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Norwich Bulletin - 4/11/2010

The Azawakh

The rare and beautiful Azawakh originated in the Sahel region of Africa. They were bred by the Tuareg nomads of the Southern Sahara as guardians, hunters and companions. These dogs can often be seen sleeping on the low straw roofs of the village homes of their Mali owners. As a night predator enters the village, the first Azawakh to see it jumps down and alerts the others and is quickly joined by the rest of the pack to chase away or kill the intruder. These dogs are sighthounds and can reach up to forty miles per hour!

These are tall and elegant dogs that carry themselves proudly. They are lean and muscular in appearance and you just know by looking at them that they are fast. Their legs are longer than their body – the neck is long and graceful and the Azawakh holds its head up high and is always alert. They are light and elegant. They have a very short coat. The normal color you expect to see is the sand to dark red brindled. But the American Azawakh Association recognizes all colors which naturally occur in the dogs’ countries of origin, i.w. white, black, gray, blue grizzle, particolor and all shades of brown.

The Azawakh made its debut in America in the mid 1980’s and their show history began very soon after it’s original importation. On January 1, 1981, they were accepted as a bona fide breed. They are recognized by the UKC, the American Rare Breed Association, and many other smaller registries. The AKC has accepted the breed for registration and they are allowed to compete in performance events only at this time.

When considering temperament, you must remember the background of these dogs, both environmentally and genetically. There are several general characteristics common in the breed. They have been described as a “warrior class dog” and they have both the intelligence and the heart to protect those they love. When approached on their own turf, they can be very vocally intimidating. When they are not on duty as a guardian, their reactions can differ anywhere from friendly to mildly curious, to totally indifferent.

With people they accept and love, they are gentle and affectionate, but it is a breed disqualification for this dog to be timid, panicky or aggressive to the point of attack. They are not a typically outgoing dog, but they have been used in the US as therapy dogs in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. In fact, the US and Europe seem to be concentrating on breeding the savageness out of the Azawakh and making them more friendly in general, while in the Sahel, the dogs there are not aggressive but just prefer not to be touched.

The Azawakh seems to be two dogs in one in that it has a natural desire to please its humans as well as a prideful desire to do things their own way. If you do not have a fair and firm hand, then this breed is not for you. Socialization and training is an absolute must if you want to live harmoniously within your family with an Azawakh.

As a rule, they seem to accept other dogs, though sometimes they are rather grumpy in the process. What happens is that the other dogs become protected members of the Azawakh’s pack. Many less “gamy” dogs do well with an indoor cat, but the chances for survival of any little animals, including the neighbor’s small dog in your yard, are slim at best. Comparatively few generations have been removed from the dogs’ need to hunt every day for survival, so the hunting instinct is very strong in this breed.

They are also a very dominant breed so they will always strive to be the alpha dog of the pack. If you own another dominant breed, there could be conflict within your home. I know that as beautiful as these dogs are to me, and as drawn as I am to them, I could never own one because of my own cats and the Dogo Argentino that I own is also an alpha pack dog.

When you think of children, again remember, that these are guard dogs, protecting their children from their playmates. Squabbles occur when neighborhood children get together and play, and the Azawakh will definitely want to intercede on his child’s behalf. In fact, they might even assist your child when you are trying to administer discipline. This can be pretty frightening.

Another problem is children or other pets running away from the hound as this could trigger the prey drive instinct and they may try to take down the child as they would any animal while hunting. So the rule is never leave the Azawakh with children unsupervised by an attentive adult, with the key word here being attentive. With the proper care and vigilance, the Azawakh as a breed, should fit well into any family structure. But you must have some common sense if you have children and other pets.

This is a breed that needs exercise and a job. If you have an Azawakh strictly as a pet, you need to find different things to keep him happy and stress free. A good run twice a week and a long walk every day is essential. And being sight hounds, you need a safe fenced in environment, because if they see a rabbit, they can run miles before they realize they do not know where they are.

And not being a terribly friendly dog, this may lead to complications. So prevention is the best solution when it comes to exercise. Now, they can be very reliable if taught a strong recall, which is great, because most sighthounds cannot be trusted off lead at all.

This breed is great for different types of competition. Performance events such as agility, obedience are accepted in most of the organizations, and in some of them, you can also participate in conformation, lure coursing and racing. Another sport for which the Azawakh can excel at is the Canine Freestyle. The dogs springy, graceful movement and willingness to please, makes this a tailor made sport for them.

This is not a dog to get on a whim. It is a dog who requires a lot of responsibility on the part of the owner. And that responsibility will last anywhere from twelve to fifteen years. They do have several health issues, many of them stemming around autoimmune diseases. Also so hypothyroidism and seizures, as well as cardiac problems have been known to occur. It is vital that you seek out a responsible breeder who tests before putting two dogs together. Bloodwork for blood chemistry profiles, autoimmune function bloogwork and cardiac screening are among some of the tests absolutely necessary when breeding.

So given all the dos and donts of this breed, it is not a breed of the faint of heart, for the person who likes to watch television every night, or a person who is gone from their house eight to ten hours a day. But for the right person, this is an excellent guardian and companion animal.

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