Why salukis?

Today, life in the Middle East is not always easy for salukis. Once treasured and revered above all other dogs, the modern-day saluki may be considered vermin.

What typically happens to abandoned salukis?

Salukis are still bred and used to hunt small game or raced to win prize money. When their usefulness has reached an end, due to age, illness, injury or whim, they may be turned loose on the streets or dumped in the desert and left to die.  At times they are found with ears cropped and sometimes even their canine teeth are filed down. Ear cropping is thought to be done to reduce the risk of frostbite and to reduce the risk of ears being torn or ripped during the hunt. Expats also adopt or keep strays they find, only to turn them loose or drop them off at shelters when it is time to return home. There are very few shelters, and there are far more dogs than there are safe spaces for them.

Prior to their rescue, many salukis and saluki mixes will have:

  • lived outside all their life on a farm or in a yard;
  • been fed food scraps;
  • not been socialized with people or other dogs;
  • not experienced ‘life’ (car rides, shopping excursions, parks etc.);
  • not received routine health care (vaccinations, deworming etc.) and/or
  • not been trained on a lead or in a crate (and/or have a negative experience of both).

They may also:

  • have had things thrown at them;
  • have been trained to run behind a car (for race training/exercise);
  • have a fear of cars (because they were thrown out of one);
  • been shouted at and/or hurt in some way (by adults and/or children);
  • not be house trained and/or punished for toileting in the wrong place
  • have been locked up for long periods, sometimes in crates too small for them;
  • have been used for breeding from a young age and for many litters;
  • have fought for survival in an extremely harsh environment; and/or
  • have the body of an adult but the mind of an inexperienced puppy.

Despite all this, it is a testament to the nature of the breed that the majority of salukis rescued in Qatar have not lost their gentle, trusting and loving nature. Yes, they may need some training and rehabilitation but given time and patience all but the severely traumatized will become loving family pets.

What is it like for a saluki/saluki mix living in the Middle East?

The Middle East is hot compared to North America. Although there are some variations across the region, it is extremely hot for 5 months of the year with temperatures topping 45C during the day and dipping to 30C at night. Add to this high humidity and it can be life threatening for a dog out in the desert without adequate water and shade. In cities, pavement becomes scorching hot during the day – making dog walking impractical. From November to May, daily temperatures range from 15C to 25C and life for dogs (and owners) is more comfortable – with some dogs even needing coats! The landscape is sand or rock, with a few areas of mangrove. Public and private gardens are the only places where there may be grass.

In Qatar, dogs are allowed to run free on some public beaches, in the desert and around mangrove areas, as long as they are not deemed a nuisance or worrisome to the public. In general, dogs are not allowed in public parks and reactions to owners walking their dogs in public areas (such as shopping precincts) will vary from indifference to fear. Some people will shout and scream at a dog and its owner, while others want to greet the dog. Dogs are not allowed in shops and cafés.

As reactions from members of the public are unpredictable, dog owners in Qatar tend to be cautious and avoid situations where there may be large groups of people, unpredictable reactions or “hostile” behavior towards dogs. In some cases, children may be raised to fear dogs, in part for religious reasons, but more likely due to lack of exposure to and education about dogs.

This means that it may be a challenge to exercise and socialize a dog properly. Fortunately, in Qatar, many local Arab people are animal lovers. Indeed, some have taken the lead and promote dog (and cat) rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming, for example Parkview Pet Centre and its sister organization 2nd Chance Rescue. These organizations work in partnership with other expatriate groups such as Dogs in Doha, Chez Kimmy, Rescue Saluki Middle East and the Qatar Animal Welfare Society (QAWS) to improve the lives of abandoned animals and begin to reform practice and behaviors in general. The Qatar Department of Animal Resources is taking a lead in this respect.

History of the Saluki

Also known as the Persian Greyhound, the Arabian hound and the gazelle hound, the Saluki has long been considered one of the most ancient of dog breeds. Scientists have speculated that the origin of this breed is the Fertile Crescent, a region in the Middle East that covered several countries: Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria plus the fringes of Turkey and Iran.

The ancestors of the saluki were used for hunting fox, hare, and gazelle, as well as in the sport of falconry due to the exceptional speed of the saluki, incredible resistance and endurance and a burning drive for chasing prey. Arab tribesmen highly valued salukis, they were thought to be a gift from Allah. The tribesmen called them “El Hor,” which means “the noble.” Salukis were the only dogs permitted to sleep inside the tents of the tribesmen.

Images of running dogs with long, narrow bodies and erect, pointed ears adorn pottery dating back to 6000 years were found in southwest Iran. Dogs looking similar to salukis are shown on wall carvings of the Sumerian empire (now Iraq), dating from 6000 to 7000 BC. These prick-eared African sighthounds (hunting dogs) were called Tesems and are thought to be the ancestor to today’s Pharaoh hound.

Between 5000 and 4000 BC, the Asian sighthound appeared, (these are thought to be the ancestors of the smooth saluki). Depictions of smooth coated salukis were done 2000 years before depictions of feathered salukis. The ancient skeletal remains of a dog identified as being of the greyhound/saluki form was excavated at Tell Brak in modern Syria and dated to approximately 4000 years before today.

Dogs that look similar to salukis and greyhounds were increasingly depicted on Egyptian tombs from 2134 BC–1785 AD onward, however it was during the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt (1550/1549 to 1292 BC) that saluki and sloughi-type dogs (hanging ears and a straight tail) rose to prominence, replacing the tesem hunting dogs in ancient Egyptian art. The variety spread southward into the Sudan.

In Iran, saluki-like dogs are mentioned in the poetry of Khaghani (1121–1190), depicted in miniature paintings of hunting scenes along with horseback archers by (1450–1535) and depicted in book illustrations (1516).

The Silk Road was a trading route that stretched from ancient Iran to China. From China, there are depictions of dogs that look like salukis and were painted by the fifth Ming Emperor during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). They were one of the favorite pets by royalty, thanks to their athletic and elegant contexture and body build.

Salukis appear to have arrived in Europe thanks to returning crusaders who brought them from the Middle East. This theory is supported by multiple paintings of important personalities such as Henry IV painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1514) and Paolo Veronese’s 1573 The Adoration of the Magi, the Marriage at Cana (1563) and The Finding of Moses (1582).

The first documented case of salukis arriving in Britain was in 1840, but it wasn’t until after World War I (1914-1918) and the Arab Revolt (1916-1918) when many British officers returned with their pet salukis from the Middle East, that the breed became established in Great Britain. Referred to as a “slughi shami”, salukis and the modern sloughi were treated as the same breed; however, recent genetic tests have shown that the two breeds are genetically separate.

Interest in the saluki was slower to take hold in North America. The Saluki Club of America was founded in 1927, the same year the breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club. The first saluki registered by the AKC was in 1929. In 1962, a group of Toronto area Saluki fanciers, led by Ruth Kolenoff, met to form the Saluki Club of Canada.

In 2014, a “DNA study compared dogs and wolves for AM2B (alpha amylase 2B), which is a gene and enzyme that assists with the first step in the digestion of dietary starch and glycogen. An expansion of this gene in dogs would enable early dogs to exploit a starch-rich diet as they fed on refuse from agriculture. Data indicated that the wolves and dingo had just two copies of the gene and the Siberian husky that is associated with hunter-gatherers had just 3–4 copies, “whereas the saluki, which was historically bred in the Fertile Crescent where agriculture originated, has 29 copies”

The Saluki Breed

The whole appearance of the saluki should give the impression of grace and symmetry, and of great speed and endurance, coupled with strength and activity to enable it to kill gazelle or other quarry over deep sand or rocky hills and mountains.

There are two coat types – smooth and feathered – that are evident in the breed’s gene pool. Salukis that have been bred in the Middle East are most commonly the smooth coated saluki. The feathered variety has longer and light fur on the back of the legs, thighs, ears, and sometimes the throat. The fur on both types is silky and is typically low shedding when compared to other breeds.

There is a type of saluki called “desert Saluki”, and these descend from bloodlines brought directly from the original region of the breed. It exists in the entire Middle Eastern region. In Israel, this type is known as the “Negev Saluki”. The desert saluki does not have the influence of western breeding and it tends to have a more primitive appearance. It often has a broader skull, shorter muzzle, shorter and more compact body, broader chest, less angulations, and shorter tail than the western equivalent.

Salukis are slower than greyhounds – they run up to 69kph (42mph) versus a greyhound that runs up to 72kph (45mph). However, salukis are considered to be faster than greyhounds over distances longer than 800 meters (0.5 mile). This is due to the saluki’s heavily padded feet and remarkable stamina when running. Salukis often reach their top speed by about .8 of a kilometer (half mile mark) and they can cover 3 to 5 kilometers (2 to 3 miles) at this speed. Salukis can run up to 24 kilometers (15 miles) a day.

Salukis are a ‘verbal’ dog, and growling is part of their vocabulary. If a saluki is playing, this may be accompanied by growling. One might be inclined to think that the dog is aggressive, but this may not be the case – they may just be talking. Snapping or neck biting is another part of their vocabulary and is often part of their play technique. This may especially occur if the saluki is running with another dog, but it isn’t usually aggression, its origin is from its hunting behavior.