Walking behind the Whitehall, I saw a black dust mop on a leash ahead of me. Always eager to hear a good story, I struck up a conversation with the owner.
She informed me that this dog was a puli — a Hungarian sheep dog — named Rocky and that he has been a source of wonder for years. Much to my amazement, a recent television commercial for Marshall’s features a white puli.
A recent week found me at the apartment of Julie Gaynor, where I made the personal acquaintance of Rocky. Pulik — the plural of “puli” — were bred as working dogs, and Rocky was cautious about my presence and my right to enter his space. Shortly, he relaxed onto the carpet and listened attentively to Julie sing his praises, which included the conviction that “unlike other dogs which only understand one word commands, Rocky understands full sentences.”
His herding instincts are on display when the family goes hiking. When the Gaynors go alone with Rocky, he insists on walking between them or in front. When the whole family hikes together, Rocky goes immediately in front of the group, acting as a protector.
Distinctive dreadlocks known as cords cover the entire animal, including the face. It does not disturb the animal’s sight, although I could barely see Rocky’s eyes. Baby pulik have curls. The matting process cannot begin until the puppy is about a year old and the double coat of a soft undercoat and a tougher topcoat develop enough to be folded together. Then, the fluff is separated into cords by hand.
The initial process takes about three to four months to set. As the cords lengthen, they have to be pulled apart frequently to keep them growing as individual “ropes.” It can take up to four years to grow in completely. Coat coloration includes rusty-black, gray and fako — the color of the inside of a whole wheat roll. If no effort is made to cord the hair, the dog will simply look hugely fluffy.
American pulik may all derive from four purebred animals imported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1935. Pulik are popular enough that there is a Puli Club of America, which is a member of the American Kennel Club.
It is believed that pulik migrated westward with the Magyar tribes of Hungary more than 1,000 years ago from the Carpathian Mountains. However, there is some conjecture that the ancestral breed is the Tibetan terrier, which was purebred in Tibet for 2,000 years.
Officially, terriers are a group of dogs bred in Great Britain and Ireland for hunting burrow-dwelling animals such as rats and rabbits. The misnamed Tibetan terrier was thus named due to its resemblance to some of the British breeds. “Terrier” is derived from the Latin terra meaning “earth.”
Another corded Hungarian dog is the komondor — plural “komondorok.” These dogs were brought to Hungary by the Cumans, a Turkic-speaking group who fled the Mongol invasion and settled in Hungary around 1239.
The name is derived from Komon-dor meaning “Cuman dog.” While the puli was a herding dog, the komondor was a guard dog protecting livestock. Pulik and komondorok would frequently work together, the puli warning of animal predators, and the komondor fighting them off.
Although a komondor resembles a fluffy labradoodle as a puppy, it is a large dog. While a mature puli reaches only 25 to 30 pounds and about 17 inches tall, the komondor — which only has a white coat — can grow to more than 130 pounds and over two feet tall.
And finally, there’s the Bergamasco, another herding dog with an unusual coat in shades of gray. This dog’s coat is not corded, instead the long twisted hair has a more felt-like appearance and is referred to as “flocks.” The flocks are the result of the Bergamasco having three separate types of hair: a fine undercoat, a “goat hair” layer and a wooly topcoat.
Creating the flocks is similar to creating cords in the puli. The Bergmasco is believed to have originated in the area of Iran and migrated westward with it nomadic owners, finally settling in the Italian Alps.
Given the difficulty of the terrain and the fact that shepherds were caring for large numbers of sheep with only a few dogs, the Bergamasco was developed as an independent problem-solver with a unique intelligence. Direction clearly would come from the shepherd, but the details were left to the dogs.
The Bergamasco is intermediate in size between the puli and the komondor. It weighs between 55 and 85 pounds and stands about 23 inches tall. More information is available at Bergamasco Sheepdog Club of America.
Next time you see a puli, say hello to the Gaynors!
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