András Kovács, DVM, Ph.D
Dr. Kovács, a veterinarian and multifaceted scientist (also historian and linguist) is currently engaged in chromosome research at Cornell University. The paper “The Kuvasz” formed the nucleus of his seminar on the breed given in Toronto on August 30th, 1988 and it is reprinted here with the author’s kind permission.
There are many ways for trying to determine the origin of a natural breed, but all of them have their limits. If more of these ways – like archeology, zoo-geography, classic and modern genetics, comparative linguistics and others – would trace back to the same time and area, it might provide a base for a scientific hypothesis.
Archeologists can find bones serendipitously or by systematic excavations, but those are often in poor condition and of limited number, representing different parts of the skeleton.
Statistical evaluation is needed to decide whether the bones of individuals of different ages and sexes represent one or more breeds (types), different hybrids or a mixture of these possibilities. It is false to trace back whole groups of recent breeds to single skulls found at different sites. Another problem is the differentiation of the earliest domesticated mammals from the wild ones.
The wolf was associated with man about 40,000 years ago and the dog was a domestic animal before 12,000 BC. This is the age of the “Palegawra dog” from Iraq which was of small size and strictly different from a wolf. The first dogs in that area were probably domesticated from the smallest subspecies; the Arabian wolf and they became even smaller. Fifty-three skull fragments of much larger dogs (almost the size of the European wolf) with very strong teeth, dating to 6,600 BC were found in northern Iraq. A few jaw fragments of similarly large dogs. (among an overwhelming majority of small ones, clearly for human consumption) have been found at the Iron Gate in Rumania and the time of their existence has been established as 5,400 to 4,600 BC.
Sculptures, drawings, paintings and mosaics picturing a wide variety of dogs were found in large numbers in Mesopotamia Egypt and in the territory of the Roman Empire and dogs are also mentioned in Roman literature. Columella, in the first century AD, described: “The shepherd prefers a white dog, because it is unlike a wild beast and sometimes a plain means of distinction is required in the dogs when one is driving off wolves in the obscurity of early morning or even as dusk, lest one strike a dog instead of a wild beast “.
Arthur Hammond in his 1988 article The Sheepguard Breeds” supposed the existence of a natural group of “flock guards” on the basis of great phenotypic similarity, the same use and originally confluent distribution stating that the whole group took its origin in Tibet being a descendent of the oldest known breed, the Tibetan Mastiff.
Comparison of modern genetic markers – chromosomes, nuclear and mitochondral DNA, blood types, hemoglobins, serum-proteins and enzymes – provides new tools for this kind of research. These characteristics have the great advantage of never being subject to artificial selection. The problem is that they can not be used if they lack polymorphism (occurrence of different forms, stages or types in individuals or in species. Ed.), as. All species of the subgenus Canis have the same karyotype (complement of chromosomes of an individual or of a species. Ed.) of 78 chromosomes without any convincing differences even by chromosome banding. Other factors being very polymorphic require the comparison of representative groups with statistical evaluation.
A mutation rate can be only estimated and frequencies may be shifted dramatically especially by bottlenecks’. New methods are elaborated continuously but one can compare populations only analyzed in the same way. E.g., the phenotypically very similar breeds of the Podolian group of cattle (Ukrainian grey, Hungarian grey and Maremma cattle) show strictly different blood-type alleles today From excavated bones only a few of these characteristics can be demonstrated. Wide studies of blood types of different dogs (including Hungarian) are in progress at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science, Uppsala.
“Follow the sheep” is another way to follow the flock guards. The first archeological sites where domestic sheep were found are also in northern Iraq and are dated from 9,000 BC.
Fig. 2. Archeological sites in western Asia from which there is evidence for the earliest domestication of animals, after Bőkőny, 1976. Map altered to show areas of certain evidence only, and to omit pigs. Ed.
Wild sheep of this area today have the same karyotype as all breeds of domestic sheep, but Asiatic wild sheep, east of Iraq, have different chromosome numbers.
Domestic sheep reached Asia Minor by 7,000 BC, East-, Middle and South Europe by 5,000 and Western Europe by 4,000 BC Domestic sheep were present in Turkestan in 5,000 BC.
As the dog was already domesticated at the time of the domestication of sheep and the predators (especially wolves, but also panthers and bears) were present, it seems to be evident that dogs were used for the defense of flocks in 9,000 BC in the territory of today’s Kurdistan and only later in other parts of Eurasia. These dogs evolved (selected by man, by wolves and by themselves) into larger animals to be able to match the wolf and later not only the small Southern Canis lupus arabs but even the much stronger European wolf (Canis lupus lupus) and other subspecies. The spreading of Kuvasz-sized dogs is identical with the spreading of domestic sheep both geographically and in time.
On the basis of archeological, geographical, cytogenetic (sheep) and morphological evidences it can be stated that the flock guardians of Eurasia are from the same stock, but their origin is not Tibet but the area of today’s Kurdistan. It may be supposed, too, that the Kurdish sheep guarding dog – living in the area of its origin – is the common ancestor of others, including the Tibetan Mastiff. It also means that the group of flock guards is probably at least 11,000 years old, existing long before written history. The earliest evidence of domestic sheep is from 9,000 BC.
Now let’s speak about Hungarians and begin with the Sumerian-Hungarian relationships. Sumerians, living very near to the supposed origin of flockguarding dogs and breeding sheep, surely had dogs of this type, but we have no direct evidence for its Sumerian name, as there is no evidence for a Sumerian-Hungarian linguistic relationship or any kind of direct contact.
Our language belongs to the Finno-Ugric languages (Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian) and it shows similarities with Turkic, Mongolian, Samoyed and other languages which may all belong together to the hypothetic Ural-Altai group. Separation of the Finnish and Ugor groups is believed to have happened about 4,000 years ago. Our nearest relatives by language are “Obi Ugorok”, the Khanti and Manyshi people (Ostyaks and Votyaks in Russian), who live in Western Siberia at the River Ob and number maybe 6,000 souls today. Perhaps this is the original area of the Ugor group. Probably about 500-600 BC the Proto-Hungarians moved to the south to the steppes, where – according to linguistic evidences – they took over animal breeding from the Chuvash people, as a high proportion of words specific to agriculture in the Hungarian language are of Chuvash origin.
After living as neighbors of the Chuvash people for over 1,000 years, a part of the Hungarians moved to the south to “Levedia” in approximately 750 AD, while others remained between the River Volga and the Ural Mountains in “Magna Hungaria”. In about the years 840-850 AD, the Hungarians were forced to move westwards to “Etelkoz and they then occupied the Carpathian Basin in 896 AD living there to this day Hungarians were found by Father Julian in “Magna Hungaria” in 1236 and 1237 AD, but not any more after the Mongolian-Tartar invasion. A smaller part of Hungarians went to the Caucasus in 850-860 AD and there they were absorbed by other people
In the 13th century two other eastern people settled in the Great Hungarian Plains, the Kun (Kuman) and Jász (Alan) people. Maybe the “Kun” was mistranslated into “Kurd” in some translations and explanations of the Kuvasz Standard, as I have no information about any direct connection between the Kurdish and Hungarian people .
A part of the Chuvash people is still living at the Volga River and their language is a special member of the Turkic group. Another part of them went to the Balkan and they were the ancestors of the Slavish-speaking Bulgarians. It is supposed that the Hungarian-speaking Székely people of Transylvania are also of Chuvash origin. Maybe all of these people -
Chuvash, Bulgarian and Székely – are the descendants of the Huns. According to linguistic evidences, Hungarians took over agriculture from the Chuvash people and very probably they got their sheep and guard dogs also from them There was a strong Chuvash influence, for example burial customs included putting the skull and leg bones of their horses inside the horse’s skin beside the man’s body. The Székelys have big white (often spotted) flock guarding dogs called “Esztena dog”. “Esztena” means “fences on the high summer pasture”. On the basis of historical and linguistic evidence and simply also because of the similarity of the words “Chuvash”, “Kuvasz” and “Chuvach” it may be supposed that the Kuvasz was originally “Chuvash” and, if so, bred by the Hungarians for about 2,500 years.
There is a skull in the Museum of Agriculture in Budapest, dating from the 9th – 10th century, found at Fenékpuszta at Lake Balaton. It is exhibited together with the skull of a recent Kuvasz, the two showing a high degree of similarity. Sárkány and Ócsag, in their 1986 book “Hungarian Dog Breeds” mention: “During the reign of King Matthias (1458-1490), Kuvasz were regularly used in big hunts and noblemen often exchanged well-bred Kuvasz as presents”.
Modern breeding started in 1883 and in the same year two Kuvasz were exhibited in Vienna by Count Miksa Esterházy. In Germany, Kuvasz-breeding started as early as 1901, according to Teubert. The first Standard of the breed was written by Buzz I in 1905, rewritten by Kerpely in 1914, by Raitsis in 1921 and by Abonyi, Anghi and Márki in 1935.
The latest revised version was completed in 1960 and some extra details were added to it in 1966. The Hungarian standard was accepted by the FCI in 1934 and published in 1937 with the number “54”. In 1966 a revised version was issued with the FCI number “54/b”.
This is the only standard and it might be translated into other languages better than it has been translated, or explained, but it must not be changed. After all, we Hungarians do not write standards for other countries’ breeds, either!
Our breed standard was the first one written for a flock guard in Mid-Europe and it was written to describe the existing breed. The Slovakian cuvac and Polish Owczarek Podhalanski emerged from the same population, since all of Slovakia was Hungary for over a thousand years. In Poland, the breed exists only in a narrow area at the former Hungarian border. This means that some artificial differences had to be created or some small differences stressed, when writing their national breed standards. At present the “excellent” individuals of these breeds are already different, but the “medium quality” ones are still quite the same. The Maremmano-Abruzzese and Kurdish flock guard (which is not always pure white) are also very similar to the Kuvasz. My father, Antal Kovács, traveling in Italy, Iran and Iraq, saw a number of dogs which did not differ from the Kuvasz except that in Kurdistan they cropped the ears of working dogs.
The Kuvasz is the only Hungarian breed which has serious standard and/or judging problems abroad The story goes back to Germany, where a “Komondor Club” was established in 1922 and dogs of both breeds were imported and sometimes bred to each other. This mistake was corrected a few years later, but replaced by another (as we say in Hungary: the other side of the horse”) – the wavy coat of the Kuvasz came under persecution as a “Komondor-atavism” and has be so thought of ever since. I saw predominantly typical dogs on photos from the 30-s in Germany out of the collection of Mrs. Margarete Teubert. After the Second World War there were no imports from Hungary for about 25 years and the German population of the breed became quite different from the original imports. Polish and Slovak dogs and perhaps even Great Pyrenees were mixed into the Kuvasz abroad. Brushing out the coat for dog shows also destroys the “undulans” (wavy) characteristic of the coat, giving the animal a cuvac Great-Pyrenees-like appearance. The situation is worsened by a high number of these dogs having also too much stop, round eyes, loose lips and an overlong body with bad hindquarters and movement. I call these “German faults”, but naturally there are also “Hungarian faults”, such as thin ear-leather, high tail carriage and ivory color.
Since we imported some German dogs and a few Slovakian and Polish ones may have received “B” pedigrees (see editor’s note) after the war, all of these faults can be found everywhere – of course, in different proportions. The judge may be in a difficult situation when judging beautiful, large, but not quite Kuvaszlike dogs (or perhaps they are exactly that: “Kuvasz-LIKE”) and weighing them against a typical Kuvasz with several faults. Of course there is no general answer, since the situation is never the same and all faults visible in the dogs at that show may be of different severity but a dog in the Kuvasz ring must be first a Kuvasz and then one can judge it by details. There is no “Hungarian Kuvasz “German Kuvasz , American Kuvasz”, etc., only the Kuvasz and it must be bred and evaluated everywhere in the same way.
The Kuvasz is a popular breed once again in Hungary. and in other countries, therefore we now have a population which is large enough to use for more improvement.
(Editor’s Note: A “B” pedigree was given a dog with no known (or not provable) pedigree, after certification by local experts that it indeed belonged to the assumed breed. This was a necessity after WW II in Europe, where pedigrees were lost, clubs’ records destroyed and dogs (especially guard dogs) shot by . Readers who are familiar with our dogs’ Hungarian backgrounds will find some in their pedigrees; listed by a single name such as a “Bodri” or “Buksi”.)
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- HAMMOND, A.: The Sheepguard Breeds. Trevnadens Newsletter. Spring 1988
- KOVÁCS, Antal: Personal communications
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- RYDER, M.L.: Sheep. In: Mason, I.L. (ed.) Evolution of Domesticated Animals. Longman, 1984
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Reprinted with permission of Author