Interview with Hound Group Breeder Erika Wyatt – Ocerico Sloughis
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a breeder?
Erika Wyatt: We live in a rural area about 60 miles west of Chicago. I have been involved with dogs since 1987 and with Sloughis since 1993. We bred our first Sloughi litter in 2006.
What is my kennel name? How many dogs do I currently keep?
Erika Wyatt: Ocerico Sloughis is our kennel name. We do not keep a large number of Sloughis. However, genetic diversity is a critical consideration in this low-entry breed, and we are building a bank of frozen semen on our Moroccan imports for use on future generations. Since 2009, we have imported 13 Sloughis from Morocco, which represents more country-of-origin imports than anyone else in the US.
Which show dogs from the past have been my noteworthy winners?
Erika Wyatt: Since the Sloughi only achieved AKC recognition in January 2016, we are making history right now in the breed: GCH Rima Siham Sahara, CA, DCAT (imp. Morocco), the top-winning AKC Sloughi of all time. She is the first Hound Group-winning Sloughi and the first (and only) Sloughi to have earned an all-breed Reserve Best in Show; GCH Taban Bohemia Genao, CM, the first AKC Champion and the first AKC Grand Champion in the breed. “Toby” was also the first Westminster Best of Breed Sloughi in history; CH Dune des Sources de l’Oum-er-Rbia, CM, our first Moroccan import, he is a 3x National Specialty winner and is also the top-producing AKC Sloughi sire with nine champion get to his credit; GCH Itri Ocerico, imported from Morocco in July 2021, did not start showing until August and finished 2021 as the No. 1 Sloughi (all-breed) for the year, earning Group placements from the classes. “Itri” got a late start showing this year, but he has yet to hit his prime. Itri’s type is exceptional. He already has 14 Group placements to his credit and is the first Sloughi in history to earn an NOHS Best in Show.
Which have been my most influential sires and dams?
Erika Wyatt: Our breeding program has heavily emphasized country-of-origin bloodlines in order to preserve authentic Moroccan type, to provide genetic diversity, and to ensure proper hunting prowess (both drive and skill) which are integral to the breed. We have traveled throughout Morocco, visiting the smallest villages, to find genuine Sloughis and to learn about essential characteristics from traditional hunters and breeders.
“Dune” has been the most influential sire in the US to date, with nine AKC champion offspring. However, our first litter from our most recent African import, GCH Itri Ocerico, just turned six months old and they are developing beautifully. The dam of this litter is “Rima,” also imported from Morocco, and it is clear that she has passed some qualities to this litter that are very promising.
Can I talk a bit about my facilities? Where are my puppies whelped? How are they raised?
Erika Wyatt: Sloughis must have ample room to gallop, nearly every day, to be properly conditioned, emotionally well-adjusted, and happy. We have several acres dedicated to Sloughi running space and we live in an area that is rich with wildlife, which provides additional stimulation for them.
Our nursery has radiant heat floors, large windows to allow plenty of natural light and fresh air, and it is fully climate-controlled. Puppies and their mothers have their own, separate play yard. We raise our puppies using Puppy Culture, plenty of attention, and lots of love, exposing them to all household things (vacuum cleaner, nail grinder, television, etc.) as well as car rides, new places, strangers, children, other dogs and animals.
What is my “process” for selecting show puppies? At what age do I make my decisions?
Erika Wyatt: We select show puppies based on conformation, instinct, movement, and temperament. Our “process” is definitely more art than science. We rely on our own impressions, but we also consult with fellow breeders and friends in Morocco, Europe, and the US. We normally make decisions by 9weeks.
How do I prepare my pups for the show ring? Does my breed require any special preparation?
Erika Wyatt: Sloughi puppies need frequent, patient, consistent, and kind socialization from an early age to grow into well-adjusted show dogs. Sloughi temperament is described as aloof, but this should not mean shy or fearful, and they should certainly not ever be sharp. They are sensitive and intelligent dogs that bond closely with their owners, and if they are handled properly, they can make excellent show dogs.
Can I share my thoughts on how my breed is currently presented in the show ring?
Erika Wyatt: The Sloughi should not be presented with its rear stretched out behind it. Hocks should be perpendicular to the ground, and topline is essentially level, with a slight, muscular arch over the loin. The body proportions of the Sloughi are an important and distinguishing characteristic, as the Sloughi should be very slightly taller than long. The ideal body proportions from point of the shoulder to point of the buttocks should be 96 percent of the height from the withers to the ground. Although we can be somewhat forgiving (particularly of a bitch that is a little bit longer if the exhibit is otherwise excellent), long Sloughis, especially males, are lacking in type.
The speed at which the dog is gaited is also important. Yes, the Sloughi is a coursing Hound (and the gallop is an essential gait), but in the countries-of-origin, a Sloughi must trot for hours before game is located in order to hunt it. The proper, ground-covering gait should be effortless, with efficient and smooth reach from the shoulder. It should move in excellent balance without the wasted energy of an exaggerated side-go, high movement in front (a huge fault), or a bouncing topline. This effortless movement is necessary for the Sloughi to trot all day in the desert, frequently over very tough terrain and in scorching heat.
Are there any health-related concerns within my breed? Any special nutritional needs?
Erika Wyatt: Unfortunately, in some Western bloodlines, certain autoimmune diseases have arisen and we need to carefully avoid breeding dogs from these lines to prevent these diseases from becoming endemic in the breed. The AKC national parent club, the American Sloughi Association, Code of Ethics specifically prohibits the breeding of any Sloughi, or the offspring of any Sloughi, that has been diagnosed with Addison’s Disease, Cardiomyopathy, Myasthenia Gravis, Symmetric Lupoid Onychodystrophy/Onychitis, Wobblers Syndrome, or Hypomyelinogenesis.
In our travels in Morocco, and through our relationships with breeders in Morocco, we are not aware of Sloughis with these types of health concerns, and it is imperative that breeders in the US are proactive to preserve the health of the breed by adhering to the parent club Code of Ethics.
In my opinion, is my breed in good condition overall? Any trends that warrant concern?
Erika Wyatt: The breed is in a precarious situation in the US without enough excellent, unrelated breeding candidates in the US population. In addition, a small population of Sloughis carrying the gene(s) for long hair have recently emerged in the breed. This is inconsistent with authentic type, and it is a violation of the parent club Code of Ethics to breed any Sloughi carrying these genes. Attention must also be given to the nuances of breed type—to preserve this ancient breed.
Last year, I overheard a judge state that he was looking for “spring in the step” of a Sloughi gaiting. This is nowhere in the Sloughi Standard and, in order to preserve the breed, judges need to understand what makes a Sloughi a Sloughi. I am the Judges Education Chair for the American Sloughi Association, and we are trying to increase opportunities to provide seminars and mentoring on the breed to help increase knowledge of our Standard and to expose as many judges as possible to correct Sloughis so that they have a frame of reference when they are assigned to judge them.
Is my breed well-suited to be a family dog? Who are the best candidates to own my breed?
Erika Wyatt: Sloughis are exceptionally devoted to their families and make excellent family dogs. The best prospective owners are people who are as intelligent, devoted, and sensitive as their Sloughis, and those who enjoy being active and can appreciate an incredibly athletic, primitive, and beautiful Sighthound. When the right person chooses a Sloughi as a family member, they are in for an unparalleled bonding experience.
Do I feel that my breed is supported by a sufficient number of preservation breeders?
Erika Wyatt: No. There are not enough preservation breeders of the Sloughi in the US. I hope that over time, as people become acquainted with the Sloughi, more people will become educated devotees of the breed and will help to preserve it for generations to come.
For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing thing I’ve ever experienced with a Hound?
Erika Wyatt: We currently have a Sloughi who refuses to come unless you sing him a song!