How Trained is Your Eye Really? Finding Faults in Azawakh
Updated: Mar 21, 2021
Within the breed of Azawakh, which for those who don't know is an entirely western derived name for the breed, there is huge controversy. Which Azawakh are "pure" and which are "impure" - in the words of a number of country of origin detractors which are "mongrels"?
This battle stems from the basic disagreement over whether this is a breed in development, as we understand in the western world, or whether they are a breed to be preserved as they have existed for thousands of years.
First, let me say that I have spoken with multiple people, both breeders and fanciers, who have been to the Sahel and seen the dogs in person. So while I cannot say firsthand that the only breed in the region is Azawakh, I have been assured of this over and over again from people who have both visited and lived in the region.
Those who argue that this is a breed in development - to be refined and smoothed - argue that the only Azawakh that are "pure" are the ones that trace back only to the original ten dogs that were imported out of the Sahel around the 1970s. Though, at this point, I have yet to see a pedigree that does not have some other later imports included in it. In that camp there are often arguments that the true Azawakh has died out in the Sahel and that if there are to be outcrosses to ensure continued genetic diversity in the breed it would be better to outcross to Sloughis or some other similar breeds, rather than to COO dogs. Those in this camp are the standard makers for the FCI standard (the governing kennel club for most of Europe and many other places in the world). The FCI standard has some marked difference from the AKC (or UKC) standards. The biggest place they diverge is that the FCI restricts Azawakh colors to sand to fawn/red with allowable black brindling. It also (relatively recently) highly restricts the allowable white markings.
In the other camp are those who believe that the breed as it exists in the west should reflect what is found naturally in the Sahel. This camp acknowledges that the dogs are a landrace that has been developed and shaped naturally by their environment. They recognize the similar format that exists in all animals that live in the region whether they be Azawakh or goat or camel and that format exists because that is what is functional in that environment. From these breeders you will see a wider array of colors represented but always with a focus on what is functional and true to the dogs that live in the Sahel.
Any breed can be defined by breed type - the characteristics which make a breed a breed. Type can be broken down into Silhouette, Head, Gait, Coat, Breed Character.
Silhouette - if the dog was standing backlit by a sunset, could you still recognize the breed as the breed?
Head - if a dog was poking their head over a fence and that's all you could see, could you still recognize the breed?
Gait - does the movement of the dog reflect the movement of the breed? A Doberman should have a strong, powerful trot. While the Azawakh should have a light, flowing, elastic gait.
Coat - does the texture, length, and the color fall within what is allowable for the breed?
Breed Character - how does the dog act? If it's a guarding breed, are they friendly? That would be a lack of type. If they are a Lab are they skittish? That would also be a lack of type.
In my opinion, while all these elements create type, there are some that are far more important to both function and quality of life. Silhouette and Gait affect how your dog is going to hold up over time. An unbalanced dog (shoulder and hip assembly do not complement each other in angulation) is going to take substantially more wear and tear on the body. Cow hocks or a short upper arm is going to affect motion and thus affect overall joint health long term.
Breed Character is also essential to quality of life. Particularly with Azawakh, an unstable, anxious, prone to biting dog is going to end up dead. Though if you go to the other extreme, an overly friendly, open Azawakh is completely lacking in type.
To some degree Head (which includes correct bite) and Coat (wire, smooth, drop, etc) also have bearing on function. Could this dog take down prey? Can their short coat and skin regulate heat. Color can affect quality of life potentially in a desert - lack of pigmentation might lead to sunburns and a dark dog could overheat. However, there surely must be a reason those colors are perpetuated in the Sahel, perhaps those theorized disadvantages are less pertinent that we excpet. What you don't see, however, is dogs coming from the Sahel with imbalance, cow hocks, and other such structural issues. Yes - generational stunting can be seen, but aside from the size of the dogs, their structure tends to be beautiful. As such, for me personally, I will always prioritize functional, breed specific structure over a coat fault.
The longer I am involved in dogs, the more I am convinced that it is quite easy to note cosmetic faults and say that a dog should never be bred. But quite another matter to note structural faults. And while cosmetic faults are easy to find, they don't (there are exceptions - double merle, soft coat that picks up brambles or snowballs) affect the function of the dog.
Below I have linked the two standards that the majority of the people in Azawakh use. The others are the Kennel Club (United Kingdom), Australian National Kennel Club, and United Kennel Club (secondary American registering body).
AKC Standard: http://images.akc.org/pdf/judges/Azawakh_Standard.pdf
FCI Standard: http://www.fci.be/Nomenclature/Standards/307g10-en.pdf
Below are pictures of my dogs that have a full three-generation pedigree (every dog in their pedigree going back to great-grandparents is known and tracked). These are dogs that have gotten acknowledgment in various venues for being solid examples of the breed. In each picture, I have modified them to have one to two faults - I have not removed any faults they already had. The below pictures are not designed to trick. They are simply meant to illustrate that a difference in cosmetic appearance can often lead us to pick up on faults we would have never noticed normally.
The key is posted after the gallery.
Hopefully you found that exercise interesting.
Key (L to R, Top to Bottom):
#1 Heavy head (divergent planes), overly heavy tail, sable overlay*
#2 Too deep of chest (chest should only be 40% of total height)+
#3 Prick ears
#4 Over angulated (note the over striding and reaching far beyond hise nose)
#6 Over angulated (this also affects the stack and pulls her back feet out beyond her ischium)
#7 Wrong breed (smooth Saluki painted red)
#8 Long bodied/coupled (Azawakh should be 9:10 length to height
#9 Non-pendant wonky ears
* Fault only under FCI standard
+ Fault only under AKC standard
When coat color is different than what we expect, our eyes very often play tricks on us.
The COO dogs and their offspring I have met and owned are all extremely functional. They are balanced and move true. They have correct proportions because that is what allows them to survive in the Sahel. I will take a cosmetic fault every single day over an imbalanced, badly proportioned dog.
Below is the gallery of the original photos so you can see that I did not in fact change anything other than what is specifically listed above.