The Azawakh is a sighthound livestock guardian breed of dog from West Africa. It is also used as a hunting dog, though relegated to a secondary function due to the lack of game in the region. With ancient origins, it is raised throughout the Sahelian zone of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. This region includes the Azawagh Valley for which the breed is named. While commonly associated with the nomadic Tuareg people, they are also bred and owned by other ethnic groups such as the Peulh, Bella, and Hausa. The Azawakh is more related to the Sloughi than it is to the Saluki.
Morphology is very similar to that of the Middle Eastern and South Indian sight hounds, all swift, high-bred coursing hounds, although there are several obvious differences. For example, a short, flat back combined with long legs place the hips higher than the withers. The Azawakh is almond eyed and thin. It moves with a distinctly feline gait and can be found in a variety of colors as well as varying degrees of refinement, though format is basically constant.
Height and weight
The standards call for a hound from 33 to 55 pounds (15 to 25 kg); its height is 24 to 29 inches (61 to 74 cm). The coat is very short and almost absent on the belly. Its bone structure shows clearly through the skin and musculature. Its muscles are "dry", meaning that they are quite flat, unlike the Greyhound and Whippet. In this respect it is similar in type to the Saluki.
In Africa, Azawakh are found in a variety of colors such as red, blue fawn (that is, with a lilac cast), grizzle, and, rarely, blue and black. The Azawakh in its native land also comes with various white markings including Irish marked (white collar) and particolor (mostly white). Because of this wide color variation in the native population, the American standard used by the AKC and UKC allows any color combination found in Africa. In the United States, the FCI standard is modified to have no color restrictions at a minimum and there is a strong sentiment that the FCI standard should be heavily edited or replaced.
Colors permitted by the FCI breed standard are clear sand to dark fawn/brown, red and brindle (with or without a dark mask), with white bib, tail tip, and white on all feet (which can be tips of toes to high stockings). Currently, white stockings that go above the elbow joint are considered disqualifying features in France, as is a white collar or half collar (Irish marked).
The Azawakh's light, supple, lissome gait is a notable breed characteristic, as is an upright double suspension gallop.
Azawakhs are an incredibly sound coursing hound. Serious coursing injuries are rare. The dogs heal very quickly from injury.
Azawakh have no known incidence of hip dysplasia. There is a small occurrence of adult-onset idiopathic epilepsy in the breed. Wobbler disease, or cervical vertebral instability, does rarely occur. Some breeders believe this is largely a developmental problem where puppies grow too quickly due to a high-protein Western diet.
Like the Basenji and Tibetan Mastiff, the Azawakh often has a single annual estrus. Unassisted birth of healthy puppies is normal. Litter sizes are usually from four to six puppies, but litters as small as one and as large as ten occur.
Azawakh need a fairly high level of exercise and should have regular runs off lead in large enclosed areas to run off steam. The dogs are very social and emotional. They need a master that provides firm but fair leadership. Azawakh thrive on companionship of other Azawakh.
Unlike other sighthounds, the primary function of the Azawakh in its native land is that of protector. It develops an intense bond with its owner, yet can perform independently from its master. With those they accept, Azawakh are gentle and extremely affectionate. With strangers many are reserved and prefer not to be touched, but are not inherently aggressive. Although raised to protect livestock, they do not have innate aggression toward canines or humans unless they are threatened.
Azawakh have high energy and tremendous endurance. They are excellent training companions for runners and are nearly impervious to heat. They will happily run in weather over 100 degrees Fahrenheit that would kill a Greyhound.
Azawakh are pack oriented and form complex social hierarchies. They have tremendous memories and are able to recognize each other after long periods of separation. They can often be found sleeping on top of each other for warmth and companionship.
Alberto Rossi: "To raise an Azawakh is like building a very fragile construction, which takes a lot of sensibility and can be destroyed from one minute to the next. But every minute it lasts, it fills you with great happiness." Every time I´m sitting in a chair or sofa at least one of my dogs tries to take a seat on my lap. The same happens to those of my guests which they love. In these moments they seem to be the image of calmness, gentleness, and trust. But one should not be deceived about this. In the deepest place of their soul resides something wild and native, and they will remind us about it with the first occasion and we should not forget, even for a moment, not to treat them like a normal dog."