ALLEN CANYON — In an area where predators are far from uncommon, what’s the best defense? Dogs, says one couple, who recently acquired two Kangal shepherd puppies to replace their aging rottweilers.

“They’ll protect all the animals and your children,” said Jan Hileman, who with husband, Benny, lives along Allen Canyon Loop southeast of Wallowa. “That’s what they’re bred for.”

The rare guard dogs are native to Turkey. Not so much herding dogs, they’re more to keep an eye on their territory — and those in it — and protect what’s there.

“We’re griping about cows getting killed, and I think it’s time people find out there is something that can really help,” Jan Hileman said.

The Hilemans have nine dogs total — five they regularly let outside and four that are more indoor dogs. In addition to the two Kangals, they have two rottweilers, an old border collie, two chihuahuas, a Boston bull terrier “and a fuzzy dog” mutt, Benny said.

Several are getting quite old, and their days are numbered.

Some may see having such a large pack as a problem, but the Hilemans don’t.

“All of our dogs stay here because we watch them all the time,” Jan said. “And they teach each other things.”

“But somebody has to be the pack leader, and I’ve already done that with our dogs,” Benny added.

He said they’ve both been working with the Kangals — two females that are about 5 months old. They’ll be advantageous to replace the older rottweilers.

“Once they get more grown up and trained better,” he said. “I have been trying to walk them around the fence line and teach them that that’s the end.”

Benny said that training is important, as the Kangals are more likely to stay home than his rottweilers, who have been known to go off gallivanting around the woods. They’re even showing a natural instinct to simply survey the surrounding area and watch for anything alarming.

“That’s what we’re finding out,” Jan said. “For the past two or three weeks, Callie would just sit here and look over the area.”

The Hilemans said the girls — Callie and Zahara — have been relatively easy to train.

“I put those dogs on a lead and Callie backed up on me a little, but Zahara tromped right along. I could’ve taken her to the show ring,” Benny said. “I stop; she sits down. Callie, I have to tell her to sit down. They’re really getting to learn.”

Jan said they do come with challenges.

“They’re so stubborn,” she said.

But, she said, she’s impressed with how the pups are already so observant.

“It’s a natural instinct that they stay right here and protect their turf,” she said. “Callie was sitting here this morning just looking over the valley. They always, always know what’s going on around them. … They notice everything.”

Jan is impressed with their intelligence at such a young age.

“They’re not even 5 months yet,” she said last month. “They’ve been heeling off-leash for a month.”

They respond well to affection, too.

“You have to love them,” Jan said. “They’re like children, you have to keep their minds busy. I went out and got a bunch of big bones for them and that helps.”

The Kangals’ ability as guard dogs is as much in their physique as in their intelligence. A male can grow to more than 170 pounds and on its hind legs, rest its forelegs on the shoulders of a tall man.

They also have the record for the strongest bite. Online sources say they have a bite force measured at 743 pounds per square inch.

Their females won’t grow that large, but they should be large enough and strong enough to ward off any of the wolves, bears, cougars or coyotes the Hilemans have seen on their wooded property.

“We’ve had more than our share of wolves on this hill,” Benny said.

He also said that a few years ago, four young cougars came over the mountains from Union County and hung out near a ranch below their place.

“They had been raising Cain over there among somebody’s sheep or goats,” he said. “They stayed here for about a week and a half.”

There also was the time when Jan had finished showering, looked out of the bathroom window only to face a black bear inches away.

“I don’t think he (Benny) even believed me,” Jan said.

“No, I didn’t,” he admitted.

Benny estimated it was an older, 250-300-pound bear that left its paw marks on the outside wall of the house.

“We’ve had other animals here; we just accept it,” Jan said. “I used to walk these mountains without any guns. … I knew of a former neighbor girl who was mauled by a bear.”

Such encounters with predators are the main reason they got the Kangals.

“There are more wolves now,” she said. “We just killed several coyotes. That and our other dogs are getting older.”

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