One of the oldest of all dog breeds, and possibly the oldest, the Saluki and its ancestors have lived in the Middle East for thousands of years, possibly since the days of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Held in extremely high regard in its homeland, the Saluki is the only breed of dog which is not considered unclean in the Muslim faith. Incredibly fast, the Saluki has been a hunter of gazelles and hares for thousands of years. In more recent times, these dogs have been used as coursing dogs on racetracks as well. In America, Salukis are best known for being companion and show dogs, and for being the mascot of Southern Illinois University’s athletic teams. The Saluki is a dog of many names, including the Persian Greyhound, El Hor, the Royal Dog of Ancient Egypt, the Gazelle Hound, the Arabian Hound, the Arab Hound, the Slughi, and the Gazehound.
The Saluki is reputed to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest breed of dog found anywhere in the world. There is, however, a great deal of dispute surrounding the origin of the breed, as it certainly predates the keeping of dog breeding records, and more than likely predates the invention of writing. What is agreed upon is that Salukis or their very closely related ancestors have been around for thousands of years.
Although there is a tremendous amount of debate on the origin of dogs, it is likely that they were first domesticated tens of thousands of years ago, most probably in the Middle East or India. These earliest dogs were probably very similar in appearance to wolves, and differed from their Lupine ancestors in terms of temperament towards humans and little else. These first dogs served as hunting companions, pets, and guardians of the hunter-gatherer tribes which consisted of the entirety of humanity for untold millennia. Due to intentional breeding by humans and natural selection, dogs began to appear more and more dissimilar from the wolf. Sometime before 7,000 years ago humans developed agriculture and began to settle down in villages. By that time, dogs were quite different from the wolf, and closely resembled modern Dingoes, New Guinea Singing Dogs, and the Pariah Dogs of the Middle East. This can be seen from depictions found on artifacts from Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, two neighboring regions which became dominant for millennia.
As empires and kingdoms grew from small villages, there was a growing noble class that could afford to take part in leisure activities. One of the favorite activities of both the Mesopotamian and Egyptian ruling classes was hunting. The majority of both Egypt and Mesopotamia consist of open expanses of grassland and desert, and the primary quarry during this time was fleet-footed gazelles, small antelopes, hares, and birds. Hunting dogs in this region would need speed to catch their prey, and good eyesight in order to spot it in the distance. Dogs were clearly held in high regard in ancient Egypt, as they were both given names, and frequently buried. Many ancient Egyptian dogs were even mummified, as offerings to the gods and as companions for the afterlife.
The earliest depictions of Egyptian hunting dogs closely resemble modern day Ibizan Hounds and Pharaoh Hounds. This type of dog may have been known as a ‘Tesem’. Eventually, depictions of the Tesem began to be replaced with images of a slightly different dog. These depictions are of an animal remarkably similar to the modern Saluki, and which apparently hunted in much the same manner. The first depictions of these Saluki-like dogs appear between 6,000 and 7,000 B.C. A similar change can be seen in Sumerian/Mesopotamian illustrations from the same time period. There is a debate among those who have studied the origin of the Saluki as to whether the breed originated in Mesopotamia or Egypt. The answer will probably never be known.
These regions had a tremendous amount of trade and other contact for many centuries, and regardless of where the breed was developed; either Mesopotamia or Egypt it was quickly introduced to the other. It is also possible that the dog was developed by breeders in both regions at the same time, with regular contact between dogs. Although it is impossible to say with certainty that these Egyptian and Mesopotamian dogs were Salukis, it seems probable that they were at least the ancestors of the modern breed. In recent years, controversial genetic tests have been conducted intending to show which breeds of dogs show the least differentiation from the wolf and are thus the most ancient breeds. The Saluki was found to be one of the 14 most ancient dog breeds as a result of these tests, which provided evidence for traditional theories regarding the breed’s origins.
It is often suggested that the Saluki descended from the Tesem, but that is nothing more than pure speculation based upon similarities in the depictions of the two dogs. In truth any theory on the origin of the Saluki can be nothing more than pure speculation. If the Saluki is descended from other breeds, they have all been extinct for thousands of years. It is very possible that the Saluki was the first dog breed, in the modern sense of the word. Salukis may have been bred directly from the random-bred Pariah Dogs, with hunters selecting the fastest, gentlest, and most sure-sighted dogs.
Both Egypt and Mesopotamia had many trading partners throughout history, and were both repeatedly conquered by different peoples and empires. As a result, Salukis were likely spread across the ancient world from Greece to China. These dogs definitely were introduced into the Arabian Peninsula long ago and became quite common there. The Saluki was obviously very important in the ancient world, as some Biblical scholars have suggested that the Saluki may in fact have been mentioned by name in the Bible. For many decades it was believed that the Saluki was the ancestor to all other Sighthounds, from the Greyhound to the Borzoi. However, recent genetic tests indicate that most sighthounds are not closely related, and were developed independently several times throughout history. Any similarities in appearance are due to similarities in purpose. For example, genetics indicate that Greyhounds are more closely related to Collies than Salukis. The Saluki almost certainly played a role in the development of some breeds, for example the Afghan Hound.
Of all the many conquerors of Egypt and Mesopotamia, perhaps none have had the long-lasting cultural and religious impact of the Arabs and their Muslim faith. The Muslim faith holds dogs to be unclean animals. According to most Islamic scripture and tradition, Muslims may not eat the flesh of animals which have been made impure by being caught by dogs, nor are dogs allowed in the homes of Muslims. In fact, many Muslims refuse to even touch a dog. However, there is one exception to this, the Saluki. The Saluki is not treated like all other dogs according to the Muslim faith, and in fact is not really considered a dog at all. Known in Arabic as El Hor, or “The Noble One,” the Saluki is considered a gift from Allah. Muslims may eat the flesh of animals which were caught by a Saluki, and Salukis may enter the home of Muslims, even sleeping on the sacred carpets of Arabian nobility.
The reverence held for the Saluki in the Muslim faith has long preserved the breed in a wide area stretching from Egypt to Persia. Many tales of this breed have been told throughout the ages. One popular tale is told of a giant Saluki who loyally guarded seven youths who slept for 309 years. This tale is the source of an Islamic expression which describes a greedy person as, “One who would not throw a bone to the dog of the seven sleepers.” As a result of this faithful service and other tales, the Saluki became one of the only animals which allowed to enter heaven. Salukis are said to possess a mysterious power known as Baraka. Baraka is a gentle force which flows from the natural world to envelop a few special things such as camels, brides-to-be, mountains, and the Saluki. In many places, it was considered taboo to sell a Saluki. Instead these dogs were given as honored gifts.
The first known Salukis to leave the Middle East in the last thousand years did so during the Crusades. Crusaders from Europe encountered the Saluki in the Holy Land, and brought them back to Europe as trophies. In 1514, a dog identified as a ‘Gazelle Hound’ was depicted in a painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Medieval and Renaissance painters also depicted Salukis in paintings showing the Birth of Christ and other Biblical stories. The Saluki did not become established in Europe at that point, possibly because there were no Gazelles to hunt on that continent. The breed had also apparently entered China by that point, as paintings made by the Chinese Emperor in 1427 clearly depict Salukis.
It wasn’t until the 1800’s that the Saluki became established in Europe, a century marked by the British Empires control over Egypt and most of the Arabian Peninsula, either formally or informally. Many British military officers, civilian administrators and their families were stationed in the region. Some of these British residents began to acquire Salukis, both as pets and as hunting animals. Upon their return they brought Salukis with them, the first of which were brought to England in 1840. Initially, both Salukis and Sloughis were known as ‘Slughis’ in English, although recent genetics tests confirm that the two breeds have rarely interbred.
Although the breed had already arrived in England, Salukis would not become better established until 1895; the year, Florence Amherst first saw these dogs while on a cruise down the Nile River and decided that she must have some. She imported a pair from the Tahawi Tribe of Lower Egypt and used them as the foundations dogs for her ‘Amherstia Kennels’ in England. She would work tirelessly over the next few decades to both improve upon and promote the breed in England; the majority of which she did working largely alone. Amherstia Salukis, consisted primarily of a ‘southern strain’ of Egyptian imports, which were taller, leggier, and lighter boned with less feathering than those found elsewhere. Many considered her Salukis to have been the true desert hounds, bred for both speed and endurance in harsh desert conditions.
Not only would Florence Amherst become the first recognized Saluki breeder in England she would also be responsible for the first Breed Standard; which she published in 1907. In drafting the standard, Amherst would borrow heavily, the language from the standards of other sighthound breeds already recognized by the Kennel Club (UK) such as the Irish Wolfhound (1886), Borzoi (1892), Whippet (1900), and Scottish Deerhound (1901). During this time Florence Amherst was the only Saluki breeder, so her standard was based upon the dogs she owned. The result was an elaborate, well written and detailed standard that included weights and measurements for the dogs various body parts.
In the 1920’s, the Saluki first truly began to establish itself in England. During this decade a number of British troops were sent to the Middle East to put down a revolt. Many of these troops acquired Salukis there and brought them back to England. One such man was Brigadier General Frederick Lance. He and his wife Gladys were both avid hunters and returned from the Middle East with two Salukis from Syria which they had used for hunting. These hounds, differed from those of Florence Amherst in that they were of a "Northern strain", bred to hunt in the rough, colder, mountainous terrain of Syria, Northern Iraq and Iran; these requirements resulted in a stockier, heavier boned dog with a thicker coat and more profuse feathering.
Later they imported a male named Sarona Kelb; a dog that exemplified all the traits of a quality Northern Saluki. Sarona Kelb, the General's favorite dog, would go on to become not only a champion but also an incredibly influential sire; most Salukis in Europe and American descend from him. The Lances and Florence Amherst campaigned the Kennel Club for the recognition of the breed; a cause that was helped by the 1922, discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb which made anything Egyptian fashionable. In 1923 the Saluki or Gazelle Hound Club was founded and the Kennel Club granted recognition. Many Salukis were imported from Egypt, Iraq, the Transjordan (now Jordan) and Bahrain. Fanciers in Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands also imported these dogs directly from the Middle East.
The First Saluki to arrive in the United States was owned by Colonel Horace N. Fisher and came ashore in Boston in 1861. There were periodic individual importations until the 1920’s, but these dogs failed to become an established breed. The “Tutmania” that engulfed England was also felt in the United States. Beginning in the Mid-1920’s, a number of breeders began to take steps to seriously establish the Saluki in the United States. The Saluki Club of America (SCOA) was founded in 1927, and the American Kennel Club (AKC) granted recognition for the breed in 1929. Most of the dogs used by these early breeders were imported by the Sarona and Amherst Kennels. Perhaps the first serious American breeder was Senator Macomber of Rhode Island. Other early and influential breeders were Colonel Brydon Tennant of Virginia, Ms. Hills, and Edward K. Aldritch Jr. of Rhode Island who founded the influential Diamond Hills Kennel. In the 1940’s, two Salukis were acquired from the Kennels of King Ibd Saud, of Saudi Arabia. These dogs, especially the male Farouk, greatly improved the breed and the AKC gave special allowance for their descendants to be registered. The United Kennel Club (UKC) did not grant the Saluki recognition until 1956.
By the mid-1930’s, the Egyptian craze had run its course and interest in the Saluki had waned. World War II proved devastating for the fledgling Saluki population of England. Food was carefully rationed, and entire kennels of Salukis had to be euthanized. Breeding almost ceased, and barely enough puppies were bred to keep the breed alive. After the war ended, breeders undertook the process of reestablishing the breed using any surviving dogs, as well as those which British soldiers returning from the Middle East brought back with them. Although almost exclusively a pet and hunting dog for millennia, in the second half of the 20th Century, the Saluki began to be used as a lure coursing and racing dog, much like the Greyhound. The jury is still out as to which one is faster, with the majority believing that Salukis lack the top speed of the Greyhound, maxing out at around 40 miles per hour; compared to the Greyhounds 45 mph. Others contend that Salukis are in fact the faster of the two, with top speeds of 48 mph. Those in favor of the latter have been unable to verify this claim citing testing difficulties such as the Salukis limited interest in electric hares and failure to race Greyhounds on a track. However, in as much as their original use was for hunting desert gazelles with top speeds of over 43 mph, the speed claim could be based in fact. Both sides, however, tend to agree that the Saluki generally has more stamina, and as such are able to run at high speeds for a longer period of time.
In many Islamic countries, the Saluki is the most numerous breed of dog. In the West, the breed is considerably less common. Although Saluki populations in the United States and the United Kingdom are nowhere near those of breeds such as the Labrador, the breed maintains a stable and sustainable population in both countries. According to AKC breed registration statistics, in 2000, the Saluki ranked 109th among all breeds, and in 2010 ranked 115th. In no year did the Saluki drop below 118. In the United States, the Saluki is perhaps best known as the mascot for Southern Illinois University’s athletic teams; two dogs “Grey Dawg” and “Brown Dawg”, the older and younger respectively cruise the sidelines encouraging fan participation and symbolizing school spirit. The Saluki was chosen by student vote in 1951, winning overwhelmingly. For just under 200 years Southern Illinois has been referred to as “Little Egypt”, for reasons that are not entirely clear. As the Saluki is the Royal Dog of Egypt, it makes sense for it to be the mascot of the team from “Little Egypt.” Because of the Southern Illinois University mascot, there is a large population of Salukis in and around Carbondale where the school is located.
The Saluki has a graceful and refined appearance, and in many ways resembles a Greyhound with a feathered coat. These dogs have been pure-bred for centuries and their appearance should reflect this. These are fairly tall dogs, but are very slim. Salukis range in height from 23 to 28 inches tall at the shoulder, with females typically being substantially shorter. Although breed standards do not call for a specific weight, most of these dogs weigh between 40 and 60 pounds. Salukis are very slim dogs, and their ribs are often easily visible. People who are unfamiliar with these dogs often mistakenly believe that they are starved, but that is rarely the case. The Saluki is a very fast animal, and everything about its appearance should suggest speed.
The Saluki has a distinctive face. These dogs have a head and muzzle which are both very long and very narrow. Salukis have very large, oval-shaped eyes, which are dark brown to hazel in color. Salukis have an expression that appears very intelligent and gentle. Salukis can either have black or liver colored noses. Salukis have ears that are considerably longer than those of most other sighthounds, which always hang down.
Salukis come in two different coat varieties, smooth and feathered. Feathered Salukis are considerably more common than smooth animals, and are almost always pictured in dog guides or the show ring. All Salukis have soft, silky textured hair. Both varieties have longer hair on the ears, although it is longest on feathered Salukis. Many smooth-coated Salukis have slightly longer hair on their long, narrow tails, but Feathered Salukis tail hair is very long and feathered. The Smooth-coated variety has hair which is slightly shorter than those of feathered dogs. Feathered Salukis have long feathered hair on the backs of their forelegs and upper thighs. Salukis may come in any color or pattern except for two. Brindle dogs are seen as undesirable and albino dogs are disqualified from competitions. Among the most common colors seen in Salukis are light brown, tan, grey, and white.
The Saluki is an independent breed, whose temperament is often described as catlike. These dogs can be affectionate with their owners, but if you are looking for a fawningly affectionate dog such as a Beagle or a Cocker Spaniel, you should look elsewhere. Salukis tend to become extremely devoted to one family member, and are often thought of as one-person dog. Salukis typically react with caution and suspicion to strangers, and dogs which have not been properly socialized will often be nervous when in the company of new people. Salukis are rarely aggressive, however, and would not make an ideal guard dog. Salukis are tolerant and accepting of children who do not attempt to rough house with them, but are generally not overly loving or affectionate with them. Most Salukis do not enjoy rough play at all, nor do they like typical play activities such as fetch. Salukis tend to be extremely sensitive to the touch, and often react with fear. Salukis tend to be very sensitive to stress in a home. If you live in a home where there is constant fighting or loud noises, you probably do not have the ideal home for this breed.
Salukis have hunted with other dogs for thousands of years. As a result, they tend to get along well other dogs, and rarely show them aggression. Salukis are also not known for being particularly dominant. However, these dogs are not a pack hound and do not crave the companionship of other dogs as do some breeds. It is always advisable to be cautious when introducing two dogs.
The Saluki is a hunter through and through. These dogs will pursue almost any non-canine, non-human animal smaller than themselves, and some which are larger. There are few breeds with as intense a prey drive as a Saluki. Salukis should probably not be kept with small animals such as guinea pigs, rabbits, or hamsters. Although proper training and socialization can help make a dog more likely to resist its instinct, sometimes instincts will take over. If they see a squirrel, they will go after it at full speed. Unlike most breeds, the Saluki is more than fast enough to overtake almost any creature. Once a creature is overtaken, it will most likely be attacked and possibly killed. Salukis can be trained to get along with cats, but this process must be started from a very young age. Just remember, a Saluki who will not bother a cat which it has known its whole life may, and probably will, pursue a neighbor’s cat.
Salukis are independent and stubborn, and can prove quite challenging to train. These dogs do not like to be told what to do, and must be shown that they will be rewarded. Salukis should only be trained with treats, and never punishments, as these dogs are extremely sensitive and can become very nervous if treated harshly. Salukis can be trained to behave and accept social situations. It will just take considerably more time and patience than it would with other breeds. Also, Salukis are often never as well-trained as their owners would like and typically exhibit selective listening and willfulness. Salukis are not a breed that is well-suited to obedience competitions or doing tricks. One common complaint among inexperienced Saluki owners is that this breed can be extremely difficult to housebreak.
As the Saluki is quick to pursue small animals and prone to ignore its owner, these dogs should not be trusted off-leash unless in a well-fenced in area. Even the most well-trained Salukis will often choose to pursue prey rather than come when called. These dogs are also much, much faster than any human and will not be caught. The world’s fastest man would have to be three times as fast to catch up with a Saluki at full speed. Any fence which is used to contain Salukis must be quite tall, as these dogs are capable of leaping at least six feet.
The Saluki is typically calm and relaxed indoors. These dogs do not like to sleep on the floor or a crate, and would much rather be in comfort on a sofa or bed. Despite their calmness indoors, Salukis need exercise, and a substantial amount of it. Specifically, Salukis need to run, preferably off-leash. Salukis need a very large area to run in. If you do not have a large, fenced yard, you must be able to take your Saluki to a large fenced area at least several times a week and preferably daily. Salukis not regularly exercised from a young age will not develop properly and may have lifelong health problems. If you cannot meet the exercise needs of a Saluki, you should not obtain one.
Salukis sometimes bark and bay. However, these dogs are known for being quiet. While all dogs may become vocal if bored or not properly trained, Salukis are less likely to develop this problem. These dogs do have a tendency to become picky eaters. Many owners have to mix in meat, eggs, and other food into dry food to convince their Salukis to eat it.
The Saluki has a very low maintenance coat. A regular brushing is all that this dog will require, particularly on the longer fur of feathered dogs. Salukis should not require professional grooming. These are also very clean dogs, and they have low-odor coats. Salukis are also considered very mild shedders, making them ideal for those who hate the thought of cleaning up pet hair.
Special attention must be given to the Saluki’s ears. Like many drop-eared dogs, the ears of the Saluki have a tendency to collect dirt and grime which the dog cannot clean out itself. This can lead to chronic ear infections and discomfort. Owners should regularly clean the ears of their Salukis, a process which these sensitive dogs should be eased into.
The Saluki is regarded as a healthy breed. Their average lifespan is between 12 and 15 years which is very high for a dog of this size. According to the Saluki Club of America, the leading cause of death for Salukis other than old age in this country is car accidents. These dogs were bred for purpose in a harsh desert environment for thousands of years. Dogs with health problems would most likely not have survived, and would certainly not have been bred. Additionally, the Saluki has never been particularly popular, and has been spared the poor breeding practices that have negatively impacted many other dogs. In particular, hip dysplasia is less common in Salukis than almost any other large dog breed.
There are several genetic conditions which the Saluki is known to suffer from. The breed has a particularly high occurrence of cancer. Studies conducted by the Kennel Club in the United Kingdom have shown that cancer is responsible for almost 36% of all Saluki deaths, with liver cancer and lymphoma being the most common forms. Heart problems were responsible for another 18% of Saluki deaths.
It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, particularly if you intend to breed. The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysplasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.
In summary, health problems to which the Saluki is susceptible include: