Breed Traits: Not Every Trait is for Everyone

Updated: Mar 16

A breeder of Kishu Ken who I respect recently addressed aggression and the forms it takes within her breed. Overall, she provided a fabulous take on what many would view as problems in the breed.


I've been accused of trying to turn my Azawakh into Golden Retrievers in the past. And there are times that when I do education, I worry I am not providing a full picture of the breed I am devoted to, so I want to take a moment to address both others and my own concerns and misgivings.


Guarding Instincts:

Azawakh are a breed with strong guarding instincts. That's something I address in my breeding philosophy, here, here, and the difficulties of teenage Azawakh here. However, I feel like this is something so often glossed over in typical articles that Google pulls up about the breed. On the other hand, start diving into various Facebook Azawakh groups and you'll hear about dogs that can't be touched by strangers, can't be out in public comfortably and the other extreme seems to be all that is presented.


Contrary to what you might see from my online presence or believe to be my intentions for the breed, my Azawakh have their instincts intact. For all those who have met Amidi, who is actively friendly in public, you can likely also attest to the marked disinterest and often standoffishness when pushed of Anubi and Amalu. And for all those who have met my dogs in public, there are very few who have then met my Azawakh in my home. Let me tell you, those who doubt my dogs have their guarding instincts would not wish to enter my house without permission. I say this not as a brag, I never particularly wanted guard dogs, but as a simple fact. If you'd seen my dogs stand their ground against multiple roving neighborhood dogs, you wouldn't doubt their instincts.


Once, when Amidi was about 7 months, we were giving her some ring time at a flyball tournament. It was a big, busy fairground and unlike most ring time slots she'd had before, there were many people and dogs all around. She came in focused and worked, but we didn't shut the ring gate at the end of the arena and after doing a box turn, she noticed the gate was open and trotted right through it. My teammate, holding her own dog and waiting for her turn grabbed Ami by the hips, afraid that she might head for the open door (still open as teams arrived and unloaded). Ami turned around, unsure of who had grabbed her, and put teeth on my teammates' arm. She didn't break skin. She didn't leave a mark and as soon as she realized who'd grabbed her she relaxed and got back in the ring and worked, but there was a moment where she was absolutely prepared to defend herself against a stranger.



Completely relaxed when nothing suspicious is happening

Similarly, there have been several times where Anubi, always so calm and stable, has gotten his hackles up. One time, as I unloaded him from my car at the training center, a bull terrier puppy I had been working the past several days got away from his owner and came barreling up to me, jumping up and down in place next to me. Anubi, who had never met this dog, took that as an attack and barked his deep guarding bark. I shut the car door and returned the puppy to his owner. A few months later, my husband brought Anubi to the theatre where he works. There was a meet in greet with the cast that day and Anubi was calmly taking in all the people until one actor decided it would be funny to sneak from music stand to music stand toward the dog. Anubi's hackles went up and he started to shift. The dog savvy stage manager noticed and reprimanded the actor for being weird, and Anubi relaxed. In those instances, Anubi was an insecure teenager. But there have been some instances as adults too. I was at a dog show in Tennessee last year with Anubi. He'd flown in the cabin with me as a Service Dog, had spent several days in working mode as my Service Dog. Unvested, he said hi to everyone calmly, and hung out, unleashed, on a grooming table while we waited for ring time. Waiting for my friend to go into the ring for the NOHS show we were chatting in front of some covered crates. The dogs' handler, not wanting to disturb her sleeping dogs but wanting to check on them, tip-toed up to the covered crates and carefully peered through the cracks in the covers. Anubi's hackles stayed down, he didn't vocalize, but his attention on this suspicious person was so strong, that he pulled me out of my conversation to watch what was happening. He stared at that handler for a solid couple of minutes until she retreated all the way out of sight.


It's the discerning nature of my dogs that I value above all else. In a busy, hectic environment, they're completely relaxed. But the recognize exactly what is out of place in a heart beat and are ready to respond accordingly.


If I didn't want a guarding breed, why Azawakh? How can I not want a breed with guarding instincts but also not seek to change those behaviors? I quite often get asked if I one of my goals is to "soften" the breed's temperament. My answer is always: no.


I believe that with predictable tempered parents and well thought out puppy raising protocols, you can have a perfectly stable dog and still retain those distinctive guarding traits.


I don't see any reason why I should want to breed away from those traits. That guarding pack instinct is what gives them such a deep bond with their humans. That instinct is what gives them the work ethic to do a job all day and to work off leash and hang around their pack without taking off. Without those traits then I lose what makes an Azawakh an Azawakh and I lose thousands and thousands of years of history and culture. If I want a dog with a typical sighthound temperament, I'd get a different sighthound breed. I have a Saluki and I'm on a list for a Sloughi. I love those breeds but they're not what I want in a versatile performance dog. I would say breeders, especially in the US, love the breed for those traits and while they're interested in stable, predictable, emotionally resilient dogs they still want that trademark sensibly suspicious nature.


Prey Drive:

Azawakh are used for hunting to this day in Africa. Yes, it is not their primary purpose due to scarcity of game, but they do have a robust and developed prey-drive. Does this mean that Azawakh can't live with other small animals such as cats and small dogs? We currently have four cats in the house. Up until summer of 2020, my sighthounds all lived with a 12 pounds Chihuahua mix. Not once have I ever had the vaguest concern that my Azawakh would mistake their friends for prey, not even when my oldest cat has had spinal strokes that caused him to spasm. Anubi even lived with a connure that regularly had time out of her cage for a time.


However, I've also taken my Azawakh out Open Field Coursing and the moment we flushed a jack rabbit the first time, all of my dogs immediately were ready to chase it. Just like so many things, prey drive is contextual and I've found with Azawakh, they are much more prone to look at me for permission before taking off into the distance (with training and consistent reinforcement of course).


Aggression:

This is a question that is the hardest to address, because human and dog aggression are taboo in modern culture. However, as CJ McCammon of Akiyama no Roushya writes:

𝗔𝗴𝗴𝗿𝗲𝘀𝘀𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗶𝘀 𝗻𝗼𝘁 𝗮 𝗱𝗶𝗿𝘁𝘆 𝘄𝗼𝗿𝗱...Aggression is incredibly useful to humans and we have bred hundreds of breeds to assist us by exhibiting aggressive behaviors. From terriers to herding dogs to livestock guardians to hunting dogs, they are all bred for some degree of aggression