strong instinct for self-preservation. Protective of his home, protective of his cattle, he is able to fight the wolf alone, and even a cheetah, and anyone who would encroach on the protected object. At the same time, he is a true friend of man, exhibiting absolute friendliness toward him.
The Gampr has a large, well-developed head, with no prominent cheekbones. It is very impressive and I can even say beautiful, with a broad skull and a smooth transition from forehead to muzzle, powerful jaws, and beautiful smooth forehead, almost parallel to the bridge of the nose. The eyes are rather small, almond-shaped, slightly slanting and deep set. The serious expression in the eyes is immediately apparent, even in young puppies. The teeth are strong, large and white, located close to each other, in a scissors bite. Ears are cropped.
The neck is of medium length, strong, muscular and powerful. The chest is deep and wide. The back is straight. The tail is raised over the back when walking, is not docked and has a crescent or ring shape.
The length of the Gampr’s coat varies from two to six centimeters, depending on climatic conditions. Preference is given to fawn, sable and a dark mask, and offal and brown are not acceptable. Movement is straight and free, with front and rear legs moving parallel.
The Gampr is a multi-functional, working dog – he’s a wolfhound, he’s a warrior, he is a hunter, a watchman and a guardian. And, if necessary, he is even a lifesaver in snowdrifts. Very independent, intelligent and strong-willed, he is affectionate toward people and considers himself a member of the family.
The Armenian Gampr Wolfhound was recognized by the International Kennel Union in February 2011. This was due to the long and laborious 15-year work headed by Violetta Gabrielyan, president of Kennel Union of Armenia, which has registered about 1,500 Gampr dogs. I think there are at least as many more who live in remote villages, tied up in backyards behind houses.
Kennel and Kennel-Sports Union of Armenia,
Chairperson of the Commission K. Petrosyan,
Secretary L. Kamsaryan
The modern Gampr has changed little in the history of its existence in Armenian Highlands. It is one of few natural breeds not subjected to hard selection by phenotype. They preserved the genetic variation that other dog breeds had initially. This genetic variation was promoted by spontaneous and, in some cases, intentional periodic matings with locally indigenous wolves (still present). Gamprs differ by their vital capacity, independence, mind, strong self-preservation instinct, ability of the trustworthy defense and protection of livestock, and exclusive friendliness to humans.
This mountain dog’s head is large, well outlined and well-developed but lacks prominent cheekbones. The back is wide, straight, muscular and strong. At the withers, the height in male dogs is 67 centimeters (27 inches) or more, and in female dogs is 63 centimeters (25 inches) or more. Weight corresponds to the total size of the dog, and usually varies from 45-50 to 70-75 kilograms (118- to 165 lb).
The Armenian Gampr has a well-developed undercoat, in order to protect it under harsh conditions. Depending upon the coat length, there are two types: long-haired, with long top hairs, and short-haired, with dense, relatively short hair. A brown or piebald coat is undesirable according to the breed standard.
Head: The head is relatively large and impressive with extremely powerful jaws. Skull is more than 50% of the head’s length. The flews are thick, tight and dry. The top of the skull slopes gently to the nearly-parallel muzzle with no marked stop.
Ears: Top of ears set slightly above the eye level. Not so close as to give a ‘pinched’ look. If uncropped, ears should be hanging, triangular, not overly long.
Eyes: Almond shaped, not bulging or recessed very deeply. The gaze is intelligent, confident and serious. Even young puppies demonstrate a serious and stern gaze typical of the breed. Pigment of skin around eyes is black.
Fault: white or pink pigment of eyelids. Entropian eyelid. Blue eyes.
Minor fault: excessive whites of eyes showing.
Teeth: White, strong, well developed, closely set, meeting in a scissor bite.
Note: individual dogs with a lighter, narrower jaw shall be bred to dogs with a heavier lower jaw.
Muzzle: Muzzle is less than 50% of the length of the head. Lips and nose have black/dark skin pigment. Muzzle should be set on skull so that entire shape is smooth and relatively continuous. A triangular top view is preferred.
Neck: Strong, well-muscled, moderately arched preferred over straight, no shorter than the length of the head.
Body: Long, the index is 108-112%. The longish shape is mostly made up by the chest, and not the loin.
Chest: Broad and deep, slightly rounded, should descend below the elbow. The correct placement of the elbow is at the level of the soft cartilage where the rib bones curve downward, but not below the rib cage. Ideal elbow placement is on soft portion of ribs.
Fault – elbow above or below the softer rib cage section.
Flank: Continues the chest line, tucked-up.
Withers: Moderately pronounced.
Back: Broad, straight, muscled and powerful. Level preferred in adults. Young dogs may be higher in hips than withers.
Loin: Wide and muscular. Narrower-loined dogs shall only be mated with stronger-loined dogs.
Croup: Long, broad and level, or just slightly sloped.
Tail: Set high, carried low in repose. When agitated or showing interest, the tail is carried high, in a curve or scythe-like.
Note: A dog with a tightly curled tail should not be bred to the same.
Forequarters: Straight and parallel. The shoulder blades are long and oblique, angulated at 108-110 degrees. The forearms are straight, powerful and parallel. The pasterns are long and well angulated.
Hindquarters: The thighs are long, thick and muscled. The upper thigh is the same length as the lower thigh, the stifle is well bent. The hock joint is well defined. The hock is strong and perpendicular to the ground when viewed from the rear.
Fault: straight stifle, sickle hocks, straight knee/’peg-leg’ when walking.
Paws: Round, strong, compact, with elastic and soft pads.
PLUS: extra consideration shall be given to dogs who show longer tufts of hair between paws, especially with downy undercoat-type fur between toes.
Gait: Agile, smooth and balanced. The forearms and hind legs move in parallel.
Color: Any color is permissible; however skin of the nose and eye lids is black, except liverwurst.
Coat: Shorter on the muzzle, face, flat portion on sides of shoulder blades and hindquarters. Some feathering on legs and thighs. Double coat. Outer coat is longer on the neck, chest, and over the withers and down the line of the back, by a visibly noticeable amount. The undercoat in winter should be well developed to protect the dog from the elements. Coats should shed cleanly at least once/year, and be able to be pulled smoothly from the remaining coat without excessive matting or struggle in grooming. Undercoat is softer and finer than outercoat.
Fault: inability to shed cleanly, matting up and needing assistance for shedding.
Size: Minimum 27 inches (67 cm) at the withers for males and 25(63 cm) inches for females. The weight should be according to the size, at least 106lbs( 45kg) for females and at least 165lbs( 70 kg) for males by three years of age. Average weight is 118 lbs (51 kg) females, 177 lbs males.(75kg), (when proportioned parameters may be higher). Faults in addition to above: Any significant deviation from minimum size parameters quoted in this standard.
Light-colored eye lids, lips or nose.
Excessively long, short or narrow muzzle.
Protruding or bulging eyes.
Lacking sufficient angulation at hindquarters and in hock.
Sway or roach back, long loin, short croup.
Any other bite but scissors.
(feet not aligned parallel to body.
: Markedly timid or aggressive behavior.
Lack of double coat, lack of undercoat December-May.
Bilateral or unilateral cryptorchidism.
Blindness or deafness.
Lack of difference in coat length over withers, neck and chest.