The elegant Azawakh dates back to the early Nigerian civilization in West Africa. It was developed in the countries of Mali, Niger and Burkino Faso, but now is found world-wide. These beautiful sighthounds initially served as guard dogs, companions and hunting partners of nomadic people in the southern Sahara desert. They were prized by the Tuareg and other ethnic tribes living in that area. To these people, Azawakhs were true family members. They were given names and used to protect the family flocks from potential thieves and predators. They were also trained to guard the camps and hunt with their owners. They were prized for their ability to take down wild boar and gazelle, not killing their prey but holding it until their owners arrived. If they killed their targets, they would spoil in the hot desert heat. Today's Azawakhs retain their preference of hunting in a pack, under the leadership of a single alpha dog.
The breed was imported to Yugoslavia in the early 1970s by Dr. Pecar, a Yugoslavian diplomat who had been stationed in Burkina Faso. At that time, these dogs could not be bought. Dr. Pecar received his male as a gift from the nomads. He later acquired a female Azawakh after he killed a bull elephant that had been terrorizing the tribe. The French military and civil servants played a significant role in bringing Azawakhs to Europe. France is the patron country of the Azawakh under FCI rules. The Azawakh made its debut in the United States in the 1980s. The first litter in America was whelped on October 31, 1987, by Gisela Cook-Schmidt (Reckendahl). The puppies were all red or fawn, with white markings. Brindles arrived in America in 1989. The first American brindle litter was whelped in November of 1990, by Deb Kidwell (Kel Simoon). In 1990, a parti-colored male was imported from Burkina Faso. In 1997, a parti-color and sand litter that was bred in Mali was born in Alaska. Fanciers of the Azawakh hope that an even larger selection of dogs will find their way to the United States from Africa, to increase the genetic diversity of this amazing rare breed.
The Azawakh’s unique history has resulted in some interesting genetic diversity. It is not closely related to other sighthounds, most of which were developed in Europe rather than Africa. Genetic analysis ties the Azawakh more closely to wild jackals and wolves than to other domestic dogs. Nomadic dogs and wild canines probably did interbreed thousands of years ago. However, the basic genetics of the Azawakh have remained relatively unchanged for thousands of years.
Azawakhs are still uncommon in Europe and North America. The American Kennel Club accepted them into its Miscellaneous Class in 2011. The American Azawakh Association, Inc. (AAA) is the parent club for the Azawakh in the United States. The AAA was founded on February 7, 1988, with the goals of promoting the pure Azawakh and guaranteeing the breed’s future in America. The Azawakh was recognized by the United Kennel Club as of January 1, 1993.
The Azawakh is a relatively healthy breed, with an average life-span of about 12 years. Breed health concerns include autoimmune mediated thyroiditis, eosinophilic myositis, bloat, heart problems, hypothyroidism, seizures and skin allergies. Owners of Azawakh should know that, like most sighthounds, they are sensitive to anesthesia. Their deep chests also make them prone to bloat (gastric dilitation and volvulous), a disorder in which the stomach and maybe also the spleen twist over and restrict their own blood flow. Symptoms of bloat include pale gums, excessive drooling and pacing.