• The Saluki Today

The Saluki was first introduced into Britain in the late nineteenth century, usually by Arabists, diplomats or high-ranking army officers, who had received them as gifts from sheikhs. Interest in the breed was also stimulated after World War One when servicemen brought back specimens from the Middle East.

In 1923, the Saluki or Gazelle Hound Club was formed in the UK and drew up a breed standard that was approved and adopted by the Kennel Club. This set out in detail the attributes for which the Saluki was developed and became the blueprint for good specimens of the breed. It included the features of differing strains of Saluki found throughout the Middle East. Accordingly, the height range and colour variation permitted in the Saluki is greater than in any other breed, reflecting the vastly different terrain over which the hounds traditionally hunted, and the variously coloured sands and mountains of the desert.

Height ranges from 23-28 inches to the shoulder in males, with bitches proportionately smaller. All colours from white, through cream, fawn, gold, red, chocolate, black/silver, black/tan, tricolour (solid blacks are not found), and particolour (white with any of the above colours) are allowed, as is the grizzle coat pattern in which each individual hair varies in shade from root to tip producing a mixture of colours. This is not to be confused with brindle, which is disallowed in the breed.

There are two coat types, smooth and feathered. The former has short hair over its entire body, whereas the more common feathered variety has long hair on its ears, legs and tail, and hair between its toes.

Interest in the breed increased after World War Two when there was a further injection of desert bloodlines into the UK, and by the late 1950s the Saluki had become a popular show dog.

In 1978, the Northern Saluki Club was founded, having evolved from a Northern Circle of committed Saluki enthusiasts, and has gone from strength to strength.

Salukis are now popular in most developed countries, but with the erosion of traditional Bedouin lifestyle throughout the Middle East, they are on the decline there. While still used for hunting by some nomadic tribes throughout the region, they are now kept primarily for sport and as status symbols. Desert bred Salukis are still much sought after and continue to influence bloodlines world wide.

The challenge for breeders in the West is to retain the character of a breed whose custodians maintained it virtually unchanged for six millennia. For this reason, hare coursing has been promoted by the Saluki and Gazelle Hound Club since its inception and is actively supported by some Saluki owners. In recent years, lure coursing – chasing an electrically propelled rag around a zigzag course – has become increasingly popular as a politically correct way of retaining the Saluki’s functional character.
@Copyright Helen Graham 2004

  • Origins

The Saluki or Gazelle Hound is considered to be the oldest pure breed of dog.

There is a mummified hound in Cairo Museum dated circa 3600BC catalogued as ‘the favourite hunting dog of the Ancient Egyptians’. It is unquestionably a Saluki and is little different from modern specimens of the breed.

Salukis are also depicted on Tutenkhamen’s burial chest and various artefacts from his tomb, and on bas- relief in tombs at Luxor and elsewhere in Egypt.

image: Origins

However, the Saluki is found everywhere throughout the Middle East. With its speed and stamina, the Saluki was able to supplement the frugal diet of the nomadic Bedouin tribes with fresh game and, unsurprisingly, was viewed by them as a gift from Allah. Hence it was distinguished from ‘unclean’ mongrel dogs and enjoyed special status, sleeping in tents with women and children. The Saluki was not interbred with other dogs, but kept pure, and its lineage carefully memorised and passed on by oral tradition.

As their name suggests, Salukis were traditionally used to course the Arabian gazelle, which is little bigger than the desert hares also hunted by the Bedu. Working in pairs, Salukis gave chase to these extremely fast and agile creatures, which were located by trained falcons. Salukis stunned rather than killed their quarry by hitting them at high speed. They then returned it to their masters and were rewarded for their efforts. They fed themselves by catching less exacting prey such as mice, jerboa and other small desert creatures, including beetles. In this way, Salukis provided for themselves and the tribes they belonged to.

Salukis are perfectly adapted to their function as pot fillers of the desert. They are extremely hardy and resilient, as they have to be to survive in hostile barren regions where daytime temperatures in excess of 50 degrees celsius can drop to well below zero at night. Unlike most breeds of dog, Salukis have only a single layer of coat. This not only helps them to cope with high temperatures but also ensures that sand and dirt does not adhere. Hunting in the desert takes place in the very early morning just before the sun rises, or late in the evening, when it can be extremely cold rather than merely cool. So, despite their fine coat, Salukis cope well in cooler climates, as is evidenced by their popularity in Finland and Scandinavia, where they love to run in the snow.

The lithe muscular body of the Saluki carries minimal fat but they have dense flat bone that is extremely hard and strong, so Salukis are deceptively heavy and tough. Their far-seeing eyes are well lubricated to flush out any sand not deflected by their long eyelashes, giving them a lustrous appearance. The long usually well feathered tail not only acts as a brake and rudder at high speed but also provides an effective sand and wind screen when the head is tucked under it during rest and sleep. Salukis also drink remarkably little water. For thousands of years, the Bedu strove to keep them thus. In order to keep the breed pure they maintained breeding records for generation after generation, and the different tribes carefully preserved their own strains of hound best adapted for local hunting conditions. Salukis were rarely traded or given as gifts, and only then as a mark of great honour.

Salukis were also the spoils of war. Crusaders returning from Holy wars in the Middle East brought specimens into Europe. Salukis therefore feature in many old European works of art such as paintings, sculptures, pottery, tapestries, stained glass windows (notably in Belgium) and coats of arms.
@Copyright Helen Graham 2004

  • Living with a Saluki

All Saluki owners quickly discover that the natural instinct of the breed to chase prey at great speed and over considerable distances is far from being lost. Salukis are designed to run, and run they must. They take any opportunity to do so. Road walking alone is insufficient exercise for Salukis. Yet once off the lead they can be in the next county in seconds. They do not respect the confines of public places or protocol, and will chase any moving objects, and often see small dogs (and cats, of course) as fair game. Like most sighthounds, they can be notoriously disobedient when off the lead, which presents problems given that they can run all day. This quality makes them unsuitable for many people.

A good-sized garden or secure, livestock-free exercise area is needed by Saluki owners who want happy hounds and peace of mind. The fence needs to be around six feet tall, as Salukis can easily clear five feet from a standing start if they have a mind to, and some are remarkable climbers. They are also enthusiastic diggers, and so fencing needs to be sunk well into the ground. In the desert, where constantly shifting sand fills the deepest holes in no time, this presents no problems, but Saluki excavations of rose beds or lawns are not so easily remedied. Keen gardeners cannot expect to enjoy Salukis unless they have some way of keeping them well away from their horticultural endeavours.

While the great outdoors – the natural habitat of the Saluki – can prove problematic for their owners, indoors Salukis are a delight. Clean, virtually odour free, able to curl up in the smallest spaces, disinclined to bark (if sometimes prone to howl), they are easily accommodated, and should be kept as house dogs rather than in kennels. Their affectionate, loyal natures and elegant good looks makes them delightful companions, and their idiosyncratic character, quite unlike any other breed, makes them an interesting talking point and wins them many dedicated enthusiasts.

Although not technically a rare breed, only around 140 Salukis are registered each year with the Kennel Club in the UK, so they are not particularly common place. Prospective owners can expect to wait some time before acquiring a puppy. Puppies should always be obtained from reputable breeders, whose names can be provided by the Kennel Club or the Secretary of the Northern Saluki Club.
@Copyright Helen Graham 2004