Updated: Jan 22, 2021
I've written about Azawakh gait before. However, the more I practice and develop my eye, the more I realize exactly how different Azawakh movement is when compared to other breeds, even other sighthound breeds.
A couple of terms before we dive in.
Gait- a dog's movement, at various speeds, movement patterns will be different. Each of these is a different gait.
Trot- a trot is a two-beat gait where the dog's legs hit the grounds two at a time in same side pairs.
Angulation- this refers to the angle at which a dog's shoulder assembly and hip assembly meet. Ideal for many breeds is near a 90 degree angle (though it has been shown that a true 90 degree angle is not possible in many cases). A dog with more angulation (a lower degree) will have more reach of leg at a trot. In sighthounds, that angulation tends to be much more open, which helps with reach at a gallop.
Balance- a term that is used to mean that a dog has the same angulation in both the front and the rear. A good way to measure balance in a dog is to gauge the distance between the dog's leading foot and the pair converging on center and then gauge the distance between the trailing foot and the pair of feet converging on center. If the distances are the same, the dog is balanced. Most breed standards call for dogs to have balanced angulation.
Reach and drive- a common phrase to describe how far a dog is reaching with their front foot and driving with their rear assembly.
Cadence- this refers to the timing of when a dog's feet hit the ground. At a trot the dog's feet should be moving in paired unison. If a dog's leading leg is substantially higher than the other feet, if the trailing leg is significantly higher, this generally means that a dog's proportions in either their front or rear assemblies is not harmonious. For instance, a short upper arm when compared to the scapula can lead to high, paddling motion.
As a reminder, one of the hallmarks of the Azawakh is their vertical format. Standard calls for the ideal to be a 9:10 height to length ratio. To phrase that differently, this means that you measure an Azawakh from their prosternum (front of their chest) to their ischium (end of the hips where the tail attaches) that number should be 90% of their total height (to the withers (top of shoulders)).
With correct open angulation and general proportions of being markedly taller than long, an Azawakh should have limited extension of their front and rear feet at a trot. A key point of the AKC Azawakh standard is that their foot should not extend beyond the tip of their nose at a trot. Considering all of this information (limited extension and upright proportions), this naturally means that at a trot, the Azawakh should still have a vertical format.
I invite you to look at Anubi in this picture.
In this picture, Anubi's cadence is beautiful, all four feet just barely off the ground. The timing exactly perfect. His legs meet at center with barely any over striding (over striding happens usually either when a dog is moved too fast or they have imbalanced proportions or angulation). His front toe isn't past his nose. His backline is level. Overall, it's a beautiful picture and aesthetically and technically pleasing movement.
Now let's look at this picture of Amalu.
Again, really lovely cadence where all four legs are in good sync. It's taken at a slight angle, so balance is difficult to assess, but she looks to be quite balanced overall with minimal over striding. Her topline is level and looks tight. Again, a pretty picture and pleasing motion.
Lastly, let's look at this picture of Amidi.
It looks a bit different, doesn't it? Now, looking at cadence, with the long grass it's harder to tell, but her cadence is likely just slightly off. Her topline looks firm with marked withers and a slight rise to the hips (this is correct per standard). Her feet don't quite meet at center (I personally put this down to a slight difference in timing between the Anubi and Amalu pictures rather than a structural problem). She looks balanced front to rear. Her front foot doesn't extent beyond her nose. It's close, but it's actually exactly even with her nose.
So, what is different then? It's that at a trot, Amidi keeps her vertical format. Some of that is because she has the most correct proportions of my dogs for the breed. She is spot on 9:10 height to length ratio, while Anubi and Amalu are quantifiably taller than they are long, but they are proportionately longer than Ami.
However, the big thing to note is that Amidi has the most correct angulation for the breed. But, none of their toes reach beyond their noses, you might note. Ah, indeed, but there's a trick, both Anu and Alu lower their head when they gait. That is a natural behavior when dogs are trotting for extended periods of time. It helps them reach better. However, I have found in Azawakh it is often a subtle sign of a slightly over-angulated dog. All three of these dogs are moving naturally (two on a loose lead and one off leash) and we know from the lack of over striding, that the dogs are moving at a good pace, not overly quickly. This is the dogs' natural head carriage. And you'll find, when a dog lowers their head it means that the dog's toe does not technically extend beyond their nose.
However, if that same dog were to carry their head erect, very quickly we would see that the dog's toe actually reaches well beyond their nose. Look what happens when Anubi carries his head higher.
Notice that Anubi's foot is noticeably in front of his nose because he's carrying his head higher. He's still moving freely on a loose leash and he's not moving too fast and thus over striding. However, he is holding his head higher and it makes a clear difference. It becomes apparent that he is over angulated (for the breed). However, with his head held higher, he does present a much nicer vertical format (which hides the fact that he is slightly longer bodied than ideal).
When you look at all three dogs side-by-side the difference in format becomes incredibly clear.
Now, please don't mistake me. Anubi and Amalu truly are beautiful movers. I understand why judges put them up in the show ring. But they are also notably less correct for the breed when directly compared to Amidi.
One last comparison.
This was when I showed Ami and Anu in brace (two dogs at once with the intention of presenting a well matched pair of dogs). Look at Amidi over striding. In this instance I was moving her faster than is comfortable for her because Anubi is much faster at a trot (taller and more angulation) than she is. In contrast, you can just barely make out that Anubi is not over striding at all. Also note that she's lowered her head at the faster trot to help her reach. Her foot still is in line with her nose, but the feel of an easy trot that is effortless but not ground-eating is lost.
The nuances of Azawakh gaiting and the almost unique qualities their angulation presents can take time to develop an eye for. But just because a dog is balanced and moves beautifully does not mean they are moving correctly for their breed.