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Meet My Dogs: Tabiri Asouf

In the beginning of 2021 I had been searching for a stud dog for Ami's second litter for quite some time. Nothing was quite lining up how I wanted so I reached out to an Azawakh breeder firend, Alison Tyler of Xanadu Farms and Tabiri joined our home a short time later. Tabiri has been everything I hoped for in a stud prospect - steady, intelligent, discerning, he has some beautifully producing dogs behind him, and correct angulation and general proportions that are becoming so lacking in the breed as a whole.

Tabiri was bred by Alison in Georgia. His litter was born only four months after Anubi's (so I was very much not looking for another Azawakh at the time). Alison loved Tabiri, raised him, and placed with a young man who loved him very much. However, his first owner traveled often and Tabiri spent a lot of time boarding at Alison’s while his owner traveled. That is not to say that his owner didn’t devote time to socialization, I know Tabiri went through at least one puppy class. He’s a gentleman on the leash too.

Sometime before the pandemic, Tabiri’s owner let him out into their fenced yard and he came back to the door with most of his skin hanging off him. The first vet Tabiri’s owner took him too recommended that they euthanize him. However, Tabiri’s owner sought a second opinion and found a surgeon that would operate on him a process that involved skin grafts, drains, and a long healing period. I want to be very clear – Tabiri would not be alive today if his first owner hadn’t taken the time and spent the money to save him.

This is the clearest picture I have of his scarring. You can see the giant flaps that were torn away and had to be reattached. Credit Carly Page

However, his owner still had to travel and the recovery process from Tabiri’s degloving was extensive and long, so Tabiri recovered at Alison’s house. He had a multiple skin grafts and drains and through it all Alison attests that he never protested. He didn’t growl, he just bore up under all the pain quietly and patiently. The long wound across his spine was the slowest to close, not much skin to hold together, and while it is healed, it is the only place that healed with adhesions and less cleanly. The surgeon really did an incredible job because for all his injuries, today he is sound and from what I can tell, completely pain free though, as I expected, he is stiff and requires more stretching than my other dogs.

Timing hasn’t seemed to be on Tabiri’s side because once he returned to Alison for good, the pandemic hit. While she had some people interested in being Tabiri’s new home, an adult Azawakh typically tends to not be an easy dog, particularly compared to Azawakh puppies and so the fit had to be just right. As with any responsible breeder, Tabiri was welcome to live out the rest of his life at Alison’s, but she also wanted to find a good, new home for him.

Cut to me spending the better part of eighteen months sorting through stud dogs and looking for a potential stud for Ami’s second litter. There were a number of studs who didn’t pan out for a number of reasons. And when I reached out to Alison inquiring whether she had any stud dogs that she was interested in placing she somewhat jokingly offered me Tabiri and for the first time I actually started to consider adding him to my pack. I’d known Tabiri had been available essentially since he’d recovered from his wounds. However, what I hadn’t realized until that moment was that he was still intact and thus a potential stud dog.

I talked to Alison on the phone about a week later after talking to my husband and sounding him out about the potential addition. He knew I’d been looking for a stud dog, so he wasn’t terribly surprised. We chatted and Alison was brutally honest about his flaws – he seemed to have separation anxiety (or at the least crate anxiety) and that he was an escape artist. She mentioned that while his first owner had been out of town, his father had been taking care of him and that he had gotten out and run miles in search of his people. Ultimately it was Alison who had helped catch him. She painted a picture of a skeptical adult male Azawakh. Which was fair. But she also spoke of him always trying to do his best, just not always knowing what that was. She described him as earnest and engaging and very bonded and loving once he warmed up. And maybe most intriguing to me was the potential she described in him – the curious intelligence that would be a fantastic fit for my purposes. In truth, the description reminded both me and Whitman of Ash, who is a wonderful dog but one who is a bit insecure at times.

At Alison's house getting to know Tabiri.

I made arrangements to go visit Alison and pick Tabiri up. I spent a fantastic weekend with good food, wine, and dogs. After my first night there I started to get a feel for Tabiri. The first time Alison got him out her yelled at me emphatically (he is loud when he wants to be) and then continued on his way to the yard. I felt this was perfectly fair since that this point all of her dogs hadn’t seen a stranger in a full eighteen months because of COVID. She later went and leashed him, walked him outside with me, and then went back inside while I walked him around.

I had expected him to be skittish and nervy and he just wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, he was skeptical. But a bike came flying down the empty street and he surveyed it, but nothing more. Clearly he would act if he needed to but he (correctly) assessed that the bike was simply odd, not a threat. He took treats (regular dog biscuits, so not anything super high value) from me rather readily. And he followed me when I got peppy and excited, as long as I didn’t face him or try to pull him along.

We did this routine several times and he came with me more and more readily. He waited at the doors with me right away. He started following me over odd and varied terrain. I got to know him and I really was intrigued. I know plenty of dogs that won’t take treats from strangers who have taken them away from their owner. I know plenty of dogs who would balk on the leash or pull frantically to get away. You have to remember, I have fostered an adult Azawakh and met her adult (very skittish) son. I have done private lessons with Azawakh who are struggling both in person and online. Most Azawakh I’ve worked with have been not much short of hysterical under similar circumstances. Tabiri was guarded, wary but calm and assessing. That is exactly what the breed should be.

Now keep in mind, if I’d tried to pet him, if I’d stared at him, used leash pressure with him, essentially put any pressure on him at all I feel confident he would have decided that I was up to something. Instead I invited him to come with me and made it rewarding to do so. Alison is the one who got him into the crate in the car and at the airport. I let the person he knew and trusted be the one to put pressure on him when necessary. This whole approach is what allowed him to opt into interacting with me and by the time I got him home, I could take a collar on and off him, pet him without objection, and put clothing on him as needed (it was the very beginning of March and often in the twenties in the early morning).

Ash comforting Tabiri his first night home

The reaction from my dogs was a fascinating one. Amidi, who is typically by far my slowest dog to warm up immediately loved him. She started dancing and cooing at him and Amalu (who loves most boarding dogs) also immediately took to him. Ash, who loves insecure and uncertain dogs spent most of the first day curled up near him. And even Anubi was curious. I’d been warned that Tabiri would be skeptical of my intact male but would likely tolerate him. And sure enough, Tabiri did not at all trust Anubi’s intentions (Anu just ignored him and gave him room) but didn’t start anything. The boys have since developed into an easy relationship – not really friends, but easy housemates who don’t really quarrel even with the girls are in season.

And I have to tell you, I absolutely fell in love with Tabiri in those first few months. Despite knowing that he wouldn’t be hysterical, how Tabiri approached the world made me smile. I had expected him to be guarded and uninterested in engaging or trusting me but almost immediately he started to bond with me. He wanted so badly to make sense of the world and share it with someone. He clearly wanted to go with his person and since I kept the pressure and expectations low and the rewarding experiences high, especially in the beginning, he absolutely blossomed. He went from shaking and crying in his car crate to quietly napping in the car by the end of the week (though to this day he would still prefer riding in the front seat in his seatbelt harness).

We gave him a second name, Asouf, an A name to fit in with the rest of my first generation of Azawakh. Anubi is named after the titular character in the Tuareg author, Abrahim al Koni’s work. His work is beautiful full, of poetic verbal pictures and it seemed so fitting for an Azawkah. Asouf if the main character in al Koni’s version of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, he is a character who navigates the changing modern world of the Sahel and it seemed a fitting addition to Tabiri’s name. It also was helpful additional cue in retraining his recall, so now he will happily answer to both or either names.

Before the off leash Labs

I took Tabiri on a few outings mostly hikes and parks the first week I had him and hiking in particular he took to immediately. He enjoyed going out on the long line and he took to moving along with the pack at a slow amble. The third day I had him, we went on a hike and three off leash Labs came tearing up to us, no owners in sight. Tabiri stood his ground. He didn’t start anything and none of the Labs thought to try to take on the biggest dog in the group off dogs. In fact, afterwards he seemed entirely unphased by the experience, a bit more wary of dogs seen in the distance, but perfectly calm and alert.

Credit Sand McArthur

At the end of Tabiri’s first week with me (it hadn’t even been a full 7 days) I had the Pure Dog Talk retreat that I’d had on my calendar for six months and didn’t want to miss. He and my other dogs came with me for the seven hour drive and arrived at the Air BNB that I was sharing with some dog friends. We got settled and he did surprisingly well even though we were sharing the room with my friend and her intact male Podengo and her young Irish Wolfhound.

The first full day of the retreat he was quiet in the car and when I took him out to see how he took to stacking and moving. Mostly I was curious if he would be willing to work at all under pressure with strange dogs and people around and honestly, he very much was. He was very wary and we kept to a distance that made him comfortable, but he was non-reactive, just guarded and uncertain.

Anubi, Tabiri, Amidi foreground with friends in the background

He ran free in a paddock with my other dogs and my friend’s Podengo and Wolfhound. He wore a muzzle graciously until we trusted him unmuzzled around the other dogs. He grudgingly allowed my friend to trim his nails (they were due and I didn’t want his first nail trim to be in my home where he was just starting to get comfortable). When my van battery died and I was waiting for a jump, he even kenneled somewhat nervously inside the host’s dog building. Essentially he was a complete rock star. He handled what was a big and eventful trip in stride and came out the other side more confident than before.

Tabiri warmed up to my husband more quickly than I expected and was oddly taken with my parents and family, a fact that surprised me. He will still growl at most people if they actively go to pet him – I don’t remotely consider this to be a temperament fault. He doesn’t lash out. He doesn’t escalate for no reason though he would if pushed. He tells a person when they need to cease what they are doing and his boundaries are very reasonable and predictable. And if you are simply hanging out ignoring him, he’ll let you pet him.

Credit Jumoke Photography

Since then, Tabiri has taken third place in Singles at Lure Coursing. He is hesitant to commit and go too far from me, but he’s intrigued by the lure and I think with more practice it may eventually click. He’s gone from being completely put off by the racing boxes to eagerly boxing himself even when his leash is held by a stranger. He’s not fast, but boy he loves that squawker in LGRA and he never gives up or gets discouraged that he’s behind and he runs cleanly with other dogs and doesn’t interfere. He loves agility and though we’ll likely never compete, he loves getting a turn during agility class and actively opts to engage with the equipment. He enjoyed doing the Trick Dog Novice and Virtual Home Manners Videos with me and I want to do more of that kind of work with him because it’s fun for both of us. And in the house he has been grumbly when the dogs get in his face but he is never unfair with his corrections and he loves to curl up with his humans and his pack (if it’s on his terms).

His flexibility has improved with regular running and stretching and coat supplements, but he will never have the extension that my other dogs have. Add to that his substance and he’s an imposing dog rather than an agile one. Considering the breed is a guarding one, that substance is something I don’t want to lose completely from our gene pool as the show ring increasingly favors the refined dogs.

So now the downsides because no dog is without them. He does have separation anxiety. We’re working through it, but it comes and it goes. This could be genetic but I think it more likely developed by spending a whole lot of time alone in a crate early in his life when his owner was busy. A few weeks after I brought him home, he had a seizure. While I’d seen Argos have seizures before, this was a cluster seizure and was honestly a bit unsettling. But it resolved with no ill effects. Over the next few months he had about one seizure a month, each less intense than the one before it. One thing I have heard, talking to other Azawakh owners is that the cause of seizures in the breed is often unknown, but can often be completely controlled by managing environmental factors or diet. We had tried to slowly transition Tabiri from raw to kibble (what our other dogs ate) which was when the seizures started and when we transitioned back to raw the seizures completely disappeared. It was very effective management and relieving for us.

The longer I have lived with Tabiri, the more I have come to admire his incredible temperament. It screams Azawakh breed type to me. He is guarded without being hysterical. Alert without being reactive. I can take him into public anywhere but there’s no way he’s letting a stranger in his territory without my say so. He loves to work and bonds tightly with his humans but can spend the day sleeping instead. Really honestly for me he is exactly what an Azawakh should be in temperament and particularly paired with the earnest and eager Amidi I think he could produce Azawkah with really lovely, stable temperaments.

I also love his structure, more than some of my other Azawakh for sure. His proportions are spot on in almost every way, something that is very much starting to be lacking in the breed as a whole. He has the substance that is less common but I believe still needed to balance the trending toward over refinement that we are seeing with show dogs. I would like to keep that in the gene pool. He has a really lovely pedigree behind him. I particularly like what his father Ishagahan has produced and would like to have that behind my own dogs. He has the more open angulation that we are starting to lose in the breed as dogs trend towards generic structure. When paired with Amidi who also has a lot of these same traits, I think I could get a very consistent and very typey litter and that is an exciting prospect to me. Despite his scars, at a trot he moves like a dream and I think he has better breed specific movement than most of my dogs.

The downside? As the months have progressed with Tabiri, I’ve began to have suspicions that he might have hypothyroidism. After his first seizure, I had my vet run bloodwork on him to see if anything was out of the usual. My vet found that his T4 value for his thyroid was low, but as that can be known to happen without anything abnormal being true in sighthounds, he recommended I run a full OFA thyroid panel through MSU. I had already been planning to run that panel, this just moved up my timeline.

Black circles are coat loss, red circles are pinpoint bruises

By the time I actually ran his thyroid panel, my suspicions were beginning to cement. What if his grumbling micro aggressions with the other dogs were a result of a low thyroid? What if is flakey skin and thinning coat, which I’d always put down to his scarring, were actually worsened by a low thyroid. I’ve heard that seizures can be triggered by hypothyroidism. Truly, even separation anxiety has been associated with low thyroid values. Every small piece when put together seemed to lead to the same conclusion. It was when small bruises and cuts were increasingly slow to heal that I really began to suspect exactly what his OFA panel results came back as: autoimmune thyroiditis.

I sent the results to my own vet and called to schedule an appointment. My vet also called in a prescription for Levithyroxine to treat his thyroid. I had the medication within a couple days and we figured it wasn’t going to hurt to try the medication and see how he responded, and indeed it could potentially do a lot of good.

A week after he first started the medication, Tabiri was like a different dog. The first changes were the behavioral ones. Instead of grumbling as the other dogs go near him, he watched them calmly. Instead of curling tightly into a tense ball, he sprawled. He trotted on hikes instead of ambling. He ran as often as the other dogs and didn’t tire nearly as quickly as before. And his goofy side, the side that Azawakh only show to their people and the side we’d only seen a handful of times, started to emerge on a daily basis. He’d bring me toys to throw or play bitey-face with the other dogs or nose me eagerly for attention. We have a nightly game of tug or fetch now.

The physical changes were slower to emerge, but still much quicker than I expected. The patchiness of his coat evened out, his skin stopped flaking and had a supple quality to it instead. The bruises that hadn’t cleared up for a month all went away. His nail growth (which had always been conveniently slow) sped up and his metabolism skyrocketed. He’d always had a slow metabolism compared to my other Azawakh but on the medication it was much more in line with the level I’d expected.

Coat starting to fill in, no more bruising

For $6 a month the medication made a huge impact in Tabiri and he is such a delightful dog. I already had bonded with him and now I can see how full of joy and energy and anticipation he is. I truly cannot begin to tell you how phenomenal his temperament is. Tabiri has been through so many things that would have crumpled a lesser dog. He nearly died by skinning himself, had a painful recovery, was returned to his breeder, and then moved across the country to live with me. He is non-reactive in public. Honestly, if I have to take my pick of dogs to bring with me places I would pick Anubi first and then Tabiri second. He’s easy on the leash, checks in often, and will naturally find an out of the way place and settle down to nap, even in public. And while he was uncertain of dogs near his space he never lashed out and is ultimately very good with my other dogs and extremely adaptable to my boarding and board and train dogs. He will accept other intact males as long as they are respectful. And, all of this was true before the thyroid medication. It is only more true now.

There is often a taboo to not breed dogs if they aren’t perfect. I addressed in an earlier post that even with the seizures (which at the time I believed to be idiopathic (without known cause)), with a small gene pool, I would still consider breeding Tabiri. I’ve sat on that decision for quiet a while now as I learned more about Tabiri’s health. The diagnosis of autoimmune thyroiditis is almost a relief to me. Yes. I would prefer my dog not to be afflicted. But here are the good things:

1) It’s incredibly treatable

2) Medication is inexpensive

3) The seizures are likely tied to the autoimmune thyroiditis

Unfortunately, this condition is not a simple autosomal dominant/recessive. The inheritance pattern is more complex and not fully understood at this time. Additionally, having talked to other breeders, thyroid issues are not always passed as hypothyroidism but can instead tend to manifest in other ways as the body’s propensity to attack itself (Addisons, Cushings, etc).

My decisions in which dogs to breed and to whom are carefully considered. There is no one sole deciding factor. For me, it is all a balancing game, but I do like the idea of a three strikes (and you’re out) system. Personally for me, these aren’t just little things like having a wide back skull or a short tail. They are matters of functionality and soundness (so having an unbalanced dog would be a strike).

To my eye Tabiri has 1-2 strikes against him depending on how you count. Firstly the obvious – autoimmune thyroiditis. As I’ve mentioned annoying but treatable, and ultimately if monitored it doesn’t have to affect the dog’s quality of life. Secondly – the separation anxiety. This is the piece that I want to see if it improves as the thyroid medication continues to take full affect and build in his system. If I see a notable improvement, this strike begins to blend into the first strike.

So do his virtues outweigh those two strikes? I honestly believe so. I could extoll his virtues all day. I have gone on at length about them. And while I don’t mean to minimize his faults, because they are faults nonetheless, they are faults that I can live with and he won’t inherently pass on to his puppies. And I truly believe he should stay in the gene pool. He has so much to offer.

For me, at this time (because I will always allow that plans change), I am planning on moving forward with breeding him to Ami. It’s a controversial move, especially for one of my first litters. I am certain I will be criticized for this choice but to those critics I have this to say: I am working with a dog whose structure I love, whose temperament (which is so problematic in so much of the breed in my experience) is exactly what I want, and whose medical issues are a known quantity. What I take is a calculated risk, but it is calculated and it is with full disclosure, which is more than I can say for so much of the dog fancy.

As I was picking pictures for his gallery I was really struck by how many I have of Tabiri simply hanging out with his pack and his people. Pictures are also uploaded chronologically and it was fun to see him go from tense and unsure to relaxed and content.

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