To the eyes of modern Americans, the Sloughi looks like he’s in desperate need of a cheeseburger. But for those who live with this ancient breed, that question just means that they’re doing something right. Plump is never pleasant where this sighthound is concerned.
“A Sloughi in good condition looks truly chiseled,” wrote Ingeborg and Eckhard Schritt in their book Windhunde. “The blood vessels and tendons are visible, and the skin is as ‘dry’ (lacking in subcutaneous fat) as that of a purebred Arabian horse. The Sloughi’s beauty is special, severe.”
This appearance reflects the breed’s original purpose, which was to chase wild creatures for miles across tough terrain. Images of their ancestors are seen in 3,000-year-old Egyptian art; dog mummies resembling today’s Sloughi have been recovered from the tombs of pharaohs.
Centuries of careful breeding molded a creature uniquely suited to regions that today include Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria, says Timothy Anderson, a long-time fancier. “People selected for hunting prowess, including agility and speed, acceptable behavior, and, presumably, esthetics. Nature selected for physical toughness, health, and adaptability to harsh mountain and desert environments.”
To the Berbers and other regional tribes, the Sloughi was an exalted member of the household, their ownership restricted to the elite. In a 1912 description of a royal hunt, artist August Le Gras wrote of the dog’s unique place in Arabian tribal culture. “A Sloughi is not a dog, not a lower ranking individual, but something higher.” It was said that they would neither eat nor drink from a dirty vessel and women would nurse puppies. When a Sloughi died, families went into deep mourning.
New World Niche?
Clearly, these are creatures are of a place far removed from 21st-century America.
So what are they doing here?
The short answer is that there aren’t that many. The first arrived in the U.S. in the early 1970s, and currently there are only about 200 here, says American Sloughi Association (ASLA) Vice President Erika Nichole Chen-Walsh.The breed gained AKC recognition in January 2016.
But their numbers may grow quickly here, given some traits that might prove irresistible to dog lovers born in the U.S.A. Here are just a few:
Americans love their supermodels, with their lean, endless limbs, elegance, and faces that can melt hearts with a glance. It's an ideal that's hard to achieve for most humans, but it comes naturally to the Sloughi.
“The soulful look of a Sloughi is unique and captivates many,” says Anderson, ASLA board member. Eyes must be “large, dark, well set in their sockets, and oval to almond shape,” according to the breed standard, which gives them the doe-eyed look of a young Audrey Hepburn. Over the centuries, people have marveled at their “profound and mysterious glance.” Overall. the appearance should be robust, elegant, and racy, notes the standard. “The attitude is noble and somewhat aloof, and the expression of the dark eyes is gentle and melancholy.”
Their inborn talent to run and run fast will appeal to America’s dual obsession with sports and speed. In his 1912 account of the royal hunt, Le Gras said the dogs rode on the horses, with the hunters holding them, until a herd of gazelle came into view. The gazelles “take flight and now, faster and faster run the horses, stepping deeply into the sand due to their load, and still forward it goes, still forward until horses and gazelles start to feel the fatigue. It is now that the Sloughi comes to work. The rider encourages him, lets him loose … he jumps to the ground, hidden due to his sand coloring. Sloughi and ground seem like one until, too late …, the gazelle sees a new enemy attacking. …”
In modern America, where gazelle hunting is not among our traditional national pastimes, there are still many outlets for the Sloughi’s boundless energy, such as lure coursing and agility. On the downside, this trait could be a problem in a typical family home, says Anderson. The worst aspect of living with them, he says, may be their “need for abundant exercise and ability to be very far away in a very short period.” For most, that will mean being on leash or in a well-fenced area.
In addition to being swift enough to catch a gazelle, the Sloughi also is brave and sturdy enough to kill jackals, which prey on sheep and goats in Morocco. Moroccan Sloughis, in particular, have the muscle and power needed to guard flocks against dangerous predators. Many of these dogs wear their scars as a badge of honor, evidence that they did not flinch in the face of danger.
Creatures of Comfort
Traditionally, at the end of the hunt, Sloughis would sleep in the family’s tent, on plush carpets beside their masters. They were protected by blankets and talismen, adorned with jewelry (shell necklaces were a favorite), and offered the best food from the master’s table. This domestic history has prepared the Sloughi well for life in modern America, where pet pampering is both high art and billion-dollar industry. Surprisingly, for a dog built for hunting in harsh terrain, they make wonderful house dogs. “The Sloughi’s generally calm nature and desire to please, without being needy, makes living with them easy and comfortable. Their physical grace is an advantage for a large dog. No running into things and people and no sweeping stuff off tables with their long tails.”
All photos courtesy of the American Sloughi Association.