Scientific Name: Canis familiaris
Origin or Range: Mali
Relative Size: Average
Lithe and graceful, the Azawakh is an affectionate dog that is well suited to living in the home and protecting your family. When discussing the temperament of an Azawakh, consideration should be given to individual personalities and contributing backgrounds, both genetic and environmental. There are, however, several general characteristics common to the breed. Described in a Dog World article as a “warrior class dog”, they have the intelligence and heart to protect. When approached on their own turf, they are very vocally intimidating. In situations where their duty as guardian isn’t necessary, their reactions may range from friendly, to mildly curious to arrogantly indifferent.
Although generally not outgoing, several in the US and in Europe, have found the opportunity to make social contributions as therapy dogs in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers They seem to possess an uncanny combination of total loyalty and independence. Each new situation presents the potential for the struggle between the dog’s natural desire to please and his prideful desire to do things his own way. A firm, fair hand is called for. Properly socialized and trained, the Azawakh will live harmoniously within the family and community. As a rule, Azawakh seem to accept other dogs, though sometimes grudgingly, as protected members of their own pack. Many less “gamy” dogs do well with an indoor cat; however, bets should not be placed on the chances of a cat in the yard or the neighbor’s Pomeranian.
Because comparatively few generations have been removed from the need to hunt daily for personal and family survival, the hunting instinct is very strong in this breed. Another point to mention is that the Azawakh is a very dominant breed. Within a household pack, they will almost always aspire to the alpha dog position. If there is an existing dominant dog in the pack, this can sometimes cause conflict within the pack. The Azawakh is usually trained fairly easily as long as gentle methods are employed. They respond very well to gentle, yet FIRM corrections and are usually very food motivated.
Extremely dominant type training, such as alpha rollovers is NOT the training method of choice for this breed. The Azawakh has an amazing amount of dignity and must be treated with mutual respect and honor. Rough treatment and training can result in a hound that is either broken in spirit or very aggressive and impossible to handle. The hounds generally do well in a structured obedience class environment with care given to the training methods employed. Training started in a puppy kindergarten class is advisable in young puppies. As far as the Azawakh and children are concerned, no one can predict the individual personalities of all dogs in any breed. There are some situations, which should be avoided with guardian and sighthound dogs of any breed.
Children playing together sometimes squabble. It is natural for a guard dog to protect “his” children from their playmates. Azawakhs, being spirited family participants, freely volunteer their assistance when another family member is being disciplined. This unexpected “assistance” can be frightening for everyone. Chase or prey behavior is another situation that can be a problem. Children or other pets running away from the hound can activate the prey drive instinct. The hound may try to “take down” the child from behind, as they would while hunting. A good rule of thumb is to never leave the Azawakh with children while unsupervised by an attentive adult. There are individual dogs of all breeds that do not like children. The Azawakh, as a breed, with care given to the situations mentioned, should fit well into any family structure.
Azawakhs are elegant, tall dogs of proud bearing. Lean and muscular of frame, their appearance should indicate swiftness when running. He should be longer of leg than of body, which may seem extreme when compared with other sighthounds. His neck is long and graceful, his head held high when alert. His tail is proudly carried above the line of the back. The breed has pendant ears, which are raised to the side of the head in response to sounds. Their movement is spectacular to watch.
The gait is always very supple and elastic. At the trot, they are light and graceful; the gallop is leaping and they cover ground in great strides. The movement is an essential point of the breed. Males range from 25-29 inches in height and weigh 44-55 lb., females, 23 1/2 – 27 1/2 inches and weigh 33-44 lb. The short, smooth coat comes in a variety of colors to include, clear sand to dark red, white, black, blue, gray, brindle, grizzle, parti-color and all shades of brown, including chocolate. However, the FCI standard for the breed only recognizes sand to dark red and brindle at this time.
An African sighthound of Afro-Asiatic type, the Azawakh originated in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. Raised in the Sahel region of the Sahara desert, they are named for the Azawakh valley. Azawakh means “land of the north”. They are the guardians, hunters and companions of the Tuareg and other ethnic tribes of the southern Sahel. Dr. Pecar, a Yugoslavian diplomat stationed in Burkina Faso, first imported the breed to Yugoslavia in the early 1970’s. The dogs could not be bought, however, Dr. Pecar received his male as a gift from the nomads. He later bartered his services as a hunter, by killing a bull elephant that had been terrorizing the tribe, in exchange for a female Azawakh. The French military and civil servants also played a significant role in exporting the Azawakhs to Europe. France is the patron country of the Azawakh under FCI rules.
The Azawakh made it’s debut in America in the mid 1980’s. The first litter was whelped on October 31, 1987 by Gisela Cook-Schmidt (Reckendahl). These first American Azawakhs were all red or fawn with white markings. The first brindles came to America in 1989, with the first brindle litter whelped November 27, 1990 by Deb Kidwell (Kel Simoon). In the mid 90’s, a parti-color male was imported from Burkina Faso and in 1997, a mixed parti-color and sand litter which was bred in Mali, was whelped in Alaska. It is hoped that an even larger selection of colors will find their way to the US from Africa in the near future.
Specific Care Information
The Azawakh as a breed does have several health issues that need to be addressed. The most common of these health concerns are hypothyroidism, seizures, and several autoimmune mediated diseases, such as Eosinophilic Myositis, autoimmune thyroiditis and generalized Demodectic Mange. Cardiac problems are also not unknown in this breed. Bloat, though rare, has been known to occur. Breeders are strongly encouraged to test for as many diseases as possible, making it possible to make an informed breeding decision when considering a litter. Common tests are thyroid screens, complete blood chemistry profiles, autoimmune function blood work, cardiac screening, eye examinations (CERF), X-rays for hip/elbow dysplasia (OFA, PennHip). A blood test is now available for Eosinophilic Myositis. Seizures are hard to test for and cause determination is not always possible.
However, dogs exhibiting seizures should not be bred. Unfortunately, many dogs start seizure activity later in life after they have been bred many times and have already adversely impacted the gene pool of the breed. The problem that breeders face in many cases is that because of the small gene pool, it is impossible to eliminate all dogs that carry a genetic disease from the breed program. But it makes sense to test for as many diseases as possible so as not to “double up” on the same disease in sire and dam. Pedigree research and disease tracking is an invaluable tool for Azawakh breeders. Some diseases can be tracked through an entire line from the original foundation dogs.
The Azawakh is generally a healthy breed. They heal amazingly well from cuts and scrapes. Care should be given with the use of chemicals, harsh shampoos and the feeding of excessive protein. The Azawakh is a natural breed whose immune system is not used to most Western chemicals; therefore, judicious use of chemicals around the hound is advised. The Azawakh should be fed a diet with a fat content of 12-16% fat to maintain good weight and a healthy coat; a moderate level of protein (22-26%) is advisable. Weight maintenance of Azawakhs is another important area to consider.
They should be slim. In proper weight, some ribs and vertebrae, and the hipbones should be visible. It’s not to say they should be skeletal, but a fat sighthound isn’t a happy or a healthy sighthound. Azawakhs are structured to be on the thin side. Overfeeding will adversely affect the joint structure of the hound, especially in puppies. Azawakh puppies should never be fat and roley poley. Keeping them slim as they are growing permits the joints and other body parts to grow properly, without additional stress and wear and tear. Slim pups are less prone to growth plate problems.
Grooming is simplistic in Azawakhs. An occasional brush with a zoom groom or hound glove is all that’s necessary to keep the hound’s coat in good condition. If the hound gets muddy, wait for it to dry and then brush it off. Frequent bathing isn’t necessary, since they have no doggy odor. They do, however, have sensitive skin, so use of a mild, hypoallergenic, unscented shampoo is recommended. Teeth brushing may be necessary if the hound doesn’t have access to bones to clean their teeth. Since the ears are pendant, ear infections can occur, but it’s not a major problem in the breed as the ear leather is thin and light, allowing air to access the ear canal. Generally, no routine eye care is necessary. Nail clipping should be started at a very early age.
The breeder should be cutting the puppies nails once a week starting one to two weeks following birth. In the older puppy or adult, nails should be cut on a regular basis. A good rule of thumb is that if your dog’s nails are clicking on when it walks, then they need cutting. Don’t delay, as long overgrown nails can cause the dog’s feet to develop arthritis and also make it very uncomfortable walking around. Many Azawakhs really resist having their nails clipped. Be firm, yet gentle.
Exercise requirements, as is true with all sighthound breeds, is a very important subject. The Azawakh must have adequate exercise and make excellent companions for the serious jogger and runner. The Azawakh is a very active dog, however, they run and play in spurts interspersed with long naps on the sofa. They should have a large yard where they can stretch their legs, but more importantly they need interaction with the owner or another dog, to make them exercise. Left alone in the back yard with the expectation of self-exercise is not acceptable for this breed.
They should receive at least half an hour a day of hard running and/or playing exercise. Finding a securely fenced ball field is perfect for play excursions. This breed will become fat and lethargic or hyper and destructive without proper energy outlets. Azawakhs can be very reliable off lead if taught a strong recall. This is a boon for people who enjoy the company of sighthounds, but have difficulty enjoying them because they cannot be trusted off lead.
Breeding and Propagation
Of course, prior health testing of the sire and dam is imperative. The Azawakh breeds and whelps naturally. As with all breeding dogs, the prospective breeding pair should be in excellent health, and in good weight and physical condition. The bitch should be slim, not FAT. Don’t increase food for the pregnant bitch until at least half way through the pregnancy. Fat bitches have more problems whelping. The bitches generally whelp very easily.
Cesarean sections are unheard of in this breed. Litters generally range from 5-9 pups, though smaller and larger litters have occurred. The pups are usually very vigorous from the start and need little assistance finding the nipples and feeding.
On a special note: As a breed, special care should be taken when trying to keep a male and female in heat apart. Their desire to procreate is VERY strong, indeed and they will go to amazing measures to fulfill that need!