The Kuvasz is an ancient breed of livestock guardian dog (LGD) that has existed for thousands of years. For most of its history, the Kuvasz has been a landrace, which is very different from a modern fashion or purposefully created breed (i.e. by mixing certain breeds to create a new one). Consequently, pinpointing the exact origin of such an old breed is very difficult. There are some historical facts and fossil evidence has been discovered; however, much of the details regarding the exact origin and history of the breed is based on scientific speculation and various theories.
In order to try and best understand the history of the Kuvasz, one must be aware of the origin of the Hungarians (Magyars). Hungarians undoubtably have Asian ancestors which can be traced back to ancient Sumeria and Scythia. According to numerous current scientific sources and researchers, the Scythians, in particular, are thought to be the ancestors of the Hungarians. Thus, this area in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley also often referred to as Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq, parts of Syria, Tukey etc.) is where archeologists estimate the history of the Kuvasz began sometimes around 6600 BC. Written records of the Kuvasz were found dating back to around 5,000 BC in the City of Ugarit. While exploring the ruins of this ancient city in 1931, Sir H. J. McDonald found a clay tablet with the word “Kuvasz” inscribed on it in cuneiform (one of the earliest writing system). There are also mentions of Kuvaszok on clay tablets uncovered in what was formerly the city of Ur, dating back to 3,500 BC. Lastly, and most importantly, the Kuvasz is mentioned in the Code of Hammarabi, which were a set of laws written by King Hummarabi around 1,780 BC. What is most striking is that the Kuvasz is mentioned in this text by its modern name (Moustaki, 2007).
Clearly, the Kuvasz is an ancient breed that worked, protected and accompanied nomads (ancestors of early Hungarians) and their flocks and it probably also interbred with other dog breeds that were encountered by these travelling nomadic peoples (Moustaki, 2007). Being a landrace at the time, Kuvaszok were kept by nomadic tribes predominantly for their working abilities. Over time these Kuvaszok evolved and underwent strict natural selectin, whereby only those individuals were kept that best adapted to the local environment, fulfilled local needs and conformed to the cultural norm and preferences (i.e. white colour) of these early Hungarian tribes.
The origin of the name “Kuvasz” has also been debated by various scholars. One theory suggests that the name originates from the word “Kuassa”, a Sumerian word that dates back some 7,000 years. “Ku” means dog and “Assa” meant horse, thus combines Kuassa means “horse dog” or “dog of the horse (Moustaki, 2007). This makes sense since the Hungarians (and their ancestors) have always had a strong affinity, connection and reliance on horses. Needing to keep up with horses, might also explain why the Kuvasz is one of the most athletic and agile of all LGDs.
Another theory suggests that the name came from the word “Chuvach” because it is thought that the early migrating Hungarians encountered the Chuvach people (a kind of Turik peoples) with whom they traded, adopted some things from, including potentially the Kuvasz dog or at least the name. There might be some merit to this as well, because the Slovakian named their white LGD breed which was split of from the Hungarian population Slovakian Chuvach (obviously looking at the historic context).
What we also know for sure is that by the time the Hungarians (Magyars) conquered the Carpathian Basin, in 895 AD, the Kuvasz was already established and accompanied them on their great trek into Europe. The approximately 1,100 year old dog skull discovered in Fenékpusztai, near Keszthely on Lake Balaton illustrates sticking similarity to a modern Kuvasz and demonstrates that the breed already existed in its current from at the time of the Hungarian Conquests.
Based on this evidence we can also dismiss the theory that the Kuvasz is of Turkish origin or brought to Hungary by the Ottoman Turks as well as the notion that its name comes from the Turkish “Kawasz” or “armed guard”. This is not plausible because by the time the Ottoman Turks conquered Hungary, the Kuvasz was a long-established breed. Equally misleading is the notion that the Kuvasz originates from the Tibetan Mastiff. Some caninologists believe all large dogs or LGDs originate from the Tibetan Mastiff; however, there is no fossil, archeological, cultural, linguistic, geographical, etc. evidence linking the Kuvasz to the Tibetan Mastiff.
What is however undisputable is that the Kuvasz is an ancient breed and was present in Mesopotamia at the beginning of early animal husbandry, thus making it one of the OLDEST BREEDS in the WORLD.
Latest scientific studies on canine genetics and evolution support these historic findings, as illustrated by Parker and Gilbert (2015) on the graph below, the Kuvasz is a dog breed in a genetic category of its own and closely linked to primitive and wild canines illustrating its ancient origin.
Moustaki, N. (2007). A Kennel Club book: Kuvasz. Freehold, NJ: BowTie inc.
Parker, H.G., & Gilbert, S. (2015). From caveman companion to medical innovator: Genomic insights into the origin and evolution of domestic dogs. Advances in Genomics and Genetics, 2015(5), 239-255