I've wanted to pull apart the Azawakh breed standard for quite some time, and when I started writing this as I sat in my whelping box watching the first puppy I bred play with her mother, the time never seemed better. I will qualify this post with a statement that all of this is my interpretation of the standard. I have likely spent more time sitting with and analyzing this standard over the past few years than just about anyone.
I also want to write this to address the discrepancies and misunderstandings I see with many judges. I want to be very clear that within the United States, there are no breeder judges, and to my knowledge, no judges who have ever even owned the breed and so it is important to remember that while judges have studied and watched the breed and attended judge's education seminars, there are none within the States that have lived with Azawakh day in and out and very few that have seen the breed in action in both show and performance venues.
This post will get pretty deep into the weeds regarding structure, so I won't blame anyone for not being able to get through it. But I also am going to try to keep it accessible to those who aren't in the breed but are curious about the structure.
A breed standard is a written description of the characteristics (both physical and temperament) that make up an ideal individual of a breed. Standards tend to vary by kennel club (the AKC vs FCI in Europe for instance). For some breeds the standards are quite similar. For others they describe almost completely different breeds. In the case of the Azawakh the FCI standard was written, the AKC was based on the original FCI standard. However, the FCI standard has now changed markedly from the AKC standard, while the AKC standard has remained the same. I'll address some of the differences, including some discrepancies I see, at the end.
I also want to be upfront. I am not a purist. I believe a well-written breed standard is a powerful tool and there are a lot of aspects of the Azawakh breed standard I appreciate. However, I also find that all breed standards to have holes or vague language that can be difficult to interpret. I am going to rely on common sense when in doubt and also rely on how the breed has looked in the Sahel for thousands of years, when in doubt. But the standard gives me a lovely written guide on which to base my decisions.
Below, I will quote each part of the standard and then break it apart. This post is meant for myself, it's meant for people interested in hearing what I have to say. It is not official in any capacity and as such, I will be using my own dogs to illustrate what various virtues and faults look like.
Official Standard of the Azawakh General Appearance:
The Azawakh is an African sighthound of Afro-Asiatic type, which appeared in Europe towards 1970 and, comes from the Nigerien middle basin, among others, from the Valley of the Azawakh. For hundreds of years, he has been the companion of the nomads of the southern Sahara.
Particularly leggy and elegant, the Azawakh gives a general impression of great fineness. His bone structure and musculature are transparent beneath fine and lean skin. This sighthound presents itself as a rangy dog whose body fits into a rectangle with its longer sides in a vertical position.
Faults - Heavy general appearance.
The beginning information is just background. Hundreds of years is likely a vast understatement and the breed has likely existed for at least a few thousands of years, but seeing as we don't have records, "hundreds of years" is a fair conservative statement.
The second half of the paragraph is where you get the essence of the breed- leggy, elegant, fineness, bone and musculature transparent beneath fine skin, taller than long, rangy (again calling to attention the legginess). All of those adjectives are true of the breed. When I bring my dogs places I am always getting comments about their legs- that they go on for miles, that they could run all day, that they're tall. That should be your first impression.
Then lets address the last sentence- "Faults - Heavy general appearance". This is a piece I think it's really easy to misunderstand about the breed. If I take Tabiri out on the street I can guarantee you, everyone is going to comment on how elegant her is. But put him in a ring and I guarantee he won't get put up. Nevermind he has incredible silhouette and sound movement. He's too heavy for the judge's preferences. I haven't show him yet, we're still preparing him to stand for exam, but I have talked to a number of judges about him and know they think he has too much substance, he's too heavy. But, let's take a look at the heights and weights listed in the standard.
Size, Weight, Proportion: Height at withers - Males 25 to 29 inches, females 23 to 27 inches.
Serious Fault - Size deviating more than an inch from the norms of the standard.
Weigh: - Males 44 to 55 pounds, females 33 to 44 pounds
Tabiri is 29" at the withers. He is 54.5lbs in performance weight, which is how I show all my dogs. That means he is at the top of the standard for both height and weight. Anubi in contrast, is 29" at the withers (same as Tabiri) and he is 44.5lbs in performance weight. So he is the top of the standard in height but the bottom of standard in weight. How can a dog that lands squarely within the height and weight standards be too bulky, particularly when he has so many other breed specific traits? I think the answer is that judges simply don't have a handle on judging the weight of the breed. I have had judges guess Anubi's weight at 50+lbs. They are always shocked to discovered that he's so light (and often when they learn his actual weight they start calling him fragile, which he is decidedly not).
Left picture- Tabiri left and Anubi right, Right picture- Anubi- left and Tabiri right
Now let's look at the bitch height and weight range. Again, I have bitches spanning a large chunk of the standard. Ami is 26.5", so near the top of the height range, but in condition she sits at about 39lbs (the middle of the weight range). In general, she appears refined, but compared to Anubi is very moderate. Amalu on the other hand is just under 26" and sits at 42lbs in condition. Whereas Gem is slightly taller than Amalu (around 26") but is only ~34lbs in condition. Three bitches, within an inch of each other in height but covering the majority of the weight standard. The difference? Substance both regarding the weight of their overall bones and the amount of muscle they carry.
In the left two images you can see Anubi at the front of the picture. Remember he is 29", all the bitches are about 3" or more inches shorter than he is. Then moving front to back you have Gem, Amidi, and Amalu. To me, though the pictures aren't perfect, Gem feels tiny even though she is in fact taller than Amalu. However, less substance (and thus less weight) makes her appear much more petite. In the far right image you have Amalu and Anubi standing side by side in an image that makes it very clear there's only 3 pounds difference in weight between the two of them, even though Amalu is 3" shorter than him. The difference is how heavy her bones are and how much muscle she carriers (her muscle is bulkier than my other Azawakh and she tends to have accordingly less stamina).
This is so fascinating to me, because my memory was that Gem was tiny. Very petite in height and in weight. However, once she arrived her and she actually stood next to my other girls it became apparent, like so many judges misjudged Anubi's weight, Gem's refined bone structure had tricked me into thinking she was smaller than she was. I think in general, because the height to weight proportions are so very different for this breed, people in general don't have a good handle on what a 55lb, 29" male Azawakh looks like or even what a 33lb, 23" bitch looks like (one of Gem's littermates is even smaller than she is).
Gem (bottom of the weight standard) and Tabiri (top of the weight standard) next to each other.
A final note is really take in what a wide range the height standard spans- 23-29" total. That means a petite bitch is going to look miniscule next to a large male. However, I would argue that if a large male is within the standard that is on us to better learn what that looks like rather than faulting it for a heavy general appearance.
[Body condition] In correct weight a minimum of three to five ribs and hip bones should be visible.
I deeply appreciate the standard specifically addressing visual appearance when an Azawakh is at correct weight. When trialing almost weekly sitting the peak of our performance season, even when just hiking and free running, my dogs naturally show 3-5. They don't get the rib coverage most other breeds get and that is a natural part of the breed being so so dry with tight skin and lean musculature. I am also pleased the standard specifies "a minimum of 3-5 ribs" should be visible because the fact is that depending on chest shape and age (teenagers can be hard keepers) more may be visible. I personally have found it seems to be increasingly common for Azawakh to barely have their last rib visible and they may not have any ribs visible at all.
As for hip bones being clearly visible, this is a very open angulated breed. With open rear angulation, the hips are briefly going to be prominent above the spine. If an Azawakh's hip bones aren't prominent then one of two things has happened. 1. They do not have the open rear angulation that they should or 2. They are substantially overweight.
These two pictures are Luna (left) and Tabiri (right). Luna h came to me as a foster. She was 12 pounds overweight when I got her (48 pounds) and by the time she left she was 36 pounds. Note that she has lost any form of dry, finely strung appearance with the extra weight and that her hip bones have disappeared and her croup appears rounded. Tabiri is 9 pounds above his performance weight in this picture (55 versus 64 pounds), which is a substantially proportionally smaller percentage overweight than Luna. And note he does appear to be a very heavy set boy in this picture, which is not his present appearance at all.
Here are some pictures of my dogs (and foster) in average condition. They are slightly lighter (less muscle) than their performance condition but they are a good health weight for the breed. Luna in particular is still slightly overweight since you can just barely see tracings of ribs. Amalu and Amidi are both in false pregnancy so while ribs are visible, muscle tone is lacking.
Here are some pictures of my dogs in peak performance condition. Note that though their musculature is flat (as should be expected in endurance runners), it is well apparent, which is very important considering muscles are mentioned often throughout the standard. Also note you can see a minimum of 3-5 ribs and hip bones easily. This is note them being starved, this is their natural condition when they run and compete every week, sometimes multiple times a week.
Finally regarding weight, the below picture is Anubi at 42 pounds (he usually sits around 45 pounds). He literally had bloodwork and urinalysis done the next day unrelated to his condition. It unsurisingly came back normal. He was also bred successfully that very same day, in addition to taking Best of Breed in LGRA, NOTRA, and ASFA over the course of three days with hard competition. He had been off his food and eating little since Ami was in heat. Yet there was zero drop in endurance or ability. While this is very dry and leaner than I prefer to see my dog, I personally would still put up this condition over overweight every single time (with dogs of equal merit). The standard mentioned muscle many times and that should be emphasized.
Body Proportion : Length of body/height at withers - 9:10. Length of body is 90 percent height of hound. This ratio may be slightly higher in bitches.
Read that carefully. And then read it again. This ratio is going to look wrong, especially when you're new to the breed. One of the most common faults I see in this breed is long bodied dogs.
Azawakh should have a vertical format. We are barely into the breakdown of the standard and it has stated this twice already. This is a key breed trait. How are these proportions created? That's a really good question and one that the standard touches on but doesn't ever state directly. So I want to look at some ways for the 9:10 length to height ratio to be created.
One way would be to increase leg length - to make the dog proportionally taller. There would be two ways to do this - open up the angulation of the dog or to make the actual long bones longer. I would generally argue that the reason the Azawakh has more proportional height is because of more open angles, rather than increased leg length.
In addition to giving height a higher proportion, you can create the above ratio by decreasing length. Now, short coupling is usually considered a cardinal sin in sighthounds. After all, isn't a long loin how a sighthound gets a lot of their power? The answer that is, yes. However, it's also a generally accepted fact that Azawakh are, in fact, slower than most other similarly structured breeds (Salukis and Sloughis). However, my short coupled girls have some serious speed, more so than my longer coupled girl. I suspect that again gets back to relying on the lighter substance to compensate for the decreased power.
Considering Azawakh's primary purpose is that of a camp guardian then a hunter, slower speed for more desert adaptability makes sense to me. How does the 9:10 length/height ratio related to desert adaptability? I won't pretend to have true, immutable concrete answers. However, if you look at the other animals of the region such as the cattle and goats, all of them have a similar format. Indeed, the camel, the quintessential desert animal, has a very vertical format. As such, the theory I have heard and it seems quite sound to me is that when living in a hot region, animals' angulation opens up to help keep the bulk of the animals' mass away from the heat of the ground.
One final note - I have heard from people who had a hand in writing the AKC standard that the reason a higher ratio is allowed for bitches is to allow for puppies during pregnancy. I will also state that I have heard no breeder who bred a short bodied bitch asserting that they handled their pregnancy any worse than a longer bodied bitch. To me, while it is allowable, I think it also may lead to us losing the breed proportions if we aren't careful.
Both Anubi (left) and Amalu (right) are slightly too long bodied.
Whereas Amidi (left), Gem (center), and Tabiri (right) have more correct proportions.
Head: Eyes - Almond shaped, quite large. Their color is in keeping with the coat color. Eye rims are pigmented.
This is both succinct and descriptive. It gives you correct eye shape. I have found round and oval eyes to be increasingly common. A correct eye allows the Azawakh to view their prey (or interlopers) for a large distance in a desert environment. A round eye does not allow for the correct scope of vision and
Their color is in keeping with the coat color, which does allow for lighter eyes in dilute dogs.
Eye rims are pigmented also allows for dilute pigmentation as long as there is pigment. Lack of pigmentation around the eye may contribute to eye damage in the harsh sun.
Set quite high. They are fine, always drooping and flat, quite wide at the base, close to the skull, never a rose ear. Their shape is that of a triangle with a slightly rounded tip. Their base rises when the hound is attentive.
Faults - Rose ear.
In general, I would say ears are a fault of some of my dogs. The standard is also vague regarding what is considered high set. I would assert that the standard is making a case that Azawakh should not have low set scenthound ears and it is in contrast to that which the "set quite high" compares.
Gem's (left) ears are much lower set than Tabiri's (right), whose ear set is more correct.
They should be pendant ears, which is not the standard's language, but it suits. When alert, the ears will set forward presenting almost the full ear to the front (rising from the base).
A word on prizing "fine" ear leather. This can again be a case where exaggeration serves no one. Anubi's ears are lovely. He has also suffered with cracked ear leather again and again, which is a problem with his lines. Amalu and Tabiri's ear leather is thicker, but still fine and has none of the health concerns of Anubi's overly thin ear leather.
Finally regarding the fault of rose ears. While Sloughis and Azawakh have different ear size, shape, and carriage I do think the Americal Sloughi Association's judges education on when a ear is truly rose versus when a dog is excited or anxious and rosing their ear is very relevant to this discussion: https://sloughi-international.com/judging-the-sloughi-ears-of-the-sloughi/
Amidi rosing her ears to beg for food, then correct alert ears.
In short, there are a great many dogs that rose their ears when excited or anxious (as can often be the case with new dogs in the ring). To fault a dog for that carriage is unfair to me.
Interestingly, ear size is not addressed in the standard.
The skull is almost flat, rather elongated. The width of the skull must definitely be inferior to half the length of the head. The width of the skull is 40 percent the length of the head. The superciliary arches and the frontal furrow are slightly marked. The occipital protuberance is clearly pronounced.
Faults - Wide back skull,.
I think the wording for this section of the standard is lovely. When looking at Azawakh head shape I am looking for a flat back skull (not domed), a prominent occiput, and a narrow back skull.
Wide back skulls are somewhat common in the breed, in my experience. I have a breeder friend that calls them "coffee cup heads" because they're wide enough you could rest a cup of coffee on them. I find they are particularly common in males with recent Sahelian import blood behind them. That's not remotely true of all imports but I find it more likely, Whereas with bitches with recent African blood, you get a wider back skull in my experience but still within standard.
Anubi (left) has a within standard back skull width whereas Tabiri has a back skull that is too wide.
Compare the boys to my girls and the difference is less noticeable. Gem was a very narrow back skull (less than 40%) whereas Amalu has right around 40% as called for in standard. To me, the difference is much less noticeable both in pictures but also to me in person.
"The superciliary arches and frontal furrow are slightly marked". This is a sentence that doesn't get much attention in my experience but I do think it helps contribute to expression and expression is something the standard never expressly addresses, unlike the Sloughi (melancholy) and Saluki (far seeing) standards. I do think it is possible for these features to be overly marked and the result can be a somewhat pinched rather than a regal look.
To me Gem's (left) superciliary arches are very noticeable creating an almost worried expression, where as Amidi's (right) are notable but less marked, giving her a calmer expression. This is typical, in my experience, of both girls and is not just an artifact of the pictures.
The prominence of the occiput in an Azawakh is something that makes their head very distinct from that of a Sloughi (a breed that Azawakh are often mistaken as). It is something not a lot of judges are looking for, but once you notice it's missing it hard to not see it when looking at other dogs in the future.
Anubi (left) has a notable occiput, while Amalu (right) does not.
Stop – Very slight.
Faults - Prominent stop
A slight stop is typical of sighthounds. It's usually associated with at least the appearance of increased aerodynamics. A prominent stop is a trait that will pop up in heavier headed dogs at times, which is likely why the fault is explicitly called out in our standard.
Muzzle - Long, straight, fine, lean and chiseled, rather narrow, without excess. Length of muzzle/length of head equals 1:2. Length of back skull is 50 percent length of head.
This phrasing again calls to mind the dryness, tightness of an Azwakh's skin, which should remain true, even on the skin of the muzzle. You again have that emphasis of dry skin, which has already been mentioned more than once in the standard, so you can note the importance.
Anubi (left) has very tight skin on his muzzle, this is true of his skin everywhere on his body. This is correct for the breed. Whereas Amalu has much looser skin on her muzzle (though not elsewhere on her body), which gives the appearances that she is lacking under jaw (snipey), when she is not.
I do see dogs with both a long back skull and a long muzzle, so it is a trait that exists in the breed. I think in this regard my dogs are good examples of head proportions across the board.
Planes – Parallel, however sometimes the line of the skull and the bridge of the muzzle are slightly divergent.
This is a line that is so common in standards that requires you to read between the lines. When phrased this section becomes: Head planes are parallel. This is the ideal. Slightly divergent planes between muzzle and back skull are allowable but not ideal.
*Note* Divergent planes are fairly common in the breed in my experience, but it is not something I can demonstrate with my own dogs. While none of them have perfect parallel planes, this is something I consider a strength of my dogs across the board.
This is Sule, Ami's brother, who I am using as an example with permission. He is a lovely boy overall! However, his head planes are slightly diverging.
Lips and Jaw - Lips are fine and tight. Jaw is long and strong. Cheeks are flat.
Lips are fine and tight once again evokes dry skin and structure. Typically if you see a dog that has excess skin on their muzzle, they will have heavier lips too.
I think the expectation that the underjaw should be strong with flat cheeks is something that gets lost in the common quest for a more refined head. Snipey heads are increasingly common, in my experience. However, remember not only is this a hunting breed, it is also a guardian breed. There is no place for pretty but dysfunctional in this breed in regard to jaw strength. Above, the picture of Sule gives an example of flat and powerful looking jaw muscles.
Unlike Amalu and Amidi who both have loose flews, which can give the appearance of lacking under jaw, Gem, who has quite a refined face is actually snipey.
Bite - A scissor bite is preferable; a level bite is allowed.
Teeth - Full dentition; the teeth are healthy and strong.
Serious Fault - An overshot or undershot jaw.
Azawakh are a full dentition breed. There aren't many sighthound breeds that are. This means exhibitors should be showing the entire mouth, not just the front. Likewise, judges should be checking not just for a scissor or level bite but also for full dentition. This is something I feel is often skipped.
Nose - Nostrils well opened. The nose color is in keeping with the coat color.
This is something largely self-explanatory. Azawakh are a running breed, they should have well open nares. However, the other thing to note is that this explicitly allows dilute colors that affect nose leather.
Neck, Topline, Body:
Neck - Good reach of neck which is long, fine and muscular, slightly arched. The skin is fine and does not form a dewlap.
"Good reach of neck" is largely common sense. With a dog that has a leggy appearance, a dog with a short neck would look odd. However, the balancing piece to this sentence is "long, fine, and muscular" (emphasis mine). The dog must look in proportion, however they must also have enough strength in their neck to carry back game. Sacrificing strength in favor of length is folly.
Again, if you have a dog with looser flews, they will likely be more prone to looser neck skin/dewlap. Since this is again in keeping with the theme than an Azawakh's skin is to be dry, this should be faulted accordingly.
On top Tabiri (left) and Anubi (right) demonstrate tight throat skin, without dewlap. But on bottom, notice how the show collar pulls Amidi's excess skin up, indicating dewlap.
Topline - Nearly straight, horizontal or rising toward the hips. Withers are quite prominent.
An Azawakh's topline is different than most other sighthound breed's toplines.
Starting from the front of the topline and moving backwards, the dog should have prominent, well-marked withers. What does that mean? Note the phrasing is different than so many other breeds' standards. The withers are no well-laidback. They are instead quite prominent. The reason for that is because Azawakh have quite open front assembly, that means as the scapular-humeral angle opens up, the scapula rises above the level of the spine, creating well marked withers. This is different than most other breeds and something that seems to be somehow simultaneously overlooked and misunderstood.
After the withers, you will se a dip in the top line. That dip in the top line is not a weakness of the spine, it is just a correspondence to the spine being of a lower elevation than the withers. How else would the withers be prominent, if that were not in contrast to the rest of the topline? You may see judges arguing that is not what the standard means, but if the standard, in fact meant well-laidback, it would have said so and additionally well-laidback withers would never be in keeping with the 130* front angulation described earlier in the standard.
From that dip, the topline should remain either horizontal or rising towards the hips. To rephrase- after the anticline (where the vertebra change directions, allowing for spinal flexibility), the topline should either be level (like a Sloughis) or ascending toward the rear. Note, you don't want a rise over the loin, which is very typical of most sighthound breed.
Amidi (left) with a level topline and Amalu (right) with a rising topline.
Body - Length of body/height at withers - 9:10. Length of body is 90 percent height of hound. This ratio may be slightly higher in bitches.
Fault - Body too long.
Repetition is a tool to create emphasis. The standard already addressed this at length earlier, so the fact that it is repeated again indicates how much general proportions are a hallmark of the breed.
Chest - Depth of chest is 40 percent of height at withers. Well developed in length, deep but without reaching elbow level. It is not very wide, but must have enough space for the heart, so the sternal region of the chest must not abruptly become narrow. Forechest is not very wide.
Ribs - Long, visible, slightly and evenly curved down to the sternum.
Here is another section of the standard that I believe is often misinterpreted. Many all breed sighthound fanciers look at this paragraph and panic. But how will they be able to run with a narrow, shallow chest?! Many worry. When that is not at all what the standard is saying.
As discussed later in the standard, the front angulation of an Azawakh should be 130*. That means as the scapulohumeral joint opens several things happen. One is discussed above- the withers rise above the height of the spine. Two, the front assembly naturally shifts forward (to be discussed more below). Three, the humerus straightens out and naturally drops below the point of the chest (meaning the point of the chest is above the elbow level). Thus, it is the open angulation of the front assembly that causes the chest to appear shallow, when that is not the case at all. This is the reason the chest is above the elbow, not, as I have heard posited, because the long bones of the leg are somehow longer.
Now we get to the other aspect of this paragraph that people panic about. Why would a sighthound's chest not be very wide? Well, I will ask you, what other sighthound has to exist in the temperatures Azawakh regularly face? Perhaps Sloughis and Salukis. But Azawakh do face a uniquely harsh, hot climate. That means they most be consummate heat regulators.
One mechanism in aiding thermoregulation is Vasodilatation, where the blood vessels near the skin widen to allow more blood flow away from the core of the body which is warmer. By extension, a narrow body that allows a dog to complete this process more efficiently would be highly effective for a dog that lives in near desert environments.
It is a balancing act where the dog must able to run and perform as a sighthound, while handling temperatures that would cripple most other sighthound breeds. I will say, in my practical experience, I worried that Anubi was too narrow bodied, that he would struggle to circulate blood efficiently (because of less room for his heart) or that he wouldn't had stamina because he couldn't catch his breath (because of not enough room for the lungs) but he is by far my dog with the most stamina. In contrast, Tabiri and Amalu have by far my least stamina and they are substantially wider bodied (proportionally) than my other Azawakh. As such, I would err on the side of narrow rather than wide forechest with this specific breed.
One final note about the chest - we've established that a narrow body helps with thermoregulation. However this is another reason why the elbows should be below the point of the chest - this gives a narrow bodied dog more room for their elbows to maneuver while running.
Anubi (left) is proportionally my most narrow dog and has never suffered any adverse performance, meanwhile Tabiri (center) and Amalu (right) perform well, but tire easily and struggle to run the the heat compared to Anubi (though they do tolerate the heat when not exercising just fine).
Underline - The chest is curved like a keel consisting of dry muscle and visible skeleton. The brisket is well defined with the underline rising very high into the lumbar arch without interruption.
An Azawakh's underline is markedly different than most other sighthound breeds. Already specified in the standard is that the chest should be above the point of the elbow and only make up 40% of the dog's height at the withers. In regard to underline, that means you are going to see the entire underline, much more of the sternum than usual because it is not hidden by the elbows. Additionally with open should assembly, it will be more forward placed, again revealing more of the full underline.
"The chest is curved like a keel" could potentially be confusing since there are different types of boat keel the standard could be invoking. However, the other AKC standards that use the word "keel" are the Dachshund and the Bloodhound, both of which can lend understanding to the curved shape you are looking for with Azawakh. Essentially, the curve of the chest should be very evident, and while it is not explicitly stated in the standard, most Azawakh breeders in the US will note that the underline should drop before rising helping make that keel shape obvious.
"Rising very high into the lumbar region" is the other key piece to the description of the underline. Azawakh have a very high tuck, I would argue the highest tuck of any of the sighthounds. Very often I get comments in the ring about how deep my dogs' chests are. When I point out (most of them) have a chest well above the point of the elbow they always notice that with shock. It's simply a trick of the eyes thinking Azawakh have particularly deep chest, when in actuality they have a very high tuck.
On top Anubi (left) and Amalu (right) both have less than ideal underlines. Their chests are too close to their elbows and they don't rise to high enough tucks. Whereas on bottom Amidi (left) and Gem (right) have beautiful, ideal underlines.
Back - Nearly straight, horizontal or rising toward the hips. Hipbones are distinctly protruding and always placed at an equal or superior height to the height at the withers.
Serious Fault - Hip bones placed lower than withers.
The back being horizontal or rising has been addressed previously, but this again places emphasis on the importance of these traits through repetitions.
However, this section includes addition information. It states that "the hip bones" are distinctly protruding. When taken in concert with "prominent withers" this makes perfect sense. Like with the front assembly, the rear assembly should be 130*. Like with the withers, this causes the points of the iliac crest (hip bones/pin bones) to rise above the point of the spine.
If a dog is balanced with good long bone proportions then the hip bones will be equal or inferior to the withers. However, hip bones placed lower than the withers indicates the dog is likely over-angulated or has a short upper or lower thigh or some other problem that interrupts the balance of the dog. That is a fault that is easy to see and should indeed be seriously faulted.
Loin - The lumbar section is usually flat (horizontal), but a slight curve is common.
Again rephrasing this section it begins- the loin is flat ideally, but a slight arch over the loin is typical and thus allowable. To me, the standard in fact states that we should be looking to breed dogs with an ideal topline, but because an arch over the loin is so prevalent that is not a fault that should be discarded. And while, an arched loin is common in sighthounds there are a great many Azawakh that have come out of the Sahel, including many of the original imports that were perfectly functional working and running dogs, indicating the rise of the loin is not a universal sighthound trait.
Gem (left) has more of an arch over her loin where as her half-sister Amidi (right) has the preferred (within this breed) flat loin.
Croup - Oblique without accentuated slant.
This section must be taken in conjunction with the section later that specifies that rear angulation (coxofemoral angle) should be 130*. Seeing at the standard is quite specific regarding that number, and in fact is one of the few numbers that is consistent throughout every single standard worldwide, that provides the frame of reference for "without accentuated slant".
As such, "without accentuated slant" must mean a croup that is more open than the 130* specified in standard, a trait I am not sure I have ever seen in the breed. This line is subjective whereas the angulation is not, so this line most be read in conjuction with the rest of the standard.
Tail - The tail is set low, thin, lean, and tapered. Length should reach the hock. It is covered with the same type of hair as that of the body. It is carried hanging with the tip raised or when the hound is excited, it can be carried in a sickle, ring, or saber above the horizontal.
A low set tail is quite natural considering rear angulation is quite open, which pulls the attachment point of the tail lower. Length should reach the hock is generally taken to mean when straightened, since when standing the tip is held slightly raised.
Unlike many other sighthound breeds, tail carriage is not terribly picky. Above the horizon is allowable as long is the dog is up and happy. This is the only place where it is clear that a ring tail is not a fault, which is not the case in other standards for other kennel clubs.
All acceptable carriages. While Sloughis must carry them below the plane of the back and Afghan Hounds must carry them above the plane of their back, Azawakh have more leniency and especially with Amidi (far right) who enjoys showing, I enjoying seeing that tail up and happy.
Forequarters: Forequarters are seen as a whole: long, fine, almost entirely vertical.
This is addressed more directly elsewhere, but remember that Azawakh are an endurance running breed. They should not have bulky muscles like greyhounds, so while the shoulders should have muscle tone, they should also retain a sense of fineness and not bulkiness.
"Almost entirely vertical"- this could refer to two things- the fact that the shoulder assembly should be quite straight in comparison to every other breed. It also could refer to the fact that the legs should come straight down off the shoulders- they shouldn't be splayed or wide or narrow or wrap-around (which I have personally seen within the breed). Regardless of which are referring too, the standard is your blueprint.
A word on east-west fronts. It is a generally accepted truth that it is a chest that is as deep as the elbows that helps the front legs face front. Since the front assembly is not a joint perse, but is attached entirely with muscle, this makes sense that a deeper chest helps holds the elbows out and the toes face forward. It is also a reality that east-west fronts in sighthounds tend to perform well in the field. There has long been anecdotal evidence that it helps a sighthound corner when running at high speeds. You will find that many successful running dogs have a chest about the level of the elbows which gives the dog more room to maneuver without the chest being in the way. I would hazard this is why multiple sighthound standards say: [chest] "reaching as nearly as possible to the point of the elbow." The "possible" acknowledges that it may not be possible for a functional running dog to have a chest that truly reaches the point of the elbow.
With Azawakh, as addressed above, you are going to have a chest that is well above the point of the elbow, ideally. That means they are naturally going to be more prone to having an east-west front. I am not saying that Azawakh should be tied in with one toe facing the field and one facing the audience. Remember the standard as almost vertical, so the elbows should be in keeping with the standard. And, a well-built well-muscled dog as described in the next section of the standard is going to have legs that face forward. If they don't the dog is lacking width (even for this narrow breed), lacking muscle (a common reality in my experience), or tied in at the elbows (increasingly common).
Most of these are the same dogs from when we talked about chest depth earlier. Anubi (top left) and Amalu (top right) are very true in the front. Also take note that those are the same dogs that have a deeper chest than the standard calls for. Tabiri (bottom left) and Amidi (bottom right) are east-west. In those pictures they are young dogs (under 18 months) lacking some muscle tone, which would help straighten their front legs. However, they are also two dogs that have the correct chest depth for the breed. Also note that while they are east-west, they are not tied in at the elbows. Thus, in my opinion in this breed, this is a tricky balancing point.
Another note. Judges must judge what is in front of them on the day. But I do want to present a series of pictures that shows how Azawakh can develop from narrow, slightly tied in, with narrow lay-on to a dog that remains east-west but is substantially more true.
The nine months picture is two months before her first heat. The 18 month picture is after her first heat but before her second. The 2 years picture is after her second heat. The 3 years is after her fourth heat and first litter.
And another example of my male. You can see below that he continued to widen until about 4 years old. At the 7 month old picture he was only 4.5" wide whereas with his adult width he is about 7" across.
Shoulders - Long, lean and muscular and only slightly slanting seen in profile. The scapulohumeral angle is very open (about 130 degrees).
This is the line I have quoted several times throughout my analysis. The standard is quite specific- front angulation should be "about 130 degrees". This is more open than you see in even most other sighthound breeds. I have addressed this at length throughout this post. A few more details without trying to belabor the point.
Remember that an Azawakh's general proportions should be 9:10 length to height. They are a short coupled breed. Thus if they have the angulation of many other well angulated (or even moderately angulated) breeds, their feet are going to get in the way of each other because they simply don't have enough room. Additionally much of the reason that Azawakh have a vertical format is because of the open angulation.
Shoulder to upper arm proportions are not specified, so to my mind, that implies that the default is that both the scapula and the humerus should be close to the same length (long). This line also notes that the dog should be muscular. Remember that they are also a very dry breed, so what you are looking for is the good, hard flat muscle of an endurance hound.
Amidi and Gem (two left pictures) have the most correct shoulder assembly for the breed. Anubi (center right) is slightly more angulated (and moves accordingly). Amalu (right) is by far my most angulated dog and that is incorrect for the breed per the standard, although she has often been put up by judges because they like her front, it is not correct for the breed.
Dewclaws - may or may not be removed.
While there are people who remove dewclaws, it is generally standard with most breeders to leave dewclaws on. Of my five adults, one has had a dewclaw injury (as she slid to a stop her first time back at flyball after 2 years, which is largely my fault for not wrapping her like I should have). However, I have seen my dogs use their dewclaws countless times and I personally would much prefer the risk of injury to the risk of arthritis caused by not being able to grip on corners during turns at high speed. Here is one of my favorite articles on the subject. At the very least, dewclaws being left on should not be penalized (as specified in the standard).
Feet - Pads may be pigmented.
Please take note this is a distinct difference in language from the FCI standard which states that the pads must be pigmented.
Hindquarters: Hindquarters are seen as a whole: long and lean; legs perfectly vertical.
Hock - Hock joint and hock are straight and lean.
This section again specifies long and lean, which is in parallel to the forequarters. They should have a long croup and long bones.
When taken in conjunction with the line from the forequarters section "forequarters are seen as a whole: long, fine, almost entirely vertical" (emphasis mine) it become clear that the previous line is refer to the fact that the front legs should ideally point straight from the elbow down to the toes.
Accordingly, for the hindquarters you are looking dogs to be neither cow hocked or bow/bandy legged. The rear toes should point perfectly ahead. The line about the hock is in harmony with the statement that when viewed as a whole the legs should be long and lean.
Correct, vertical rear assembly
Thighs - Long and prominent with lean muscles. The coxo-femoral angle is very open (about 130 degrees).
The word muscle (or muscular) is mentioned five separate times in our standard. With this degree of emphasis, an unconditioned dog should looked at skeptically in the ring.
As I have mentioned above, the croup/upper thigh angle should be about 130 degrees. Thus, Azawakh should be balanced and open angled. I have talked at great length about this aspect of the standard already and won't belabor the point further.
Amidi and Tabiri (left) have more correct breed specific angulation while Amalu and Anubi (right) are over angulated for the breed.
Stifle - The femoro-tibial angle is very open (about 140 degrees).
This is a piece of the standard that I feel often gets overlooked, perhaps because people struggle with how open 140* is. I often hear comments about correct dogs (none of my personal dogs is quite open enough at the stifle) looking far too straight in the rear and I believe this is largely a product of not yet having an eye for what open rear assembly looks like.
As many are aware, stifle angle is also one of the more easily manipulated joints. If the Azawakh's feet are placed further back, you will get more stifle angulation. The dog will also be substantially less stable (if built correctly according to the breed standard). However, a correctly built Azawakh will naturally stand with their feet under them, which will give you the most natural and accurate stifle angle.
Amidi (left) has a much more correct stifle than Amalu (right). Though I would also like to note that Amalu is slightly cold and this hunching a bit in the picture.
In addition to being over-stacked, Azawakh are sensitive to the cold, as you would expect of a desert dog, which causes them to hunch. Typically this creates an unrealistic picture of their stifle angulation. Additionally, like most dogs, when they are stressed or under pressure, they will tend to naturally hunch, which again creates an unrealistic, over angulated picture of the dog's stifle. I have found that young (or green) Azawakh that are hard stacked by hand are prone to this issue.
Below you will see two pictures of Tabiri. In the top picture he was hand stacked when not used to it. Notice his stifle has notable angulation and his rear pasterns according end up much further back than ideal or typical. Tabiri couldn't hold this position for long and naturally slid into a sit after not long. The bottom picture is of him standing naturally in his breeder's yard. Look at the difference in his stifle. This is a much more correct picture for the breed and much closer to what judges should be looking for.
Dewclaws – may or may not be removed.
Again, please note that rear dewclaws are in fact allowable under the AKC standard, which is a difference from the FCI standard.
Feet - round shaped, with fine and tightly closed toes. Pads may be pigmented.
Do note that the foot shaped described in the standard is not hare shaped like many sighthounds. I would argue that many of the dogs in the ring now, including a number of my own, have much closer to hare feet than round, so do be aware of the actual language in the standard.
Amalu (left) has the tightest, roundest feet of my Azawakh whereas Amidi (right) has more hare feet
that are prone to sometimes going very flat in the rear.
Skin and Coat:
Skin - Fine, tight over the whole body.
Hair - Short, fine, down to none on the belly.
Serious Fault - Harsh or semi-long coat. Coat not identical to the standard.
The standard uses "fine" or "fineness" seven separate times in the standard, more than any other descriptor. You are looking for a dry dog, without any excess skin.
Particularly in regard to length of coat, for those familiar with Saluki's coat (not the feathering) an Azawakh's coat length is a fraction of the length. They truly do have one of the shortest coats that I have ever experienced. I think the closest I have seen is a Sharpei's horse coat, but the fur itself is much softer than their coat, particularly considering that a harsh coat is a serious fault. Do note, that the shortness of the coat can make a coat feel harder than it is, when stroked backwards it feels almost stubbly.
Why make a harsh or semi-long coat a serious fault? Especially when every dog seen in the ring has a correct coat. The reason being, in the Sahel a longer more feathered coat is present, as are more variations in coat than generally seen outside of Africa.
To get a frame of reference of how short and fine an Azawakh's coat is, here is a picture of one of my dogs' entire coat blow.
Color - Color and markings are immaterial.
Within the breed, color is a can of worms in regard to the FCI standard. The original Azawakh that were imported out of Mali and Burkina Faso where red and sand dogs. Thus the original standard only allowed for those colors. Substantially later, black brindle markings (no dilute) were allowed to be shown under the FCI standard.
However, under the AKC standard all colors and markings are immaterial. I have often seen judges pause to look up whether brindle is allowable, so I suspect should black or black brindle or cream or issabella or many other colors that exist naturally within the gene pool begin to be shown in the AKC breed ring, there will be a bit of an uproar. The fact is, within the Sahel a huge variety of colors exist in the breed. I show my black brindle girl (who doesn't have a 3 generation pedigree) in the UKC ring. I know of particolor dogs being shown in both UKC and AKC. There are black and cream and dilute dogs that exist within the gene pool outside of the Sahel. Please keep in mind, however, that the AKC breed ring is not seeing the full range of the breed because only 3 generation pedigreed dogs are allowed to be shown (though dogs with less generations are still allowed to be registered). I do deeply think the inability to show a wide portion of our gene pool is affecting judge's opinions and the breed as a whole.
Brindle, particolor, black brindle, and the common red (and fawn) are just a few of the allowable colors under the AKC standard. Note while markings vary widely and include Irish marked and blazes.
Gait: The Azawakh's movement is agile and light, without hackney action or pounding. He has particularly graceful, elastic movement at the walk. The trot gives the appearance of floating effortlessly over the ground. At the trot, the front foot should not extend past the end of the nose. The gallop is leaping. The movement is an essential point of the breed.
Fault - To move with exaggerated reach and drive or heaviness.
I have spoken on gait extensively and I feel that it tends to be misunderstood. If you want a larger discussion on gait specifically I have more in this post.
As a reminder, one of the hallmarks of the Azawakh is their vertical format, they should keep the impression of this format when they move. Standard calls for the ideal to be a 9:10 height to length ratio. With correct open angulation (130*) 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.
Tremendous reach and drive (TRAD) is explicitly faulted in the standard: "Fault - To move with exaggerated reach and drive or heaviness." The trot does not cover ground and thus it is natural to look for a stride that does, as is so common in many other breeds. However, you must remember the environment that created Azawakh is that of hot ground, broken terrain, and sorching temperatures that would kill many other breeds. Azawakh must move efficiently and effortlessly through this, so while they need to be able to maintain moving all day long with their nomads, they do not need to cover lots of ground while doing so. They skim the ground without a single wasted motion, no high-stepping or paddling.
There is a trend in the ring lately to move dogs much too quickly to create the appearance of more angulation. When they're gaited too quickly the dogs overstride, with the rear foot falling on top of or in front of the front foot. The dog's topline also begins to fall. On a dog with high hips, your topline just becomes level, but with a dog that's withers and hips are approximately the same height, the topline begins to slope down towards the hips when moving too quickly. Even while gaiting, this is incorrect. Remember that a descending topline is a serious fault under the standard and this is true whether the dog is standing or moving.
I once showed to a judge who had never before judged the breed (she was reading our standard as I got in the ring, which I would much prefer than a judge new to the breed going off memory). I moved Anubi at a speed appropriate to the breed. He forged ahead a bit and really wanted to fly. He is over angulated for the breed, so I typically move him slower than he wants so that his foot does not extend beyond the tip of the nose, as called for in the standard. After moving him she stopped me and asked me to move him again and really let him open up. Afterall, movement is an essential point of the breed. This is a perfect example of misunderstanding of the standard. Movement is indeed an essential point of the standard, but that does not mean generic movement with TRAD. The standard means that correct movement should be a culmination of all the unique structure of the breed and thus should look unique from other breeds.
I consider Amidi (top) to have very nice, correct breed specific movement. Anubi (bottom) is balanced and beautiful to watch move and moves with notably too much reach and drive, which is a specified fault per the standard (no matter how pretty it may be).
Character and Temperament: Quick, attentive, distant, reserved with strangers, but he can be gentle and affectionate with those he is willing to accept. Fault - Excessively timid, hysterical or aggressive character.
Very little of that language is terribly specific. Let's look at it adjective by adjective. "Quick". Quick how? It could mean "quick to act" or "quick twitch" both of which are apt l, but it could mean "quick to accept" or "quick to relax" which are not.
"Attentive". "Attentive [to environment]" is true but also doesn't inherently convey a sense of wariness. "[Attentive to handler]" potentially true but often they're more concerned with their surroundings. Attentive also carries with it a connotation of softness and nurturing, which is applicable to their people, but not to strangers.
"Distant". In general, this breed won't just take or leave strangers. They are generally actively wary and distrust strangers as they should be as guard dogs. The standard says they are "reserved with strangers" which is true but perhaps understate. A Saluki is reserved with strangers. Azawakh trend toward actively skeptical.
But he can be gentle and affectionate with those he's willing to accept is not relevant to the show ring. Azawakh *should* be bonded to their people deeply so "can" under cuts that expectation a bit. And also they will tolerate a judge but they won't truly accept them. So it's true of the breed but is ultimately just confusing the issue.
If you find yourself still struggling to understand the temperament of the breed, here are some additional descriptors that complement the standard's language which may help: alert, vigilant, sensibly suspicious, and able to discern friend from foe. Remember, this is a breed that has been a camp guardian for thousands of years a standoffish temperament is typical, but dogs in the ring must be trained to tolerate a hands on examination. Azawakh trust their people but are quite skeptical of strangers.
A word on styles-
As this is a land race breed, a wide variety of styles exist to fill varying roles and environments. Substance will range from solid guard dog to refined, lithe hunter. Deviation from breed hallmarks including general proportions, chest depth, and specific angulation should be penalized more harshly than deviations in substance.
A word on presentation-
Breed standards generally say nothing about proper presentation. The German Shepherd Dog standard says nothing about a 3 point stack, yet no one would think to show them otherwise. The Collie standard does not mention free stacking, though that is how they are presented. Such is the case with Azawakh. While the standard does not specifically state how they are to be stacked, that does not change how they naturally stand and thus how they should be presented.
130* front and rear angulation is specified not only in the AKC standard, but universally across every Azawakh standard (which is actually fairly unusual for them all to be consistent). In the AKC standard the stifle angle is stated as around 140*. When paired with a 9:10 length to height ratio, as all Azawakh standards specify, that means for an Azawakh to be constructed soundly and correctly, the tip of their toes will naturally be in line with their pin bones when standing.
At the time of breed recognition, every board member of the parent club who showed presented their dogs stacked with their feet in line with their iliac crest (pin bones). I have learned from multiple breeders who have been breeding for decades that is how they are to be stacked. It is how two of the AKC breed standard authors have presented their dogs. I've shown to multiple judges who have judged large Azawakh entries in Europe and all of them confirmed I was presenting my dogs correctly.
Why are they stacked that way? Because that is how correct angulation dictates they should stand naturally. Look at where feet naturally land in the diagram on a correctly angled dog. It is typical of most animals of the Sahel, it makes perfect sense that it is typical of Azawakh. David Moore, who has dogs behind most of the current US population, writes about why and how here: https://loyalazawakh.com/a-new-standard-of-the-azawakh/ That is not an official standard obviously (it was written in reaction to one of the revisions to the FCI standard), but it offers insight that the official standard doesn't from a long time and influential breeder who has lived in the Sahel and understands the dogs better than likely I ever will.
A word on how to approach the breed for exam-
First and foremost, the Azawakh is used as a flock and camp guardian. They guard their nomadic tribes' goats and cattle; at night they guard over the village or encampment. Though they seem slight and delicate, Azawakh will chase off much bigger predators. They resultantly have a reasonably sharp temperament compared to most other sighthounds. Though they are used as guard dogs, unprovoked aggression is not tolerated within the nomadic tribes and many Azawakh can be quite accepting of strangers, though frequently they avoid close contact. Think of them as a working breed in a sighthound suit.
Approach from the side. Try to be casual and don't loom. While judging certainly carries with it the expectation of formality, formality also quickly looks to a guardian breed like a threat. If because of group size, or some other reason, you must approach from the front then approach from a slight angle and avoid eye contact. Again, azawakh are a guarding breed and direct eye contact can frequently be taken as a threat. Introduce yourself to the handler, so the Azawakh can see that the handler accepts the judge first. Almost every azawakh I've met has been slightly head-
shy. When you touch the dog, generally the side or the neck or under the chin is the best place to start. Don't put a hand over their head when the dog cannot see you to keep an eye on you.
Once the dog has accepted your touch, they tend to relax about everything else. Work front to back and keep a light hand on them as you move backward. Allow the exhibitor to show the bite. It will help judges to remember that azawakh are extremely dry muscled dogs. Everything is very visible. There's little reason to over handle a dog while examining it. This is where the phrase "breed-specific" judging from the judging guidelines comes into play. Touch our dogs, feel their coat, get what you need to out of them, but please try to avoid over-handling them. They're not Old English Sheepdogs where that is understandably necessary.
1/11/22- added section on condition which was originally omitted by accident. Syntactical changes in the intro paragraphs.