A dog in sheep’s clothing
The Hungarian Sheepdog, the Komondor, was bred for centuries to guard flocks and property from thieves and predators on the Hungarian plains, first herding semi-wild sheep, living with them without a shepherd and protecting them from marauding wolves and other enemies.
Its strange corded coat, the same shade as the sheep, gave no warning to the predator that the flock was guarded – but as it moved in for the kill, this great dog would rise and deal with it.
The Komondor naturally protects whatever is entrusted to it – sheep, goats, cattle, chicken, other dogs, even children if it is a family companion. Just the answer you might think, for those of us with sheep near an urban development and troubled, not by wolves as the sheep were on the Hungarian plains, but by marauding dogs allowed to roam unattended; or in such areas as National Parks like the Peak District of Derbyshire or the Lake District where unthinking visitors let their dogs run loose.
The guarding instinct of the Komondor is so strong, however, that Mrs Pat Lanz, who imported it into Britain from Hungary in 1973 sees only “a very limited future” for them in this country. “They are simply not dogs for everyone. They are more for breeders who wish to study this ancient and beautiful breed,” she said.
She first became interested in them when she imported a five-month-old bitch, Duna, from Hungary in 1973. She later imported a dog, Csupor, from America and their progeny was the first litter to be born in Britain. There were four puppies but one died; she kept one and sold the other two.
“I sold them to knowledgable people – dog breeders, ” she emphasised – and an enquiry for a Komondor for security work was never even considered.
I couldn’t help thinking how sad it was that such a useful breed, with such superb characteristics, was unsuitable for shepherding in this country, but Mrs Lanz was adamant. A Komondor, she said, was only suitable for someone who really understood the meaning of being “on top” of a dog. It was more a breed for people who liked curious and very old breeds and had the right facilities for keeping dogs under proper control.
In America, however, the Komondor has gained ground, particularly with some farmers on remote ranches where the dog has proved very successful with coyote control.
It is said it is a loyal, devoted guard, does not wander, nor attack without provocation – but trespassing is not tolerated lightly. It likes other animals and will accept them gladly; it is not a hunter, though it will chase strange birds and animals off the premises.
This all sounds the perfect kind of dog for farmers, but Pat Lanz says she cannot see English farmers taking on the liability of this vast, strange, corded-coated ancient breed for working use.
The minimum height for a bitch is 23 1/2 inches at the shoulder, and 25 1/2 inches for a dog but they seem much larger because of their corded coats. They weigh from 88 to 140 lbs and their thick, very heavy double coats have a soft wooly undercoat. This combination of the two types of hair forms naturally into tassel-like cords. It is never brushed or combed out and the cords do not come out when the dog is washed. It is an extremely robust animal, tolerating heat, despite its heavy coat and withstanding any amount of cold.
They vary in how severe they are in warning people to desist. Some snap in the air and give a low warning growl; some will attack silently without a growl. It is wise, it is said, to make sure that any strange children or strange adults are introduced to the dog with the owner, making sure the dog accepts them as friends.
With this somewhat alarming run down on their characteristics and having only been used to my Bearded Collie, I sat in Pat Lanz’s sitting room awaiting my first introduction to her Komondor bitch, Duna, with some apprehension – and was quite unprepared for the sociable, enchanting character that sallied forth to greet me and, I am glad to say, accepted me as a friend.
Duna is the size of my grandsons’ Shetland pony which is 28 inches at the withers and lives with me, free-ranging most of the time in a garden and coming regularly into the house.
But Duna seemed much larger in the house than the pony as her vast bulky corded coat added enormously to the impression of size – and I felt a touch of sympathy for any predator on those Hungarian plains nipping into a flock of sheep only to find one of the “sheep” not “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” but “a dog in sheep’s clothing” and a very capable one at that.
Mrs Lanz incidentally, also lead the way in Puli breeding in this country. This is another ancient species of Hungarian sheepdog, much smaller than a Komondor with a similar textured corded coat. Her foundation bitch, Fruska, gained distinction by being three times best bitch in the “any variety” class at Crufts.
Mrs Lanz also breeds Rotweilers, another herding breed, a powerful dog which was originally used by drovers in Germany. After they had delivered their cattle, and been paid, the drovers strapped the money to their dogs for safe-keeping.