The Kuvasz is an ancient breed of noble heritage. According to Andras Kovacs, an authority and scholar on the breed, the Kuvasz is believed to have borrowed its name from the ancient farmers of Russia, the Chuvash, who are possible descendents of the Huns, who nurtured the Kuvasz for centuries. Kovacs suggests that “about 500-600 BC the Proto-Hungarians moved to the south to the steppes, where according to linguistic evidence, 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”.
He goes on to say that “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” (Kovacs 1989).
For the last millennia the Kuvasz’s development has clearly been in historical domain of Hungary (which formerly occupied a much larger territory than present) where his main duties were that of a livestock guard, protecting livestock from wolves, bears and thieves. The breed has been used in other capacities, including the hunting of big game, a wardog, herding dog and most recently as an estate, home and property guard.
The Kuvasz can be trained for several purposes, as can many breeds, but his natural instincts remain that of the ancient livestock guardian, and that is where he excels, with little, or no formal training. His height of popularity crested under King Matthias I (1458-1490) of Hungary.
The breed was held in high esteem and the King is said to have trusted his dogs more than the men that served him. He always had a dog in his company. The dogs acted as personal guardians, guarded the estate’s livestock, and were used for hunting boar, bear and wolf. Large kennels of Kuvaszok were kept at the King’s estate in Siebenbuergen. Pups were awarded as gifts to visiting dignitaries and indeed, it was during this period that the Kuvasz was regarded as the “armed guard of royalty”. In fact, the name Kuvasz was once thought to be derived from the Turkish Kawasz, meaning protector and guard of noblemen. Kuvaszok were also used as war dogs, frequently accompanying horses into battle.
The breed continues to be adept at working with horses. His history in Hungary has been rich as a working dog, expanding his traditional role of flock guardian to that of protector of royalty, family companion and guardian of property. Early History and Origins of the Kuvasz The breed’s history prior to the Magyars in Hungary is much more obscure. Breed historians believe his ancestry as a livestock guardian probably dates back at least some 7000 years (others suggest 11,000 years) to the dawn of civilization and agriculture, wherein the Kuvasz, or his ancestral stock, served as an effective guardian of flocks for nomadic herdsmen. Wolves and European Brown Bears, a sub-specific relative of the North American Grizzly, were the primary predators which the Kuvasz, and other THE HUNGARIAN KUVASZ 12 livestock protection breeds, had to guard against. The interaction with these large predators in protecting livestock helped to mold the very character, temperament and conformation of these breeds. Only the most effective guards, that were trustworthy with livestock, would be permitted to breed. Centuries of selection under harsh conditions helped to create the noble, wonderful guards that we are nurturing today. These same selection pressures helped to create very similar breeds ranging throughout Eurasia, wherever there was a need to protect livestock. Similar breeds to the Kuvasz include: Polish Tatra, Slovakian Cuvac, Maremma-Abruzzese, Great Pyrenees and Akbash. All of these breeds had to be strong, healthy, daring and effective in protecting livestock from predators. Other breeds not resembling the Kuvasz in appearance, but very similar in function and temperament, include the Komondor (also from Hungary), the Anatolian Shepherd (from Turkey), the Shar Planinetz (from Romania), the Caucasian Ovtcharka (from Russia) and the Tibetan Mastiff. What then, is the origin of the Kuvasz, and how did he and the other flock guardians spread across Eurasia? Some suggest that the Kuvasz is an off-shoot of the Tibetan Mastiff, originating in Tibet, while others suggest his origins to be in ancient Mesopotamia. Dr. Andras Kovacs, a veterinarian and scientist, has undertaken a scholarly review of Kuvasz history and development. He candidly rejects the theory that the Tibetan Mastiff is a progenitor of the Kuvasz. On the basis of archaeological, geographical, and cytogenetic studies of sheep and morphological evidence, he contends that the Kuvasz, and all of the livestock guardians of Eurasia, are from the same stock and arose in the Middle East, probably in the vicinity of Kurdistan. He suggests that the group of flock (i.e. livestock) guards is probably at least 11,000 years old, corresponding with the earliest evidence of domestic sheep (Kovacs 1988). They subsequently spread across Eurasia with the movement of people and their flocks. Catherine de la Cruz (1995), a respected breeder of Great Pyrenees and devotee of livestock guarding dogs, supports the view of Dr. Andras Kovacs and suggests that the progenitor of existing livestock guarding breeds probably originated in the area of Mesopotamia, where sheep were first domesticated. That corresponds with Kurdistan and roughly includes the present areas of Turkey, Syria and Iraq. She suggests that these ancient livestock guardians spread both eastwards to Tibet (possibly giving rise to the Tibetan Mastiff) and westwards to Spain through a variety of very plausible means. Certainly, dogs of the Kuvasz type have been used for guarding livestock of all types (sheep, goats, cattle, horses) for centuries, and indeed millennia, and were very successful in spreading throughout much of Eurasia. The dogs invariably accompanied nomadic tribesmen in search for better pastures. That process continues even today. Dogs also accompanied invading armies on their conquests, spreading throughout Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Livestock had to accompany invading armies to feed the troops and dogs were needed to both drive the stock and protect them from predators. Dogs were also trained for war duty, helping to spread various breeds across Eurasia. The Hittites of 2000-1000 BC were such a warrior nation from the Mesopotamian region and undoubtedly helped to spread livestock guards both eastward and westward. Dogs of differing types spread throughout much of Eurasia by such means. The Rottweiler, for example, reportedly accompanied Roman legions as a cattle drover during their conquest THE HUNGARIAN KUVASZ 13 of northern Europe. Dogs inevitably were left behind to guard newly established settlements, effectively spreading them throughout much of Eurasia. The famous “Silk Road” was yet another means by which livestock guards spread across vast regions of Europe and Asia. The Silk Road was used as a major trading route for the exchange of a variety of valuables, linking the wealth of the east, China and India, to the Middle East and Europe. As trade grew along this route, the movement of people, their ideas, as well as their livestock and livestock guards, would also increase. These trading routes allowed the spread of dogs and established their use throughout a vast region spreading from Spain and Portugal in the west, to Tibet in the east. The combination of nomadic lifestyles, repeated invasions of different peoples and increased trading along the Silk Road, all help to explain the appearance of several large white livestock guarding breeds that exist across Europe and western Asia.
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