The Armenian gampr is not a standardized breed, conforming to a certain look, color, or type specified by a prescriptive physical standard. Rather, the gampr is a landrace breed and has a descriptive standard which 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 is a 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 certain 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 standardizing the gampr breed would cause serious consequences.
Due to the very old age of the breed, time has allowed for several pockets of populations to differentiate themselves from the whole. In order 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 in order to maintain enough consistency but also retain all of the variable characteristics which make this breed so admirable and excellent. In addition to those, 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 very important 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 when compared other 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 today, 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 often are born slightly darker than they grow to be as an adult. The longer, shiny guard hairs are slower to grow in 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 of the 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 false idea that smaller or liver color dogs were not true gampr and somehow 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 female confirmed that this notion was indeed scientifically untrue and that liver color dogs are as healthy and true 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 width of the hips.
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 that 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 a command, as it is an extremely intelligent and confident dog that is 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, to understand its surroundings and have a social order. The instinct to patrol will express itself naturally on a farm or on 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 particularly strong 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 its surroundings by patrolling their property in order 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 very strong 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 the relationship with the dog, consistently. If the owner ignores the dog, the dog will begin to ignore the owner. Somewhat like a good friendship, it has to be kept up, nurtured, or the dog will end up finding new, better friends.
For a family dog / guardian, the dog has to be included in a working relationship, not just put into a back yard with the assumption that it will function without emotional input or attachment If the dog is put to work as a flock guardian, it will need to get to know its human and animal family, and particularly be involved with the new babies. In Armenia, Gamprs excel as personal companions and property dogs in addition to being livestock guardians but whatever the task may be, they do need large, open space for exercise and family companionship.
Gamprs have a tendency to create bonds with children and women first, and recognize the leadership within a family. This is also true for livestock, they will typically bond with lambs and kids first, and will therefore bond with the flock/family. Once the dog has decided that they are an important part of a family, that's where they stay and who 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.