An African sighthound of Afro-Asiatic type, the Azawakh originated in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. Raised in the Sahel region of the Sahara desert, they are named for the Azawakh valley. Azawakh means “land of the north”. They are the guardians, hunters and companions of the Tuareg and other ethnic tribes of the southern Sahel.
The breed was first imported to Yugoslavia in the early 1970’s by Dr. Pecar, a Yugoslavian diplomat stationed in Burkina Faso. The dogs could not be bought, however, Dr. Pecar received his male as a gift from the nomads. He later bartered his services as a hunter, by killing a bull elephant who had been terrorizing the tribe, in exchange for a female Azawakh. The French military and civil servants also played a significant role in exporting the Azawakhs to Europe. France is the patron country of the Azawakh under FCI rules.
The Azawakh made it’s debut in America in the mid 1980’s. The first litter was whelped on October 31, 1987 by Gisela Cook-Schmidt (Reckendahl). These first American Azawakhs were all red or fawn with white markings. The first brindles came to America in 1989, with the first brindle litter whelped November 27, 1990 by Deb Kidwell (Kel Simoon). In the mid 90’s, a parti-color male was imported from Burkina Faso and in 1997, a mixed parti-color and sand litter which was bred in Mali, was whelped in Alaska. It is hoped that an even larger selection of colors will find their way to the US from Africa in the near future.
The Azawakh has a show history that begins very soon after its original importation. They were first shown in the early 1970’s under FCI rules as a variety of Sloughi. On January 1, 1981, they were accepted as a bona fide breed and were referred to as “Sloughi-Azawakhs”. In 1986, the Azawakh was finally recognized for the unique animal it is, when FCI dropped the word “Sloughi” from the name.
In America, the Azawakh is recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC), the International All Breed Kennel Club of America (IABKCA), the States Kennel Club (SKC), the American Rare Breed Association and many other smaller registries. The AKC Foundation Stock Service (AKC FSS) allows the breed to be registered through the service and compete in AKC performance events only at this time. The American Azawakh Association is the parent club for the breed in the US. Although the AAA doesn’t recognize the FCI Standard for the breed because of its color limitations, the dogs can be shown in any FCI recognized country under FCI rules which allow only sand to dark red and brindle, with all other colors disqualified. Their history as show dogs is in its infancy, but their natural regal presence demands recognition.
Males range from 25-29 inches in height and weigh 44-55 lb., females, 23 1/2 – 27 1/2 inches and weigh 33-44 lb.. The short, smooth coat comes in a variety of colors to include, clear sand to dark red, white, black, blue, gray, brindle, grizzle, parti-color and all shades of brown, including chocolate. However, the FCI standard for the breed only recognizes sand to dark red and brindle at this time. Grooming of their short coat is accomplished easily with a zoom groom or hound glove. Frequent bathing is not necessary as the breed has no doggy odor. However, they do have sensitive skin, so use of a mild, hypoallergenic, unscented shampoo is recommended.
Their life expectancy ranges from 12-15 years.
Exercise requirements with all sighthound breeds is a very important subject. The Azawakh must have adequate exercise and make excellent companions for the serious jogger and runner. The Azawakh is a very active dog, however, they run and play in spurts interspersed with long naps on the sofa. They should have a large yard where they can stretch their legs, but more importantly they need interaction with the owner or another dog, to make them exercise. Left alone in the back yard with the expectation of self exercise is not acceptable for this breed. They should receive at least half an hour a day of hard running and/or playing exercise. Finding a securely fenced ball field is perfect for play excursions. This breed will become fat and lethargic or hyper and destructive without proper energy outlets. Azawakhs can be very reliable off lead if taught a strong recall. This is a boon for people who enjoy the company of sighthounds, but have difficulty enjoying them because they cannot be trusted off lead.
When discussing the temperament of an Azawakh, consideration should be given to individual personalities and contributing backgrounds, both genetic and environmental. However, there are several general characteristics common to the breed. Described in a Dog World article as a “warrior class dog”, they have the intelligence and heart to protect. When approached on their own turf, they are very vocally intimidating. In situations where their duty as guardian isn’t necessary, their reactions may range from friendly, to mildly curious to arrogantly indifferent. Although generally not outgoing, several in the US and in Europe, have found the opportunity to make social contributions as therapy dogs in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers They seem to possess an uncanny combination of total loyalty and independence. Each new situation presents the potential for the struggle between the dog’s natural desire to please and his prideful desire to do things his own way. A firm, fair hand is called for. Properly socialized and trained, the Azawakh will live harmoniously within the family and community
The Azawakh with other dogs
Much discussion as been given to the guardedness of the Azawakh, but here we must remember that this is a sighthound. As a rule, they seem to accept other dogs, though sometimes grudgingly, as protected members of their own pack. Many less “gamy” dogs do well with an indoor cat, however, bets should not be placed on the chances of a cat in the yard or the neighbor’s Pomeranian. Because comparatively few generations have been removed from the need to hunt daily for personal and family survival, the hunting instinct is very strong in this breed
Another point to mention is that the Azawakh is a very dominant breed. Within a household pack, they will almost always aspire to the alpha dog position. If there is an existing dominant dog in the pack, this can sometimes cause conflict within the pack.
The Azawakh and Children
No one can predict the individual personalities of all dogs in any breed There are some situations which should be avoided with guardian and sighthound dogs of any breed. Children playing together sometimes squabble. It is natural for a guard dog to protect “his” children from their playmates. Azawakhs, being spirited family participants, freely volunteer their assistance when another family member is being disciplined. This unexpected “assistance” can be frightening for everyone. Chase or prey behavior is another situation that can be a problem. Children or other pets running away from the hound can activate the prey drive instinct. The hound may try to “take down” the child from behind as they would while hunting. A good rule of thumb is to never leave the Azawakh with children while unsupervised by an attentive adult. There are individual dogs of all breeds which do not like children. The Azawakh, as a breed, with care given to the situations mentioned, should fit well into any family structure.
As with most Sighthound breeds, many Azawakhs love to lure course or open field hunt. The American Sighthound Field Association has given provisional recognition to the Azawakh beginning Jan 2000. Full recognition of the breed should occur in 2001.
The Azawakh is also recognized by the National Open Field Coursing Association (NOFCA) as a rare breed. There have also been supportive offers for recognition with the National Oval Track Racing Association (NOTRA), however, at this time no Azawakhs are participating in this sport.
In the US, the breed is still considered a rare breed and is excluded from all AKC conformation events. The AKC has recognized the Azawakh for inclusion in all AKC performance events, such as obedience, agility, etc. There are, however, many rare breed clubs who sponsor conformation and performance events and the Azawakh is recognized by most of these. The breed is fully recognized by UKC (United Kennel Club) and the SKC (States Kennel Club).
In all FCI countries, the breed is fully recognized to participate in any sport that it is eligible. This includes, conformation, lure coursing, racing, agility, obedience, etc.
Another sport for which the Azawakh shows a lot of promise is the new sport of Canine Freestyle. In this sport, the hound’s basic obedience skills along with other learned skills are set to music and choreographed to create a performance similar to the sport of Dressage in horses. The emphasis is on matching the music to the dog’s gait, demonstrating the bond between the handler and the dog and creating an expressive, flowing picture to the audience. The Azawakhs springy, graceful movement and willingness to please makes this sport tailor made for them.
Azawakhs are elegant, tall dogs of proud bearing. Lean and muscular of frame, their appearance should indicate swiftness when running. He should be longer of leg than of body, which may seem extreme when compared with other sighthounds His neck is long and graceful, his head held high when alert. His tail is proudly carried above the line of the back. The breed has pendant ears which are raised to the side of the head in response to sounds. Their movement is spectacular to watch. The gait is always very supple and elastic. At the trot, they are light and graceful; the gallop is leaping and they cover ground in great strides. The movement is an essential point of the breed.
Key points of the breed standard: This sighthound presents himself as a rangy dog whose body fits into a rectangle with it’s longer sides in a vertical position. The length of the body is 90% the height of the hound. This ratio may be slightly higher in bitches. The height of chest is 40% the height at withers. Well developed and deep, the chest should not reach the elbow. The brisket may be rounded or angular, but should rise abruptly into a very small waist. The forequarters and hindquarters should exhibit very open angles. The shoulders should be at about 130 degrees, the hindquarters at about 145 degrees.
The topline should be flat or slightly arching over the loin. The hips must always be at the same level or higher than the level of the withers. It is a major fault to have hips lower than the withers.
Skin and coat: The skin should fit tightly over the whole body, the coat is short and fine. The belly may be completely hairless. The FCI standard admits only sand to dark red and black brindled. In the US, the American Azawakh Association recognizes all colors which naturally occur in the Azawakh’s countries of origin. These other colors include, white, black, gray, blue, dilute brindles, grizzle, parti-color and all shades of brown to include chocolate. The hound should have the requisite white markings to include: a white bib, and white brush at the tail tip. Each of the four limbs must have compulsorily a white “stocking”, at least in the shape of tracing on the foot. It is a breed disqualification to have a hound without any white markings on one or more of the limbs.
Character & temperament
Quick, attentive, distant, reserved with strangers and may even be aggressive, but he can be gentle and affectionate with those he is willing to accept. However, it is a breed disqualification to be timid, panicky or aggressive to point of attack. This part of the standard is at odds with many breeders in the US and Europe who are trying to breed Azawakh who are more approachable, maybe even friendly, and less apt to be “savage”. In the Sahel, the hound prefers not to be touched, but is not aggressive. Unprovoked aggression towards a family member or guest would not be tolerated.
Health & Nutrition
The Azawakh as a breed does have several health issues that need to be addressed. The most common of these health concerns are hypothyroidism, seizures, and several autoimmune mediated diseases, such as Eosinophilic Myositis, autoimmune thyroiditis and generalized Demodectic Mange. Cardiac problems are also not unknown in this breed. Bloat, though rare, has been known to occur. Breeders are strongly encouraged to test for as many diseases as possible, making it possible to make an informed breeding decision when considering a litter. Common tests are thyroid screens, complete blood chemistry profiles, autoimmune function blood work, cardiac screening, eye examinations (CERF), X-rays for hip/elbow dysplasia (OFA, PennHip). A blood test is now available for Eosinophilic Myositis. Seizures are hard to test for and cause determination is not always possible. However, dogs exhibiting seizures should not be bred. Unfortunately, many dogs start seizure activity later in life after they have been bred many times and have already adversely impacted the gene pool of the breed.
The problem that breeders face in many cases is that because of the small gene pool, it is impossible to eliminate all dogs who carry a genetic disease from the breed program. But it makes sense to test for as many diseases as possible so as not to “double up” on the same disease in sire and dam. Pedigree research and disease tracking is an invaluable tool for Azawakh breeders. Some diseases can be tracked through an entire line from the original foundation dogs.
Nutrition is an important point to consider in a breed so close to its “roots”. Though not all breeders feel it important, many feel that the hounds should be fed a simple diet of whole foods, rather than kibble. This is a personal preference, of course. Many generations of dogs have been kibble raised and have done well. In medical treatment of the hound, natural, holistic methods work very well. The Azawakh is generally a healthy breed. They heal amazingly well from cuts and scrapes. Care should be given with the use of chemicals, harsh shampoos and the feeding of excessive protein. The Azawakh is a natural breed whose immune system is not used to most Western chemicals, therefore, judicious use of chemicals around the hound is advised. The Azawakh should be fed a diet with a fat content of 12-16% fat to maintain good weight and a healthy coat, a moderate level of protein (22-26% ) is advisable. Weight maintenance of Azawakhs is another important area to consider. They should be slim. In proper weight, some ribs and vertebrae, and the hip bones should be visible. It’s not to say they should be skeletal, but a fat sighthound isn’t a happy nor a healthy sighthound. Azawakhs are structured to be on the thin side. Overfeeding will adversely affect the joint structure of the hound, especially in puppies. Azawakh puppies should never be fat and roly poly. Keeping them slim as they are growing permits the joints and other body parts to grow properly, without additional stress and wear and tear. Slim pups are less prone to growth plate problems.
Grooming is simplistic in Azawakhs. An occasional brush with a zoom groom or hound glove is all that’s necessary to keep the hound’s coat in good condition. If the hound gets muddy, wait for it to dry and brush it off. Frequent bathing isn’t necessary, since they have no doggy odor. Teeth brushing may be necessary if the hound doesn’t have access to bones to clean their teeth. If the hound is fed an all natural diet, with raw meats and bones included, no extra teeth care should be necessary, however, kibble fed dogs will probably need frequent brushing and cleaning. Since the ears are pendant, ear infections can occur, but it’s not a major problem in the breed as the ear leather is thin and light, allowing air to access the ear canal. Generally, no routine eye care is necessary. Nail clipping should be started at a very early age. The breeder should be cutting the puppies nails once a week starting one to two weeks following birth. In the older puppy or adult, nails should be cut on a regular basis. A good rule of thumb is that if your dog’s nails are clicking on when it walks, then they need cutting. Don’t delay, as long overgrown nails can cause the dog’s feet to develop arthritis and also make it very uncomfortable walking around. Many Azawakhs really resist having their nails clipped. Be firm, yet gentle. Also, always have a supply of Kwik-Stop on hand in case you cut too short!
Of course, prior health testing of the sire and dam is imperative. The Azawakh breeds and whelps naturally. As with all breeding dogs, the prospective breeding pair, should be in excellent health, and in good weight and physical condition. The bitch should be slim, not FAT. Don’t increase food for the pregnant bitch until at least half way through the pregnancy. Fat bitches have more problems whelping. Raspberry leaf or Solid Gold Conceptabitch is an excellent addition to the bitch’s diet in the third trimester of pregnancy and continuing through the first week or so postpartum. The bitches generally whelp very easily. Cesarean sections are unheard of in this breed. Litters generally range from 5-9 pups, though smaller and larger litters have occurred. The pups are usually very vigorous from the start and need little assistance finding the nipples and feeding.
On a special note: As a breed, special care should be taken when trying to keep a male and female in heat apart. Their desire to procreate is VERY strong , indeed and they will go to amazing measures to fulfill that need!
Azawakh puppies generally range in price from $1000-2500 depending on the breeding and breeder involved. It is sometimes possible to acquire one as a pet on a spay/neuter contract for less and occasionally, young adult rescues or returns are available. It is important to ask the breeder you are buying a puppy from lots of questions. And it is equally important that the breeder ask YOU lots of questions. Azawakhs are not a dog for every person. The prospective puppy buyer may be asked to fill out a questionnaire. Puppy buyers should visit the breeder’s home if at all possible to see the facilities and how the pups and adults are housed and what condition those facilities are in. Ask the breeder what health testing was performed on the sire/dam of the litter and ask to see the results and have them explained to you. Ask about the puppy buying contract, whether it is an outright purchase or a permanent or temporary co-ownership. Many breeders will not sell a dog “outright”. Ask yourself if this is a person you would want to be “friends” with, as you are considering making a 12-15 year commitment, and as a new Azawakh owner will need help and guidance from the pup’s breeder. Come equipped with lots of questions. Research the breed thoroughly before you make up your mind that an Azawakh is what you want.
The Azawakh is usually trained fairly easily as long as gentle methods are employed. They respond very well to gentle, yet FIRM corrections and are usually very food motivated. Extremely dominant type training, such as alpha rollovers are NOT the training method of choice for this breed. The Azawakh has an amazing amount of dignity and must be treated with mutual respect and honor. Rough treatment and training can result in a hound that is either broken in spirit or very aggressive and impossible to handle. An Azawakh, broken in spirit, is a sad sight indeed!
The hounds generally do well in a structured obedience class environment with care given to the training methods employed. Training started in a puppy kindergarten class is advisable in young puppies. These classes afford the opportunity for socialization with people and other dogs and can be an invaluable tool in the upbringing of the puppy.
Also, early training, make the adult dog more receptive to the desires of his owner. Additionally, obedience training strengthens the bond between hound and owner.
In terms of equipment, most pups and adults do fine with a martingale style sighthound collar, or a nylon choke collar. However, choke collars should NEVER be left on your dog while unattended. Always remove it immediately following the training session. Prong collars or pinch collars are not necessary for training an Azawakh.
As previously mentioned, many Azawakhs can be reliable off lead. This aspect makes the breed an enjoyable companion for people who like to hike and camp or just hang out!
Breeder Selection Criteria
This subject was covered a bit in a previous section, however, it cannot be stressed enough to buy from a breeder you feel comfortable with. If the conditions that the puppies have been raised or the breeder raises concerns in your “gut”, run, don’t walk away from that breeder! You are entering into a relationship with this person that could last 12-15 years and beyond. Don’t think you will just buy the dog and never hear from the breeder again. If the breeder is a reputable, caring person, you will be encouraged to call or write with pictures and progress reports. The breeder may want to visit your home sometime in the future or before the dog is placed with you. The breeder will want to make your transition into the world of Azawakhs as easy as possible by, perhaps letting you know of other Azawakh owners in your area, or by giving you a subscription to the Azawakh club newsletter or by encouraging you to join and participate in events in your area that allow Azawakhs.
Veterinarians: Vet choice is a very important area. It’s important when choosing a vet to find one experienced with sighthounds. With the proliferation of Greyhound adoptions around the world, finding vets with sighthound experience is much easier than it used to be. Find a vet that is open to all modalities of healing. Many vets abhor anything natural or holistic. Finding a vet open to all modalities gives many more options in the treatment of your Azawakh. Many “holistic” vets also practice western medicine and they are usually a good choice.
Selection of the individual dog and criteria
Since you will be spending many years in the company of your Azawakh, selecting the right dog for you is probably the most important thing you will do ! First the puppy vs. adult decision needs to be addressed. For the person who works many hours a day away from home, a puppy is a poor choice, unless arrangements can be made for a pet sitter or a friend to come in and walk the puppy during the day. Until the age of four months, puppies have little bladder control. Housebreaking, in reality, is training the owner to know when the puppy needs to eliminate and getting him outside in time to do it! Expecting a young pup to spend 8-10 hours alone at home is expecting way too much. In this case, a young adult or older dog would be the best bet. However if you life style permits, a puppy is a joy and a lot of fun (and a lot of work too)
Adult Azawakhs are sometimes available and for some households work out quite well. Of course, an adult dog also comes with it’s own “baggage”.
With any Azawakh, puppy or adult, a firm fair hand is called for. Consistent socialization, handling and treatment are imperative to the mental health of your dog.
Sources and Resources
The American Azawakh Association, Inc. (AAA) is the parent club for the Azawakh in the US. The AAA was founded on February 7, 1988 with the goals of promoting the pure Azawakh and to guarantee the breed a permanent future in the US. Further information may be obtained by writing to the American Azawakh
There are also several books which have small sections about Azawakhs or deal with the nomads who breed them in the countries of origin.
Dog’s Best Friend: Journey to the Roots of an Ancient Partnership. Ursula Birr, Gerald Krakauer, Daniela Osterlander
The Pastoral Tuareg: Ecology, Culture and Society. Johannes & Ida Nicoloaisen
Der Azawakh: Windhund der Nomades in Mali (in German) H.J. Strassner, E. Eiles
Wind, Sand and Silence: Travels with Africa’s Last Nomads. Victor Englebert