Interview with Breeder/Owner Handler Doug Koger
When were you first introduced to the sport of purebred dogs? To your breed?
Doug Koger: I had always loved Russian history and, back in the 1990s, I wanted a Borzoi so badly. Luckily, I found a wonderful breeder near me in Georgia who not only sold me my first Borzoi and show dog, but also became a wonderful friend to this day.
A few years later, at a dog show in Atlanta where I was showing my Borzoi, I saw a man walking a trio of the most gorgeous dogs I’d ever seen. I immediately went to him, introduced myself, and told him how exquisite the dogs were.
They were Azawakh and I knew then and there that this was the breed for me. He didn’t have any available puppies at the time, but I found another breeder who did and bought a male from her.
Later, I was able to buy another male and female from the gentleman I met at the show as well as importing one from France and another from Switzerland. That chance encounter led to an almost 30 year—so far—love affair with the breed.
How many years in dogs? How many as an owner-handler? As a breeder?
Doug Koger: I’ve had dogs all my life. I’ve had show dogs for over 30 years. I showed a lot in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and then, once the dogs I had were finished and I focused on Azawakh, I unfortunately had no venues to show as they weren’t AKC recognized at the time. The breed achieved FSS eligibility in 1997 and full AKC acceptance in 2019.
I’ve bred two litters and had hoped to breed another this past year, but unfortunately, fate didn’t shine on us this time. Next year we plan to try again.
Do you attend show handling classes? Have you attended any handling seminars?
Doug Koger: Yes, me and my partner, Aslaam Nasirudin, regularly attend handling classes, taking both the Azawakh and our male Standard Poodle. These classes are vital for socializing dogs such as the Azawakh who are more aloof than other breeds—especially our Poodle. Having as many people as possible put hands on the dog so that they can learn there’s no harm to this goes such a long way in the ring when they must stand for exam. I can’t recommend handling classes led by great instructors enough. We are blessed with an incredible instructor, Mara Powell, who teaches not only great handling practices and socialization, but also shares great knowledge around sportsmanship.
Having as many people as possible put hands on the dog so that they can learn there’s no harm to this goes such a long way in the ring when they must stand for exam. I can’t recommend handling classes led by great instructors enough.
Have you found virtual learning tools to be helpful? Classes? Videos? Websites? Social Media?
Doug Koger: I’m always watching videos. My partner and I learned the basics of Poodle grooming from the YouTube videos that our Poodle breeder, Kay Peiser, created. They taught us step-by-step how to keep “Aladdin” in perfect coat all the time. Also, I have recently created a website for our kennel, www.domikokennel.com. My goal is to educate people to the many great things about the Azawakh through both written word and photos from today and the past.
As for social media, I think it is a great companion to the ads we place in SHOWSIGHT, as it is basically an extension of the magazine for those of us who advertise. It’s also an incredible gathering place where you have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and share not only what you know, but more importantly, learn from others.
Do you compete in the National Owner-Handled Series? Are rankings important to you?
Doug Koger: Oh, yes. Actually, it was the NOHS that got me back into showing. I had stepped away from it for a while and then I imported a gorgeous female from Poland that I knew I had to show. The very first time we were in the ring at a show in Fort Myers, Florida, we won an O/H Group 1. I was so shocked when the judge pointed to us that I asked her if she was sure! She said, “Absolutely” and it’s been a great way to measure success since then.
That female, Ksenia (GCH Eidi n’Amanar), is the No. 1 O/H Azawakh for the past two years as well as for the lifetime of the breed. She’s also the only Azawakh ever to have a metal ranking in the NOHS, and is currently Gold and well on her way to Platinum. We were also blessed with our German import male, GCH Seydou of Silverdale, who finished right behind her at No. 2 in the NOHS for 2022.
How important is the Bred-By Class to you? How important are Specialties?
Doug Koger: I am so excited to hopefully be back in the Bred-By Classes soon! I had hoped it would be this Spring/Summer, but unfortunately, that didn’t work out. I think it is the perfect arena for a Breeder/Owner to showcase the work they are doing to preserve the breeds and strive to produce dogs that are as close to our Standards as possible.
As for Specialties, I always loved attending the ones that the Borzoi Club of America put on. They were a blast! Seeing so many of the world’s top dogs in one place was something we all look forward to. With the Azawakh, we haven’t had one for a while. Fortunately, that is changing in 2023 as our club’s new leadership had made AKC acceptance of the American Azawakh Association a priority for this very purpose. Now that we are the official AKC recognized Azawakh parent club, we are able to hold a National Specialty. I am so looking forward to this.
Is it a challenge to compete with your breed(s) as a Breeder/Owner Handler?
Doug Koger: I think it is a challenge for all Owner Handlers, at times, to compete with any breed. For the Azawakh, it is hard as there just aren’t many of them to compete against. I’ve driven all over the Southeast US trying to find majors to finish my dogs. With this breed, like many that have low numbers, it is necessary to be able to travel and work hard together with peers in the breed to build majors. Several of us created a Facebook group just for that purpose, so that we can let each other know which shows we plan to attend in the hope of more people entering. This has helped us greatly to build participation among owners of the breed.
Are you intimidated by the Professional Handlers? By the Judges?
Doug Koger: I’d be totally lying if I said no to this one. That said, I’m far more rarely intimidated now than when I first started. To once again sing the merits of handling classes and a great instructor, she has given me the confidence to hold my own in the ring. As a result, my partner and I had more wins against the Pros than we had losses in 2022. Also, because we have a rarer breed and we regularly advertise and show, we have become far more recognizable to judges. To reduce the nervous tension when you go into the ring, it’s very helpful when a judge smiles and recognizes you.
Who have been your mentor(s) as an Owner Handler? As a Breeder?
Doug Koger: Monika Kessler of Kel Dahoussahaq kennels in Switzerland was my mentor. She was incredible with pedigree knowledge. We spoke on the phone regularly when she was alive, even back when you paid a lot for long distance calls. She taught me the importance of pedigrees and temperament. Monika was also one of the early advocates for getting the brindle color accepted by FCI. She was incredibly passionate for this breed and all its diversity. I pray that I honor her by carrying this on. I was recently able to purchase semen from one of her World Winners from the 1990s, Cid Kel Dahoussahaq, whom I intend to use in a future breeding. This breeding will be a tribute to Monika and all she did for Azawakh.
How important is the Breeder/Owner Handler to the future of the dog sport?
Doug Koger: I think the Breeder/Owner Handler is incredibly important to the future of our sport. From a Breeder’s perspective, it’s those of us who study pedigrees, read our Breed Standards over and over and work to convert those words into a living example of our respected Standard that keep our breeds alive. We are also the crazy ones who go to great lengths to track down the dogs that have the pedigrees we want to use, and pay money that our friends think is completely crazy just in the hope of producing a litter of healthy, correct examples of our breed.
I think the Breeder/Owner Handler is incredibly important to the future of our sport. From a Breeder’s perspective, it’s those of us who study pedigrees, read our Breed Standards over and over and work to convert those words into a living example of our respected Standard that keep our breeds alive.
What are your goals as an Owner Handler? As a Breeder? Is there a milestone that has eluded you?
Doug Koger: My goal as an Owner Handler is to do my part to produce and showcase correct examples of the breed to as many people as possible, be they the people who live next door or judges in the show ring. For me, with my Azawakh, breed type is everything. When I say this, I include temperament and movement as being just as important to type as physical structure. For the Azawakh, it is the effortless movement that gives the appearance of floating over the ground that is just as type-specific as the “standing rectangle” body shape of long legs and short back.
The milestone that I am working towards is to evolve temperament to life here in the Western World, where the dogs are pets that sleep in beds with us instead of being livestock with a job, as they are in the Sahel. I want to see Azawakh here be comfortable in normal situations and be okay with being examined in the show ring, if they are shown, as well as at the vet’s, which all dogs need to be comfortable with.
I’m blessed now with all five of my Azawakh being accepting of others and comfortable at shows or even at Home Depot. This is the result of a lot of socialization at an early age as well as the great work done by their breeders to focus on temperament, equally with type, when making breeding decisions. I plan to continue that work and progress in this area.
Is there a funny story that you can share about your experiences as a Breeder/Owner Handler?
Doug Koger: I’ve already shared the one where I asked the judge if she was sure when we won our first Group One. I will share this, though: I welcome the day when I go out with my dogs that someone, first, recognizes the breed (it’s actually happened once!) and not assume it’s a Whippet/Greyhound/Italian Greyhound/etc., and second, does not ask me to feed my dogs.
Everywhere we go, we get that. “Your dog is too skinny. You need to feed it!” I have my response perfectly memorized, as I always try to educate and let them know that this breed is not meant to be heavy and it’s correct to be able to see prominent hipbones and 3-5 ribs. Usually, though, they just walk away shaking their heads, mumbling for me to give them a burger.
Are you looking for an Azawakh puppy?
The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase one from a responsible breeder. Not sure where to begin finding a breeder? Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral person, which you can find on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.
Want to help rescue and re-home an Azawakh dog?
Did you know nearly every recognized AKC purebred has a dedicated rescue group? Find your new best friend on the AKC Rescue Network Listing.
Azawakh Dog Breed Magazine
Read and learn more about the loyal Azawakh dog breed with articles and information in our Azawakh Dog Breed Magazine.
Azawakh Breed Magazine - Showsight