The Sloughi is a breed of sight hound native to the Maghreb, a region of North Africa consisting of the modern nations of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. Used for hunting gazelles, hares, and other fleet-footed game in its homeland, the Sloughi is among the fastest and most heat-tolerant of all breeds. Although considerably better known in Europe and North Africa, the Sloughi is slowing gaining a following in the United States, where it primarily serves as a companion animal and show dog. The Sloughi is one of the most ancient of all dogs and has been kept by many different peoples, of the region, but is primarily associated with the Berbers. The Sloughi is also known as the Arabian Greyhound, Moroccan Greyhound, Berber Greyhound, Maghrebi Greyhound, Arabian Sighthound, Maghrebi Sight Hound, the Slougui, Sloughi Moghrebi, Al Hor, and the Levrier Marocain.
Almost nothing is known for sure about the history of the Sloughi, as this breed was first developed long before written records were kept of dog breeding, possibly even predating the introduction of writing in the region of its development. What is known for sure is that the Sloughi was developed primarily in the Maghreb, a region of North Africa usually defined as anything north of the Sahara and west of Egypt. Although Morocco is usually given as the Sloughi’s nation of origin, the breed has just as long an association with Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. The first written mention of the Sloughi comes from the Moroccan author Al Mansur, whose writings are traditionally placed in the 13th Century, but this dog is almost certainly many centuries, and perhaps millennia, older. There are several theories as to the origins of the Sloughi, but most are based on the flimsiest of evidence and are little more than educated speculation.
Although there is much debate among experts, most estimate place the date of the domestication of the dog between 14,000 and 100,000 years ago. Almost all researchers now agree that the dog was the first species to be domesticated by man. At one time it was thought that dogs may have been domesticated independently several times, but genetic tests seem to indicate that all dogs are primarily descended from one or two domestication events that took place in India, China, and/or the Middle East. In these areas the wolves were typically smaller, less aggressive, and more comfortable around man. The earliest dogs were very similar to the Wolf, and were likely virtually identical in appearance to the semi-wild Dingo of Australia. These early dogs accompanied bands of hunter-gatherers across the Stone Age World, serving as camp guardians, hunting aides, and companion animals. Dogs proved so valuable that they quickly spread, and other than a few remote islands, could soon be found living beside man in every location that man had settled. Although it is unclear exactly when, dogs eventually crossed the Sinai Peninsula and the Arabian Sea to reach North Africa. Some of the earliest evidence for dogs in the region can be found on petroglyphs dating to between 6,000 and 8,000 B.C., although it is thought that they may have arrived considerably earlier. At the time, the Earth’s climate was considerably different than it is today, and much of the Sahara was wet and fertile. These petroglyphs show ancient dogs hunting the big game species that were once common in the region, such as antelope and gazelles.
Initially, all dogs were quite similar, and would remain a rather uniform landrace for thousands of years. That began to change with the development of agriculture in the Middle East around 14,000 years ago. Agriculture allowed for larger populations, and the ability for man to live a more sedentary life, as he no longer had to hunt for every meal. This led to career specialization and eventually a class structure. Slowly, cities began to emerge in the regions of Mesopotamia and Egypt, followed by chiefdoms, kingdoms, and empires. These new polities were led by a class of nobles who had a substantial amount of both power and time for recreation. One of their favorite pastimes was hunting, which at this time was primarily conducted by the use of dogs and falcons. The vast open expanses of Mesopotamia and Egypt are home to many fleet-footed prey species, including deer, gazelles, ostriches, and hares. Middle Eastern royalty (or more likely their servants) bred a race of very fast dogs capable of running down even the fastest game. Such dogs begin to appear on pottery, monuments, and other artifacts in both Egypt and Mesopotamia between 5,000 and 7,000 B.C. These early sight hounds are virtually indistinguishable from modern breeds, especially the Pharaoh Hound and Saluki.
For many years, it was assumed that all sight hounds were descended from this Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian stock. The theory held that these ancient dogs developed into the Saluki of Egypt, Arabia, and Persia and the Afghan Hound of Afghanistan and Central Asia. These dogs were then spread across the Ancient World as a result of trade, diplomacy, migration, and conquest. Proponents of this theory gave three possibilities as to how and when the ancestors of the Sloughi first arrived in the Maghreb. It has been suggested that Maghrebi tribes acquired the dogs directly from the Ancient Egyptians centuries before the birth of Christ. It is also possible that Phoenician traders sailing from the Levant brought the dogs to North Africa. There was a heavy Phoenician presence in North Africa for centuries, largely due to the colony of Carthage. Finally, it has been suggested that the Sloughi is descended from Salukis which accompanied Arab conquerors across North Africa beginning in 647 B.C. Recent evidence has called all of these possibilities into question, and the third has been largely discredited on the basis of earthenware showing that the Sloughi may have been present in the Maghreb by 3,000 B.C. more than 2,500 years before the arrival of Islamic Armies.
Recent genetic evidence strongly suggests that sight hounds have been developed independently several times throughout history, and in several locations. Much of this evidence is based on genetics. The genetic evidence shows that the Sloughi is not particularly closely related to other sight hounds, but is more closely related to the Azawakh of the Sahel (a band of comparatively fertile land immediately south of the Sahara stretching from Mauretania in the east to Sudan in the west) than any other. This evidence strongly suggests that the Sloughi was developed by the region’s inhabitants from local dogs, most likely the semi-feral Pariah Dogs that scavenge settlements from Morocco to India. Genetic tests also show that a unique variety of the glucose isomerase gene is found in the Sloughi. The only other canids that possess this gene are jackals, the Italian Wolf, the Azawakh, and a few Japanese dog breeds. As a result of this evidence, it is likely that at some point the Sloughi or Azawakh may have been crossed with jackals or jackal/dog hybrids. It was once thought that a dog and a jackal could not produce fertile offspring, but recent breeding efforts conducted in Russia to develop bomb sniffing dogs seem to have disproved this. Although the Sloughi was likely developed largely from local dogs, it was surely periodically crossed with similar breeds over the centuries, especially the Saluki and Azawakh.
However and whenever the Sloughi was first developed, it became much prized by the Berber peoples. The Berbers are a collection of closely-related people who speak similar languages. Considered the indigenous inhabitants of the Maghreb, Berbers have been found in North Africa since at least Roman Times, and possibly much earlier. It is very possible, and perhaps likely, that the Berbers were the original developers of the Sloughi breed. After Islam entered the region in the 600’s, many Berbers were Arabicized, but large populations of Berber speakers are still found in the Maghreb, especially in mountainous regions of Morocco and Algeria. The Sloughi was especially prized by the Berber nobility, and in most places it was illegal for anyone not of noble blood to own one of these dogs. According to Islamic tradition, most dogs are considered unclean and subject to certain taboos. For example, dogs are not allowed to enter a home or tent, nor are humans allowed to eat meat that has been tainted by a dog, such as when a dog bites it. However, Islam does make a distinction between the Al Hor, or “The Noble One,” and the Kelb, or “Mongrel. The Al Hor is not considered unclean, and is allowed to share the tents of even the noblest Sheik. Animals captured by the Al Hor may also be eaten. The Saluki is traditionally associated as being the Al Hor, but in the Maghreb that status is held by the Sloughi. The Sloughi is the only breed that is allowed to enter the dwellings of most Berbers, and the breed also receives many other privileges associated with its favored status.
In the Maghreb, the Sloughi serves its noble masters as a hunting dog, property and livestock guardian, and companion animal. In an era before the invention of guns, the only way to capture many fast moving creatures was to use either a sight hound or a falcon, and sometimes both. On a traditional hunt, the Sloughi is kept on a leash, sometimes riding on the back of a camel or horse. Once a gazelle, hare, or similar creature is located, the Sloughi is unleashed to pursue it. Often multiple Sloughis are let loose to increase the likelihood of success and to assist in the capture of a larger creature such as a gazelle. The dogs would either kill the animal themselves or hold it in place until their masters could dispatch it with a blade. When not on the hunt, Sloughis guarded their masters’ dwellings and livestock, the most important possessions that most Berbers own. The dogs would bark to alert their owners of the approach of a strange human or wild beast and drive them off with force if necessary. Although most would never admit to caring for or desiring the company of a dog, the loyal and devoted Sloughi is also greatly treasured as a companion and friend. The regal and dignified Sloughi provides calm, quiet, and unconditional support and affection at all times, quite rare in a world of constant personal and political intrigue.
In the Maghreb, two distinct varieties of Sloughi are recognized, the Mountain Sloughi and the Desert Sloughi. The two varieties are generally similar, but the Desert Sloughi tends to be more lightly built and slender. The Mountain Sloughi is noticeably thicker than the Desert Sloughi, but is still a very thin and athletic dog. These varieties are still maintained in Africa, but have been mixed together thoroughly in Western dogs.
The Sloughi was probably first encountered by Europeans during Roman Times, when the entire Maghreb was part of the Roman Empire, and the breed may have been imported to the rest of the Empire although there is no record of this. Sloughis were very likely brought to the Iberian Peninsula in 711 with the Moorish Invasion where they influenced the development of the Galgo Espanol or Spanish Greyhound. In modern times, the breed was (re)introduced to Europe as a result of imperialism. For a number of decades in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Spain, France, and Italy controlled vast stretches of North Africa. Unlike colonial possessions elsewhere in the world, the Maghreb saw massive European immigration, especially to French Algeria. European settlers and colonial officials became intrigued by the Sloughi. This interest greatly peaked after dog shows became popular across Europe in the mid to late 1800’s as dog fanciers across the continent sought to find new and exotic breeds to exhibit in the show ring.
By the end of the 19th Century, a number of Sloughis had been imported to Europe, mainly arriving in France, Italy, and Germany. There was initially some confusion as to the true nature of the Sloughi, and this breed was at one time considered to be a smooth-coated variety of the Saluki, known at the time as the Persian Greyhound. As Europeans became more familiar with both the Saluki and the Sloughi, it became clear that the two dogs were entirely separate breeds and in 1935 the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) granted full recognition to the Sloughi as a unique breed. The Sloughi was slow to catch on in Europe, and was relatively rare for a number of decades. After World War II, interest in the breed picked up considerably, especially in France, Germany, and the Netherlands, and breed numbers rose dramatically. Further breed confusion occurred in the 1970’s, when Yugoslavian and French fanciers began to import the first Azawakhs from Mali and Burkina Faso. The Azawakh was at first considered a variety of Sloughi, and was not recognized as a unique breed until 1981.
It is generally agreed that the first Sloughi to arrive in the United States was named Tagiurie el Sian, although depictions of the breed had been published since at least the 1800’s. Tagiurie el Sian, a sand-colored Desert Sloughi with a light mask, was brought to America in 1973 by his owners Kaethe and Carl Rodarty from Tunisia. Unfortunately this dog was never bred, and the breed did not become established in the New World until 1979, when Carole Cioce imported two German Sloughis to California. Two years later, the first American Sloughi litter was born at the de Moreau Kennel in California from French parents. This litter was owned by Jacques and Ermine Moreau-Sipiere, who became some of the most influential and important Sloughi breeders and importers in America after moving themselves and their kennel from France.
In 1987, the Sloughi Fanciers Association of American (SFAA) was founded in Beverly Hills, California by Gisela Cook-Schmidt, Jack McGuffin, Carole Cioce, Mario Rechzaid, and Kaethe and Carl Rodarty. The Moreau-Sipieres joined the SFAA shortly after its founding, but personality conflicts led to the SFAA quickly disbanding. In 1989, the Moreau-Sipieres founded a new organization, the American Sloughi Association (ASLA). After ASLA’s founding, the SFAA reformed, and ever since both organizations have promoted the Sloughi in the United States. In 1990, Dr. Bernd Fritsch and Dr. Dominique de Caprona moved to the United States from France. Three years later, they founded the Shi-Rayan Sloughis Kennel which would go on to produce some of the most successful Sloughis to ever enter American dog shows. Their first litter was sired by a male imported from Germany by the Moreau-Sipieres named Damir el Tahiri. Damir el Tahiri would go on to be the most successful sire in American Sloughi history and many of his descendants have earned championships.
Through a great deal of effort on behalf of both the SFAA and ASLA, Sloughis were accepted into coursing competitions held by number of American coursing dog associations by the end of the 1990’s. Since that time, American Sloughis, particularly those associated with the SFAA, have been more active in coursing competitions than dog shows, largely because that is where the breed is currently most accepted. In 1995, the Sloughi was granted full recognition with the United Kennel Club (UKC), the second largest purebred dog registry in the United States (and also the world). Most Sloughi fanciers in the United States really wanted full American Kennel Club (AKC) recognition for their breed, and continued to work towards it. In 1997, the AKC placed the Sloughi in its Foundation Stock Service (AKC-FSS), the first step towards full recognition. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, Sloughi fanciers faced an uphill battle in getting their dog registered. Much of this was the result of the widely held belief, especially among Saluki fanciers, that the Sloughi and the Azawakh were nothing more than smooth-coated varieties of Saluki. With the coming of the 21st Century and genetic testing, these attitudes have softened and the Sloughi is now generally accepted as a unique breed in the United States.
In 2004, the AKC began allowing Sloughis to compete in agility, obedience, rally and tracking events. Two years later, the AKC also allowed Sloughis to compete in lure coursing. In 2011, the Sloughi was moved into the AKC’s Miscellaneous Class where it is eligible to compete in almost all AKC events, but not conformation shows. The AKC selected the ASLA as the official parent club. The next step for the Sloughi will be full recognition with the AKC, which will occur after the AKC has determined that a series of milestones have been met. If nothing changes, the Sloughi will eventually be a member of the Hound Group, but the AKC has talked about reorganizing its groups. If this occurs the Sloughi will probably be a member of a newly created sight hound group.
The Sloughi is continuing to grow in popularity in the United States, but its numbers are growing slowly. In the Maghreb, the Sloughi is still highly venerated, and remains the preferred (and essentially only) hunting dog of the Berber elites. In the United States, the Sloughi is almost entirely kept as a companion animal and show dog, although a sizable number of Sloughis also compete in lure coursing competitions. Although the Sloughi now has a strong foothold in America, it is still quite rare and its position will remain somewhat precarious until it becomes a more common sight.
The Sloughi is quite similar in appearance to many other sight hounds, and most novices would likely mistake it for a Greyhound. Although comparatively new to America, this dog has been purebred for perhaps thousands of years and looks very graceful and refined. The Sloughi is quite tall, with males typically standing between 26 and 29 inches tall at the shoulder and females typically standing between 24 and 27 inches. Improved diet has led to Western and European Sloughis being substantially taller than their North African ancestors, and slightly taller Sloughis are acceptable in American show rings. This breed is very lithe and slender; this tendency can be so extreme that many casual observers believe that the dog is emaciated. Most male Sloughis weigh between 55 and 65 pounds, and most females weigh between 35 and 50. The Sloughi is one of the canine world’s greatest athletes and should appear as such. Though thin, this dog should look sturdy and muscular, never frail or delicate. Much of the Sloughi’s height is due to its very long legs, and this is one of the few breeds that is significantly taller from floor to shoulder than it is long from chest to rump. The long tail of the Sloughi is incredibly narrow, and is typically held low with an upwards curve near the end.
The head of the Sloughi sits at the end of a long, prominent neck. The head itself is somewhat small for the size of the dog. The Sloughi’s head is somewhat long, but is deeper and sturdier than many other sight hounds. The head and muzzle are relatively indistinct from each other, and blend in very smoothly. The muzzle is roughly as long as the skull, doubling the length of the head. The black nose of the Sloughi is not supported by skeletal structure and consequently dips slightly forwards. The ears of the Sloughi are of medium-size, but look longer than those of more sight hounds. The ears are triangular in size, end in rounded tips, and hang down close to the sides of the head. The eyes of the Sloughi are large, brown, and set deeply into the head. The overall expression of most Sloughis is gentle, slightly sad, and melancholic.
The coat of the Sloughi is short, smooth, tight, and fine over the dog’s entire body. In order to be exhibited at a dog show, Sloughis may be any shade from light sand or cream to red mahogany fawn. A number of black markings are acceptable including brindling, masks over the muzzle and eyes, ears, overlay, and mantle, and most Sloughis have at least some of them. Small to medium white patches are acceptable on the chest and toes, but these should not be excessive. Sloughis in the Maghreb exhibit a greater range of colors, some of which may eventually be added to Western Standards. Until then, these Sloughis are ineligible in the show ring, although they do just as well as a pet or in coursing competitions.
The Sloughi is generally similar to most other sight hounds in terms of temperament, but is substantially more protective and somewhat more reserved and independent than most. The Sloughi’s general demeanor is usually described as dignified, reserved, and regal. The Sloughi is famed for its loyalty. This breed is incredibly devoted to its master, with whom it shares a close bond. Largely as a result of this loyalty, Sloughis are infamously difficult to rehome. The Sloughi has a strong tendency to become a one-person dog, although most will form strong bonds with an entire family (usually with one favorite person). Even with its favorite person, the Sloughi is quite reserved and non-displaying, and this breed is certainly not clingy or demonstrative. This breed tends to be very independent, preferring to be in the same room as its family but not on top of them. While very pleased to get an occasional pat on the head, most Sloughis are not fond of excessive touching and recoil from it.
There is not much information available about Sloughis and children. These dogs seem to get along just fine with children if raised alongside them, but this breed is probably best suited to homes with older children aged 8 or older. Sloughis which have not previously encountered young children are very likely to be nervous and suspicious of them, and also may have their prey drives triggered by their jerky movements and high-pitched noises. Almost all Sloughis are completely intolerant of rough handling or horseplay.
Naturally protective and suspicious, the vast majority of Sloughis are not fond of strangers. With proper training and socialization, most Sloughis are polite and accepting of strangers, albeit incredibly aloof and uninterested in them. This breed does not like it when strangers take too many liberties, such as uninvited petting. Breed members that have not been socialized are often nervous and highly suspicious of strangers, and occasionally aggressive. Sloughis are quite variable when it comes to making friends. Some of these dogs never form friendships even after years of contact from a new person such as a roommate or spouse while others are very accepting of most regular acquaintances and may even warmly greet them. Not only protective but alert, the Sloughi makes a capable watch dog that will notify its owners of the approach of a stranger. Although not a stereotypical guard dog, the Sloughi is actually well-suited to that purpose. Most breed members will challenge any uninvited intruder, and despite their slender appearance, this is not a dog to be messed with.
Sloughis are average when it comes to their interactions with other dogs. Sloughis that have been properly socialized with other dogs get along very well with them, and most greatly prefer to share their lives with at least one other dog. Although not bred as a pack hunter, many fanciers keep large groups of these dogs without major issues. Some Sloughis do develop a number of issues with other dogs including dominance, territoriality, possessiveness, jealousy, and same-sex aggression, but these problems are usually not severe. The Sloughi does have substantial issues with non-canine animals. This breed has a very intense prey drive, and most breed members will pursue and potentially attack any creature it sees. Sloughis left in a yard will likely bring back, “presents” of dead animals such as squirrels, birds, and rabbits. Most Sloughis will accept animals that they have been raised alongside such as the family cat, but some are never entirely trustworthy around them.
The Sloughi presents substantial training challenges. This breed is generally intelligent, but is also very independent. Most Sloughis have little interest in whatever their owners are attempting to teach them and have even less interest in blindly obeying. Sloughis tend to be very sensitive to correction, to the point that even excessive verbal correction can make them too nervous to continue training. A dog with a serious what’s-in-it-for-me attitude when it comes to training, this breed responds much better to rewards-based methods (although only to a certain extent). Training also goes much more smoothly if the owner is capable of maintaining a constant position of authority. This does not mean that the Sloughi is untrainable, far from it. However, it does mean that training a Sloughi requires a substantially greater amount of time, effort, and patience than is necessary with most breeds, and the final results may never be exactly what an owner wants. In particular, even the best trained Sloughis are almost impossible to call back when they begin pursuit of potential prey, and this breed should be leashed at all times when not in a secure area. Additionally, most Sloughis are slow to housebreak, requiring several additional months of crate training.
Very athletic, Sloughis require a fair amount of exercise, generally somewhat more than is common with other sight hounds. The Sloughi needs a vigorous daily walk at the very minimum, but truly craves an opportunity to run. Possessing more stamina than most sight hounds, this breed makes an excellent jogging companion, but the Sloughi is happiest when given an opportunity to run freely in a safely enclosed area. Sloughis that are not provided an outlet for their energy are likely to develop behavioral issues such as destructiveness, timidity, aggression, and hyperactivity. However, the exercise needs of the Sloughi are far from extreme, and most committed families will not be run ragged meeting them. Once a Sloughi has been provided its daily romp, most of these dogs become couch potatoes in the home, spending hours relaxing on the sofa.
Sloughi owners must make sure that any enclosure which houses one of these dogs is very secure. Although not driven to wander, Sloughis will attempt to pursue potential prey that catches their attention, often ignoring significant barriers to do so. This dog is an incredibly jumper and can clear fences up to (and often higher than) six feet. Sloughis can also dig out of an enclosure or burst right through a weak point under the right circumstances. This is incredibly important as a Sloughi in hot pursuit is so single-minded that it could be run right in front of a fire truck with sirens blaring without noticing.
The Sloughi has very minimal grooming requirements. A regular brushing is all that is required, and sometimes this can be accomplished with a towel. Sloughis do shed, but generally only lightly. Additionally, this breed’s short coat is less noticeable than that of most other dogs. Owners should be aware that bathing a Sloughi can be quite challenging as most of these dogs despise the water. It is therefore important to introduce bathing from as early an age and as carefully as possible.
The Sloughi is generally regarded as a very healthy breed. This dog has been bred for many centuries strictly as a working dog in some very harsh conditions. Any defects would have been eliminated from breeding lines by natural or artificial selection. The Sloughi also benefits from having a large and ancient gene pool. The Sloughi breed suffers from very low rates of most genetic conditions found in other purebred dogs and tends to live relatively long lives. The life expectancy for a Sloughi is between 10 and 15 years, on the long-side of average for a breed of this size. Western Sloughis do have a very small population and have been subject to an unfortunate amount of in-breeding. As a result, a few health problems have been identified as areas of concern. Sloughi breeders are working with veterinarians to develop tests and breeding programs that will hopefully eliminate these problems in the future, as well as continuing to import more dogs from Europe and the Maghreb to widen the gene pool.
The one problem that is regarded as being the most important among Sloughi fanciers is Progressive Retinal Atrophy, better known as PRA. PRA is among the most common serious genetic problems in all breeds, and the most common found in Sloughis. PRA is a genetic condition which causes the photoreceptors in the eyes to deteriorate as a dog ages. This results in a gradual deterioration in vision, eventually leading to complete blindness. PRA is sometimes misdiagnosed as night blindness, because one of the stages of the disease’s progression is the complete loss of night vision. In Sloughis, PRA usually appears between age 2 and 4. Luckily, there is a simple blood test to determine whether a Sloughi will be affected by PRA, carries the gene for PRA but will not be affected, or is completely free of the disease. Breeders in Europe and America want to work with each other and veterinarians and would like to completely rid the Sloughi breed of PRA within 2 to 6 generations depending on the disease’s prevalence.
Sloughis were bred for centuries in the sweltering heat of Northern Africa. As a result, this is one of the most heat-tolerant of all dogs, capable of running full speed at temperatures that would kill a Greyhound. However, this dog is very intolerant of being cold or wet. Sloughis have very little fur and almost no fat to protect them. Breed members develop cold-related conditions such as frostbite and even freeze to death at higher temperatures and much more quickly than most breeds. For these reasons, Sloughis should wear sweaters and booties when the temperature drops, and should be dried off quickly and thoroughly whenever they get wet.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in this breed (although skeletal problems are rare) it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
Although the Sloughi suffers from low to very low rates of most genetic conditions other than PRA, a number have been identified at least incidentally. A full list of health problems identified in Sloughis would have to include: