Interview with Lilia Berezkina, Breeder of Ayur-es-Sahel Azawakh
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a breeder?
Lilia Berezkina: We have been living in South Florida since 2003. Being short-coated, Azawakh seem to enjoy the endless summers and the warm weather.
I always had dogs since I was a child, regularly bringing home strays, to my mother’s despair. My first purebred dog was a Rough Collie when I was a teenager and she still holds a special spot in my heart. She was my first show dog and my first introduction to breeding. Overall, I have been involved in breeding dogs for over four decades.
What is my kennel name? How many dogs do I currently keep?
Lilia Berezkina: My AKC registered kennel name is Ayur-es-Sahel, which is translated from Tuareg and means “The Moon Over Sahel.” I usually do not keep more than four dogs at a time at home, to make sure I am able to provide an ample amount of attention to each one. I prefer to keep only bitches, as this makes for a calmer pack and I do not have to worry about separating dogs during their heat cycles or having an accidental breeding. I also co-own several dogs that are living with and being shown by the people I trust and whom I consider my extended family.
Which show dogs from the past have been my noteworthy winners?
Lilia Berezkina: The Azawakh is a relatively young breed in the AKC show ring as they were fully accepted in 2019. I started showing in Miscellaneous Classes, and after AKC acceptance, my two bitches, CH Eidi N’Amanr Iteje CM (Enya) and CH Eidi N’Amanar Jana (imp Poland), finished their championships in several shows. They have been consistently in the Top 5 Azawakh Breed and OH over the years. They are multiple BOB, OH Group, and Reserve Best in Show winners, all owner-handled.
For Azawakh being a rare breed, the biggest obstacle in reaching their championships is finding majors. We have a close group of old-time breeders who mentor and support each other. We coordinate building the majors and truly enjoy the chance to get together and catch up.
Which have been my most influential sires and dams?
Lilia Berezkina: Both girls mentioned above were very instrumental in my breeding program. With a lot of planning, research, and effort, they produced three exceptional litters via frozen semen imported from Germany and South Africa. The breeding resulted in outstanding quality pups. One of them, CH Lex Ayur-es-Sahel, finished his championship in two weekends at the age of nine months. He has the correct structure; 90 percent body length-to-height proportions that fit in a vertical rectangle.
This is one of the key Azawakh trademarks along with his light, agile movement without hackney action or pounding. His graceful movement gives the appearance of floating effortlessly over the ground, which takes my breath away! In addition, “Lex” has a great, outgoing temperament, which makes being around him a true pleasure. We have high hopes for Lex to become a good ambassador for the breed. Our recent litter produced by Enya is getting ready for the show ring in May 2023 and I believe that the best show-winning is still ahead of us!
Can I talk a bit about my facilities? Where are my puppies whelped? How are they raised?
Lilia Berezkina: I prefer not to have a kennel set-up at home. My dogs live loose in the house and they eat and sleep together. They are family members. They usually hang out on the couch in the living room and enjoy a fully fenced acre of tropical gardens to run and play in. The puppies are whelped in my bedroom, where they stay for about three weeks. Later, they are moved to a separate bedroom with direct access to the outside. I also have an ex-pen set up for them in the living room so they can get used to the activities of the house such as TV, music and other noises.
For an Azawakh, it is crucial to start socializing early. Starting at four weeks, we have a schedule of several visitors per week, which continues until the puppies leave for their new homes. My friends and their kids enjoy this time and are always happy to visit! After the pups are fully vaccinated, frequent visits to the local stores, restaurants, farmers market, and other outings are a must. I have received many positive comments from the new owners of the puppies about how well-adjusted and outgoing they are. For me, as an Azawakh breeder, it is a huge confirmation of a job well done.
What is my “process” for selecting Show Puppies? Performance Puppies?
Lilia Berezkina: I always keep an eye out for a special one in a litter, and sometimes, in a consistent litter, this is hard to do. I pay attention to the adherence to the Breed Standard for structure, movement, temperament, and the “it” factor, all essential components for a successful show or performance dog.
Do I compete in Companion Events? Performance Events?
Lilia Berezkina: I have done some Lure Coursing; the dogs truly enjoy it and I wish we had a facility in our area. I have not competed in Companion Events, but I am very curious to try them out one day.
Is “performance” part of my decision-making when it comes to breeding?
Lilia Berezkina: Absolutely! Azawakh have been bred for hundreds of years for endurance in the rugged environment of the Sahel. Its body is designed to be able to run long distances in extreme heat conditions. As a breeder, it is important to preserve this in order to produce sound Azawakh with correct structure, movement, and temperament. I believe that if the dog is bred true to the Standard, it will succeed in the show ring and in performance sports.
How would I define “conditioning” as it relates to my breed?
Lilia Berezkina: For me “conditioning” is an essential part of working with the breed. Azawakh were bred to guard and hunt in the country of origin (COO). This breed takes guarding very seriously. They constantly scan the property and the house for possible danger to their human family; it is embedded in their nature.
An Azawakh that lacks socialization and training, like many other territorial breeds, can potentially become a liability. I start socializing puppies very early to make sure they are well-adjusted for their future lives in modern society. I’ve heard a saying that if an Azawakh is friendly or not showing aggression when approached by a stranger, he is “broken” or is not true to his nature. I do not agree with this. A well-adjusted, trained, and socialized Azawakh will still guard and hunt, but it will have a better chance to be a family dog and enjoy a more fulfilling life with its human companions.
Are there any health-related concerns in my breed? Any special nutritional needs?
Lilia Berezkina: In general, Azawakh are a healthy breed. The majority of the dogs can be traced back to several foundation dogs brought from the Sahel to Europe in the 1970s. Epilepsy is probably the most common issue running in many lines of the dogs bred now. I’ve heard about thyroid and autoimmune problems; however, I do not have a firsthand experience with these issues.
Nutritionally, Azawakh can be kept on a low protein, good quality kibble that does not contain corn, or on a balanced raw diet. I’ve raised puppies on either one in the past and I think they thrive on a balanced raw diet with the addition of cooked millet.
Do I think my breed is supported by a sufficient number of preservation breeders?
Lilia Berezkina: We have a low number of Azawakh in comparison to other breeds. Ideally, I consider any breeding to be a preservation breeding for the correct type and structure. Several old-time breeders have been doing tremendous work on incorporating new lines from the COO in their breeding programs. I think, if it is done with caution and proper testing, this can be an invaluable asset to the breeding programs.
Is my breed well suited to be a family dog? Who are the best candidates to own my breed?
Lilia Berezkina: A well-socialized Azawakh can be an incredible family dog, and living with one is a truly amazing experience. Azawakh are smart, loving, affectionate, loyal, and even humorous. They are independent thinkers that require firm, fair, and consistent handling. The owner has to be a leader who is respected by the dog. I have been living with Azawakh for over 20 years and the only correction I use is a change in a note of my voice. If introduced to a family early, at 8-10 weeks, they can adjust to any family dynamic, with or without children or other pets.
What is the biggest misconception about my breed? What is my breed’s best-kept secret?
Lilia Berezkina: The biggest misconception is that Azawakh are aggressive and neurotic. Any dog can show aggression under certain circumstances. The main job of an Azawakh is to protect his master, and they take it very seriously. This is where a good amount of socialization and training is crucial, starting at an early age and continuing throughout their lives. The best-kept secret is that they are extremely affectionate and loving with their family. They are loyal to a fault, and building a good relationship with an Azawakh can become a rewarding experience.
If I could share a comment or two with judges of my breed, what would I like to say to them?
Lilia Berezkina: The Azawakh is one of the breeds that does not need a lot of hands-on examination; you can see everything by just glancing at the dog. Based on the Azawakh’s temperament and the breed’s purpose, it is the biggest challenge to allow a stranger to touch them. As exhibitors, we work very hard to train the dogs to stand for the examination as we understand it is necessary, according to the AKC requirements. A calm, confident approach, a lighter touch, and a shorter examination would be truly appreciated by the dogs and their exhibitors.
Do I have any words of wisdom to pass along to newer breeders?
Lilia Berezkina: My biggest advice to the newer breeders is to study the Breed Standard, the pedigrees, and the breed’s original purpose. Talk to old-time breeders as much as possible and do not chase the ribbons when it comes to breeding decisions. If you breed a sound dog, the ribbons will find you!
For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing thing I’ve ever experienced with a Hound?
Lilia Berezkina: I find Azawakh to be amazing because each individual has its own personality and character. You have to build a relationship with each one, just like you would have to do with friends and family. They are in tune with your mood, feelings, and even health. I find it very amusing when they are trying to cheer me up after a long day at work. They can be goofy and humorous on purpose, making sure to bring a smile to my face when I need one. Azawakh are my love and lifelong passion, and I am grateful to them for being a part of my life!
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.
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