In the harsh desert environment, nature and the selective hand of man created the Azawakh, a race of hounds with exotic beauty uniquely adapted to serve as a guardian and hunter. An African Sighthound, the Azawakh originates from Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Native to the Sahel region of the Sahara Desert, they are named for the Azawakh valley which lies between Mali and Niger. Azawakh means “land of the north.” The Azawakh is the only Sighthound indigenous to this region.
Western cultures associate the hounds primarily with the nomadic Tuareg, but they are also bred and owned by other ethnic groups such as the Peulh, some clans of the Fulani, and the Bella. The Bella were the former slaves of the Tuaregs. The Hausa, a pastoral ethnic group that make their living by trading and agriculture, also raise the hounds.
The Tuareg are considered to raise the noblest hounds. In its purest form, the Azawakh is known as “idi n’illeli,” the “sighthound of the free people.” The Azawakh, or idi, held an integral place in the Tuareg life and culture. The seasonal migration of the nomads increased the distribution of hounds and resulted in greater diversity within the gene pool. Such diversity strengthened the genetic health and the stability of the hound’s temperament.
Selective breeding for conformation and markings, as practiced in the west, is unknown. There is typically one female per encampment. Females are bred by the alpha male of the locale. The owner of the female usually culls the litter to two or three puppies shortly after birth. This helps prevent an insupportable increase in the population and ensures better nutrition for the surviving puppies.
Azawakh European Origins
The breed was first imported to Yugoslavia in the early 1970s by Dr. Pecar, a Yugoslavian diplomat stationed in Burkina Faso. Dr. Pecar received his male as a gift from the nomads, since the dogs could not be bought. He later bartered his services as a hunter, by killing a bull elephant that had been terrorizing the tribe, in exchange for a female Azawakh. The French military and civil servants also played a significant role in exporting the Azawakh to Europe.
France is the patron country of the Azawakh under Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) rules and controls the standard for the breed. Originally, the Azawakh was considered a variety of Sloughi and was shown under its standard. From the beginning, most Sloughi breeders did not accept the Azawakh because of the extensive white markings and the difference in temperament. Thus, most breeders of the time did not mix the two breeds.
When FCI recognized the Azawakh as a breed, the name went through several changes. First, it was called the Sloughi-Azawakh. The breed finally became the Azawakh in 1980. The first Azawakh FCI standard only allowed shades of red with white markings, since it was considered at the time that any Azawakh with brindle markings had been mixed with Sloughi. With increasing pressure from breeders and evidence from its Countries of Origin (COO), Azawakh with black brindling were finally allowed in the FCI standard in 1993.
The breed developed in Europe along two lines, known as the Yugoslavian and the French lines.
Azawakh Yugoslavian Line
In the early 1970s, after Dr. Pecar obtained his two Azawakh, Vesna Sekalec (Haris al Sahra) began breeding them. Two Azawakh formed the foundation of the breed in Yugoslavia. Their names were Gao and Lara. Around 1975, a male was imported from Burkina Faso known as Darkoye Sidi, and he was incorporated into what had become known as the Yugoslavian line. Many breeders obtained their foundation Azawakh from Ms. Sekalec; therefore, the Haris al Sahra kennel name appears frequently in the pedigrees of most modern-day Azawakh. Dogs of the Yugoslavian line figured prominently in the foundation bloodlines of the Czech Republic and Russia.
Azawakh French Line
The French line began with a total of seven foundation dogs. Parigi was the original importer and breeder in France. His earliest female was Toboro II and males were Aikar, Adignaz, Aourakh, and Targoui. He actively bred Azawakh from 1972-1978. Another male known as Takadamat contributed to the French foundation. Dr. Francois Roussel, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Azawakh in its countries of origin (Contributions to the Study of the Sighthounds in the South-Sahara, 1975), owned a bitch named Tahoura. In the early 1980s, other African imports were brought into France by the Coppé family. The Coppé dogs came from Mali. The males were known as C’Babasch and Ejeker; and a brindled female was known as Tekewelt. Coppé bred the first litters of brindle Azawakh in Europe.
In the late 1970s, the next generation of breeders started in Switzerland and Germany, with Ingrid Aigeldinger (Al Hara) and Anna and Ulrich Hochgesand (Aulad al Sahra), respectively. These two breeders were the main source for Azawakh for both Europe and the United States. Other desert-bred imports arrived during this time period. They were Mali, Dazol In Chenan, Yaris, Salome, and Akchi.
Hochgesand and Aigeldinger bred Azawakh from both French and Yugoslavian bloodlines. The Aulad al Sahra breeding program mixed the two lines from the beginning. However, Aigeldinger kept the two lines separate, for the most part, until the late 1980s.
Aigeldinger made these observations of the two lines during an interview in 1996. “The Yugoslavian line has good formats, full and correct dentition, soundness of legs and good angulation, good almond eye and well carried ears, interested racers (non-fighters), very sensitive, occasionally almost hysterical, not good car travelers. The French line has super quality in all respects, not nervous, good depth of brisket, flowing attractive movement, somewhat long in back and accordingly slightly over-angulated behind. Good at lure coursing, but unsure on the race course. The French family stands on sound and strong legs.”
In 1993, the idea to establish an organization to protect the Azawakh in their African homelands was born during the first International Azawakh Expedition. This expedition was led by a group of Sighthound enthusiasts from Germany, Austria, the United States, and Mexico. The foundation, known as ABIS (Association Burkinabe Idi du Sahel), was founded to help the breed survive in its countries of origin (COO). Based in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, the goals of the foundation are the preservation and advancement of the pure-bred Sighthounds of the nomads in the Sahel region.
Azawakh in the United States
The Azawakh made its debut in the United States in the mid-1980s. The first Azawakh that made her way to the US was Amusar’s Hamija, bred by Frau Witzig in Germany. Hamija ended up in rescue with Netboys of California. The Netboys later imported Izegar, a male from Aulad al Sahra, but the two dogs were never bred. The first Azawakh litter was whelped on October 31, 1987 by the late Gisela Cook-Schmidt (Reckendahl). Sired by Faysal Uschi of Silverdale, a dog of the Yugoslavian line, their dam was Al Hara’s Hiba, a female of the French line. Hiba’s second litter was sired by the desert-bred, Mali. These first American Azawakh were all red or fawn with white markings. The first brindles came to the US in 1989, with the first brindle litter whelped on November 27, 1990 by breeder, Deb Kidwell (Kel Simoon).
The American Azawakh Association, Inc. (AAA) is the AKC parent club for the Azawakh in the US. The AAA was founded on February 7, 1988 with the goals of promoting the pure Azawakh and to guarantee the breed a permanent future in the US. The AAA publishes a quarterly newsletter known as the Azawakh Aegis.
The Azawakh is currently recognized to participate in all AKC Performance and Companion Events. The breed entered the AKC Miscellaneous Class on June 30, 2011.
The Azawakh received full AKC recognition on January 1, 2019.
Azawakh are also fully recognized by the American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA), the Large Greyhound Racing Association (LGRA), and the United Kennel Club (UKC).
The American Azawakh Association has actively held specialty shows since 1990.
Another sport for which the Azawakh shows a lot of promise is the emerging sport of Canine Freestyle. Canine Freestyle is a choreographed performance with music, demonstrating the training and joyful relationship of a dog and handler team. Freestyle is an excellent discipline to highlight the conformation and movement of the dog. The drive and beauty of an elegant Azawakh moving to music can take one’s breath away. The emphasis is on matching the music to the dog’s gait, validating the bond between the handler and the dog, and creating an expressive, flowing picture for the audience. The Azawakh’s light, graceful movement and willingness to please make this sport tailor-made for the breed.
General Care of the Azawakh
Grooming of their short coat is accomplished easily with a zoom groom or hound glove. Frequent bathing is not necessary, as the breed has no doggy odor. They do, however, have sensitive skin, so the use of a mild, hypoallergenic, unscented shampoo is recommended.
Exercise requirements with all Sighthound breeds are a very important subject. The Azawakh must have adequate exercise and makes an excellent companion for the serious jogger or runner.
The Azawakh is a very active dog; however, they run and play in spurts, interspersed with long naps on the sofa. They should have a large yard where they can stretch their legs, but more importantly they need interaction with the owner or another dog to make them exercise. Left alone in the backyard with the expectation of self-exercise is generally not acceptable for this breed. A bored Azawakh will look for its own entertainment, not necessarily close to the house. They should receive at least half an hour a day of hard running and/or playing exercise. Finding a securely fenced ball field is perfect for play excursions.
They typically need a lot of space around them and cannot tolerate endless hours of crating. However,many love to pile on the couch. Scenes with ten or twelve Azawakh or other Sighthounds piled on a couch are pretty normal!
Regular exercise and living as an integral part of the family are prerequisites for a well-balanced Azawakh. Azawakh generally love to travel and go to different places with their owner.
The Azawakh is a hound of the desert. However, their delicate appearing physique can be misleading. Azawakh are strong and durable dogs, well-adjusted to living in the challenging conditions of the Sahel. They can live on small portions of food, though they always act hungry. They hate wet and cold weather. The breed should not be left outside for long periods of time in cold weather. Azawakh enjoy a quick race in the snow, but they need to come back in the house to warm up. This breed will become fat and lethargic or hyper and destructive without an outlet for their energy. Azawakh can be very reliable off-lead if taught a strong recall. This is a bonus for people who take pleasure in the company of Sighthounds, but may have difficulty enjoying them because they cannot be trusted off-lead.
Temperament of the Azawakh
When discussing the temperament of an Azawakh, consideration should be given to individual personalities and contributing backgrounds, both genetic and environmental. However, there are several general characteristics common to the breed. Described in a Dog World article as a “warrior class dog,” they have the intelligence and heart to protect. When approached in their own territory, they may bark loudly and can be quite intimidating. The Azawakh “territory” may include the home, the car, or simply their owner’s body space. In situations where their duty as guardian isn’t necessary, their reactions may range from friendly to mildly curious—to arrogantly indifferent. Although generally not outgoing, several in the US have found the opportunity to make social contributions as therapy dogs in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.
The Azawakh seem to possess an uncanny combination of total loyalty and independence. Each new situation presents the potential for the struggle between the dog’s natural desire to please his owner and his prideful desire to do things his own way. A firm, fair hand is called for. A well-socialized Azawakh is affectionate, gentle, playful, subtle, and very loyal to its owner. Some Azawakh, having bonded with one particular person, do not change ownership easily. Azawakh are usually cautious with strangers. Typically, they observe for a while before approaching. One needs much patience and empathy, along with considerable time and personal interaction, to raise this proud and
At the same time, rough and aggressive handling is not recommended for any dog. Therefore, people who cannot control their tempers would not make good owners for Azawakh. With such treatment, dogs would become withdrawn, mistrustful, aggressive, and unpredictable. Properly socialized and trained, the Azawakh will live harmoniously within the family and community.
Azawakh raised in kennel situations, with little socialization, are typically shy and distrustful. They are frequently panicky, frightened, and may freeze in a new situation. They may snap or bite.
With a lot of time and patience, many Azawakh can learn to adjust to life as a house pet, though some never recover sufficiently to be a good pet. Well-socialized Azawakh can also be frightened, but will adjust more quickly to the new situation, and they often watch and trust their owner’s reaction to a given event. It is important not to “protect” the Azawakh puppy from different experiences. From the youngest age, it is essential that the dog is taken downtown, to your friend’s house, in a car, and to walk on leash and to come when called. Teaching the puppy to recognize that new and unfamiliar situations do not present a threat is the best way to help the Azawakh feel at home in our stressfulsociety. Puppy obedience and socialization classes are important for the social development of a young Azawakh. The raising of an Azawakh puppy, because of the intensity of the effort and commitment, can be very rewarding. Azawakh owners find that the strength of the bond created during this process often dramatically exceeds their previous experience with the love of “normal, civilized” dogs.
Quick, attentive, distant, reserved with strangers and can even be aggressive, the Azawakh is gentle and affectionate with those he is willing to accept. However, it is a fault to be excessively timid, panicky or aggressive to the point of attack. This part of the standard is at odds with many breeders in the US and Europe who are trying to breed Azawakh that are more approachable, maybe even friendly, and less apt to be outwardly aggressive. In the Sahel, the hound prefers not to be touched, but is not aggressive. More accurately, they are avoidant. Unprovoked aggression towards a family member or guest would not be tolerated.
Much discussion has been given to the guardian nature of the Azawakh, but here we must remember that this is a Sighthound. Azawakh have retained all their instincts, and when several live together, they establish hierarchies with subtle behavioral rituals. Intentions and moods are expressed by a repertoire of postures, expressions, and sounds. Azawakh are resourceful and driven hunters. Because comparatively few generations have been removed from the need to hunt daily for personal survival, the hunting instinct is very strong in this breed.
As a rule, they seem to accept other dogs, though sometimes grudgingly, as protected members of their own pack. Their keen vision, speed, and stamina specializes them for chasing down their prey in open spaces. The Azawakh is always on the alert for moving objects; even a leaf in the wind or a butterfly will trigger a chase. Azawakh usually play by chasing one another. Their play can be very rough!
Azawakh can develop great friendships with cats and small dogs, but may mistake them for game outside, particularly if the pet runs away. Some cats attack dogs and can inflict serious damage to a dog’s eyes and face with their claws. Similar caution is required with Azawakh and indoor birds. The beak of large parrots can turn into a dangerous weapon and, alternatively, the teeth of an Azawakh can hurt the bird!
Another point to mention is that the Azawakh is a very dominant breed. Within a household pack, the breed will almost always aspire to the alpha dog position. If there is an existing dominant dog in the house, this can cause conflict within
No one can predict the individual personalities of all dogs in any breed. There are some situations which should be avoided with guardian and Sighthound dogs of any breed. Children playing together will sometimes quarrel, and it is natural for a guard dog to protect “his” children from their playmates. Also, children can abuse dogs without realizing it, and an Azawakh (or any other dog) might want to defend itself.
Chase or prey behavior is another situation that can be a problem. Children or other pets running away from the hound can activate the prey drive instinct. The hound may try to “take down” the child from behind as they would while hunting. A good rule of thumb is to never leave the Azawakh with children while unsupervised by an attentive adult. There are individual dogs of all breeds that do not like children. The Azawakh, as a breed, with care given to the situations mentioned, should fit well into the family structure.
Azawakh Health & Nutrition
The Azawakh as a breed does have some health challenges. The most common of these health concerns are hypothyroidism, seizures, and several autoimmune-mediated diseases, such as a muscle wasting condition, autoimmune thyroiditis, and generalized demodectic mange. Cardiac problems and bloat, though not common, have occurred in some individuals. Breeders are strongly encouraged to test for as many maladies as possible, making it possible to make informed breeding decisions when considering a litter. Common tests are thyroid screens, complete blood chemistry (CBC) profiles, autoimmune function blood work, cardiac screening, eye examinations (CERF), and x-rays for hip/elbow dysplasia (OFA, PennHip). Seizures are hard to test for, and cause determination is not always possible. However, dogs exhibiting seizures should not be bred. Unfortunately, many dogs start seizure activity later in life after they have been bred many times and have already adversely impacted the gene pool of the breed. As advances in DNA profiling occur, new tests are emerging all the time. As new tests become available, it’s essential that breeders take advantage of new research.
The problem that breeders face, in many cases, because of the small gene pool, is that it is impossible to eliminate all dogs that carry a genetic disease from the breeding program. However, it makes sense to test for as many diseases as possible so as not to “double up” on the same disease process in sire and dam. Pedigree research and disease tracking is an invaluable tool for Azawakh breeders. Some health problems can be tracked through an entire line from the original foundation dogs.
Nutrition is an important point to consider in a breed so close to its “roots.” Though not all breeders feel it is important, many feel that the hounds should be fed a simple diet of whole foods, rather than kibble. This is a personal preference. Many generations of dogs have been kibble-raised and have done well. If feeding regular kibble, the Azawakh should be fed a diet with a fat content of 16-20 percent fat, to maintain good weight and a healthy coat; a moderate level of protein (26-30 percent) is advisable. The breed also does well on the newer grain-free diets. Weight maintenance of Azawakh is another important area to consider. They should be slim. In proper weight, most ribs, vertebrae, and the hipbones should be visible. It’s not to say that they should be skeletal, but a fat Sighthound is neither a happy nor a healthy Sighthound. Azawakh are structured to be on the thin side. Overfeeding will adversely affect the joint structure of the hound, especially in puppies. Azawakh puppies should never be fat and roly-poly.
Keeping them slim as they are growing permits the joints and other body parts to grow properly, without additional stress and wear & tear. Slim pups are less prone to growth plate problems. In medical treatment of the hound, natural, holistic methods work very well. The Azawakh is generally a healthy breed. They heal amazingly well from cuts and scrapes. The Azawakh is a natural breed whose immune system is not conditioned to the use of most Western chemicals; therefore, judicious use of chemicals around the hound is advised.
A Discussion of the Azawakh Breed Standard
The Color and Marking Controversy
Currently, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), the World Canine Organization standard of the Azawakh, allows only the coat colors of sand to red, with and without black brindling. White markings are required on all four extremities, the tip of the tail, and the chest. A blaze on the face is allowed. Any deviation from the above standard is a major or eliminating fault.
This standard, however, does not reflect the reality regarding colors and markings of the hounds in the Sahel. The coat colors accepted by the FCI standard are indeed the dominant colors; however, a smaller portion of the Azawakh population displays different coat colors and patterns. Additionally, more extensive white markings than described in the standard are very common.
Although the AAA doesn’t recognize the FCI Standard for the breed because of its color limitations, the dogs can be shown in any FCI recognized country under FCI rules which allow only sand to dark red and black brindle, with all other colors disqualified. In the past few years, the French Club du Sloughi, des Levriers d’Afrique et du Galgo (S.L.A.G.), which is the club governing the Sloughi and Azawakh in France, has further limited the “approved” white markings of the Azawakh. This trend has sharply divided the Azawakh fanciers and breeders in both the US and abroad. By limiting the markings on the hound, the standard is further narrowing the genetic pool from which breeders can draw if they wish to breed within the standard as set forth by the club in France.
Since the formation of the American Azawakh Association in 1988, it has been the belief of the members that the FCI standard should be amended to include all the colors and patterns found in the Sahel. This would allow breeders to utilize Sahelian-bred hounds to expand and enhance the breeding lines. It would also help to preserve the unique character and performance abilities of the Azawakhand help to balance the progressively more extreme type found so often in the show ring today.
“As fast as wind, durable as a camel and beautiful as an Arab horse… these few words could briefly describe a charming Azawakh.” (Eva-Maria Kramer). Azawakh are elegant, tall dogs of proud bearing. Lean and muscular of frame, their appearance should indicate swiftness when running. He should be longer of leg than of body, which may seem extreme when compared with other Sighthounds. His neck is long and graceful, his head held high when alert. His tail is proudly carried above the line of the back. The breed has pendant ears that are raised to the side of the head in response to sounds. Their beautiful, darkly rimmed, almond-shaped eyes and ever-alert look capture the admiration of all who fall under the spell of the hound.
The Azawakh’s movement is agile and light, without hackney action or pounding. He has particularly graceful, elastic movement at the walk, and at 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, and they cover ground in great strides. Moving with exaggerated reach and drive, as in the “flying trot,” is incorrect. The movement is an essential point of the breed.
An over-angulated dog can have spectacular movement; but it is not the correct movement. This is a very common judging fault in Azawakh. A dog which shows all the characteristics of the standard, but has a heavy, pounding trot or hackney action, cannot be considered for the ribbons!
Looking for an Azawakh puppy? Contact the American Azawakh Association, Inc. (AAA) to check if they can provide a list of breeders near you.
Azawakh Breed Rescue
Want to help rescue and re-home an Azawakh? Get in touch with American Azawakh Association, Inc. (AAA) to check if there is an Azawakh dog that needs your help.
Featured photo courtesy of: American Kennel Club (AKC)