Compiled by Edvard Sargsyan
Technical translation from Armenian.
The Armenian people have bred few local varieties of dogs for thousands of years, which are united under a one single name, THE ARMENIAN GAMPR. The Gampr has been and remains the pride of the Armenian people for thousands of years.
The breeding of the Armenian Gampr
There were special dog shelters in Armenia, which practiced mating wild animals (wolf, jackal) with dogs to receive the species mentioned above and sell them. They were valued very expensive. Dog breeders were animal hunters at the same time. The main source of their livelihood was the sale of dogs.
They mainly hunted wolves for dog breeding, sometimes jackals as well. They used to keep the captured wolf in conditions close to the natural, in deep and long caves and on cliffs that have caves, where there were possibilities to hunt and wrangle. The dog used to hunt rabbits in its natural cave, the hunters sent the wolves in imperceptible ways to tunnels, they used to see and chase foxes, partridges and even bears.
The dogs bred in the Armenian highlands are divided to five separate groups, livestock-guardian dog or “Gelkheghd”, yard dog or simply Gampr, bear-hunting dog or “Archashoun”, “Potorkashoun” and barak or Tazi.
Livestock guardian dog “Gaylkheghd” (wolf-hound)
The role of these dogs is protecting the herds from wolves and thieves. The nickname of this dog is “Gaylkheghd”. Here is the description of that dog:
“Its head is big, its lips are thick, its nose is short, its chest is wife. It is strong and fearless, loyal, but not that sharp. It is very loyal to its master, it will take any risk to secure its master” (3).
“They are large with body and powerful, short muzzle, high forehead, ears cut slightly above the root, shaggy and thick necked, long muscular legs, firm croup. It has the habit of twisting its tail and putting it on its back. It walks calmly, self-confident and lofty. Does not bark for no reason. With its unmistaken instinct it decides the enemy and the friend, and acts with them accordingly (4). It has no special shade.
The subgroups of Gaylkheghd dogs
Gaylkheghd dogs are divided to two subgroups: Gaylashoon (wolf-dog) and Shnagayl (dog-wolf).
Gaylashun is named the dog whose father is a wolf, and whose mother is a wolf milk-fed dog.
Shnagayl is the dog whose father is a wolf milk-fed dog, and whose mother is a female wolf.
The pups born from the mating of dogs and wolves are fearless, defiant, wrangling but are dogs loyal to their masters, especially the female dog of the same species, who are named “Tele” and “Kelp”
Leashing the Gaylkheghd dog
The Gaylkheghd dog is leashed from the part of the dog’s chest and back, which is outstretched towards the neck, exactly in the direction of the legs, sharp plugs of steel are attached horizontally on the neck and vertically on the back, 10-12 cm long, in the width of a little finger.
When the dog attacks animals, it hits the chest at first, if it was able to overthrow the enemy, then the job becomes easy, otherwise, the battle begins. In that case, other than its fangs, the dog uses the specific plugs attached to its chest and back as well, which open a wide wound on the animal’s body from one single hit, especially to the heart.
Gaylkheghd dog after the battle
When the dog chokes a wolf, the duties of the senior herder is to make a chmur (bread crumbled in preheated oil) and after kissing the forehead and petting the head of the Gelkheghd dog, to personally feed it, the dog, feeling that specific treatment, first it licks the hands of the herder, and after that he eats the chmur. And the right to honor the dog who chocks more than one wolf is reserved to the elder of the house, the grandfather or the grandmother of the family. If one of them is not present on the mountain, the dog goes from the pasture to the village, begging before the grandfather’s feet, it barks three times, the grandfather or the grandmother, without receiving information from the herders about what happened or was done, immediately understand that the dog choked more than one wolf, and immediately hug it and kiss its forehead, fondle it, and afterwards they feed it with the chmur by their hands. When the dog is full, without any direction or sign, returns to the herd.
The shepherd’s helper
These smart animals often pasture the herd even when the shepherd is absent. The two Gamprs coming from the Chardakhlu village to the bungalows of the Martunu mountains have surprised the nearby residents with their intelligent actions. The herd consisting from three thousand five hundred sheep had only two shepherds, because it also had these Gamprs.
Now that herd is dispersed on the Agrija slope, and the shepherds have descended to the village for works. One of the dogs is squatting in the valley, and the other is at the top of the herd on the hill. The most vulnerable areas of each, the neck and underneath the stomach, are capped with metal studded belts. Noticing a dangerous or a suspicious animal, they immediately notify each other, concentrating the herd in one place and attack the intruder. The guest should approach the shepherds at first, say hello, have a talk, for the dogs to understand that the traveler is a friend. In that case they will not attack him.
In the evening, when the wolves are hiding, the livestock-guardian dog usually sleeps. When there is no danger, they seem indifferent and slacking. Once the fog surrounds the area or the day grows dark, these dogs turn alert, cautious, swirl around the herd and become ready to attack at any moment. These animals have no sleep or rest all night long, they guard the herd given for their protection and drive out the wolves and thieves from their surroundings till the morning.
The shepherd Tumanyan gave a wonderful description of the livestock-guardian Gampr. “it’s a habit of our shepherds to leave their herd under the supervision of the dogs. Each shepherd knows for sure that their dog will fully replace him. It happens that when the night falls, the wolf or the thief come down, attack, the herd scatters, cut a part of the sheep and drives them. Therefore the shepherd does not lose hope, he knows very well that the dogs will save them. The dogs are his only hope and he calls only for them. At that time, a part of the dogs gathers the scattered sheep, and the other part or one of them falls on the enemy’s area, incessantly barking and yapping loudly after the scattered sheep, for the master to know which way it is going, and it frees them from the enemy’s grasp, gathers and protects, till the master arrives.
And in a usual night, it will be sitting motionlessly in his place, by its arm, by the side of the herd, and nothing and no food can seduce it or dislocate it, until a danger arises or its master calls for it. Would it happen that it notices any suspicious movement on a side of the herd, then it will secretly go and check, then come back to its place. The shepherd’s dog is a shepherd itself, for that reason the shepherd loves his dog as he loves himself” (5).
“Two dogs captured our attention, which were barking driving the sheep. They took the animals fallen back in the pastures to their friends, then saw that some cattle animals had mingled with the sheep herd, with similar barks, they drove these animals out and took and united them to the cattle. Then they came and stood silent guards, one at the front of the herd, the other at the back. And the shepherd frozen at the top of the cliff, silently watching the work of his loyal helpers from his default position.
These Gamprs not only vigilantly guarded the herd for wolves to not approach, but they did not let the sheep to scatter, to stay in bushes, in cervices of cliffs. Step by step they descended from their positions and rebuked the disobedient animals, gathered the scattered “skirts” of the herd with barking. They probably knew from experience that it is these scattered, fallen back and beyond of their eyesight sheep are the first to fall victims to the beasts. Four men hardly could do the job of these two” (4).
The shepherd’s dog is the child, brother and friend of the shepherd. The shepherd would not eat before feeding his dog. It would happen that they weren’t able to deliver the bread or the spraying flour to the mountain, the shepherd would stay hungry giving his part of the bread or flour to his dogs. Without the livestock-guardian dogs it is impossible to preserve the herd in the mountain.
The character traits of the Armenian livestock-guardian Gampr:
The Gaylkheghd Gampr will throw itself to the fire for its master. Eating current in the forest, the bear suddenly comes out of the bushes and puts the man underneath him. The dog immediately jumps on the back of the animal much stronger than it, it tousles its furry neck, but nothing helps. No longer standing its master’s groans, the valiant animal enters into the bear’s “Shek”, takes hold on its testicles and pulls them with much force, the animal releases a plaintive cry and sends the man free, turns around towards the dog to break its waist with one hit, but the clever animal bounces back and whisks, why it should have stayed when its master is already saved (4).
Respect the brave
The Armenian livestock-guardian dog is brave and valiant, and it also likes the brave and valiant people. Holding your head high, proud and without fear walk beside a whole pack of livestock-guardian dogs.
They will not tear you apart, they might even give way with respect. Many benefit from this character trait of the Gaylkheghd.
“Last year, in the beginning of Autumn, while I was hunting in Lori, the sheep breeding farm dogs of Varser village raided me with their full pack. There was a gun in my hand, but I know that in such cases, if you use your gun you will be done, because with that the animals will get the impression that you are a harmful person. They came down barking, giving the fur of their heads to the wind, how they were running…
I sat down and indifferently started to look to one side, they came headlong, shocked by my extreme indifference and stopped surprised…
Another time, in the Mughan field, 14 dogs attacked me. This time I used another way familiar to me. Without taking down my gun from my back, I confidently walked through the field, with my head held high. The rabid dogs attacked, little was left for them to rip me apart, and I didn’t hastened nor slowed down my course. Only from time to time I looked askance at the enraged animals and rebuked from between my teeth:
And I continued to walk towards the tents.
That saved me. They understood that I am not a dangerous person. The thief’s hesitation and fear did not exist in me. With assured steps I was walking towards the tents, would a thief do something like that? ”.
Contempt for the coward
Year ago, such an event took place in Geghama mountains. The geologists attacked by a shepherd’s dogs somehow could manage to hide in a truck’s coachbuilder. All but one of them, a famous geologists from Moscow, who was unfamiliar with the character of the Armenian livestock-guardian Gampr, he did not manage to climb the coachbuilder and was sieged by the dogs, trembling with fear waiting for his end.
The leader of the dogs approached the man who was scared to death, sniffed him, raised its leg and peed on the man, thus expressing its contempt and then it went away.
Following their leader, one by one the rest of the dogs approached the man as well, raised their legs, peed on the man and then went away, thus expressing their contempt for cowardice.
The mountain Gamprs do not attack on children, women, elders and generally non-dangerous and poor people.
Reading the face expression
They understand by a once glance of their master’s whether the coming person is a friend or a suspicious person.
If you made suspicious movements, your look wandered or you expressed fear, made a trial to escape, you are finished. But, even in this case, once they roll to the scene, from the screams and signals they understand that it is a non-dangerous man, they leave and go away.
All the dogs faithfully service their masters, but the Armenian livestock-guardian dogs are especially distinguished for their devotion. The reason is that their friendship is anchored to a hard life and daily struggle, which they are waging together in the elements of nature, to protect the lives of the animals given to their protection against beasts.
Professor Sargis Sakanyan says about the action of a dog: “when I was keeping cows in the field of Lejan village, one of my friends forgot his bag with the bread in it. He looked for it a lot but could not find it. He called out but the dog is not there. The next day he similarly looked in the field, no dog and no bag was found. Man! What is it that had happened? Only the next day he remembers how he had eaten some bread beside a certain spring. “It has to be that it was left next to that spring” he thinks, he puts on his clothes, at dawn he goes to the field. He goes, finds his dog sleeping beside the spring, the bag next to it. He checks, the bread is inside, no hand had touched it. For two days that animal moaned hungry next to the bread, but it did not eat” (4).
Another example: “the chambar (female of the dog) gave birth to pups in Spring, and with an affectionate motherly love it loves them. And after having pups, it became kinder towards little creatures.
The birth of the sheep started: the Chambar was awake watching the newly born lambs, and if some lamb had born away from our sight, it immediately came to inform us to go for help.
One evening, when we were taking the sheep herd to home, the chambar did not show up. –
Maybe it didn’t endure, and ran home for its pups, - my friend concluded.
We arrived to the village, but the chambar still did not appear. Its pups wrapped around my feet yapping. The poor ones, and they were hungry and missed their mother. I gave them milk, I fed them and they silenced their voices. But where is the chambar. We counted. One of the sheep was missing as well. I took my cane to ascend the mountain, but my mother did not let me. It was a dim and dark night, the clouds were thundering in the distances and lightening was piercing the darkness. After a while a storm began. The forest close to our village was groaning all night long.
The morning was bright and sunny. We took the sheep herd to the locations of the previous day, we noticed the bushes bearing new leaves, and such a heart moving sight had opened before us. The lost sheep was sitting munching quietly, and our chambar was stretched beside it. It had noticed us a long time ago, but it didn’t leave its place, it was only moving its tail in a friendly manner, and the happiness was shining in its eyes. We moved forward and the secret was revealed. Between the mother and the chambar a newly born lamb was pleasantly sleeping” (4).
Yard dog or simply “Gampr”
The Gampr is larger than the livestock-guardian dog. It stays at home watching the yard and the house. It does not bark like the usual dogs, but he follows the children playing in the yard and intervenes in their fights, by hitting and rebuking them with his thick and furry tail. He is the most trustworthy protector of children, and sometimes their playmate, but always in the position of a protector.
The Gampr recognizes the friends of the household and does not bark at them, but it barks at strangers, especially, according to its instinctive intuition, on the household’s enemies. It does not bite, but it tears apart. It obeys the orders of all the members of the household, it recognizes the animals of the house and protects them against alien attacks, it does not allow strange children and animals to approach the fence of the yard of the house or to the borders of the homestead land plot.
It sleeps with one eye open and alert, tunes its ears in the case of the slightest movement. When the Gampr barks, the household members would understand the reason by the way and intonation of its barking.
The Gampr does not stand up against its master, but puts its head on its front paws, with supplication, but always with submission submits to the blows of its master, without moving from its place or escaping. It would happen that the master beating the dog for any serious reason, started to cry from heaviness of the heart and hugged its neck, flooded its head and eyes with kisses, fondled and caressed it.
The house Gampr will not eat food from anybody’s hand except of its household members, would stay hungry for days, but will not touch the piece of bread or meat given to it by a stranger, and would not steal from the food given for its protection.
Often, trusting the yard for the other dogs of the yard, the Gampr would secretly follow the children running from the house and watch them from a distance, coming to rescue at the necessary moment. There had been many cases confirming this.
In the coastal villages of the Euphrates, in spite of cases of children drowning in the river every year, it was not possible to forbid the children from the joy of swimming in the river. They would apply to every ingenuity to come out of the house and swim in the lake.
But the children who tricked the elders and the parents could not trick the faithful dog. The Gampr would unnoticeably follow the child who went to swim secretly (for the latter to not forbid it of doing it) and hiding between the coastal rocks, would only appear in the case when a danger is posed to any child.
Here is a case that happened in 1912 (2):
A group of children from the Chaygom village decided to swim in the dangerous part of the Euphrates river on the day of the Vardavar celebration. The children who arrived to the riverside, when they saw the loud noise and the rapid flow of river’s water, hesitated to enter the water and to perform their decision to cross the river. But one of the children, the most defiant, ignoring the warnings of his friends and their trails to block him from entering the river, got naked and jumped to the water.
At first, the child was struggling with great efforts against the river’s current and went deeper inside it, to be able to penetrate it and come out on the opposite coast, but the current constrained all the movements of the child and drove him down. The cries for help of his friends remained unanswered, the child was vanishing from sight at the left turn of the river. In that turmoil, suddenly the incoherent barking of a dog was heard. The shepherds coming for help, following the dog’s barking, ascended the coastal stone and saw that the dog named zulum, on the left side coast plane, was licking the forehead and chest of Muro, and yupping with happiness. The child was saved.
That day was a big celebration. The Armenian and Kurdish residents gathered at the Lusaghbyur forest meadow of St. Sargis, sang, danced and hailed the big celebration, Vardavard, accompanied by the playing of a couple of Dhol-Zurna instruments, his protector and patron St. Nikoghos, Sargis who came to help the distressed through the dog and the heroes of the day enjoying his protection, Zulum the deliverer and Muro the delivered from disaster. Sacrifices were slaughtered by many, because they considered the incident to be a miracle.
Few more cases related to the strict commitment of the Gampr (2):
During the battles against the Turks in 1907, Ako, refugee villager from Ghrgrlkilise of Mndzur highland, vanishes. All investigations to find Ako dead or wounded remain without a result, Antar grandmother does not believe in the loss of her grandson and insists that Ako is alive, basing her conviction on the fact that during the heated point of the battle, their dog Chalo, abandoning its nursing pups, headed towards Khutats valley (place of the battle) and maybe it did not come back.
Antar grandmother affectionately takes care of and feeds the orphaned pups of Chalo and waits for its return. The dog returns after an absence of three days, when the Turkish soldiers have already lost and Khurtats valley was in peace.
The dog arrives to home in a sunken and hungry shape, but instead of approaching its pups, it ran to Antar Grandmother and put its paws on the grandmother’s shoulders, licked her hands. That was a sign of victory. The grandmother caressed and kissed the dog and asked:
Where you have been all these days?, why you left your pups abandoned and orphan and disappeared without a trace?. Tell!, Chalo!, where is your master Ako ?.
Chalo seemed like to understand the words of its master, and barked three times moving its tail. It headed towards the door, barked again and invited the landlord to follow it.
The grandmother immediately loudly calls and few people in the village follow the dog, who leads them far enough from the village, to a cave located in the depths of inaccessible rocks, where heavily wounded, but consciously laying down is Ako from Mirag.
With a stretcher made on spot, they transfer the wounded to the village. After making the necessary treatments, when the wounded could speak, he tells the following:
In order to cut the surrendering road of the surrendering Turkish army, I came out of my hiding place and jumped to spot through the Chatal rock to take the Boz Ketuk position. The rock was too high, as I jumped, my left foot, down the knee, broke. Because the wound was still hot, I withstood the pain and crawled to reach to Boz Ketuk and held the position towards the height of the path leading to Sheytan-Ghaya, where eight soldiers and one captain separated from the army were to pass.
I remember that from the first firing, the captain fell to the ground, with the second bullet I hit Bash-Chavush, the remaining seven soldiers surrendered back firing. It was during this when one of the enemy bullets hit my right shoulder and my gun fell from my hands. I knew that the refugees were not going to be able to climb the Boz Ketuk rocks to harm me, but I felt that my right arm is not moving and blood was flowing like water. What happened afterwards I do not know. How long did I stay unconscious, who and how moved me to that unfamiliar cave, where you found me, I do not know, I only felt that I was sucking something and the warm fluid was flowing down my throat, and some animal was licking my forehead, my eyelids had become very heavy that I could not open my eyes or move my hands. All my limbs were motionless because of the pain of my wounds or the blood I had lost. I felt that I am breathing, therefore I was not dead yet, but I could not remember anything about what happened, to be more accurate, my brain was not functioning. I did not have an idea about the passing of time, how many hours or how many days I had stayed in that state, I did not know. Only when I opened my eyes I saw that Chalo was licking my wounds, from which blood was not flowing and there was not any dried blood on any part of my body. When I saw the dog above my head, it seemed as if I came back to life. Although I could not hug and kiss it, but I could whisper:
- Chalo, I am alive, go home and call for help. The rest you know.
It turned out that Chalo moved the heavily wounded far away from the place of danger, fed him by its milk, licked his wounds and watched its master as long as he came back to consciousness and ordered it to go home and call for help.
Indebted villager, Zeynal, to avoid blood relatiation, disappeared from the village. His faithful dog after long wanderings finds the hiding place of his master and every day he secretly brings food, clothes and cigarettes from the villagers to his master who had been hiding for in caves for two months, and starts to accompany him in his wanderings from a mountain to a mountain. One day Zeynal likes to go near his uncle who stays at the bars. The dog goes before Zeynal and investigates the road.
Before climbing the stone hill of the Sev Kar, the dog barks warning that there is a person coming. His master hides between the rocks, but the dog, in order to not betray his master’s hiding place, runs forward to check the identity of the coming person as well. The enemy looking for Zeynal appears behind the stone hill, the dog recognizes him, and he recognizes the dog and tries to earn the dog’s favor, in order to find his enemy through the dog. The dog attacks the enemy. The latter forced protects himself, and with a blow of the sword slits the dog’s head. While Zeynal coming to the aid of the dog appears and fires on the enemy. The faithful dog dies, but the master is saved (2).
“The friends brought a yard dog to a well known painter. That animal did not live well with his master, it was evident by its lean ribs and disheveled hair. But its eyes were intelligent, its character was gentle, calm. They had brought him from the other end of Yerevan, not far from the Getar river…a wonderful life was created for that dog with his new masters, where he received abundant food and always heard gentle words addressed to him. It quickly recovered, a shine came to its hair, its eyes became more alive, more lively. Only sometimes they noticed that he would put his head on his front paws and look silently and indifferently at one spot. A gentle sadness could be read on his face at these moments.
- Look, Lusik, it is remembering its master, - slowly said the old painter pointing his wet brush to the dog.
In a dark Spring night, a lot of rain fell. The clouds were thundering with a loud voice and the lightening was penetrating the sky with fiery gleams.
The dog, who was tied in the hall, suddenly roared inconsolably and shook to break the rope encircling its neck. It stood on its back legs and with full force hit the pole to which he was tied.
- What happened to this animal? Why is it worried, - asked the hesitating Mrs. Lusik.
- It feels a danger…the dogs get worried like that when they are facing a great danger, when their beloved master meets a disaster.
Few moments passed, suddenly alarming voices were heard from the street.
- The flood! The flood!...Getar flooded out of its banks…
The great flood of 1946 May of Yerevan started.
Combat battalions, the military and loading trucks were engaged in helping the population exposed to the disaster. People were carrying unfamiliar children on their shoulders and crossing the streets where water was running, some were snatching valuable items from the mouth of the fierce flood.
At that moment, an animal struggling against the muddy waters, was swimming towards the Getar river, to that low clay house, in the yard of which he was born in a modest corner, and grew up playing.
Stagnant water was surging in that house under the shimmering of electric light, the basement was flooded, and the newly coming waves were hitting the dilapidated porch. The lady of the house was screaming, carrying items by dabbling in the waters to the second floor of the neighboring strong building, and her husband was carrying the children and hurrying to an elevated soil mound where water had not reached yet.
Cutting through the stagnant waters in the yard, the dog came to a muddy and a weakened place and stretched out at the head of the soil mound, next to the children and items of its master.
During that difficult time of the disaster, the man’s heart became lighter, and the children immediately forgot the fear they were holding unto a while ago, and hugging the dog they were caressing its frozen body. And their father deeply touched said:
- you came to me on my hard day, dear Urus, how did you find us?, Urs, look after the children and the items, I go.
Entering the water, he went to bring the rest of the items of the house.
The Getar which came out of its banks was shouting fiercely, the dilapidated walls exposed to its mouth were collapsing, but neither the shouts nor the distressful night could bring fear to the children sheltered on their island they were playing with their childhood friend Urs (4).
Arjashun (bear-dog), which had the two and half price of a Gampr, was extremely rare, used only by the professional animal hunters when hunting bears. It was stronger than a bear, especially when it was armored with steel studs.
Hunting-dog or Barak (3)
This dog was used to hunt foxes, wild cats and lynxes. It was light and swift.
In order to hunt mountain goats and deers, and to bring them out of the caves, a special kind of a hunting-dog of the Drsim and Mndzur highland, born from mating Barak with Gaylashun (wolf-dog), which could find the hiding place of a mountain goat by its slightest traces and lead to the direction where the prey was hiding.
This kind of dogs differed from the other dogs by their power of scent and manner of barking. These did not bark on people, they were very intelligent and devoted to their master. They had a separate feature to chase the wounded prey, find its hiding place and call the hunter to their place by barking.
The price of the Armenian Gampr
The basis of exchange in the Armenian highland was not just gold and silver, but also natural products or animals. The price of a dog would be decided by these exchange rates.
The price of a one pedigreed dog in the Mntsur mountains was 40 cote (640 kg) of wheat, or one horse, or one milk cow with its calf, or 10 sheep with their lambs (2). It was possible to pay 80 kg of honey, or 80 kg of fat, or the same amount of wool as well for one pedigreed dog there.
If a villager from Mntsur did not have any means for an exchange, but liked to have an Armenian pedigreed Gampr, he had to work 80 days free of charge for the dog’s master.
In Sasun, for a one Gelkheghd dog they would pay 10-12 newly born sheep (1).
It was approximately the same prices at the other areas of Armenia (4). The price of particularly remarkable dogs would reach to 30-40 sheep (4).
In reality, however, the price of a Gampr dog was much higher. Raising a weapon on a Gampr or killing it was equal to homicide.
1. Kh. Dashtents, Khodedan, Yerevan, 1950.
2. Armenian Ethnography and Folklore, Vol.5, G. Halajyan, Ethnography of Armenians of Dersim, Yerevan, 1973.
3. H. Yeremyan, New Zoology, Venice, 1896, page 37.
4. V. Ananyan, The Armenian Wildlife, Vol. 1, Yerevan, 1961:
5. H. Tumanyan, Narratives, Yerevan, 1978.