This Dog Wins a Gold Star for Its Diverse Traits

azawakh dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • Originally from the West African area where the Tuareg people have wandered as nomads for eons, the beautiful sighthound known as the Azawakh was prized as a devoted companion who was and still is a hunter and herder
  • The demeanor of this leggy sighthound may be described as shy and maybe even nervous, but the Azawakh breed is famous for demonstrating affectionate reserve as well as stoic protectiveness over forever family members
  • Socialization should take place early and continue for many months, incorporating different scenarios so an unexpected situation doesn’t make your Azawakh feel they must defend against threats or chase down the “prize” that turns out to be the neighbor cat
  • If adopting this dog breed, remember they thrive best in a warm environment rather than cold, wet climates, they should always be on leash when taking them for good long walks and they’re not typically recommended for households with small children

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Long-legged, lithe, elegant and aloof, the striking Azawakh breed is a study in contrasts. From an ancient line of nomadic dogs — because their people were nomadic — these animals are quiet unless provoked by their protective nature; a wandering breed that still requires close supervision both indoors and out if they're with anyone outside their own family unit.

If there was ever a dog who might win a gold star for having the greatest number of disparate character traits, it might be the Azawakh. This breed reflects such contrasts as wary watchfulness with people they're not familiar with (read: not stranger friendly) and a one-dimensional devotion to human family members. They exhibit both a strong drive to chase prey and a seeming aversion to change, especially in adulthood if there was ever a need to adapt to a new family or situation.

As an ancient breed, many aspects of the Azawakh reflects the exact set of physical, occupational, social, intellectual and environmental attributes that were crucial for survival in the region they're from: the Sahel region of West Africa, which takes in the countries of Mali and Niger, as well as an area called Azawakh Valley. For centuries, they served as companions and protectors of the Tuareg people, hunting, guarding and living in their tents. In fact, another name for the Azawakh is Tuareg Sloughi.

Originally bred to protect livestock, Azawakhs are still used for hunting hare, antelope and even wild boar in their native regions. As such, the West African climate is what their bodies have been primed to thrive in for millennia, so they don't generally do well in areas where the weather is cold, wet or rainy. A desert climate is best for these guys, so think twice about holding out for this dog breed if you live in areas of extreme cold, damp or snow.

The complex contrasts they reveal are very much like other hounds, but only in some respects. The nomadic people this dog breed has lived amongst undoubtedly helped shape their intrinsic tendencies over centuries, but those attributes are in many respects threatened in today's fast-moving, throw-away society.

It wasn't until the 1970s that the Azawakh, which means "land of the north," found itself in England. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the Azawakh as a breed in 1997, which is recent enough to explain why they're so rare outside their native region.

Azawakh: Temperament Traits

Like many hounds, the Azawakh enjoys a vigorous run or at a minimum, a half-hour brisk walk on a daily basis. That said, they should always be in a protected outdoor area or on a leash, because they have an inborn sense of the hunt. While we're on the topic, they've been noted as having "a beautiful, floating gait that is breathtaking to see."1 They can cover an astonishing amount of ground very quickly with a style that rivals that of a gazelle.

Hand-in-hand with leashing your Azawakh is that, like most other breeds, socialization for this one in particular should take place early and often, and incorporate several different scenarios. That way, an out-of-the-ordinary encounter with a neighbor dog, child or stranger doesn't put your Azawakh in a position of having to defend what he may see as either a potential threat to his family or the "prize" in a spontaneous game of chase.

Even if you raised other small pets alongside them from the time they were small, your Azawakh is not to be considered "safe" and certainly not left alone with them. That also goes for children, too; especially small ones. Vetstreet explains that while larger canines may be an exception:

"It's best to supervise them when they're together and to separate them when you're not home. And the Azawakh who gets along with small pets indoors may forget that they are his pals if he sees them running around outside. He certainly won't have any qualms about chasing unknown cats or other small furry animals, so he must always be walked on leash."

In short, while these rare and highly intelligent dogs are territorial (with an extremely intimidating bark to go with), they balance it with unwavering loyalty. They're not the playful pups children can "rough and tumble" with, but they're staunch, protective companions to the small circle within their own household. As Vetstreet advises:

"The Azawakh bonds strongly to a single person or family, and with them he is affectionate, gentle and playful. Puppies must be placed in homes at an early age if they are to adapt, and older dogs who must be placed in new homes may find it difficult to adjust to the change ...

(They) will bark at strangers, and his voice is definitely intimidating. Non-family members who visit the home will be greeted with an attitude ranging from indifference to mild friendliness. No matter how much socialization he gets, the Azawakh is never going to be buddy-buddy with everyone he meets. It's just not his style."2

It only stands to reason that dogs with such high intelligence and independence should either shut down or become aggressive if the training they receive isn't even-handed, gentle and fair. They learn quickly in an environment where positive reinforcement is the rule. When you give your Azawakh gentle affection, praise and food rewards, the result will be much more positive than if he experiences rough force or loud reprimands (which I never recommend for any dog).

Physical Attributes and Health Tendencies

As deep-chested as a Doberman and as slim-waisted as a whippet, the Azawakh is also thin-skinned and short-coated, which may be a throwback to the climate they're used to. Because the Azawakh's skin clings tightly to its body, and their bones are often extremely prominent, owners are often accused of starving their dogs, not understanding that this characteristic is part of what you get with the breed: very low body fat.

Comparing Azawakhs to other breeds, they most closely resemble greyhounds, but they're actually related to the breeds known as saluki and Sloughi. They may appear to have relatively small heads for their neck size, "floppy," low-set, silky ears, a long, pointed snout and often wear a winsome, gazing expression.

Azawakh dogs come in pale shades of sand, fawn, brindle and white, as well as darker tones such as black, gray, blue, grizzle (a finely patterned variance of coloring) and several brown hues, including chocolate. You may encounter dogs of this breed wearing a black "mask" or having white parts on their legs, chest and tails. Their short coat, which sheds minimally, should require nothing more than a light, weekly brushing.

As for their health, the Azawakh may be described as generally fit, but any dog can be susceptible to genetic conditions. They may have a tendency toward a bleeding disorder called von Willebrand disease, as well as hypothyroidism.

The aforementioned deep chest can be an indicator of a condition known as bloat — gastric dilatation volvulus, or twisted stomach — which results in air expanding in their stomach, twists and cuts off their flow of air and can lead to an even more serious condition called gastric torsion. This disorder can come on quickly and be fatal. Vetstreet notes:

"A dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums and lip licking, trying to throw up but without bringing anything up, and signs of pain. Gastric torsion requires immediate veterinary surgery, and most dogs that have bloated once will bloat again.

That means it's wise to opt for the procedure known as 'stomach tacking,' which will keep the stomach from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure."3

Hip dysplasia is rarely seen in this breed, so if you notice your Azawakh walking with a stiff gait, limping or exhibiting an unwillingness to move around, it's probably something else for your veterinarian to consider and treat.

The typical lifespan of an Azawakh ranges from 10 to 13 years. The best way to ensure a long life that minimizes the breed's natural shyness and even nervousness in new or unexpected situations is to gradually and patiently socialize them from a very early age, and continue consistent socialization throughout their lives. That will contribute more than anything to a long, healthy and happy life should you decide to include this beautiful breed in your home via a responsible rescue organization.

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