Kai and Gerda, photo by Ekaterine Kharitonova
The Armenian gampr is not a standardized breed, conforming to a specific look, color, or type specified by a prescriptive physical standard. Instead, the gampr is a landrace breed with a descriptive standard that describes the breed as it is instead of what current personal opinion may dictate.
A landrace, by definition, is a localized breed developed for a purpose and chosen for function, regardless of appearance. Over time and successive breedings, landraces tend to maintain a higher degree of genetic health and generally consistent and predictable function.
The concept of breed standardization applies to standardized breeds and not to Gamprs. This recent invention, within the last 150 years, is a specific, narrowly set description that a judge or breed club would use to decide if a particular dog is ideal for their breed. Armenian Gamprs have a different measure of inclusiveness that isn't based on a strict physical description. Being a landrace, any attempt at defining a certain physical standard would only narrow down the breed, creating the perfect atmosphere for genetic illness and would not reflect all of the historically accurate features of what is an Armenian Gampr. Any attempt to standardize the gampr breed would cause serious consequences.
Due to the ancient age of the breed, time has allowed several pockets of populations to differentiate themselves from the whole. To define and support all of the relevant characteristics for the Gampr, in all of the historically accurate applications, we have a three-way evaluation process: behavioral characteristics, physical and health characteristics are all investigated to maintain enough consistency but also retain all of the variable characteristics which make this breed so admirable and excellent. In addition, the history of the individual, the ancestors, and the use of the dog for the past several generations are also taken into account.
A gampr cannot be defined by just its behavior or only its physicality, color, or health. It is also essential to understand what is not a gampr, to be clear about what is.
Varied gampr phenotypes
Gamprs have strong, muscular bodies with large bone structure. The body is slightly longer than the height, with an index of 103-112%. The sexes are dimorphic, with the males significantly taller and with a larger cranium. It is often surprising how large their heads are compared to modern ‘pet’ dogs.
Traditionally, the ears on the gampr are trimmed at three days after birth, which is preferable for working dogs. At that time, it is mainly cartilage, and almost no bleeding occurs. The historical necessity was to prevent easy holds and resulting pain when defending livestock from predators. Most dogs are still used this way, and it can be a sensible thing to do, possibly even saving a dog's life if under heavy threat by wolves, mountain lions, or other large apex predators.
Roughly 15% of gamprs are born with a natural bobtail. This can be as short as two vertebrae or sometimes a 3/4 tail. Additionally, some gampr tails are cropped when the ears are trimmed.
Batir, 1997 Armenia
The thick coat of the gampr is excellent protection in all weather extremes. The outer hairs tend to be darker than the dense, downy undercoat. Shedding happens dramatically twice a year. The undercoat is shed in large patches, similar to a wild animal. The outer guard hairs, longer and thicker than the rest of the coat, do not shed as much as the undercoat.
Puppies are often born slightly darker than they grow to be as adults. The longer, shiny guard hairs are slower to grow than the downy undercoat, which usually becomes paler with age.
Any color is permissible except merle or blue. Blue eyes or eyes lacking dark eyeliner and pink noses are also not desirable due to a low coefficient of inbreeding. The gampr is a landrace with a healthy heterozygous genotype, so most double-recessive mutations have not yet appeared in the breed.
During the Soviet occupation era, a certain type of gampr was taken to the USSR Red Star Kennel to use for combining a mix of breeds to create larger, more aggressive breeds. They chose the larger, long-haired type and gave a false idea that smaller or liver color dogs were not true gampr and genetically faulted. Many people believed the unfounded rumor, and for generations to come, the liver colors were not popular or kept by many. Many shepherds, however, continued to work and use them like any other if one was born in their pack. In 2018, our Club founder, Rohana Mayer, visited Armenia to gather samples to develop the genetic profile and DNA. Genetic testing of a young liver female confirmed that this notion was indeed scientifically untrue and that liver color dogs are as healthy as any other. The liver female was free of all 167+ genetic conditions.
Beautiful long coated gampr in Armenia
Liver colored pup in center, with siblings
The Armenian gampr should move most frequently at an easy trot, during which the back stays level and the feet are placed in line with each other. This movement is economical, graceful, and structurally sustainable.
An unbalanced front-end width vs. back-end width can cause a rocking motion or add strain to the joints. When a dog has a very wide chest, the movement is more tiring, the weight rocks side to side, and the entire front assembly is subjected to physical strain. A more moderate chest width is most desirable, nearly matching the hips' width.
As shown in the photos below, in his working environment, the gampr movements should be fluid, stealthy, and silent. The dog will guard the perimeter, moving gracefully while watching over the charges under his care.
The Armenian gampr fits many roles, but its essential character is that of a livestock guardian dog. One of the most important differences in this breed is their independent mind; if they decide you need protection, they will protect you. Like other livestock guardian breeds, gamprs are not a breed one commands. The Armenian Gampr is not looking to its owner waiting on command, as it is a brilliant and confident dog capable of making its own decisions. Due to centuries of protecting their flocks, sometimes without their shepherd, Gamprs excel at independent thinking and intellect.
The instinct of a Gampr cannot be trained out of existence as it will always have a desire to patrol, protect, understand its surroundings and have a social order. The instinct to patrol will naturally express itself on a farm or large acreage. If the gampr is in an urban setting, it will need to walk around the neighborhood early in the morning and again in the evening, as the urge to patrol is strongest at dawn and dusk. A dog with a powerful urge to patrol may become slightly neurotic if there is no opportunity. Gamprs learn what is normal or not by observation and habit so, it regularly seeks to understand their surroundings by patrolling their property to know what is out of place. When something is abnormal, such as a visitor or a bag blowing in the wind, then the Gampr will suddenly become alert, stand guard and notify the owner in some way or directly confront the problem.
Gamprs have a powerful desire to love and be loved, especially to belong to their family. Unlike more domesticated breeds, who unthinkingly devote themselves to you without question, these dogs will think about it. The owner creates a relationship with the dog consistently. If the owner ignores the dog, the dog will begin to forget the owner. Somewhat like a good friendship, it must be kept up and nurtured, or the dog will find new, better friends.
For a family dog or guardian, the dog has to be included in a working relationship, not just put into a backyard or field with the assumption that it will function without emotional input or attachment. If the dog is to work as a flock guardian, it will need to get bond to its human family first then and animal family or stock. In Armenia, Gamprs excel as personal companions, property dogs, and livestock guardians. However, whatever the task, they need ample, open space for exercise and most importantly family companionship. Once the dog has decided they are an essential part of a family, that's where they stay and whom they will protect.
Bari, in Artsakh, prior to being imported to the US.
Photo by Tigran Grigoryan
Zoozoo and friend on the farm, Rosario Depew
Being a landrace, Gamprs have variation in physical looks due to regional influences from isolated pockets of Gampr populations years ago. Over the centuries, due to the nomadic nature of some people, these regionally distinctive types of Gampr were transported to other areas and blended in with other gene pools, dispersing the types all over historical Armenia. The dogs of Western Armenia, Eastern Armenia, and heavier types from northern areas, all have a slightly different look but otherwise fit the same description. Today, all types can be found all over Armenia and Artsakh.