The modern Saluki is the living embodiment of hounds that raced across the hot and arid sands of the Middle East thousands of years ago. Few breeds still in existence today can trace their lineage back to antiquity as can this ancient and enduring sighthound.
Gazehounds developed naturally as landrace hunters along the Incense Road that once stretched from Northern Africa to the Far East. These hounds became established over a vast portion of this trading network, from Persia in the north through Northern Africa to the edge of the Sahara Desert. The “Hound of Allah,” as the Saluki became known, was a useful – and revered – hunting companion in various environments and among people of diverse cultures. The Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula have nurtured a particularly close association with these hounds for millennia.
The Saluki and its nomadic caretakers developed a symbiotic relationship that was discovered by the West in the 19th century. British imperial rule extended to the Arab world, and the doors were opened to the cultures of Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Oman and Kuwait. As a result of Britain’s unparalleled expansion throughout the known world, treasures of all kinds soon found their way back to the island nation. This bounty eventually included the “Royal Dog of Egypt,” initially given the name “Persian Greyhound.”
The Saluki Club of America provides highlights of the breed’s early years in England. “The breeding of the Saluki in the West began in 1895 when the Honorable Florence Amherst requested her friend, Wilfred Jennings-Bramly, obtain specimens of the breed for her. He arranged for two puppies from the Tahawi tribe in Lower Egypt to be shipped to her home in Norfolk, England. In 1919, the glamorous Ch. Sarona Kelb was bred in Damascus and later was brought to England by Brigadier-General F. Lance. This dog became a very successful show dog and sire. The Saluki or Gazelle Hound Club of England was founded in 1923, at which time the Kennel Club of England officially recognized the breed and the official standard was adopted.”
The breed’s current name had been a source of some confusion, although a 1989 AKC Gazette cover story suggests a regional origin for the breed’s moniker. “The name Saluki is thought to be derived from the ancient city of Saluq in Saba (Sheba in the Bible), now Yemen in southern Arabia.” Known variously as the Slughi, Tazi or Gazelle Hound, the Saluki is its own original and is not to be confused with a hound of similar name: the Sloughi of North Africa.
The SCOA records the first Saluki in America as “a silver-gray brought here by clipper ship from Thebes in 1861 by Col. Horace N. Fisher (Boston).” Support for the breed in the U.S. was not immediate, however, and recognition was not granted until 1927.
In 1945 Mrs. Esther Knapp imported two Salukis, Ch. Abdul Farouk of Pine Paddocks and Ch. Lady Yeled Sarona Ramullah, from the kennel of King Ibn Saud of Arabia. These hounds proved to be a “good fortune” for the breed in America, as they and their descendants produced significant winners in the show ring.
Although a Saluki has never won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club or Crufts dog shows, the breed has done well in international competition, winning the World Dog Show on three separate occasions, most recently by the American-bred GCh. Shiraz California Dreamin’ in 2012.
The Saluki is celebrated for more than just its physical beauty, of course. The breed is perhaps best appreciated at full throttle, when its power and grace can be completely unleashed. As noted by the parent club’s breed brochure, “Judging Salukis,” “We must never forget that the Saluki is a premier hunting hound, not a couch dog…”
In 2004 the dog genome sequence included the Saluki among 14 ancient Asian breeds with the least amount of genetic variation. As noted in a report titled, “The Canine Genome” , published by CSH Press, the breed is one of nature’s original purebreds. “The early divergence of the Asian breeds on the phylogenetic tree and their association with the wolves in clustering analysis supports the conclusions of mitochondrial DNA analysis that domestication first took place in East Asia.”
Registrations for the ancient and independent Saluki place the breed 118th of the 175 AKC-recognized breeds for 2012.
Grace and Symmetry
The breed standard for the Saluki is among the shortest of all AKC-recognized breeds. At just 313 words, it describes one of the world’s most ancient breeds with just enough clarity to allow for personal preferences, while reinforcing the breed’s natural “grace and symmetry.”
Since the foundation imports represented a diverse collection of hounds from a wide geographic area, the standard’s brevity allows for the natural diversity that exists within the breed. The current AKC standard was approved in 1927 and is a copy of the original British standard penned four years prior.
In an AKC Gazette article titled, “Feathering,” Sue Ann Pietros introduces the roles played by climate and terrain in the development of regional characteristics within the breed. “Desert animals tend to be higher on leg, so their body is farther from the heat trapped near the ground…When its environment was farther north, nearer the sea or into rougher plateaus, the desirable body shape and feathering changed. Dogs were larger and a little off square.”
Although proportions may have varied slightly from one end of the breed’s original range to the other, grace and symmetry are largely what distinguished the Saluki from the common dog. A kind of equilibrium, or poise, is inherent in the breed and is evident when the hound is at rest and in pursuit of prey. And despite its modern connotation, the word “grace” describes a kind of harmonious strength in the breed. It does not suggest a delicate refinement.
According to the SCOA’s “Judging Salukis,” the breed’s ancient role as a swift hunter is integral to understanding this sighthound. “The breed’s history and purpose [are] the all-important foundation on which to start, the better to understand why it differs from other breeds, especially other galloping hounds.” The parent club’s guide elaborates on this point when it states, “It was bred primarily to pursue the petit gazelle over shifting sands or craggy wadis; secondarily for fox, rabbit and other small game.”
Speed and Endurance, Strength and Activity
The General Appearance section of the AKC breed standard describes the graceful and symmetrical Saluki, in part, as giving the impression of “great speed and endurance coupled with strength and activity to enable it to kill gazelle or other quarry over deep sand or rocky mountains.”
Bedouins hunt with the Saluki even today in parts of the Middle East where the breed’s qualities are still put to the test. As described in the AKC Gazette cover story, hunting takes place both day and night with a bird of prey often employed during daytime hunts.
“The very fit and swift hounds can hunt the gazelle without a hawk but, more often, a hawk is used to slow the prey by circling the gazelle’s head and striking at it, or the hawk may be used to lead the hounds to their quarry.” Hounds were traditionally followed on foot, although horseback, and more recently ATVs, have been utilized during the chase.
According to “Judging Salukis,” the breed’s graceful and symmetrical conformation enables it to perform at incredible speeds over desert terrain. “The Saluki, like the Arab horse, or the [g]azelle it courses, was bred to skim lightly over the sifting sands, not wallow through them, so it is built on lines that may appear to be deceptively fragile to some, but which possess subtle strength and power.”
The standard’s sparing use of words emphasizes the Saluki’s construction as a powerful predator. Forelegs are described as “Straight and long from the elbow to the knee.” Shoulders are “sloping and set well back, well muscled without being coarse,” and the hindquarters are described as “strong, [with] hipbones set well apart and stifle moderately bent, hocks low to the ground, showing galloping and jumping power.”
The Saluki’s “deep and moderately narrow” chest and “fairly broad” back with muscles “slightly arched” over the loin, are the engine that provides the power required to dispatch dinner. Feet are of “moderate length, toes long and well arched, not splayed out, but at the same time not cat-footed; the whole being strong and supple and well feathered between the toes.”
“Judging Salukis” states, “The lowly tail is very important.” Long and “set on low and carried naturally in a curve,” according to the standard, the tail is the all-important rudder that allows for quick maneuvers left and right during the activity of the chase. It also provides “the finishing touch of grace and glamour for the breed,” as the judging guide so aptly states.
In full pursuit of its prey, the Saluki seems almost capable of flight. As it “flies” across terra firma in a double suspension gallop, the feathered coat responds to the rushing of the wind, and the breed’s ancient beauty is put on full display.
The sight has been known to make hearts take flight.
The Saluki’s coat is “smooth and of a soft silky texture,” according to the standard, with a “slight woolly feather” that’s sometimes expressed on the thigh and shoulder. A “slight feather” appears on the legs, and the backs of the thighs are also feathered.
Feathering provides the finish to the Saluki’s head, where the long and mobile ears are covered with “long silky hair,” and to the underside of the tail that is well furnished with “long silky” feathering. The feathering between the toes is quintessential Saluki.
Not to be overlooked, the smooth variety of the breed, though wanting of feather, is no less capable of “flying” like the wind.
Both varieties may be found in a variety of colors although, contrary to the conventional wisdom that states, “A good hound cannot be a bad color,” the Saluki standard specifies acceptable colors for the breed.
“White, cream, fawn, golden, red, grizzle and tan, tricolor (white, black and tan) and black and tan” are all identified as correct. Other colors, such as chocolate, are also present in the breed, as are several patterns including parti-colors. Descendants of more recent Middle Eastern imports have produced the brindle pattern, causing some to question its genesis and the purity of those hounds. Of course, the breed parent club and its members will ultimately decide the question of what is acceptable color in the breed.
Originating from the Caspian Sea to the Sahara Desert, the Saluki has been shaped by time and the elements, and scattered like the wind into the hearts and homes (and tents) of hound lovers for millennia.