Azawakhs de Garde-Epée
Interview with Corine Lundqvist

by Alberto ROSSI

1. How and when did you get to know Azawakhs? And why did you decide to breed them? What has attracted you in them?

I owned Whippets since 1978 (and a Scottish Deerhound), and was showing, running and breeding them when I met my first Azawakh, TIMGAD from M. Morineau (M. and Mme Douce breeding), in 1985. He was a beautiful unfriendly Azawakh, who was champion in beauty, racing and lure coursing. I was really fascinated by his beauty, haughty attitudes, and distant temperament. I knew right from the start that this breed was what I was looking forever, (some kind of « natural » dog very feline in temperament).

I could understand him and respect him, though he never let me touch him or look in his eyes, probably because I was used to live in the country and to live with a lot of animals and to observe wildlife. I learned to know and respect them. I found in the Azawakh a natural dog, not shaped by humans, able to live free without humans help, but happy to live close to his human family.

2. Have you relied on anybody’s advice in the beginning? Whom have you learnt more from?

I got, at the beginning, many advices from many different « dog people ». Mostly not wished advices and often unfriendly ones. Usually other Sighthound owners and breeders who don’t know the Azawakhs (I don’t blame them, there were only a few that could be seen!) are making you a lot idiotic remarks about how to breed or educate an Azawakh, and how « bizarre » you are in getting one of these horrible dogs! I picked up a few advices from Azawakh owners/breeders here and other few there. But mostly I used my own experience, intuition and common sense.

I learnt a lot from Ingrid Aigeldinger, in Switzerland (Al Hara breeding). She is the one who really shared with me her knowledge, her informations and pictures. I’m trying to do the same with the recent Azawakh fanatics…

3. What were the situation and the conditions of this breed at that time? Were they different from the present ones?

At this time, in 1987, about 60 Azawakhs only have had been registered in France, for example, (now in 1999, the puppies registration numbers are about 550). In Germany there where a few more.

Only 3 or 4 owners where breeding sometimes… As long the breed was not known the puppies could not find a home. It is still a problem now and with any rare breed. Otherwise, Timgads’ temperament (probably one of the 2 or 3 Azawakhs shown in France) did not help the breed expansion in France, and gave the Azawakh the reputation of being an aggressive breed.

4. I know that you have a considerable photographic archive, therefore you can assess whether the breed has undergone morphological changes in these few years of breeding in Europe.

In fact the breed has not changed these last few years. We have the same dogs, but there are more Azawakhs now and that means that we can see more. And not only the beauty champions. In Africa, the Tuaregs owned often the best and the most beautiful specimens, and the first Azawakhs were mostly given by Tuaregs. They were used to choose their dogs in the camps of the Bella nomads who are working for them and mostly breeding the dogs.

The first Azawakhs that came to France were not all used for breeding. Some of them, as we can see on their pictures or as we can imagine with their description and measurements in 1975s’ Francois Roussel’s thesis, were closer in morphology to the last few African imports we got in Europe or America.

5. Which is the origin of the classical distinction between the Yugoslavian and French strains?

In 1960, early 1970ths, some French voluntary overseas servicemen, came back to France with Sahel dogs, named « TOBORO II », « ADIGNAZ », « OUAED », « TAHOURA », « AIKAR », « AOURAK », TARGOUI ». Some of them are the ancestors of the French line. At the same time, a Yugoslav Diplomat who was posted to Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) was given two dogs, « Lara » and « Gao ». They were sent to Yugoslavia and became the foundation Azawakhs of the Yugoslavian line. This line was the beginning of the Swiss, the German and the Netherlands breeding.

6. On the last issue of the S.L.A.G. Bulletin you have published a remarkable photographic report that helps distinguishing the differences between these two types. Could you explain in details their morphological and character particularities?

Usually French dogs are more spectacular, elegant, quick, they have a very proud behaviour, and are temperamentful. The head is narrow, but the nose length is shorter, the muzzle is thinner with less under jaw, feet are not perfect (easty-westy), the chest is deep and high.

Yugoslavians are bony and heavier and have good feet. The head and the nose are longer with less angulations, but is also wider, and the under jaw is stronger. They have less white markings.

7. Do you think that such a distinction is still valid today in consideration of the fact that several breeders have crossed these two lines? Do you agree with this choice?

Some actual dogs still have, may be not exactly 100% but not far, French or Yugoslavian line blood. And the distinction is still valid. Of course, more and more breeders cross these lines, trying to get the best of both lines and to eliminate the possible inbreeding health problems, as the gene pool is rather small. This was a « must » for the Yugoslavian line that had less foundation dogs.

8. Does it still happen to you to see the Yugoslavian type and the French type among the recently imported dogs from Africa? 

Yes, some of the last imports are really more « French » or « Yugoslavian » looking. The difference is mostly in the head and bones.

9. What is your opinion on the dogs that have been imported in these last years and on their use in European and American breeding?

The breed really needs to open his gene pool as much as possible. First because the recorded dogs in the breed are the offspring of about only 10 foundation dogs, and also because of the situation in the Sahel that is so difficult (no rain, no food for the cattle, no preys, war, and dog illness like rabies and distemper…) that the nomads and their dogs are dying out. The first imported dogs were mostly all red or fawn. The colour range, in Africa, is wider. Sand, brindle (both also accepted in the standard), white patched, mostly white, grizzle mask, black coated, blue, black, are colours that can be seen in the Sahel region. Imports may help keeping these colours, the breed always had, before the Azawakh disappears from his continent.

10. According to you, what are the differences between actual and earliest import? 

There are less and less Tuaregs and Azawakhs in Africa. The high Cast, the Touaregs, who owned the best dogs, were killed, or had to flee and take refuge in camps during their last revolt. That means that, more and more, the actual imported dogs might be not so typical. One of my relations, who lived 12 years in Niamey-Niger, is used to travel back to Niger and Mali each year and to meet nomads and their Azawakhs (they give them the name « Idi » or « Oska »). He told me that it is very difficult to see some Azawakhs, and those he could see were, in general, less quality than in the past. The ABIS association, has an expedition in the Sahel each year, and did the same reports.

The actual imports are not so elegant, smaller and more bony. But they often are good breeders and produce very well.

11. Which dogs have been the most relevant in your breeding activity

This is a difficult question. In fact, they are all very important, but may be these following dogs are more present in my mind.

Chamiya des Nomades bleus (Timgad & Pegga – incest breeding: son & mother), born in 1987, my 1st girl, is my foundation girl. She is a very nice and friendly girl and gave my breeding these wonderful and trustful temperaments most of the « Garde-Epée Azawakhs » have.

Al Hara’s Dschaadan (only French line), from Ingrid Aigeldinger, was a really lucky addition in my breeding program. He was bred to Chamiya and I got the famous « G » litter (the Champions Gréboun, Géfell, Gaia, Gaindé, Gara-Ekar…) with mostly wonderful temperaments.

I got E’Chipie Ménaka, at 4 1/2 years old, from French people (they brought her back to France, as an older puppy, from Mali where they were living several years) who were moving and could not keep her any longer. She had the « J » litter with Géfell, the Champions J’Fillingué, BIS in Paris 97, Jaïoun, BIS in Maastricht 97, Jégalah, Jamilla, and the « L » litter with Ilkhir Ras (Chamiya & Al Hara’s Wadi) 2nd litter Lahzar, La Lyad, L’Antinéa, Loulouni…

Gréboun, World Winner 95, French Champion, has a very well balanced temperament, is not too dominant and is the father of now severals champions (Jédia Saré (mother: Al Hara’s Wasama), Multi Champion, Kel Dahoussahaq Fankana, Manta, (mother: J’Fillingué) French Champion.

Géfell produced, very early, so many champions, that he has been finally also added to the breeding program of the most well known breedings (Kel Dahoussahaq, (Belekett, Cid…)Aulad al Sahra, (upcoming Stars?)…).

The last important addition in my program was Speedy, import from Mali, owned by Alberto Rossi. He leased me her for the breeding with Gréboun and we got 8 puppies in 98. I kept a girl – Or et Charbon, and a boy – Oued-Zem, I’m very proud of. Alberto has also a girl and a boy. I am very happy with them and it will be difficult to wait 2 more years before breeding them and see the results.

My last import addition to the breeding is Néférou. She is light fawn with a grizzle mask. She was chosen for me by Monica Kessler at the 97 ABIS expedition and came back as a 7 weeks old puppy.

All my dogs are very important for my breeding program. They have all some special or interesting particularities that I want to transmit to the next « Garde-Epées ».

12. Which results have satisfied you the most?

I’m very proud of the Best In Show Fillingué won in Paris/Lonchamp in 1997 (over 6200 entries!). This is the confirmation that my breeding program is on the right way. Of course, the World Winner title of Gréboun, the National Champion as well as the coursing Champion titles all the Garde-Epée Azawakhs have got, satisfy me greatly and I’m very proud of their owners who have a real passion for the breed and their dog.

13. How many dogs do you own currently and where do you keep them?

I have 10 Azawakhs and they are living in our home, have their own bedrooms (we have to separate some who don’t like each other very much…) with sofas, beds and crates. Crates, mostly open, are also their beds where they feel safe and secured, and are important to have them used to it when needed (females seasons, travelling, shows, or any reason that needs to have them in a safe and secured place). They need to live with their owner and the family. Otherwise, they would be unhappy and have socialisations problems. They can run, play in the big garden (1,5 Ha), lie in the sun in summertime or come in, as they wish. They are used to children and to people. They live among other animals (cats, horses).

14. Which criteria do you use to plan the matings? Which characteristics do you hold in the greatest account?

I’m trying to get “perfect Azawakhs”! The elegant type, FCI standard rectangle body proportions with high hips, high and deep chest (more pre-eminent than in Sloughis’), very good ears, good feet, long thin tail, good original temperament, gentle and trustful eyes, hunting abilities, health and longevity of ancestors (if known) are the particular points I’m looking for. The colour is not really important, but red and sand are my favourites, with good dark pigment.

The origins, the morphological, physical and temperamental particularities of each breeder must match to the other one. If one breeder has some week points, for example, I will try to breed them out from the offspring in breeding him (or her) to another breeder who will have really the opposite qualities.

I’m mostly trying to use the dogs out of my breedings, now, to fix the previous characteristics.

15. What do you usually choose among the following: inbreeding, line breeding and out crossing. And why?

All of them! It depends on what dogs I want to breed.

I am beginning my own line. I want to preserve and fix some characteristics, like a well-balanced and trustful temperament, elegance and beauty, different colours and good health.

It’s why I’m using inbreeding and line-breeding with the French lines for the type and temperament, and out crossing for the new gene additions from imports for the gene variety, health, colours and some other characteristics like the original Azawakh temperament. This is, after 9 years Azawakh breeding, only the beginning of the program! Now I’m beginning the line breeding and trying to fix the characteristics I want for my line.

16. What is your opinion on the German stream that supports out crossing at all costs for the sake of the breed? Don’t you think that this prevents a breeder from creating his/her own line with a certain degree of homogeneity and a particular distinctive trait?

The German out crossing stream is probably based on the fear of the genetic illness (like epilepsy that was in some of the Yugoslavian foundation dogs of the German breed) or genetic imperfections (the French line is well known for the bad front feet, for example, judges don’t like very much). As the Yugoslavian blood was also added to some of the French lines, a lot of breeders are seeking for total out crossing. The actual fashion is breeding healthy only, whatever the dogs look like.

The nomads very often use inbreeding and selection. It was also done in any breeding, any time. It’s the only way to fix the characteristics needed or wanted and to know what the genetic defects are in a line, and breed them out. Out crossing at all costs will probably end with the loss of the unique characteristics, the elegance and the pride attitudes of the Azawakh.

And, indeed, there will be no way to recognize the dogs out of breeding or another…

17. How relevant do you consider maintaining the running and hunting skills in the stock? Do your dogs attend racings and coursings?

Azawakhs are built for running, love it, and it’s what they have done for thousands of years. Usually, Azawakhs are naturally hunters and even if they are not interested in the artificial racing or coursing, they will immediately run after a rabbit or a larger prey. One of the females I bred, who’s not trained for coursing, killed alone a deer that was in her wood property. It is important to give them the opportunity to run, play and hunt. It’s not always easy to give them enough exercise and it is, in some countries, not allowed to hunt with them, so the coursing is a good way to entertain and exercise them. They are less interested in racing, which is not natural enough.

My Azawakhs have only a few coursing trainings in a year. We have a very large yard, and they train themselves, running after cars next to the fence, running and playing together. Most of them take part at official lure coursings and have rather good results. One was finalist in a French championship. Most Garde-Epée Azawakhs are running and have good results.

18. When do you assess pups from a morphological and character points of view?

I could verify that the head, tail, skin and hair quality of the puppies, at the birth, was usually characteristic of the type they would have later. I can see, pretty early, what type they will have and what their major character will be (in the way they behave with litter brothers/sisters, adult dogs and other new discoveries). At 2 ½ – 3 months old it is easier to see how they are built, proportions, colour (even if that may change a bit), and size. I always like to see and compare individuals to the whole litter.

19. Do you consider early socialisation important or do you rather think that the genetic component of the character is fundamental?

The most important in early socialisation is the place and the way the puppies are born and hold. It’s very interesting knowing the daily weight of the puppies, the first weeks, but the most important is that they are touched by humans while they are weight and that they get used to human voices and home noises, other people, other dogs… Then, the behaviour the adult dogs show to the puppies, at breeder’s home, with strangers or friends coming in is essential. All that is the first step, the breeders touch.

Finally, the way the master will educate his dog, daily, will be very important.

The genetic component is also important, but probably the unique character of each individual even more. I’m always screening the eyes of the dogs, where I can read a lot more about their temperament than in their behaviour. Chamiya bred some very difficult and unfriendly dogs, her parents were too, but mostly the way they were educated was the reason of the bad temperament.

20. By the way, the current common opinion on character –at least in Italy- represents the main obstacle to a greater diffusion of this breed. Do you think there has been any selection on temperament?

It is right that the Azawakh character is the main obstacle to a greater diffusion of the breed, and not only in Italy… But, the Azawakh is distant and not easy to touch and needs to be tamed by strangers, has a feline attitude, is a good guard dog, and it is the way they have been, probably for over 4000 years.  The different videos I have from Azawakhs in Tuareg camps are typical. The dogs are walking around the camp where the strangers/cameramen came in, and are barking and howling, but will not come closer, or only after hours.

I don’t think selection on temperament was a priority, as the gene pool was, and is, to small to do that. The selection should not be based mainly, or only on temperament or we would probably not see this fierce and proud attitude Azawakhs have. They would, after a few generations, not be really different from Sloughis or other sighthounds, and not be able any more to have the function they have in the Sahara.

21. You have spent 2 years in the United-States, where the breed is not officially recognised by the AKC. Did this affect your activity? 

There is, today, no way for US-born Azawakhs to be registered with FCI, as they are not recognised yet by the AKC, even if they are now registered in the Foundation Stock Service from AKC. The Azawakhs may be registered with other US Kennel Clubs if they have been imported with FCI papers, but their puppies will only be recognized by the kennel club and not by the FCI… This is a very difficult situation for all the “rare” breeds, and restricts the dog exchanges USA/Europe and show possibilities. It seems that the FCI and AKC are trying to find some alternatives at this situation for almost all the FCI dog breeds that are not AKC recognised. Hopefully very soon!

22. Do you think it is possible to define American Azawakhs versus European ones? 

American breeders have even more problems in finding homes for the puppies than Europeans, because of the Azawakh temperament.  People HAVE to own a well-socialized dog (version golden retriever or Labrador…), or they could have a lot of troubles in court!

The main word associated to the word “puppy” is: “socialisation”. Everything must be completely under control. So, the Azawakhs should be perfectly healthy (the breeder have to guaranty and refund if necessary), nice with everybody, touchable, quiet, well behaved, etc… if not, it’s the breeder’s fault. Most of the US breeders made their selection mostly on the temperament and used a lot of import dogs for health reasons, and lost a lot of type.

23. You probably agree on the scarce homogeneity of the breed; would you however –independently from the standard- tell us which according to you are the very fundamental features of the breed?

It is a combination of features. Feline and distant, temperament; fierce attitude; short body with high hips; high and deep chest; long legs with open angulations and long legs; thin skin and silky short hair; large flat ears.

24. What do you foresee for the Azawakhs in Europe and in America?

I don’t think the breed will ever become “popular” like shepherds or other Labradors, even if the United-States breeders work hard on the temperament and breed perfectly well domesticated dogs.

May be the breeders will make a very strong selection in the breed and have the same results Afghan breeders have got after 40 years selection, and Azawakhs will have more fans.
That would mean that the breed would not be the same any more, and Azawakhs would be only another human adaptation for a pet purpose only.
I hope not, that would be the end of a “natural” breed with all his fascinating psychical, physical and physiological particularities.