Willis, owner Darren Flagg
The fables of the Armenian Gampr dog that have existed for millennia are based on mostly reality but with a little extra emphasis due to ancient religions and folktales being handed down through the generations. Most of that emphasis is placed on their protective abilities and as most old fables go, they are wonderfully colorful describing the magical abilities of the great and powerful Gampr. Perhaps the most known fable is Zangi Zrangi.
No one today thinks they own a real life Aralez but often there are misconceived notions about Armenian Gamprs, about how they work individually and within a pack, or breed capabilities, which can result in an inappropriate expectation of them and a likely disappointing outcome for an owner. One of the common misconceptions is that Gamprs are guard dogs. They are not guard dogs in the sense of standing guard and attacking intruders on a whim, but the full answer to the mentality is more complex. Guard dog and Guardian are often used interchangeably, as if they both describe the same thing, but that is not the case.
We do expect Gamprs to guard, in some ways. We expect them to keep us safe, which means many different things inclusive of guarding: keeping order, being watchful, warmth, and having a caring nature. The Armenian Gampr instinctively keeps order, keeps watch mostly during the times we’re asleep, and prevents us and ours from harm.
In our breed, priorities lean toward 100% safety within our own family and livestock, over physical harm toward Intruders, animal or human. And we expect our dogs to make a logical decision regarding these, what threatens them, and to what degree and in what manner each threat should be stopped. This is not the actions of a guard dog but rather being a nurturing, decision making guardian.
Shepherd's Gampr watching over his flock in Armenia
Guard vs Guardian
inherent or commanded
Guard dogs are used to guard property, and watch for unwanted or unexpected human or animal intruders. Some may be discerning so that it does not attack the resident people of the house. The expected behavior is often that a guard dog breed should take on and stop anything that is an intruder, and they are generally not expected to have an attitude of taking care of young creatures, of consistently remembering people who have been met before and self restraint can be an issue. Guard dog breeds do not typically inherently possess the nature to nurture young animals, find those which are lost or make exceptions for children or elderly.
Guard dogs who have been further trained as Personal Protection Dogs are deployed to attack those who trespass onto their property. These dogs are generally not used to instill a level of fear in a person and often they will not bark when an intruder is present. Due to the aggressive behavior and lack of social skills, they typically do not make good family pets and can be aggressive around anyone except the handler or owner. These dogs will also attack, or bite, on command, which is one thing that is impossible to train an Armenian Gampr to do, as they are the ones who independently decide what level of action is needed in the face of danger, not the owner.
When a dog is expected to have guard dog behaviors, this becomes the priority over the rest of the nurturing qualities. Livestock guardian dogs should value nurture over annihilate and intelligent decision making and discernment over obeying commanded.
Bitework on command - this dog does not make its own decisions, rather it is under the handler's control at all times.
A livestock guardian is expected to know or assess if this particular animal is going to hurt my charges, is this intruder someone I’ve known before and did my owner likes, is this something good to eat or do I just kill it, chase it away, call out the rest of the pack, harass it until it leaves, or merely observe it as something that is no threat or needs temporary care while it’s near me. We expect a lot from our livestock guardian dogs that is not expected from what we refer to as guard dog breeds.
One Armenian gampr alone is not going to take on and cause physical harm to a predator as much as it would in a whole pack of Armenian Gamprs. An outright attack may not be appropriate, and determining this is a matter of calculated courage, intelligence, leaving charges vulnerable, and the ability to prioritize decisions. Instead, a single dog alone makes an individual decision based on cues from the owner, instinct, and learned observation.
However, if this dog is in a pack, and it understands that there’s going to be enough members to not only have someone guarding close by their charges, but also have a group of them take down a threat, then by all means engage and stop or eliminate the threat. This is a group decision, made from all the factors above + peer pressure and shared adrenaline, strength, calculated abilities of the group, and knowledge of how others will behave within the pack.
Sandor, owner Catherine Salazar
The devolution of the Gampr breed in Armenia has resulted in very few remaining true aboriginal dogs as breeding for the fighting type dog has been highly favored instead. As described on our Gampr, Not Gladiator page, dogs are being bred for increased size and aggression for fighting and also for the larger sized wow factor, as they are highly sellable. The most notable breeds used to create these larger, aggressive, more powerful offspring are many different guard dog type breeds or a mix thereof.
When these outside breeds are mixed with the Gampr, the mentality changes and these offspring are no longer Gampr. On the surface we might observe more ferocious behavior, more readiness to engage a threat, but this does not mean they still retain the full set of characteristics that we must have in our livestock guardian dogs. These dogs may function as a guard dog due to the other breeds in the dog's particular ancestry, but they are no longer mentally fit to perform the duties of a livestock guardian dog. Incorporating anything from modern breeds into the gene pool of our landrace dogs deletes these characteristics that have been selected for over the last few thousand years.
These dogs are then falsely labeled as Gampr and some of the offspring of which are sold by these well known breeders to unsuspecting buyers in the US and abroad. The breeders do not disclose full information, that the parents of these dogs are not working with livestock and are typically either permanently living on a very short chain or they are housed in a small concrete and rebar cell their whole lives. Since their behavior is aggressive or unpredictable, they cannot be trusted to be a free part of village life.
Another similar but more sinister on-going problem is that there are specific, well known breeders in Armenia who do not tell their buyers the true origins of the puppies they are selling. They will will show other dogs with livestock and claim they are the parents instead. Unfortunately the buyers never get to see the real parents to evaluate their working and behavioral traits.
These mixed dogs do not have the same trusted behavioral traits we desire in our breed and are often troublemakers in their new homes, resulting in some being regularly getting dumped in L.A. area shelters. These practices continue the devolution of the breed and cause direct harm to the reputation of the true Armenian Gampr livestock guardian dogs. This is especially concerning after the last two years many of these dogs have been purchased by farm owners in the US under false pretenses.
Mixed fighting puppies with incorrect structure and physical appearance, most noticeable is the leg placement and size, belonging to a well known kennel breeder in Armenia. Popular guard dog breeds are used for increasing size and and modifying behavior.
Mixed fighting dogs in a different breeding kennel
In the sheep camps of Armenia we can find some of these fighting dogs but as they get older, beyond puppy stage, they are typically chained at all times. Instead of doing the work intelligently, they start fights with the rest of the pack, harass, wound or kill the livestock and cause general disorganization in the whole area.
These dogs are then bred to the only female at camp which produces the xxl puppies that can be sold for a quick, large profit. One or two males of the litter are sometimes kept in hopes that they become good livestock dogs. If they do a decent job when incorporating them into the pack, they are generally larger, more fierce and most dominant at the time of breeding than the original Armenian Gampr males, continuing the endless downward cycle of volatile genetics and inappropriate behavioral traits within the gene pool.
A descendant of Barbos, a well-known fighting dog, in a remote sheep camp. He is chained because he's too aggressive, but females are brought to him for breeding.
A pup from the Barbos descendent, working as a young dog in camp. He may work out for a year or two, possibly even siring pups, but then perhaps be abandoned later if he becomes too aggressive.
For the purposes of working with and saving the ancient, original Armenian Gampr, and the guardian behavioral instincts they are most notable for, we want precisely those lines of dogs who do not have any influx of aggressive, mixed dogs or those specific lines that have been selected for fighting. It is critical to continue to source and include these aboriginal dogs into our gene pool so that the appropriate behavioral traits and guardian instincts can carry forth and the breed is not completely bred out of existence.
In order to ensure this as best possible, working foundational Armenian Gamprs must be sourced from livestock operators or shepherds who seasonally graze their livestock in the mountains, where there are the natural threats and interactions of a pack with their flock and predators, strange humans coming and going, and children to care for as well as the livestock. In these situations it is where pack dynamics, movement, nurturing abilities and protective guardian instincts can be observed and evaluated for breed appropriateness and then carefully chosen as breeding prospects.
Because it isn't possible for buyers to do this themselves, in 2018 AGCA created a path of procurement free service for farmers, ranchers and homestead owners to safely buy a true Armenian Gampr puppy born to completely functional livestock working parents, direct from nomadic shepherds in Armenia. Only around 5% of the dogs regularly evaluated are approved after an in-depth, multipart investigation based on behavior, structure, physical appearance and movement. Only then are the offspring made available to the public and included in the AGCA Special Genetics Program.
Gampr in Armenia watching over his nomadic flcok