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The Azawakh in Flux?


There are grumblings of dissent in the Azawakh scene! Excited statements and comments can be heard everywhere. A group of activists has banded together and committed itself to combat the supposedly rigorous regulations of cynological associations such as DWZRV, the French SLAG and the FCI.
Voluminous dispatches are sent to all sighthound-judges and other cynological policy-makers, containing extensive material to stage-manage an image of the breed, in order to produce uncertainty and confusion amongst judges, breeders and owners. First fruition of such cumulative exertion of influence can already be seen. At the French SLAG exhibition of this year in Clermont-Herauld, the sign-in number of Azawakh was noticeably less than the previous year.

What had happened?
During the past few years we have seen an increase in the number of Azawakh presented that are quite obviously not true to breeding standards for colour. Among almost black- and blue-coloured dogs, also spotted dogs were shown - colours that are not accepted by the Azawakh-Standard at present. Relating to the colour white, the dogs did not only show the required white markings, but presented so much white that every other colour was reduced to spots at head, neck and body. Likewise, spotting is not permitted by the current standard.

After a long period of hesitation and standing on the sidelines, responsible breeding-boards finally responded. They came to the agreement to not approve such a wide variety of colours any more. The main argument was that the discrepancy between standard regulations and the judges’ deviant evaluation - in case the dog is not disqualified – is seen as justifiable neither cynologically nor with regard to club bylaws.
More important was the cynological reasoning that was reached by the board of directors of SLAG (the French Azawakh Association) in the previous year. It was noted (published in the Bulletin of the Club, Nr. 61, page 5) that a purebred Azawakh can have variations in the amount of white colour in the coat – ranging from several white hairs on the feet to white stockings with transition into a white chest, a white nose-spot and a white spot at neck height – but never a spotting with expansion of the colour white over the whole body. It was stated explicitly that even when mating two Azawakh, each with large amounts of white in coat colour, a dog with a spotted coat never occurred - neither in the European breeding, nor in the offspring of the Tuareg in the sixties and seventies whose dogs eventually produced the type that formed the base of the Azawakh-Standard. In 1981, this standard was unified, after fighting for an own standard in France nearly 10 years ago.
It is important to know, that France is responsible for the generation of the standard at the FCI, since the country of origin, Mali, is not a member of the FCI.

So, why do coat colours still deviate from the standard?
In the end of the Sixties, when the Azawakh was not lead by any standard yet, the first imports of the Azawakh population were recruited out of the Azawakh-Valley, Northwest Mali, inhabited by the Tuareg-nomads, the Oulliminds and the Daussahaq. The distribution of sighthound-populations similar to the Azawakh in other regions was very well known at that time already. The generation of a standard for this large bulk of hunt-and sight-hounds existing in these regions was not wanted. The aim was to take the special type of that large-framed, mostly reddish coloured dog with white markings and his outstanding elegance as a basis for the standard. Therefore, the correspondent standard represents a special selection of dogs, who, having been brought to Europe mainly, describe the beginning of the breed in Europe. So the standard is a deliberately ,exclusive’ standard, that with its very precise particulars relating to the dog’s different characteristics along with specific peculiarities, very clearly defines the dog’s anatomy and appearance, and therefore distinguishes the Azawakh from other types of dogs.
In doing so, the authors emphasized consistently that in characterizing the Azawakh, thought has been given mainly to the breeding intentions in the country of origin.

Events that were inevitable came to pass and yet again, History has reapeated itself.  Like the Afghan hound dispute in Great Britain in the end of 1920 (Ghazni-Tazi-type) or the dispute about importing Barsois from Russia – in all cases a discussion arises about the “real” imports and their representation within a standard already existent.
Enthusiasts of sighthounds living in their country of origin bring these dogs to Europe, where integration is then attempted in the breeds recognized by the existing standard. Thus, this is also being done with the breed Azawakh.

Most notably involved in this matter during the last 10 years was a private organization called ABIS with leadership of Dr. Röder. This organization gave top priority to register the Azawakh population in the country of origin and to increase the supposedly undersized “gene pool” of the European Azawakh using new imports. The recording of Azawakh populations was done very on a grand scale and broadmindedly; the detection of any sighthound, no matter the appearance and/or colour, was declared as a “scientific field study” and the located dogs were apostrophized as “country-breed” and later summarized under the term “Azawakh”, knowing that many of the imported dogs are difficult to integrate in the Azawakhs true standard. Not only did they come from areas far away from each other (mostly from Burkina Faso); they showed the colour errors described above and other untypical characteristics such as a heavy general appearance, skull being too wide, disproportions in relations of length to height, erroneous coat structure (harsh and semi-long hair, thick tail), dewclaws at the hindquarters, declining back-line, and, thus, were not conforming to the standard. Partially, erroneous coat colours didn’t show until the next generation (of dogs primarily correct in colour), which forced the hand of these dogs’ breeders.

Verbalisms like “the existing real Azawakh populations in the country of origin” proved to be effective in former times (see relevant publications in various journals), such as in the debate about the coat colour “brindle”. As is generally known, modifications of the standard were made to accept the coat colour brindle, which was frowned upon before. Nowadays, efforts to further soften the standard regulations encounter resistance from official associations, which in turn is seen as an affront and causes the self-proclaimed “experts” to impose pressure upon the associations’ individual elements.

Therefore, their criticisms are rather harsh:
1) The French authors of the Azawakh standard are being accused of having a confined European view of the breed characteristics and a lack of knowledge.
2) The Azawakh breeding, now existing for more than 25 years is portrayed as an erroneous trend, because the more than 5 generations of dogs differ immensely in quality, uniformity and regal appearance from the dogs that have been imported.
3) Anyone that did not recently visit the Sahel-region (Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger) is denied having an expert opinion.
4) All efforts and achievements in breeding within the associations are seen as results of “low value”, due to a situation of little competition.
5) Throwbacks in breeding or occurrence of disease are portrayed as an inevitable development that can only be cured by importing new dogs. The import of genes that are defective and out of character for the breed are denied.
6) In case the general appearance of an imported dog does not match the standard, this is not charged to the dogs, but to the supposed defiency of the standard.
7) Interpretations of the standard relating to limitations of white markings on extremities, neck and head and the rejection of spotted dogs in any case undertaken mainly by the SLAG (see SLAG bulletin Nr. 49, page 8) prompted accusations that SLAG is acting inconsistently.
It would seem foolhardy to continue that kind of reasoning.

Resumptively, the massive, almost professional efforts to import dogs (after all, over 50 dogs already have been imported within 10 years) is a separatist’s aim. Every aspect of breeding becomes subordinate to the obsessive drive to preserve the breed. To succeed in that matter, ‘blessings’ of any club or association are of use, for example to draw up a pedigree for an imported dog, a permission to breed etc., but in other aspects no need is seen to stand to the clubs regulations. On the contrary, abolition of mandatory regulations are demanded in anxiety to face the breed competition within the existing criteria.

What is to be done?
The whole discussion about the Azawakhs’ coat colour presents a pseudo-discussion, that is used as an instrument to annul the existing standard with its very clear definitions and, after altering the standard, to achieve the registration of more mixed-breed dogs. The massive import of mixed-breed genes into the gene-pool is harmful in the long run and the Azwakh is losing his specific breed-type, which is that of a noble and highly elegant sighthound.
Dr. Röder, stop trying to talk us into believing that the breed Azawakh could not survive without imports! We can at least abstain from mass-importing  dogs of any type and colour. What we really need are imports that fulfill the standard to its full extent and contribute positively to it. A degeneration of the breed Azawakh to a “Creole Gumbo” is not desired by anybody.

Let’s demand compliance with regulations created by responsible boards: the Azawakh Standard!
Let’s create assurance of breed purity through regulatory enforcements of the standard.
If we already afford the registry of dogs documented in Europe, then we should more than ever be critical about imports with unknown ancestors being used in breeding.

Under the protection of a very detailed and well-investigated standard, the breed could be maintained for over 30 years as it already represented itself in its beginning: as an aesthetic treasure among the sighthound breeds. Preserving this appearance is the breeder’s foremost duty. All our efforts should be geared to this end. Therefore, any serious breeder must adhere to the standard.

Dr. Ulrich Hochgesand

Fotos: Anne Hochgesand
Translation: Fr. Martina Knödler
c2006, Waldalgesheim


Aulad al Sahra´s Azawakh ◦ Dr. med. Ulrich und Anne Hochgesand ◦ Kreuzstraße 4a ◦ D-55425 Waldalgesheim ◦

ausgezeichnet mit der Baron von Gingins Gedächtnismedaille des VDH
für herorragende Verdienste um die Kynologie in Deutschland

Eingetragener Zwinger im DWZRV und Züchter im VDH.