Written by Doris Donnerman (last updated April 3, 2009)
"As old as time itself and as fleet as its flying moments," the Saluki is said to be the oldest pure breed in the world. Its antiquity is, indeed, not a figment of the imagination but is readily proved by research into archaeology, art, and literature. Whenever the student approaches the horizon of early civilization, he finds the Saluki firmly established as a definite breed and as firmly entrenched in the affections and daily life of his master.
The presences of the Saluki have been found pictured in that of old Persian art, they are also found to be depicted on ancient Tombs of Egypt. Records of this breed of dog have been found at Hierakonpolis as early as 3600 B.C.
It is claimed that the Saluki originally came with the horses from Syria and today whenever Arab chieftains are mentioned their horses and Salukis immediately come to mind. The Saluki first came to Egypt through trade with the Arabs, so tradition goes, and it is from ancient Egypt that we find some of the earliest records of the breed.
The word saluki is classical Arabic; the word slughi is colloquial Arabic. To the Arabs the Saluki is known as el hor, meaning "The Noble One." He was declared sacred by the Moslems, which gave them the right to eat of the meat brought down by the dog in the chase. The Saluki was the only dog allowed to sleep in the Sheik's tent and to the Saluki the Arab was a slave rather than a master.
Looked upon as sacred, he was never sold but was exchanged among the Arab chiefs and members of nomadic tribes, his value being interpreted according to his ability in the chase. "He is my butcher; he makes me independent of imports and importers," is an old Arabian expression. Salukis have always been looked upon as things of great value.
Perhaps the reason for the long purity of the breed and its freedom from outcrosses is the great expanse of uninhabited land which surround the Arab, allowing him to breed his favorite hound in a world all his own, free from outside encroachment. The Saluki thus remains a symbol of the color and mystery of the ever-changing, yet never-changing, East.
In Arabia the breed is classed into four varieties, the two most distinctive of which are the "Shami" or Syrian, and the "Nejdi. The "Shami" is smooth coated, with feathered ears and tail and slight feathering on the legs and between the toes. The latter is to better allow him to travel over the soft sands. The "Nejdi" is of smooth coat with no feathering. The Saluki has been called the "Persian Greyhound." The breed is known in Persia as "Tazi," meaning "Arab." This variety is often heavier and larger than the "Shami.'
The travels of the nomadic desert tribes took them far and wide and the Saluki's habitat included Egypt, Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and Persia. Each tribe specialized in its own particular type of dog, always striving for better animals than those possessed by anyone else. The whelping of a litter was a great occasion. Visitors arrived in masses, all hoping to somehow obtain a puppy. Great store was set by all the odd numbers of the litter, the first, third, and fifth being highly prized. If a puppy, upon being removed from its nursing mother, would return to its habitual position each time for seven consecutive days, it became the choice of the master. Great care was lavished upon the youngsters. Female goats were set aside for their nourishment and camel's milk, thickened with dates and kouskoussou. Sheep's milk often became part of their diet.
The puppies' education began when they were three or four months old, when they were allowed to catch rats. Shortly afterwards they were trained with a young falcon, the two starting their hunting careers together. Hares were offered to them at six months of age, and later on they were started on young gazelles. When the young Saluki was fifteen to eighteen months of age, he was allowed to hunt regularly and when two years old, was considered fully qualified for the chase. The gazelle was generally hunted with Saluki and hawk, the dog being trained to pursue the same animal contacted by the hawk. When the hawk struck its prey, the Saluki held it down until the hunters arrived. When hares were hunted in thick undergrowth, the Saluki often set his course entirely by watching the hawk, although the dog has keen scenting abilities. From his use in gazelle hunting, the Saluki is commonly called the "gazelle hound."
The Saluki is a beautifully streamlined dog, every line denoting grace and speed. He is said to be able to travel at the rate of over 43 miles an hour. Arabs generally gave their Salukis names which indicated speed.
The whole appearance of this breed should give an impression of grace and symmetry. He is of great speed and endurance coupled with strength and activity. This enables him to kill gazelle or other quarry over deep sand or that of Rocky Mountains. The expression should be dignified and gentle with deep, faithful, farseeing eyes. The male should be of average height from twenty-three to twenty-eight inches and females may be considerably smaller, this being very typical of the breed.
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