Sloughi

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Sloughi

Also known as the Arabian Greyhound, the Sloughi is a North African dog with a very long history. Closely associated with the Berber nomads of the region, it has long been used to hunt a range of prey and to guard its owners’ camps. Aloof and reserved with strangers, this is nonetheless a loving and loyal companion that forms very strong bonds with its owner, and is the very definition of a one-man dog, becoming most attached to one person within the family. Although it has the propensity for stubbornness seen in many of the hounds, it is also a sensitive character that does not cope well with raised voices or impatience, and it needs to be handled in a firm but kind manner.

In its natural setting, the Sloughi will happily give chase to any number of animals, from rabbits to gazelles, and this hunting instinct means that cats, and even smaller dogs, are not safe in its company. Although it is not an aggressive breed, it is not best suited to homes with children, as it prefers mature company and can become despondent and withdrawn if constantly harassed by youngsters. This athletic dog needs outdoor space in which it can display its incredible speed, but cannot be allowed off-lead in public spaces, so a home in the country with secure perimeter fencing is its ideal environment. The breed is generally very healthy, and has a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years.

About & History

The Sloughi is indigenous to the North African countries of Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, and Morocco, and has a long association with the region’s Berber nomads. Berbers have used the breed to hunt hares, foxes, wild pigs, and gazelles for at least a thousand years, and pottery shards, dated to around 5000 years ago, depict a smooth-haired hound remarkably similar to the modern Sloughi. Although it is most often confused with the equally racy Saluki, the two breeds are far removed genetically, and the Sloughi is in fact more closely related to the Basenji, another primitive African breed.

Its cat-like qualities of cleanliness and a reserved attitude allowed the breed to share its owners’ tents, and it is likely for this reason that the Sloughi becomes so attached to its people, having lived in such close confines for centuries. It has also developed a very territorial attitude, and resents any incursion by strangers into its space. The first Sloughis were exported to Europe in the nineteenth century, although widespread breeding did not really take off until the mid-twentieth century, and the breed first appeared in the United States as recently as 1973. Even today, this remains an uncommon dog in much of the world, and the Moroccan breed association retains responsibility for maintaining the international breed standard.

Appearance

Sloughi Large Photo
Svenska Mässan / Flickr.com

The Sloughi combines the contradictory qualities of elegance, refinement, and strength. It has a long, noble head in the shape of a narrow wedge, with a broad skull and a muzzle that tapers along its length to the fine nose. The lines of the head are barely interrupted by a stop or cheekbones. Although the lips and cheeks are thin and almost delicate-looking, the jaw is quite strong, and the Sloughi has a very well-developed set of teeth. Its eyes are characteristically melancholy and gentle; large, dark, and set a little obliquely, and the ears are set high on the head, hanging down and slightly forward.

The neck is usually around the same length as the head, and both it and the back are lean, firmly but not heavily muscled. Apart from the prominent withers, the top-line of the back is straight and uninterrupted to the point where the long, thin tail is set. The Sloughi’s large, capacious lungs are accommodated in a long, deep chest, and its strong abdomen is moderately tucked. Its great speed comes more from the range of its legs than from a large muscle mass, and the dog is slightly taller than long, giving it a somewhat lanky appearance. The limbs are strong and upright for the most part, with the only pronounced angulation being seen in the hock joints.

The breed has a short coat that is both fine and dense in texture, and ranges in colour from sandy to dark fawn, and it may exhibit brindle markings and a dark facial mask. Males are generally 66 to 72 cm in height and weigh 24 to 28 kg, while females range in height from 61 to 68 cm, and in weight from 20 to 23 kg.

Character & Temperament

The Sloughi is an introvert, most comfortable in small groups of people whom it knows well. In this setting, it is a loyal and affectionate companion, especially towards its favourite human – and every Sloughi has a favourite. It does not cope well with separation, and needs to be kept at the heart of family life. It is a sensitive dog, and responds poorly to stressful situations, becoming nervous and withdrawn, and for this reason, it is best suited to mature, stable households without young children who might prove too demanding and inconsiderate of its unique temperament.

As a sighthound, its hunting instinct is immediately triggered by the sight of small, running animals, meaning smaller dogs, cats, and any other pets are not safe, except under strict supervision. The breed’s territorial nature means it makes a good guard dog, and it is not likely to bark without provocation.

Trainability

Sloughis tend to be stubborn dogs – certain of their own minds, they are reticent to take direction from their owners. This, coupled with their sensitivity to criticism, can make them challenging to train, especially for the inexperienced owner who is more likely to become impatient and frustrated. It is vital that training is built on positive reinforcement, rather than on a disciplinarian approach.

Health

Sloughis are generally very healthy dogs. Several of the items listed below are not actually health problems, but simply peculiarities of the sighthounds:

  • Addison’s disease – An autoimmune condition that inflicts damage to the hormone-secreting adrenal glands, leaving the dog deficient in cortisol and other vital compounds. Affected dogs are likely to develop signs of vomiting, diarrhoea, excessive thirst, and weakness in response to stressful events such as visiting a boarding kennel.
  • Anaesthesia sensitivity – Because of its extremely low body fat percentage, many anaesthetic drugs have a very narrow safety range in the Sloughi. This can lead to anaesthetic overdose, and potentially serious complications, but can be avoided by the careful calculation and delivery of anaesthesia doses.
  • Gastric dilatation/volvulus – The Sloughi’s conformation, with its deep, narrow chest, predisposes its stomach to twisting around itself, causing a serious gastric obstruction. Dramatic signs of collapse, and even death, can develop within just a few hours, and this torsion must be surgically corrected before such complications arise.
  • Laboratory anomalies – Like Greyhounds and other similar breeds, Sloughis have unusually high levels of red blood cells and iron, and low levels of white blood cells, platelets, and thyroid hormone. Such findings can lead to erroneous diagnoses of illness, and must be taken into account by veterinary surgeons when interpreting blood tests from apparently healthy sighthounds.
  • Osteosarcoma – A highly aggressive bone tumour that is frequently seen in older large-breed dogs. The tumour is usually quite large before signs of lameness and bone pain become obvious.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy – Common cause of sight loss in young to middle-aged Sloughis. This is a hereditary condition, and a DNA test to identify carriers of the gene responsible should be used in all adults being considered for breeding.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Sloughis are renowned for their speed, agility, and stamina, and should be given at least an hour of exercise every day. They should ideally have access to a large paddock or field in which they can be allowed to run, but unfortunately, they cannot be trusted off lead in public, as they are quick to pursue anything that moves.

Grooming

The short coat sheds quite lightly, and is easy to care for, needing only weekly brushing and a wipe with a damp cloth. Most Sloughis need occasional bathing, but otherwise have no particular grooming requirements. Unless being walked for long periods every day on paved surfaces, they do need regular nail clipping. In addition, the manner in which Sloughis chew their food predisposes them to dental tartar build-up, and daily tooth brushing should be practiced from puppyhood.

Famous Sloughis

Despite its long history, the Sloughi has yet to produce a single celebrity, with its ancestors’ presence on archaeological treasures remaining its greatest claim to fame.

Cross-Breeds

At present, there are less than one hundred Sloughis registered by the Kennel Club in the United Kingdom: unsurprisingly, cross-breeds are rare, and there are no designer dog offshoots from the breed at the present time.

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