When mentoring ringside, tutoring, or giving the Saluki Club of America’s Judges Education Seminar, I am repeatedly told the same thing: “I am confused about your breed.” The confusion arises from the breadth of equally correct styles allowed for in the breed, this diversity being precisely why Saluki preservation breeders and fanciers have been adamantly against elaborating on points in the Breed Standard since recognition by the AKC in 1927. Simply put, over-elaboration on specific points in the Standard might well limit the diversity in the breed. Although this dedication is essential to preserving the breed, it doesn’t help one understand what makes a “correct” Saluki regardless of the “style.”
We can easily sit ringside and “place” our picks. We all bring our personal biases to the ringside. Spectators are often puzzled by the placements, particularly by breeder-judges, and the sometimes seeming “inconsistency” of the placements. To understand what a knowledgeable breeder or judge “sees” in their winners, we must look beyond the ribbons and wrapping paper to understand and appreciate what makes the Saluki the superb athlete that it is. We should all be looking for an athlete—and not only a beauty king or queen. I am talking about structure, the physical attributes that, in harmony, create this superbly beautiful, yet powerful and efficient, running/hunting machine that we know as the Saluki.
To understand the evaluation challenge, put yourself in the middle of a Conformation ring of Salukis of all colors, coats, sizes, and styles. To make it more challenging to the fledgling eye, every entry has good “breed type.” In the loosest sense of the term, this means, at first glance, they all “look” undeniably Saluki. As a judge, you have two minutes to evaluate each dog. If you do not have a solid understanding of (and appreciation for) the breed’s purpose, sadly, you may resort to fault judging.
But wait a minute, there are no disqualifications nor is there a list of faults of varying degrees as in many other Breed Standards. All colors are equally acceptable. The amount of feathering is immaterial. All sizes, close to the average range, are equally acceptable. All styles maintaining breed type are equally acceptable. Some entries may be slightly longer than tall while others are square or slightly taller than long. All are equally acceptable when not to the extreme. When looking at the Saluki as a whole, all structural aspects should be moderate and balanced; nothing should ever appear exaggerated or extreme.
The most commonly used adjective in the Saluki Standard is, in fact, “moderation.”
The Oxford dictionary defines moderation as reasonable and not extreme.
From the AKC Saluki Breed Standard:
- Skull moderately wide between the ears;
- Chest moderately narrow;
- Stifle moderately bent;
- Feet of moderate length;
- Muscles slightly arched over the loin. (Slight is a synonym for moderate.)
Moderation coupled with symmetry (I’ll use the term “balance”) are the common threads that are present in any correct Saluki regardless of style.
Consider the statement above; chest moderately narrow. Remove the word “moderately” and we see that the chest is narrow. It is not extremely narrow. It is considered in relationship to the height and substance of the dog to create a balanced endurance athlete. The depth (rather than the width) of the chest provides ample room for extra lung capacity required for a long-distance runner. It stands to reason that any dog built for speed and long-distance running will be aerodynamic and should be “comparatively” narrow, as opposed to the wider chests of the Working, Herding, or Non-Sporting breeds.
Consider the statement; “stifle moderately bent.” We see the stifle is “bent,” and by bent the Standard refers to the angle where the knee meets the lower leg—it is not extremely bent nor is it extremely straight. The “angles” may vary slightly according to style, but they are never extreme. A vitally important aspect of the moderate angle of the stifle is that it is balanced in joint angles throughout the dog.
“Dogs built for endurance have matching front and rear angles.”1 Thus, the angle of stifle joint should balance with the angle of the hock joint, the angle of the pelvis, and the angle of the shoulder and upper arm return. In order to get optimal balance of angle in the joints, the adjoining bones must also be balanced in length and substance—with exception given to the rear pastern bone which is comparatively shorter, thus giving us “hocks low to the ground, showing galloping and jumping power.” The front and rear angles are moderate and balanced. Nothing is extreme.
Over the past forty-six years of breeding, showing, and observing Salukis, as well as 15 years as an AKC judge and several years on the Saluki Club of America’s Judges Education Committee, it is my opinion that a lack of moderation and balance are the most significant problems we see in the breed today; straight shoulders (placed in front of the body rather than “set well back”) create a weak topline, a steep drop from withers to back (breeders refer to this as a ski slope), an excessive dip behind the shoulders, and a flat or weak, sagging topline which will only worsen with age.
Straight and/or short upper arm returns that are unbalanced in length and angle with the shoulder restrict the dog’s forward movement, which should be effortless and free. When correctly balanced, the movement should come from the shoulder and move through the upper arm and leg. When the upper arm is too straight or short, the shoulder is restricted from forward movement, with movement starting at the elbow rather than the shoulder. In order to get out of the way of the rear legs, the front legs will pop up. This can be very “showy,” but it is a waste of energy and is ineffective in maximizing forward motion with minimal effort.
Extremely bent stifles, often coupled with a disproportionally long leg from stifle to hock, create weak hindquarters. With this, the dog cannot get its rear underneath its body with minimal effort. This extreme and unbalanced anatomy affects the dog’s agility, its power and propulsion from the rear, and, ultimately, its ability to run long distances at great speed. Unfortunately, the extreme rear, together with an upright or unbalanced front structure, is a common combination seen in the ring today.
Short, flat croups or long, steep croups (we see both extremes) create an imbalance in structural integrity. These affect a free and balanced side gait in the ring as well as a dog’s rear power and propulsion in the field. A balanced, moderate rear is an essential structural component in a running/hunting hound.
Ideally, a Saluki should be moderate and balanced in all aspects—there is no place for extremes in the breed. As a spectator or as a judge, if you consistently look for the athlete in the ring you will no longer be confused by the variety of styles or furnishings and you may understand why the Saluki has survived as a breed for thousands of years due to its primary function as a hunter, that it is beautiful while doing its work is the icing on the cake.
1 Anatomy Review for Dog Judges, Sponsored by the American Kennel Club Institute of Judging, Claudia Waller Orlando, PHD 8/15/2006
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Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral person, which you can find on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.
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