Azawakh – a living relic

English translation of the russian article Азавак – живая реликвия (image copy of the original article)

    The Azawakh breed name comes from the ancient valley Azawakh, which is located between the River Niger and the state border of Mali. Archaeologists have found a mural depicting Azawakh accompanying the ancestors of the people Lel, which is more than five thousand years old (the magazine « Kino-Mag», № 3, 1996, p. 13-14). Azawakh’s distribution area is limited by the Azawakh valley and the territory of the Tuareg: Mali, Upper Volta, Nigeria and Mauritania.

The Azawakh is used to be called the sighthound of the Blue Berbers. « In the mimosa steppes of South Sahara … in all regions, well-trodden by nomads Tuaregs (which are a branch of the Berber people), a sighthound has been known as the Barbary hound. » (V.I. Kazansky, Sighthounds, M., Lesnaya Prom., 1984, p. 54-55). The Azawakh was also called: Tuareg, Wadi Azawakh, and it were considered to be a wild animal (Bi-Lexicon, Handerassen, 1984, p.79-80). This breed was interesting for Tuaregs as a hunting dog and a sign of luxury and wealth of the owner.

The Azawakh is a proud and distant dog, which takes a lot after the Tuaregs – the warlike nomadic tribe. This nation and its dogs are used to live in harsh desert conditions: meager meal, water shortage, frequent droughts. The Tuaregs were highly mobile and elusive aboard their swift, hardy camels. Tuaregs’ attacks were devastating, and there was no chance to reflect them (A. Shinny, « Ancient African States », Nauka, M. 1982, p.50). The same traits are peculiar to Azawakhs, which live freely and independently for thousands of years. It remains a mystery where Azawakhs come from. The only sighthound of prehistoric era was tezem and only Burbury was the home of Canis getulus – prehistoric fossil dog (V.I. Kazansky, Sighthounds, M., Lesnaya Prom, 1984, p.54-55). For five thousand years BC in the Paleolithic, the Sahara was covered by forests, grassy savannahs, shrubs. Life in the wilderness demanded endurance and strict discipline from human and animal. The disease generated by malarial swamps and the need to constantly roam in search of new pastures greatly affected local life.

But it all went down in history. Today the desert is advancing, droughts become more frequent. This makes the Tuaregs to abandon the nomadic life. This factor, coupled with numerous diseases and lack of food led to the Azawakh population decreases from year to year. It tends to the disappearance of this breed in Africa.
Tuaregs and their hounds lived in isolation from other nations that helped to keep the type of Azawakh different from any other breed. It was almost impossible to establish cultural ties with neighboring nations. Sahara desert was a kind of barrier – « the red-hot and hostile to a man sandy sea » (A. Shinny, « Ancient African States », Nauka, 1982, p.5-6).

If we compare the Azawakh with ancient sluggi, then Azawakh skull is longer but less wide, the body is shorter, the hocks of forelegs and hind legs are higher, there is a difference in the position of the ears, and their form (the Azawakh – triangular, raised on earleather when Azawakh is surprised, tense or attacking, so that the inside of the ear is not seen), a manner to keep the tail – Azawakh’s  tail is long and obviously curled (B-Lexicon, Handerassen, 1984, p.79-80).

Azawakh, unlike sluggi has flat muscles, hip is shorter, neck circumference is shorter and of a smaller diameter. The format of an Azawakh : a rectangle standing on the short side. The length coefficient is less than 100% in any case. Azawakh’s format may change toward prolixity when it is crossed with any other sighthounds.

Another distinguishing feature of Azawakh – volume, large, streamlined chest, resembling a boat. None of known breeds has the comparable points as an Azawakh. That’s why the opinion that Azawakh descends from sluggi raises doubts.

The Azawakh is a stayer, it withstands extended physical activity that no one other dog will support due to different body structures. The Azawakh on activity is characterized by tightly closed mouth.

High priority is assigned to movements of Azawakh – they demonstrate all beauty of the breed and it can’t be worked out. Only with a sinking heart, one can look at the parallel to the ground line during a rapid run; legs are indistinguishable, head and body – one line; at a trot – the dignity, nobility, smooth, easy motion, full of elegance. But Azawakh needs to be relaxed in order to be able to move like this in the ring. Rough training is unacceptable, because Azawakh himself wants to show off in the ring, especially when he sees that he had been paid attention. And if the judge does not express interest, Azawakh is above this: he will remain full of narcissism and pride every time victorious while leaving the ring.

Smooth, free and full of dignity movements are combined with the rapid run when the body of Azawakh turns into a straight line, parallel to the ground. It seems that Azawakh will not be able to stop and so will disappear over the horizon, but one moment and he stands stock-still, not moves a muscle. Azawakh moves quickly and easily between trees and shrubs without touching them, freely maneuvers on any type of terrain. In the tall grass Azawakh runs high jumping and springing, in the dug field – without sinking because of its levity.

Everything is in harmony in the Azawakh : high-set elegant head on a long but strong neck when the dog is vigilant; well-shaped tall legs, which at any moment, getting off the ground, take Azawakh in never-ending journey through time and space.

Azawakh’s eyes are almond-shaped with a dark stroke, very expressive, slightly slanted, that makes them look « human », when the facial gesture expresses the dogs’ mood: passion, sadness, joy of the meeting. When Azawakh attacks his eyes are scary. From beautiful eyes of an « oriental beauty », they turn into the eyes of a predator, ready to fight to the death for his girlfriend or puppies. When an Azawakh is attacked, male and female behave similarly. They keep strangers away at 100-200 meters, as if conducting an invisible line. The Azawakhs are rather or completely indifferent to strangers of course, as long the people do not impinge on the territory of the dog.

An Azawakh family has very touching relationship. The sire helps with delivery, acting very smartly, with energy and decisively. He approaches the female only with contractions. He takes out a puppy, pulling it with the air in the mouth, then gently gnaws the umbilical cord, then removes the film from the puppy and licks the pappy till the first peep, the female in the meantime eats the afterbirth, takes a puppy back, and so on. After giving birth to the last, the female doesn’t allow the male to approach the puppies, the father looks with pride and love at his children afar, jealously watching over them from people (except the owner, who has the right to approach the puppies at any time).

Later on both parents look after puppies: massage their bellies, monitoring them to piss and drop, grooming them to perfection – in word, puppies get the full care from their mother as well as from their father. The father often sleeps with the puppies in the whelping box, and then (from 12-15-day) carries them in the owner’s bed.

Tuaregs don’t pay attention to the Azawakh color, though they value black mask and brindled color. The main coat pattern varies from light-sand to dark sand, in the tone of the sand to not to be visible.

Requirement of the Tuaregs – the white markings. Azawakhs without white were considered worthless. (The Atlas of Dog Breeds of the World Bouniewilcox, Dvm and Chris Walkavicz, p.142-145). White socks, stockings, sometimes plastron on the chest, white blotches in the form of semi collars on the neck, a white pattern on the head – it all is included in colors patterns of Azawakh (sluggi are disqualified for white markings). (Bi-Lexicon, Handerassen, 1984, p.79-80).

African kings like red blankets and clothing, the spear, shield and white dog are considered as symbol of authority. The standard restricts the color palette for Azawakh, in particular, there is no white in main coat pattern. While being light, almost white colored Azawakh has black (so that one can hardly see the pupil) eyes, black lips, nose, black gums, at least one nail is black, black body is seen under the white coat on the head, legs, incrustations on the bottom part of the breast – to the spine.

Silky short coat sparkles in the sun, the skin is thin, with no fat (between the body and skin), tight to the body, so that every muscle, every vein is seen on the body of Azawakh. Azawakhs are thin as a shadow, the edges are clearly visible.

Azawakh character is wary and even suspicious – to strangers. The only way to win an Azawakh over is a respect, because Azawakh has inherent dignity peculiar to all sighthounds. Azawakh never understands the harsh and brutal discipline and obtrusiveness towards itself. That’s why Azawakh is not for everyone, but only for intellectuals and connoisseurs of beautiful.

The first pair of Azawakh was brought to France in the early 70’s by Gervais Coppe – a Frenchman, professor of social sciences and anthropologist who has studied the behavior of the Azawakh in the natural environment.

With his direct participation in 1971 FCI accepted Azawakh standard (under the name of sluggi-Azawakh), and in 1994 the new standard approved the existing breed name. Azawakh standard had been always a subject of debates in FCI and still remains unclear why the color patterns are restricted, white and brindle color are not accepted. In Mali, the homeland of Azawakh, these colors were even appreciated, although Tuaregs didn’t attach the primary importance to the Azawakh color.

Later Gervais Coppe brought from Africa, 20 breeding Azawakhs. By the mid-90’s in France, there were approximately 300 dogs of this breed.

To date, there are two types of Azawakh. The first – refined, pampered and elegant, too squared (body length \ height at withers ratio is closer to 8:10 instead of 9:10), that doesn’t correspond to the FCI standard. The neck is very beautiful, but with almost no withers, limbs angulations from 140o and more, narrow croup.

The second type – strongly rangy, with well developed flat muscles, angulations of 130° to 140o, body length \ height at the withers ratio 9:10. Withers well expressed, the neck is long and beautiful, but muscular. The character of these azawakhs is more energetic, sometimes willful. Representatives of both types are present in Russia.

In our country the first Azawakh pair was brought from Mali in 1986 by V. and A. Kowalski. The first litter, born in 1988, became the basis of Azawakh breeding in Russia. In 1989, two males were brought from Czechoslovakia and one female from Yugoslavia. In January 1990 she gave birth to puppies, some of them were not like Azawakh (it turned out that the female was bred before purchase). Further breeding of dogs from this litter took the sideline of the main requirement for the breed: height at the withers must be bigger than body length. Elegance was lost; some puppies had a long or hard coat that is unacceptable for Azawakh. Subsequently, this female was bred by real Azawakhs and gave wonderful offspring. One more female brought from Czechoslovakia didn’t completely come up to the standard.

In modern breeding there is a confrontation between supporters of purebred Azawakh – African sighthound, and « European » Azawakh. Many breeders are addicted to get great « top models », because of which « for some years now, genetic defects appear in the breed” (Kinomag …. p.12-13). The « European » Azawakh also stands out by bright color, that is appreciated by part of judges, both Russian and foreign ones (e.g. Franco Ferrari from Italy). Azawakh of a pampered type ought to be shown on the ring, but not to live in normal life in Europe, moreover in Africa.

Many foreign judges highly appreciate our breeding, while adding that « they have not seen such beautiful Azawakhs, but different from those Azawakhs which live in their countries » Most of these judges are from UK – A. Brooks, D. Perdue, D.McMillan; judges from US, France, and others.

The crossing of Azawakhs with sluggi, greyhound and other sighthounds is unacceptable. The backbone and the general appearance are changing to the refinement and delicacy or to the increasing muscle tissue and heavy general appearance. The practice of crossing with greyhounds for breeding other breeds, which is practiced for over 100 years, primarily in Europe, is pernicious for Azawakh. Thus, in Germany greyhounds were used for Doberman breeding, and then the entire lines related to these matings were excluded from the breeding. However, the German breeders did not conceal this, but concluded that such a crossing didn’t prove its value. « Doberman female was mated by a black colored English greyhound  … puppies had the same chest and chest coat as greyhound had … back was partly arched ». But rational mind won, since « this mistake will soon be passed to all offspring of the Doberman breed in general. » (Ernst Wilking « Doberman, a dog as a friend, » Kennel Association of Germany in cooperation with the Association « Doberman », Volume 19, p.11 of text in German, p.14 of text in Russian).

Azawakh is an ancient and at the same time a new breed for us. Most people discovered this breed just recently, though Azawakhs exist for several thousands of years. Their origin is unknown, but communicating with them, a human being becomes closer to the history of ancient civilizations, where are our origins. Communication with an Azawakh can only be based on the equality; Azawakhs are not just « dumb animals » but equal with us, proud and freedom-loving animals. Our mission – not to spoil, not to harm that is not created by us, but to live with all that exists on the Earth, in harmony and mutual respect.

Azawakh is a message to us from the unknown and unexplored civilization; Azawakh must be preserved as petroglyphics in primitive caves, as the pyramids of Egypt and other « Wonders of the World”, especially since Azawakh is a living personification of this antiquity. At the same time Azawakh is our future. A certain level of human development – cultured minds, high integrity and ethic standards – is corresponded to an Azawakh – great as our World.


Irina Klepatskaya President of national Azawakh club.