Armenian Gampr (Armenian: գամփռ gamp’ṙ) is a breed of livestock guardian dog that originated in the Armenian Highlands, including the territories of modern Eastern Anatolia of Turkey and the Republic of Armenia. The Armenian Gampr was bred by local people using primitive selection. Even though not recognized by various kennel clubs as a distinct dog breed, they are a distinct form of canidae, dog, dog breed and landrace, which has been the subject of intense genetic research. In April 2011 International Kennel Union (IKU) officially recognized the Armenian wolfhound Gampr as Armenia’s national dog breed.
History and fossil records
The Armenian Gampr were distributed over the Armenian Highlands prehistorically – as evidenced by thousands of petroglyphs found throughout the territory. Professor Oktay Belli at Istanbul University studied petroglyphs near the modern city of Kars, determining that several domestic breeds dated to the Neolithic period.
It is unknown when the Gampr was domesticated. While there is a huge diversity among the endemic species dating back tens of thousand of years, the prototype of the modern Gampr was formed 3,000 years ago. Petroglyphs found in the Armenian Plateau, beginning c. 15,000-12,000 BCE, show a large number and variety of dog types, providing a record of development. Of the hundreds of petroglyphs found at Ughtasar and on the Geghama mountain range, up to 20% of the carvings resemble the modern Gampr, while others show a remarkable diversity of dog that no longer exists. A monograph by S. Dal, "Sevan plateau's transcaucasian shepherd dog, 1st millennium BC" described the results of an excavation conducted in 1954 by Lake Sevan. In the site which dated about 800 - 1000 BC, they found a well preserved dog skeleton in one tomb. By comparing the skull with the head of a modern Gampr and other canines, Dal concluded that it was a then typical representative of the breed, although there are some marked differences from the modern type, like longer head-face, narrower head box and stronger teeth. Dal found that despite the selection and breeding process of the last 3,000 years—which affected the dogs general appearance and size—the Gampr was already established and formed as a breed in the 1st millennium BC. As a result of these findings it is now believed that natural selection and breeding over the millennia 'built' the modern Gampr, a breed that shows traits of the older dog types represented in the carvings while maintaining its own unique physiology. Despite conjectures of outside nations that the dog originated outside of the Armenian Plateau, and was somehow introduced by countries as far flung as Tibet (see Tibetan Mastiff), there was an endemic species of dog on the Armenian Plateau recorded as early as 12,000 BC.
The problem of the preservation and breeding local dog breeds exists in many regions of the world. including Armenia.
The modern Gampr has changed little within the history of its existence in Armenian Highlands. It is one of few natural breeds not subjected to hard selection by phenotype. They preserved the genetic variation that other dog breeds had initially. This genetic variation was promoted by spontaneous and, in some cases, intentional periodic matings with locally indigenous wolves (still present). Gamprs differ by their vital capacity, independence, mind, strong self-preservation instinct, ability of the trustworthy defense and protection of livestock, and exclusive friendliness to humans.
This mountain dog's head is large, well-outlined and well-developed but lacks prominent cheekbones. The back is wide, straight, muscular and strong. At the withers, the height in male dogs is 65 centimetres (26 in) or more, and in female dogs is 62 centimetres (24 in) or more. Weight corresponds to the total size of the dog, and usually varies from 45 to 60 kilograms (99 to 130 lb).
The Armenian Gampr has a well-developed undercoat, in order to protect it under harsh conditions. Depending upon the coat length, there are two types: long-haired, with long top hairs, and short-haired, with dense, relatively short hair. A brown or piebald coat is undesirable according to the breed standard.
Character and behavior
Gampr dogs are not trained, instead performing the necessary functions naturally. The Armenian word "Gampr" means "watchdog", but the same breed may instead be called a "gelkheht" (from "gel" - "wolf" and "hhehtel" - "to smother") if it is predesposed to be used as a wolfhound; a bear-hunting dog is known as "archashoon" ("bear-dog"); an avalanche dog is named "potorkashoon", and a shepherd dog is named "chobanishoon". One of the main traits of Gampr dog is its ability to adapt independently and arrive at a proper decision. If the Gampr dog sees that you need its help, it will protect you. If the Gampr understands that you do not need its assistance, it will not protect you. The Gamprs are very tied to people, especially those dogs that live in human houses, because they feel themselves a family or pack member.
Kennel club recognition
The Breed committee of the International Kennel Union (IKU) officially recognized the Armenian wolfhound Gampr as Armenia’s national dog breed.
The Armenian Gampr is not recognized by any of the major kennel clubs around the world.
In Armenia Gampr dogs are bred by "Gampr", Tiknapah", Aralez" and "Aspar" Clubs, as well as "Amasia" Kennel that carry on the breeding to preserve the phenotype and working traits of Gampr dogs.
Only dogs without any inclusions of non-Gampr (i.e. CAO, Alabai, Kochee etc.) bloodlines shall be bred as Gampr, in order to keep the breed pure. There are two strains of gampr, the palace guardian type and the livestock type. The livestock type tends to be smaller, tireless, and slightly more volatile. The palace guardians are generally taller, more square-built, and fairly congenial but still very protective. They have a tendency to be more sedentary, and to stay in one location. During the invasions of Armenia over the last several hundred years, the palace guardian type dogs have been dispersed, with a few remaining in remote villages, but many were taken out of the country and used in the development of the breeds elsewhere, such as the CAO, and in the Red Star Kennel in the USSR. Gampr is supposed to be unique by its genotype, because of belonging to the haplogroup of dogs of other parts of the Armenian Highlands that cluster only with the dogs of Spain and Scandinavia. The geographic and cultural coexistence of the Caucasian Ovcharka and the Central Asian Ovcharka, and its use as a standard, is itself seen as an issue threatening the continued existence of the Armenian Gampr dog landrace. The Armenian Gampr Club of America states: "The gampr is not: An Alabai, a Caucasian Ovcharka, a Kangal, an Anatolian, an Akbash, a Karakatchan, a Central Asian Shepherd, a Koochee, a Tornjak, a Sharplaninatz, or a cross of these."