During the meeting of the SLAG Management Committee at Brissarthe in 2002, the majority of Committee members present had suggested proposing to the SCC that Sloughis (selected for a morphology close to that of the Azawakh !) should be used in a programme of out-crossing with the Azawakh so as to bring in some "new blood" to the latter (cf. minutes published in newsletter N°57 for the 1st quarter of 2004).
This idea had germinated in the mind of one of the Committee members as a result of health problems showing up in a litter, supported by a judge who for years had been trotting out to whoever would listen when he was judging, that the Azawakh was no longer what it once had been and that it was essential to correct its morphology by cross-breeding with the Sloughi. If the idea that the increasingly high in-breeding coefficient seen in the French breeding stock could lead to the appearance of genetic defects and health problems had at last fortunately become clear to people, the proposed solution of cross-breeding to introduce new blood would seem, to say the overly surprising and expeditious!
I would now like to provide a few explanations, backed by various documents, since these will make it possible to re-assess the legitimacy of proposals made at the time by the SLAG Committee as well as decisions reached at recent work meetings, limiting white among other things.
The minutes of a meeting held on 20 July 2002 read as follows, in substance: ''Mrs Seigneur received Professor Denis' reply to her letter…(document attached in appendix''.
There were several of us who had not been informed of such a letter sent by Mrs Seigneur, and in fact we still have no knowledge of the content and questions of this letter. The reply from Professor Denis served as a starting point for a rapid debate with this conclusion: ''that using the Sloughi could be useful for diversifying the origins to a maximum, which according to Professor Denis' letter, appears to be the route to success''.
However, in his letter, Professor Denis only suggested this solution as a last resort, in the same way that he explains in his book ''Génétique et sélection chez le Chien'', page 174 on the subject of genetic variability: ' Most certainly, breeders have never hesitated to resort to what is known as "discreet cross-breeding for new blood" with another breed when the need makes itself felt, but such a measure should logically only be implemented in the most dire of circumstances. One might in fact consider that using such a method constitutes a failure for breeders: a breed that is no longer capable of evolving through its own resources has been badly “managed”.''
Indeed, the solutions recommended by Professor Denis in his letter are chronologically as follows (see letter ) :
The final paragraph appears to reply to a question in relation to the extent of white, as follows:
Here again, Professor Denis explains himself in his book, pages 174-175. He explains in the chapter ''Methods of genetic management'':
The overly narrow conception of the standard's interpretation, leads to expecting all dogs in a given breed to be exact copies of each other: the surest means of reaching this is therefore the wide use in reproduction of champions, and then their descendants. There's a whole education to be given out: between the acquisition of a mongrel and the purchase of a highly inbred animal, produced by a breeder with specific characteristics, there needs to be room for individuality, in short, the pure-bred dog.
He then goes on to tackle the steps to take in order to conserve sufficient intra-breed genetic variability, these vary somewhat in line with the number of breeding stock used in the breed. In the case of breeds with very low numbers (a few dozen heads used for reproduction) he advises, among other things, that confirmation should only be refused to animals showing hereditary defects and those that are much too far away from the standard.
What are the reasons why the first solutions were not taken seriously into consideration and why was precedence given directly to the solution of cross-breeding for the introduction of new blood (described by Professor Denis as being the solution for failure in breeding) ?
Breeders and owners of Azawakhs and Sloughis in other countries still talk about the ''Gag of the 2nd millennium'' ! The SLAG club was, from that moment on, the laughingstock of the Azawakh world...
The observation was therefore made in 2002 that there was a need to widen the selection base in the Azawakh breed. Professor Denis, when asked, gave methods which have proved their worth, that I have summarised above. The suggestion of cross-breeding to introduce new blood generated a general outcry across the whole world and the SLAG club almost denied having envisaged it.
Two years went by, and new measures were decided aiming to ''specify the limits of spread for white so as to avoid positions that were too restrictive or conversely too lax which would be harmful to the Azawakh'' a text of comments on the standard with regard to coat colour was drawn up directed towards French judges and presented to the general meeting of 17 July 2004.
This text reads as follows:
Comments on the Azawakh standard n° 307 c.
In the section on Colour, the standard indicates: " Fawn with flecking limited to the extremities. All shades are admitted, from light sable [Translator's note: this should be sand not sable] to dark fawn. The head may or may not have a black mask and the blaze is very inconstant. The coat has a white bib and a white brush at the tip of the tail. Each of the four limbs must have compulsorily a white “stocking”, at least in the shape of a trace on the feet. The black brindling is admitted."
The standard does not set the exact limits for spread of white allowed which until today has always been left subject to the judge's personal appreciation.
The aim of this commentary is to specify these limits.
Forequarters: With the white socks being often irregular, they must not in any circumstances rise higher than the elbows or encroach on the shoulders.
Hindquarters: The white socks are often more regular and less invasive. They must not rise as high as the thigh. Traces of white may however appear inside the thigh without them being considered a fault.
Bib: The white can be present in the form of more or less extensive markings and must be limited under the base of the neck. It must not in any way become invasive and rise up on each side of the neck in order to avoid the appearance of a start of collar.
Chest: In a prolongation of the bib, white marks can appear under the chest. They must not in any circumstances rise up along the ribs.
Blaze: This may be present and is most often limited to the muzzle ("on the foreface").
Non disqualifying faults:
- White marks of less than 5 cm on the top of the neck.
- Piebald coat
- Invasion of white on the neck going up as far as the collar
- Invasive white beyond the limits specified previously.
- Lastly, brindle other than black, eyes of a colour other than dark or amber, a base colour other than fawn, a grizzle shade, since they are not mentioned in the standard, cannot be accepted.
At its meeting held on 29/11/03 in Aubervilliers, the Committee decided, on an experimental basis, to accept Azawakhs that did not possess the minimum amount of white specified by the standard, on the express condition that their morphology was perfect, with a view to avoiding the loss of genetic potential which could be useful in preserving the breed. Such animals could only at best be entitled to the judging description VERY GOOD.
Concerning these commentaries on the standard, the SCC's Zootechnics Commission was not in favour of communicating such recommendations to judges (see copy of “Cynophilie française” 3rd quarter 2005), and yet they were nonetheless sent out to all judges...
While in 2002, it was urgent to bring in new blood and widen the Azawakh's breeding base, even if this meant using Sloughis, in 2004 it is urgent to restrict it while encouraging the creation of Azawakh clones showing shades of sand to red with limited white markings, all identical! (The opinion expressed since 2008 is that it is pointless importing other sight-hounds from the Sahel since it was considered that enough Azawakhs had been imported for the breed's variability. It would still have been necessary for these sight-hounds from the Sahel to at least have been used for reproduction in France !). None of these "measures" have ever been backed up by research or preliminary investigation. Just ideas, like that!
This decision, reached by a small handful of people, does not in any way take into account the majority of the breed's fanciers around the world who had emphasised in 2002 (see international reactions) the necessity of opening up the standard to the reality of colours that had always been present in its area of origin (cf. PhD Thesis of Dr Roussel in 1975, 14 years of observation by ABIS - 1990 to 2004, and 2007 (slideshow), private research studies such as that of Strassner & Eiles 1989 and Ursula Arnold 1986-88, and others…). The topic has been repeatedly brought up for discussion over the past 25 years already, (then tackled since 1986 in the form of various articles published in the magazine "Vos Chiens" for example - see this article), since the stormy debates that ended up by getting brindle recognised. And still nothing! We should remember that the main reason for refusing brindling at the time was that ostensibly it indicated cross-breeding with the Sloughi… There will always be as many different reasons for refusing the reality as there are different personal preferences. And just how much further will things be taken! Recently, the extremists in terms of white markings were attempting to steer responses asked from specialists with a view to obtaining answers that would provide grist to their mill, in particular by putting emphasis on health justifications against extensive white by evoking problems of deafness. Indeed this can happen, but only in rare cases on dogs that are completely or almost completely white. Many breeds of dogs and sight-hounds (Borzoi, Chart Polski, Galgo, Greyhound, Magyar Agar, Saluki, Whippet) accept colours with invasive white or piebald markings without hearing of any particular prevalence of deafness.
This decision also does not take into account the measures recommended, at their request, by Professor Denis who is one of the specialists at the French kennel club.
Where will we find all the males that are born that should be used in reproduction? A good proportion will be returned to the state of dust before having had the time to grow up for having been wrongly whitened by nature and by their genes…
Indeed, such restrictive measures on colour are bound to have an influence on breeders who, already finding it difficult enough to find good homes for their pups, are going to automatically eliminate all pups whose colour or extensive white markings are likely to displease in the show-ring, even be refused for confirmation and breeding. A shame for those that might have had an irreproachable conformation or that might bring a wider genetic variability to the breed, they will be sacrificed on the altar of racist selection… I challenge anybody at all to determine, in a pup only a few hours old that is missing some white on one foot, whether it will be of perfect conformation in order to be graded "Very Good".
Rather like, a few years ago, when a novice breeder eliminated all their black pups at birth because they were a colour that was not in the standard (they were in fact future mahogany reds), inexperienced breeders, and even others, will eliminate pups in which the pigmentation would have subsequently covered certain “illegal” white patches during the first months of life. It is often the case that a wide blaze at birth can become a small mark or triangle when adult (see attached document). How can one know, on a newborn pup, exactly where the white will stop once it is adult? The same can be said for those famous white markings of less than 5 cm on the neck which are often out-sized or in the shape of a half-moon or lozenge at birth (which, in passing, seems to me to correspond perfectly to the rough outline of a collar or half-collar). Why not also insist again on the black nails that were obligatory 20 years ago?
In parenthesis, at a time when the imminent application of the European convention for the protection of pets will ban the breeding of hypertype animals for reasons of their well-being and health and will strictly control breeding policies (see article "La cynophilie menacée" in Vos Chiens magazine of July-August 2004), it is high time to give to our Azawakhs the genetic variability necessary to their survival which is beyond hope when based on 9 or 10 single sires.
In the same article, here is the opinion of Professor Denis, director of the Ethno-Zootechnics Teaching Unit at the Veterinary School in Nantes:
Hyper type is a lack of type. The best response to this convention is to make breeds of dogs that are healthy, that reproduce naturally and have a normal length of life; owe are paying the price of a selection that is too focused on beauty. Scientists have been ringing the alarm bell for a long time now, trying to warn the dog fancy.
And here is the opinion of Raymond Triquet, member of the French kennel club's commission on Zootechnics, of the FCI's commission on Standards:
Two attitudes are harmful: adhering to the status quo, and introducing new blood from other breeds; this latter idea is rejected by everybody (note: really?)... This is what threatens the dog world if it does not react: the creation of "second-rate" breeds. The only acceptable solution is to improve a breed by selecting the healthiest dogs. For this, it is necessary to avoid homogeneity; contrary to what many breeders believe, homogeneity which leads to homozygous individuals, is not desirable in a breed.
When one asks a European Azawakh fancier which colour they prefer, the answer is almost invariably: mahogany red with white socks. (If one asks a nomad who owns sight-hounds in the Azawakh valley of the Sahel what is his preferred colour for an Iddi (the name given to the Sahel sight-hound) he invariably gives that of his own sight-hound, whatever its colour). Piebald is not a threat and will never be particularly prized and as a result will never be used as a criterion for selection in the breed. On the other hand, the big mistake is that it is used as a pretext for "hunting out the white" by placing limits on the extent of white accepted, and this to the detriment of the breed. If nothing is done to open up people's minds, the Azawakh standard will return to the time that it lived through 30 years ago when it was assimilated with the Sloughi, and when subjects showing too much white were all eliminated and certain stud dogs, such as Darkoy Sidi, were barred from breeding (only...). Several generations were needed to return to whole litters with enough white. A whole area of the breed's genetic potential runs the risk of disappearing, and its health will be threatened more than ever. The Azawakh runs the risk of ending up in the shape of a naturalised specimen among extinct canine breeds in a natural history museum..
A judge whispered in my ear: Now that we were at last able to appreciate the results of the work done by breeders, THEY are going to throw it all away…
English translation by Susan BAMFORD
PhD Thesis by Dr Roussel (in French)
Various Articles appearing in the magazine Vos Chiens
Der Azawakh Windhund der Nomaden (Strassner et Eiles)
Genetics and colour in the Azawakh
Letter from Professor Denis dated 02 July2002
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