Although the exact origins of the Sloughi dog date too far back to be completely known, artifacts and history suggest that smooth-coated, lop-eared sighthounds like the Sloughi have existed in North Africa for several thousand years.
The Sloughi hails from the Maghreb, which includes the countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, and a large portion of the Sahara Desert (as opposed to the Mashriq, the eastern part of the Arab world that includes Egypt and Sudan, as well as several other countries which comprise the countries of origin of the Saluki). Arab conquests of the Maghreb began in 647, and the Sloughi has been bred by both Berbers and Bedouins for hundreds of years.
Historically, the Sloughi dog served many purposes—first and foremost as a coursing hound that is capable of hunting a wide variety of game over varying topography from harsh, rocky terrain, to punishing scrub and sandy desert. In addition, the Sloughi served to guard the tents and the livestock of its nomadic owners, and was (and still is) occasionally used to herd sheep, goats, donkeys, and camels.
Sloughis first arrived in the United States in 1973, yet the breed remains quite rare in this country nearly a half century later.
Sloughi Dog Breed Function
The Sloughi dog was originally developed to hunt a wide variety of game, including rabbit, hare, fox, jackal, hyenas, gazelle, deer, ostriches, and wild pigs. It is a proficient hunter with tremendous speed, stamina, agility, and strength, hunting over a wide variety of very harsh terrain, mostly by sight, but also using scent and sound.
Today, large game is rare in its countries of origin, and in Morocco it is illegal to hunt any game with hounds. Instead, the breed is used primarily on foxes (both fennecs and red foxes), jackals, and wild pigs.
Sloughi Breed Preservation
The survival of the Sloughi is threatened throughout the world. The lifestyle of the rural hunter is disappearing in the Maghreb, and although the keeping of dogs as pets is not uncommon in metropolitan areas such as Casablanca, it is a luxury that is exceedingly uncommon outside of the big cities. Rural hunters and farmers cannot afford to keep animals that do not contribute to survival, and the keeping of house dogs is disdained in Muslim culture. Without its utilitarian purpose, the future of the Sloughi is very uncertain.
Breed preservation is also a problem in western countries.The coursing of live game with hounds is illegal throughout much of Europe and the United States. As a result, nearly every breeding decision is based on criteria that do not include the breed’s primary purposes.
In addition, the conditions in which Sloughi dogs are bred in the Maghreb are harsh. The way Sloughis are kept and bred, and the ways puppies are raised in the countries of origin, are drastically different than the way westerners do it. Although we love to see Sloughis thriving in the comforts of home without any environmental pressures on them, there can be no question that the conditions in North Africa from which this breed emerged produced a tough, utilitarian hound without significant frailties of health.
Judging the Sloughi Dog to Preserve the Essential Characteristics
Every act of judging either helps to preserve the breed or contributes to the diminution of the breed. For this reason, it is critically important for judges to look at the Sloughi through the lens of how closely it could perform the tough work in the harsh environment for which this breed was developed.
Preserving proper breed type is essential toward protecting this rare and unique breed. If the details that separate the Sloughi from other short-coated desert sighthounds are not prioritized, type will quickly be lost. The Sloughi should not be a generic sighthound. The differences between the Sloughi and breeds that are similar in appearance, such as the Azawakh and the Saluki, should be apparent. The Sloughi is not a smooth Saluki or a variation of the Azawakh, and it should not look like one.
Body Proportions: A male Sloughi is very slightly taller, measured from the top of the withers to the ground, than it is long, measured from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttocks. Ideally, a male’s length is 96% of its height. In other words, a Sloughi is very slightly taller than it is long. A female’s body may be slightly longer, proportionally, than that of the male. However, a Sloughi should never appear rectangular. It should never be as upright as an Azawakh, nor as long in the back as many Salukis. These unique body proportions are a defining characteristic of the breed, and long Sloughis should not be rewarded.
Pigment: Pigment is an essential characteristic of the breed. Pigment in the nails and skin of dogs comes from melanocytes, which produce melanin. Melanin provides protection from ultraviolet light—and the Saharan sun is relentless. The AKC standard references pigment in multiple places; eye rims must be pigmented, the nose should be black, lips are black or dark brown, the nails are black or pigmented. Black noses and nails are essential breed characteristics of the breed, and while the standard specifically allows small white marks on the toe tips, it also disqualifies Sloughis whose color is not in accordance with the standard.
Coat: The coat of the Sloughi dog should always be short, tight, and fine all over the body. Fringe, feathering or longer hair on the ears, legs, haunches or tail is a disqualification. Looser, longer or coarse coats are faulty to the degree they vary from the short, tight, fine coat that is described in the standard.
Open Angles: The Sloughi breed standard uses the word “open” three times to describe front and rear angulation. The Sloughi should be less angular than the Saluki or the Afghan Hound, but slightly more angular than the Azawakh.
Ground Covering Gaits: The Sloughi dog has a supple, smooth, and effortless gait with long strides, covering plenty of ground. Short-strided, hackneyed, and weak gaits or gaits reaching only from the elbows are incorrect. Weak pasterns and floppy pasterns are also incorrect. Hackneyed action is a serious fault. The American Sloughi Association has a judges education video on proper gaits in the breed:
Robust, but Elegant: The standard says the Sloughi dog is a “robust, but elegant and racy, pursuit dog with no exaggeration of length of body or limbs, muscle development, angulation, nor curve of loin.” The standard also uses the words, “powerful,” “strong,” and “sturdy.” The Sloughi should not appear fragile or delicate. The muscles and soft tissues should be strong and lean. The Sloughi is sturdier than many of its desert counterparts.
Wedge-Shaped Head: The head of the Sloughi dog is unique among sighthounds. It has a long and elegant, sturdy, wedge-shaped head that narrows from the cranial region to the nose. The Sloughi head is more substantial than many sighthound breeds. The occiput should be apparent, but not as pronounced as that of the Afghan Hound.
Ears: Sloughi breed standard reads, “The ears are set at about the level of the eye and droop close to the head when the animal is at rest. Disqualifications are ears erect, or small and folding backwards in a ‘rose ear.’” The Sloughi’s ears are set at about the level of the eye when the animal is at rest. When the animal is alert, the ears are going to be higher on the head. In addition, a small, rose ear is a disqualification in the Sloughi. Even Sloughis with excellent ears will fold them back when they are anxious, hot, bored or inattentive. A handler can always show that an exhibit’s ears are proper upon request—if they are correct. The American Sloughi Association has a judges education video on Sloughi ears:
The video illustrates the difference between proper and disqualifying ears, and also shows how a handler can demonstrate dropped ears.
Topline: The Sloughi’s topline is essentially level between the withers and the hip bones, but the highest point of the hip bones may be slightly higher than the withers, which should be apparent.
Body Condition: The Sloughi dog should always show defined bony structure and strong, lean muscles. The skeletal structure is sturdy. A Sloughi in good weight will have its hip bones apparent (but less apparent than those of the Afghan hound), as well as the three rearmost ribs. The croup is bony and gently sloping. A Sloughi should look and feel hard and fit in the ring. The forechest should be bony and angular, and it lacks “fill.” The Sloughi should never be pigeon-breasted. It should never be soft in condition, and it should never appear padded.
Temperament: The Sloughi dog evolved as a coursing and hunting hound, but it also evolved as a guardian of nomadic tents and a sometimes livestock guardian. Part of the Sloughi’s purpose was historically to be suspicious of strangers and to be especially devoted to its family. In the show ring, the Sloughi should be approached in a business-like fashion—never stare into the eyes; ask the handler to show the bite, front and sides, but never open the mouth to check molars. Judges should refrain from speaking when bent directly over a Sloughi. If an exhibit is shy or nervous, please refrain from trying to comfort the Sloughi or talk to it, which will only heighten its suspicion. Furthermore, in the Sloughi, a breed whose physique is so dry as to make every piece of anatomy clearly visible, excessive touching or handling is unnecessary.
General Comments: The Sloughi dog originated in a land of harsh desert and rocky mountains to course rabbits, hares, jackals, fennecs and other foxes, gazelles, and all manner of game that can be found in northern Africa. It should present as a tough, athletic dog with lots of speed and endurance, and each component of its conformation should speak to its purpose. It should have tough feet with hard nails, plenty of sturdy skeleton, lean muscles, an elegant but powerful neck, and strong teeth. Whenever an exhibit is presented to you, please consider whether this is a hound that could hunt in extreme heat over rough, unforgiving conditions.