The Komondor has one of the most unique appearances of any dog breed. Massive in size and solid white in color, the Komondor is most known for its unusual fur which forms long cords resembling dreadlocks. Native to Hungary, the Komondor has served as a powerful and vigilant flock guardian for centuries. Following conventions of the Magyar language, the plural form of Komondor is Komondorok.
Written records of the Komondor have only been found from the last few centuries, with the earliest dating back to 1544. However, there is an almost universal belief that the breed is significantly older, perhaps by as much as a few thousand years. There is a great deal of debate among breed fanciers over the origin of the Komondor. Some believe that the Komondor was created by the Magyars (an ethnic group native to and primarily associated with Hungary), and others believe the breed was created by the Cumans (ancient nomadic warriors forced out of the Cuman-Kipchak confederation and into Hungary by the Mongol invasion of 1237 A.D), and still others by Huns (a group of ancient nomadic warrior people who migrated into Europe and established the vast Hunnic Empire there.) There is even a dispute over the origin of the breed’s name. Some claim that Komondor means “Cuman’s Dog.” Others claim that the breed’s name can be literally translated from Magyar as “Serious Talking, Leader Dog.”
Hunnish tribes first came to Europe from the steps around the year 370 A.D. Although very little is known about the origins or ancestry of the Huns, it is known that they wreaked havoc among the populations of Europe, and were one of the major contributing factors to the demise of the Roman Empire. Although known throughout much of Europe, Huns were often associated with the region which is now modern day Hungary and may have given the country its name. The Huns were known to have large livestock guarding dogs, a breed known as the Aftscharka. Many dog scholars believe the Aftscharka to be the early ancestor of the Komondor. However, there is very little physical or historical evidence to support this claim.
The Magyars first settled in what is now Hungary in the year 895 A.D., when they were under the rule of King Arpad. Originally, Hungary was much larger than it is today; covering an area roughly three times its current size. The original homeland of the Magyars is not known. However, the Magyar language is a member of the Uralic language family, which also includes such languages as Finnish, Estonian, and various languages of Western Russia. It is generally believed that the Magyars’ original home was in what is now Western Russia. Originally skilled horsemen with large herds of domestic animals, the Magyars are known to have brought their herding dogs with them when they arrived in modern day Hungary. There is dispute as to what these dogs were, as the Komondor, Kuvasz, Puli, Pumi, and Mudi are all Hungarian breeds. All or any combination of these breeds may have been the original Magyar breeds. Many Komondor fanciers and dog experts believe that the Komondor first entered Europe at this time. Recent archeological data suggest that only the Kuvasz was originally a Magyar breed, and the others arrived with another group of immigrants from the steps, the Cumans.
The Cumans, or Kuns as they are known in Hungary, originally dwelt along the Yellow River of China, and spoke a language related to Turkish. At the beginning of the 10th Century, they were driven from their homeland by Mongols, settling in what is now Southern Russia a century later. Here they came into conflict with Russian Principalities. By the 13th Century, the Mongols under Genghis Khan and his family had again driven the Cumans from their lands. Many Cumans fled into Hungary, where there were initially some problems with local Hungarians. By 1246, Hungary itself had been partially depopulated by Mongol invasion, and the Cumans became established and eventually largely integrated into Hungarian society. Many experts believe that the Komondor was the herding breed kept by the Cumans, as was most likely the Puli. Recent excavations of Cuman graves have shown that many Cumans were buried with dogs very close in appearance to the Komondorok.
There are many other reasons to suspect that the Komondor was initially bred by Cumans. One of the best is the presence of the Kuvasz, another large flock guardian breed. It is somewhat unlikely that a country the size of Hungary would have developed two completely unique large flock guardian breeds. If the two breeds came at separate times this would be much more likely. The Kuvasz almost certainly arrived with the Magyars, as skeletons almost identical to those of the modern breed have been found dating to the earliest days of Magyar settlement in Hungary. As the Cumans initially settled in different parts of Hungary than the Magyars, the two breeds would have been kept apart as well, and allowed to continue to develop independently. This disparate development continued as the Kuvasz became primarily a guard dog of homes, family, and property, while the Komondor remained primarily a livestock guardian.
There is substantial debate as to the breeds which created the Komondor, as the breed is so unique in appearance. It is almost certain that the much smaller Puli is a close relative of the Komondor, as both are native to Hungary and share the unique corded coat. Additionally, the Bergamasco of Italy, which also possesses a corded coat, is often thought to be a relative of the Komondor. Beyond a relationship with the Puli and the Bergamasco, little is known. Komondorok and Kuvaszok have rarely been crossed and probably have greatly different ancestries. Some believe that the Komondor is a distant descendant of large Tibetan livestock guardians, such as the Tibetan Mastiff. However, the breed shares very few characteristics with that breed other than its size, nor does it resemble other Mastiff-type breeds.
There is a growing belief that the Komondor is descended from the Owtcharka breeds, of which the Hunnish Aftscharka is likely to have been a member. These massive herding dogs are native to the Caucasus and neighboring regions, and are sometimes known as Caucasian Shepherd Dogs. The Owtcharkas may descend from Tibetan Mastiff-type dogs, or they may have been developed by the residents of the Caucasus Mountains. There is much to suggest that the Komondor shares a kinship with the Owtcharkas. Both breeds are very large and powerful livestock guardians. Both share similar temperaments, known for extreme loyalty and devotion to their families and livestock, but extreme suspicion and even aggression towards strangers. Finally, the Owtcharkas are native to southeastern Russia, the temporary home of the Cumans, and also likely the Huns and the Magyars as well. Any of these peoples could have obtained Owtcharkas from the Caucasus and brought them along on any future conquests.
Whatever the Komondor’s original origin, it has been present as a livestock guardian in what is now Hungary since at least the 13th Century, and possibly for a thousand years prior. The breed has always been highly prized in Hungary for this purpose, and most of the breed’s development has focused on creating the ideal livestock guardian. These dogs, along with the Kuvasz, have been bred to be white because it allows shepherds to easily distinguish between Komondorok and the typically gray or black wolves of Hungary when the latter would attack flocks at night. These dogs may have also been bred to resemble the local breed of sheep.
While visually unique, the Komondor’s corded coat serves a purpose. These dogs are known for being extremely weather resistant. The corded coat protects from heat, cold, rain, and wind. A Komondor can survive the elements with very little protection for extended periods. Indeed, many Komondor’s throughout history may have never been inside a home their entire lives, instead exclusively dwelling among their flocks. The Komondor’s coat also provides protection when the dog is engaged in battle, both with wolves or humans, serving much in the same way chain mail armor would. In combat with a wolf, the Komodors thick corded coat would prevent the bite of the wolf from reaching flesh; more often than not, the wolf would end up with nothing more than a mouthful of hair. Similarly, a blade-wielding human assailant would likely have difficulty getting through the cords.
The size of the Komondor is almost certainly a result of the need for a dog powerful enough to fight against wolves and occasionally humans. While the breed does possess some herding instincts, the Komondor is primarily a livestock guardian and has been bred to be extremely protective. The Hungarians developed smaller breeds to actually herd livestock, animals such as the Puli, Pumi, and Mudi. This division of labor between massive livestock guardians and small herders has been seen elsewhere in the world, such as the Pyrenees where the Great Pyrenees and the Pyrenean Shepherd replace the Komondor and Puli respectively. However, the Komondor was also bred to be agile and athletic, and weighs considerably less than would be expected of a dog of its height.
While the Komondor has always maintained a loyal following in rural areas of Hungary, where the dog is known as, “The King of Herding Dogs,” or sometimes even, “The King of Dogs.” However, until the 20th Century, the Komondor was essentially unknown outside of Magyar lands. In the 1933, the Komondor was first imported to the United States. Importation of Komondorok into this country continued until the start of World War II, largely by Hungarian immigrants or dog fanciers who were intrigued by the breed’s unique and stunning coat. The Komondor first gained recognition from the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1933 in the Working Group, where the breed remains. The Komondor Club of America (KCA), founded in 1967, has long worked with the AKC to protect and promote the interests of the Komondor. The United Kennel Club (UKC) followed the AKC nearly fifty years later, recognizing the Komondor in 1983.
World War II proved to be especially devastating for the people and dogs of Hungary. The Komondor served with distinction as a guard dog for the Hungarian Army, and many were killed during the war. The hardship created by the war left many other Komondor’s dead, and greatly reduced the breeding of the dog. Between the end of World War II and 1962, fewer than 1000 Komondor’s were registered in Hungary. Luckily, most Komondor’s lived in rural areas which were somewhat less impacted by the war as were urban ones. Additionally, the remaining Komondor’s still excelled as livestock guardians, a task which remained necessary. Communist control cut off contact between the Hungarian Kennel Club and American breeders until 1962. Once contact was resumed, Komondor fanciers in both countries began to exchange breeding stock and worked together to improve and maintain the breed.
By the 1980’s, Hungarian and American breeders were producing around fifty litters every year. However, the Komondor remains quite rare. Although exact numbers are impossible to obtain, estimates suggest that between two and three thousand Komondorok are alive in the United States, with a similar number present in Hungary. The vast majority of the worldwide Komondor population exists in these two countries, with an estimated worldwide Komondor population of far-below 10,000. It is likely that the breed will remain uncommon outside of Hungary, as a result of its high maintenance coat and protective temperament. The breed is regularly in the bottom ten to twenty of the most commonly registered breeds with the AKC; as of 2010 the breed was in 154th position out of 167 breeds.
In its native Hungary, the Komondor is primarily either a livestock guardian or a pet in rural areas. The breed remains a rare sight in urban settings. For many years, American Komondorok were kept almost exclusively as show dogs or unique pets. While this remains so, a growing number of dog owners are using the Komondor as a protection animal, a task at which the breed excels. Additionally, there is a growing interest in the breed as a livestock guardian, particularly in the West. Many ranchers are beginning to experiment with Komondorok in an attempt to reduce their livestock losses. The dogs appear to be having the desired effect according to a study conducted by the Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension, for the Department of Agriculture. The study, documented by W.F. Andelt, an extension wildlife specialist and associate professor of fishery and wildlife biology concluded that:
“Guard dogs significantly reduced coyote predation on domestic sheep in Colorado. . . . Producers with guard dogs lost an average of 0.4 percent of their ewes and 1.2 percent of their lambs to coyotes, whereas producers without guard dogs lost 0.8 to 1.5 percent of their ewes and 4.7 to 9.6 percent of their lambs.”
Coyotes have long been a problem in the region and are no match for the Komondor, which was bred to take down the much larger, pack-hunting wolf. The necessity for ranchers to have a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD), like the Komondor has also been heightened by mans recent re-introduction of its oldest adversary, the wolf to much of the American West. The Komondor is not alone in its mission to rid ranchers of this new threat to their livestock, some of the other common LGD breeds in use today are the Great Pyrenees (France), Akbash dog and Anatolian Shepherd (Turkey), and the Maremma (Italy). Currently various state, local, and Federal agencies are studying livestock guardian breeds in an effort to prevent problems between ranchers and wolves. The Komondor is of particular interest to these groups, and may see a resulting surge in popularity.
The Komondor has one of the most unique and striking appearances of any dog breed. These dogs are very large and imposing. They are also a striking solid white in color. The Komondor is most well-known for its singular coat, which forms long cords, which resemble dreadlocks.
The Komondor is a very large dog. Hungarian authorities are quite clear on this point, if the dog is not large, it is not a Komondor. Male Komondorok should be a minimum of 27½ inches tall at the shoulder while females should be a minimum of 25½ tall at the shoulder. The taller the dog, the more desirable it is. Komondorok are somewhat light for their great height, with males weighing at least 100 pounds and females weighing at least 80 pounds. Taller Komondorok will typically be heavier, with males regularly weighing up to 130 pounds and females weighing up to 110 pounds.
The Komondor’s head is often largely obscured by the breed’s fur. Underneath the coat is a comparatively short snout with a tremendous amount of biting force. The Komondor’s eyes should be dark brown or almond in color. This breed has hanging ears that are either u-shaped or v-shaped. These should not be erect in any way.
The most noticeable feature of the Komondor is the breed’s coat. The coat should be a solid white, although it is not always a pure white, sometimes appearing closer to pearl. Some puppies may have cream markings that will fade with age. Ideal dogs have slate grey skin, although some may exhibit an undesirable shade of pink. The Komondor’s coat is very long, although it is shorter on the back, neck, and face. Like most puppies, Komondorok’s are born with soft fuzzy fur, as they mature the coat will lengthen becoming wavier, at which point it will begin to naturally cord.
The coat of adult Komondor consists of two distinct layers, a soft undercoat which is very similar to the puppy coat and a long, coarse outercoat. The coarse outercoat traps and combines with the soft undercoat to form the breeds distinctive tassels. These ends of these cords may be partially obscured by fluff on younger dogs. The Komondor’s cords grow as the dog ages; as a result younger dogs are not penalized for having shorter cords. It may take up to two years for the coat to fully mature and as long as five for the coat to reach the desired length. However, the cording should be well-advanced by the age of two. The entire body of an adult Komondor should be covered with these cords.
The tail of the Komondor should always be held low, and never over the body. From a distance, it often appears as though this breed does not have a tail, as it is often completely obscured by long cords of fur.
The Komondor is a guardian first and foremost. These dogs are very affectionate and incredibly devoted to their families. However, they are by nature very suspicious of strangers. A Komondor is very unlikely to warmly greet guests. However, once a Komondor has accepted a new member of its pack, it will likely never forget them. Komondorok will often warm and happily greet those who they have not seen in years. Many Komondorok, particularly those which have not been properly socialized, may greet outsiders with outright aggression. Komondorok also are typically very territorial, and will defend their homes from intruders, whether you want them to or not.
In evaluating the effectiveness of LGD’s and their respective temperaments towards people and animals alike, the University of Idaho conducted a survey in 1986, of approximately 400 people who used livestock guarding dogs. In total the survey gathered information on 763 dogs, 95 percent of which were recognized guarding breeds. The Great Pyrenees (57 percent of dogs surveyed) and Komondor (18 percent of dogs surveyed) were the most commonly used. In regards to the protective nature of LGD’s the study published the following:
“How likely is it that a livestock guarding dog will bite someone? Much is dependent upon where the dog spends its time, and also on breed differences. In the survey… 7 percent of the dogs had bitten people (17 percent of the Komondors, 9 percent of the Anatolian shepherds, 6 percent of the Akbash dogs, and 4 percent of the Great Pyrenees). Some dogs show more protective and aggressive traits than others, and it becomes the owner’s responsibility to protect people who may be at risk. Neighbors and guests should be alerted, and if necessary, signs or other appropriate warnings should be displayed. More Komondors bit people than did Great Pyrenees, Akbash, or Anatolians, and fewer Great Pyrenees injured livestock than did Komondors, Akbash, or Anatolians.”
Simply put, if you are looking for a dog which will protect you or your family with undying devotion, a Komondor may be a good choice for you. If you are looking for a dog which will happily run around large neighborhood gatherings, you should almost certainly consider other breeds. The Komondor can make an excellent dog for the right owner; however, the breed is not the best fit for many families. Also of note from the study was that Komondorok tended to reach behavioral maturation more slowly than many other LGD’s and were likely to exhibit puppy behaviors (playfulness and exuberance) well into adolescence.
Komondorok were bred to protect flocks, a task at which they excel. They will protect any animals which they consider to be a part of their flock. The Komondor will rarely show aggression to creatures which they consider under their protection. This means that they can be introduced into homes with existing pets. However, the Komondor is often extremely territorial and will resent the entry of new animals into its territory, especially other dogs. Komondorok which have not been properly trained or socialized will often try to drive animals that are not part of their flock away. Komondorok were bred to fight wolves, often to the death. They are more than capable of seriously injuring or killing most animals.
The Komondor is typically a very intelligent breed. If training is begun from a young age, these dogs typically respond very well. However, unlike many breeds, the Komondor was bred to work independently of humans, the nearest of which may have been miles away. As a result this breed tends to be very independent and somewhat willful. Komondorok will often decide to do what they want, even if they are well-trained enough to know better. Komondorok which have become bored or have not been well-trained from a young age will often become downright obstinate. Additionally, Komondorok have a tendency to become dominant, as they were generally in charge of their flocks. You must regularly assert your dominance over a Komondor; otherwise, they will take charge of you. None of this means it is impossible to train a Komondor. These highly intelligent dogs can be trained very well. However, you will have to exercise more time and patience with in training a Komondor. Remember, proper training and socialization is imperative for the Komondor to prevent the traits that made this dog a beloved livestock guardian from becoming a liability. Training must be repeated throughout the life of the dog. If a Komondor is allowed to get away with a behavior once, the dog will typically think that it is acceptable forever.
The Komondor needs exercise, and a good deal of it. These dogs watched flocks for days or weeks on end. They have a good deal of stamina, and also need to be properly stimulated. You will need to take a Komondor for long periods of exercise, although not necessarily very strenuous exercise. If a Komondor becomes bored an unexercised, they will develop behavioral problems and find new outlets for their energy. Komondorok are likely to become nervous and potentially aggressive, very vocal, and destructive. Komondorok are strong enough that they can become extremely destructive. That being said, the Komondor is by not generally considered a high energy dog, and is typically calm and laid back when indoors.
One aspect of the Komondor that may cause difficulty for many potential owners is the breed’s voice. Komondorok have very, very loud barks. They are also very inclined to use them. Komondorok were bred to alert their masters upon the approach of any human or animal, and hopefully to scare them off with their voices. Komondorok make excellent watchdogs. However, you neighbors may not appreciate the regular and loud barking. Training and exercise will probably reduce a Komondor’s barking. Komondorok which have not been properly trained or exercised may bark excessively for hours.
As can be expected, the Komondor has intensive and highly specialized grooming requirements. Owners of Komondorok often spend a great deal of time and money maintaining their coats. In fact, the Komondor’s coat is one of the major reasons the breed has never grown in popularity. It is often simplest to have the Komondor professionally trimmed several times a year, leaving the coat very short and without the famed cords. To prevent discomfort, a Komondor’s cords must be separated several times a year. Some dogs may need this done only two or three times a year, others may require it to be done every several weeks.
Most professional groomers will be unfamiliar with this process due to the Komondor’s rarity. This means that owners will likely have to learn to separate cords themselves. The process is relatively simple to learn and perform, but is often time consuming and physically demanding, particularly on longer cords. Dirt is easily trapped in the Komondor’s cords, and owners must be vigilant in keeping the dog clean. Unfortunately, the Komondor can be quite difficult to bath. Because the cords must be thoroughly soaked, a Komondor bath typically takes an hour or more. Drying a Komondor is even more difficult. These dogs are often put into a crate and surrounded by fans to dry, and even then it has been known to take at least 24 hours. It is for this reason that many owners of working Komondors looking to lessen the maintanance prefer to clip them each spring since cording can be laborious process. While it is true that cutting the coat short will lessen dirt accumulation and cut down on the amount of burrs collected, it may also deprive the dog of his natural (hot and cold weather) insulation and make him more susceptible to injury from predators in the course of his duties; in essence stripping him of his armor.
Komondor owners must be especially vigilant for fleas, ticks, and similar pests. They may be difficult to see underneath the Komondor’s coat. Additionally, this breed tends to be very sensitive to flea sprays and dips.
Komondor owners must pay special attention to their dog’s ears. Dirt is easily caught up in them and may not be noticeable under the fur. This dirt can lead to chronic ear infections. A Komondor’s ears must be regularly cleaned. It is very important that this process be begun from a young age, as adult Komondorok may make it very difficult otherwise.
The Komondor tends to be a very healthy breed, especially for a dog of its size. Barring environmental factors commonly encountered by LGD’s that would unusually shorten the breeds life such as falling victim to predators, being hit by cars or likewise being mistakenly or intentionally shot when roaming to far from their flock and possibly onto the property of others, the breed will typically live 8-10 years.
For at least a thousand years the Komondor was bred exclusively as a working animal and genetic disorders would not have been allowed to continue within the gene pool. Additionally, the harsh and dangerous working environment of the breed would have naturally selected only the hardiest dogs. This does not mean that the Komondor is immune from genetically inherited disorders, only that there are no known genetic disorders that are particularly prominent in the breed.
One health problem which has been found in Komondorok is entropion. Entropion causes the eyelashes to rub up against the eyes. This can cause scratching of the cornea, extreme discomfort, and repeated eye infections. This condition can be corrected with surgery. However, the surgery is expensive and results in the dog being unshowable.
Some other genetic disorders which have been identified in the Komondor include: