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A charming legend says that when it came time for Noah to select the dog that would board his ark and save the species from the Great Flood, he chose the Afghan Hound.

As with most folklore, this story is best kept in soft focus. Sighthounds – which is what the Afghan Hound most decidedly is – are plentiful in Central Asia and the Middle East. The wide-open spaces and oppressively hot climate are precisely what created the need for these long-legged, aerodynamically built canine hunters.

But millennia ago, breeds as we understand them didn’t exist. Instead, there were general categories of dogs that were much less defined than the closely curated breeds we know today. So the image of a dog resembling a modern Afghan Hound – with its tousled top knot, distinctive saddle and patterning, prominent hip bones, and ring-curled tail – springing in its unmistakably aristocratic way up the gangplank of Noah’s Ark isn’t exactly likely.

And besides, with having to tend so many creatures in his floating menagerie, Noah certainly didn’t have much time for all that grooming.

Ancient History of the Afghan Hound

Historical accuracy aside, what the tale of the Afghan Hound aboard Noah’s Ark does communicate to us in no uncertain terms is just how ancient this traditional hunter of gazelle and snow leopard is.

Like many of the Eastern Sighthounds, the Afghan Hound was first brought to Great Britain by military men as a sort of living souvenir from the exotic lands in which they were posted. The very first of these imports was “Zardin,” who was believed to have been born in Iran. Captain John Bariff purchased him in India and brought him to Great Britain. When Zardin was exhibited at the famous Crufts dog show in 1909, he created such a stir that Queen Alexandra requested he visit Buckingham Palace.

Afghan Hound
Courtesy of the AKC Library and Archives

Even a glance at the surviving photos of Zardin shows why: He had many of the characteristics prized in the breed even today, from his “snowshoe” feet to the visible saddle on his back. Zardin was such an enviable specimen that he became the model for the first-ever Afghan Hound breed standard, written in 1912.

Unfortunately, World War I soon pre-empted any interest in dog breeding. None of Zardin’s bloodline survives in modern Afghan Hound pedigrees today.

But after the bullets stopped flying, British imperialism kept a steady stream of soldiers and civilians heading to Afghanistan and neighboring lands. Once there, they inevitably grew intrigued by these exotically primitive dogs. And as the dogs arrived on British shores in greater numbers in the first quarter of the 20th Century, fascination turned to intense debate over which Afghan Hounds were the authentic ones.

Evelyn Shafer/Doubleday, Afghan Hound. 1949.
Courtesy of the AKC Library and Archives

Authentic Afghanistan Hounds

Afghanistan has a varied topography, with expanses of plateau and desert. In the face of this widely divergent topography, Afghan Hounds in various parts of the country developed differently – as all breeds do, evolving to suit the conditions in which they lived.

The first bonafide Afghan Hound kennel in the United Kingdom had so-called “steppe” or “desert” type dogs. These dogs had sparser, silkier coats and racier outlines. In 1920, Major and Mrs. G. Bell-Murray and Miss Jean C. Manson returned to Scotland with a group of dogs that came to be referred to as the Bell-Murray strain.

By contrast, “mountain” Afghan Hounds had heavier coats, more bone, and greater angulation. Mary Amps, whose husband was stationed in Kabul, brought this type of Afghan to England in 1925. Assembled from the mountainous areas around that key Afghan city, the Amps dogs became known as the Ghazni strain.

The most famous Ghazni dog was “Sirdar,” who evoked the previous headline maker, Zardin, in appearance. Bred in the royal kennels of the king of Afghanistan, Sirdar wasn’t a large dog. But he soon evolved an oversized presence in the country, winning at Crufts and helping popularize the breed.

Unsurprisingly, the Bell-Murray and Ghazni dogs battled it out at dog shows. Outside the ring, their respective breeders arm-wrestled over whose strain of dogs should predominate. In the end, both were crossbred. The Afghan Hound that we have today represents a middle ground between these two polarities.

Afghan Hound
Courtesy of the AKC Library and Archives

Aloof & Dignified

While there was passionate debate in those early years over what an Afghan Hound should be on the outside, there was universal agreement about what the breed should be like on the inside. The often-quoted phrase in the AKC standard – “eyes gazing into the distance as if in memory of ages past” – beautifully sums up the Afghan Hound’s strikingly aristocratic bearing. As much as their coat and tousled top knot, the breed’s aloof, dignified temperament should exude a kind of self-possessed primitivism. In just a flash of their steely almond-shaped eyes, the Afghan Hound tells you they know who they are.

As much as they provide a link to a more feral, tribal world of the past, Afghan Hounds are now also indelibly associated with the future: In 2005, after many exhaustive attempts, South Korean scientists produced the world’s first cloned dog, a black-and-tan Afghan Hound named “Snuppy” who was proclaimed TIME magazine’s “Invention of the Year.” Several years ago, researchers created four more clones from Snuppy’s stem cells; three of the “reclones” survived.

If only Noah had the technology, that would’ve been a much simpler solution.

Related article: Tibetan Spaniel History: Sacred Dog of Buddhist Monks
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