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Learning from Streamer

streamer

I’ve been working with Streamer, the tazi-saluki, and I must say that much of what people believe about these dogs is false.

Dog trainers often say you cannot train these dogs, but the truth of the matter is he’s quite soft.  His softness does not manifest itself in cowering before me when he does something to make me cross. His softness manifests itself in attempting to avoid me.

The trick is to have a rapport with this dog before you start making demands of any kind. He is not afraid of people, but he is quite aloof. For him to trust me, we have had to become friends.

When he first arrived at the airport, he glared at me and snarl-barked at me. I’ve never seen an eight-week-old puppy act so primal and so primitive.

He and I never really interacted. He was not supposed to be my dog, but one day in February, he decided that he wanted to be mine, and I’ve been working with him ever since.

I cannot say that everyone should have a dog of this type. This type of dog requires an understanding of what it’s like to have a sensitive and soft dog that is combined with a general primitive dog’s tendency to be independence. Independence combined with softenss is not something that the major schools of dog training are really equipped to understand, and that’s why so many dog trainers think of these breeds as quite incorrigible.

But he’s not really. Because he’s so well-socialized to people and other dogs, he’s actually quite stable. He won’t run over and lick your hand like a golden retriever would, but he’s not nervy or jumpy at all.

As he has matured, he has become more and more less socially open, but his reserved nature is not like the old school chow chow’s.  He just has a small circle of people he trusts.

Working with a dog with this fundamental nature is teaching me many things about other dogs. I am reminded of what falconers require their apprentices to work with first.  They very rarely tell their apprentices to get Harris’s hawks, because Harris’s hawks are cooperative hunters. The usually tell them to get a kestrel or a red-tailed hawk, because they are more independent.

I’m learning what it’s like to have a dog that is not derived from that Western dog concept of an obedient servant.  I’m picking up ideas of that will make it easier to work with other breeds that might be easier to work with.

So I have a leash-broken saluki that walks at a perfect heel.  He sits at the curb when I cross the street. He is a beautiful creature. His feathering is starting to grow in, and he will be a magnificent manly dog when he matures.

I look like a real dog man when I walk this dog. He stares up at me with adoration at a heel, and I start to believe the illusion.

Though I probably shouldn’t.

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Egyptians saluki

A big part of what a dog breed is can be defined culturally.  A breed is often defined by what its fanciers believe its defining characteristics, and they set what the essential traits and bloodlines of that breed can be. We currently have breeds with rather open registries, like Carolina dogs, a breed of which I’m sure includes a few dogs that are just Down South chow mixes. And we have all those closed registry breeds in the various established kennel clubs and societies throughout the world.

I currently live with two dog breeds that have quite divergent cultural definitions of their breed.

The saluki-tazi or “salukimorph” type of dog has been in existence since at least the Bronze Age.  These dogs appear on lots of Ancient Egyptian artifacts, including a mummy from the 18th Dynasty.  Lots of debate exists on what is a true saluki here in the West, and because we do not have a true breed foundation date or complete pedigrees going back thousands of years, this debate can be quite subjective.

The German shepherd dog, by contrast, developed in its current form after the foundation of the SV on April 22, 1899. The breed is based off a breeding program that inbred quite tightly off a single Thuringian sheepdog that was bred to dogs with a similar “wolfy” phenotype from southern Germany. This organization was the second one founded in Germany to standardize a sheepdog breed from the various landrace herders that could be found throughout the nation. In 1891, an organization called the Phylax Society was created with that purpose in mind, but this organization was prone to infighting about whether working characteristics or conformation were most important in breeding a standardized German pastoral dog.  This organization was gone by 1894, and Max von Stephanitz and Artur Meyer revived the idea based upon breeding a standardized form of wolf-like shepherd dog.

German shepherds, unlike salukis, have a defined date for their formation, and although Stephanitz speculated about the ancient origins of these dogs, the dogs that we call German shepherd dogs today are clearly defined by phenotype and bloodline. Yes, a debate exists about their conformation, particularly the amount of angulation in the rear, but there is also a debate about whether white ones should be a distinct breed (and there are actually now two white German shepherd breeds in existence now). There are Shiloh shepherds, king shepherds, American Alsatians, Saarloos wolfhonden, Czechoslovakian vlcak, and the volkosoby. The first three are based upon breeding an oversized, less rear-angulated GSD, and the American Alsatian is supposed to resemble a dire wolf (somehow).  The final three are GSD crosses with wolf. An assumption exists that there is bit of wolf in GSD, and adding a bit more wolf will somehow improve them. The vlcak and volkosoby are mostly GSD in ancestry and have successfully been used as working dogs, while the Saarloos wolfhond remains a bit of novelty.

And then we have the Blue Bay shepherds, which have a little wolf in them, but they are based upon dilute GSDs, which are considered faulty by the breed standard.

But these breed exist only because there is a clearly defined breed with a culture and fancy that have clearly defined its traits and characteristics. The spin-off breeds exist because people want dogs with those traits, which will never be recognized as acceptable by the mainstream of the breed.

German shepherds do not have a lot of genetic diversity as a breed.  Even dogs that don’t really look like each other or share common ancestors all derived from Horand von Grafrath and three of his grandsons out of Hektor von Schwben.  The GSDs we have tested on Embark have had relatively high genetic COIs. The breed average is around 30 percent, while golden retriever breed averages are close to 20 percent.

This is not to say that German shepherds are a genetic mess. The breed founders must have purged a lot of weakness and genetic anomalies out of the foundation stock, which can be a way of establishing a relatively inbred strain that strong and viable.

Our saluki’s parents have come out as purebred salukis, but their genetic inbreeding coefficients have been less than 3 percent. I have seen crosses between Western breeds that have higher genetic COIs than purebred salukis.

The saluki breed must have developed over the millennia with selection for coursing traits out of a diverse set of dogs. My guess is that gene flow existed between what became salukis and the local pariah dog populations. Then they just selected which puppies could run, and then they bred back into the general saluki bloodline.

So we have one breed founded by late nineteenth and early twentieth century “scientific breeding” methods, and another breed that just developed over a vast territory over the long annals of history.

I’ve had people tell me that Streamer is not a saluki because he is brindle and because his father is a Central Asian tazi.  That’s because Western saluki fanciers have decided that salukis can be only from Middle Eastern countries, and brindle salukis in the UK, usually from caravan people, were often crossed with brindle greyhounds but still registered as salukis.

Most people are unaware that Iran borders on Turkmenistan, a place where tazis exist. The border between Turkmenistan and Iran was clearly defined during the Great Game period of competition between the Russian and British Empires in the nineteenth century.

But those dogs have been traded through Persia and Central Asia for thousands of years. The political demarcation by two European great powers in the past 150ish years is but a blip on a map. However, that political demarcation is seen as a breed barrier in much of the saluki fancy, and thus, my dog cannot be a saluki. He’s a cross between a desert-bred saluki and Central Asian tazi.

What I have found interesting, though, is that I have developed a certain cognitive dissonance about these two different types of dog. I am totally fine with the German shepherd dog as defined by the established breed clubs, but I do think the saluki people are being just a bit short-sighted.

It may be that I see the German shepherd as something recently created. The characteristics and bloodline are clearly defined in the breed. I don’t see salukis the same way. I see salukis as a more natural, more organic sort of breed, one that exists almost as a distinct subspecies of dog, one that even has its own ecomorphs that have been adapted for colder and hotter climates.

This dissonance and my acceptance of cultural norms are issues that I will continue to wrestle with in my head. We all have some level of cognitive dissonance as we learn to live in a complex world, but it is still worth exploring and ferreting out our contradictions to understand what we truly believe.

And belief is a big part of what a dog breed essentially is.  It is not an act of faith necessarily, but it is the acceptance of the society and strictures that allow that essentialism to accept what a particular dog is.

When we start thinking about dog breeds, we need to explore the cultures that define them as such, as well as how that culture developed over the years. This can lead to some uncomfortable conversations and some uncomfortable self-realization, but it can help our understanding of why we think the way we do.

And that self-awareness is useful if we wish to continue breeding and working with dogs.

 

 

 

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Oinky pig courser

streamer-oinky-pig.jpg

Streamer likes to fetch and then zoom around with the oinky pig.

His feathering is coming in nicely too.

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streamer getting saluki shaped

My saluki-tazi Streamer is turning into a proper sighthound. His feathering grows a little every week, and he’s decided that he absolutely is mine.

The affection one gets from one of these dogs is of a different quality than what I’ve received from other breeds. It’s quite understated but adoring. He looks at me with soft-brown eyes, and I run my fingers through his nascent ear feathers.  He doesn’t even do the whippet thing where they leap around with silliness.

His affection is deep, but it is of a quieter quality. This is a dog that is only seven months old, but he already has that essence of something a bit wilder, a bit different from what I’m used to.

I call him my snow leopard. Part of that joke is that his brindle coloration reminds me so much of that Himalayan pantherine, but he also has that mystery about him.

I have him trained fairly well, but I also recognize that his innate nature is somewhat different from Western sighthounds, herding dogs, and gun dogs. He does not have that desire to gain my approval. He loves me, but he is still distant.

The fact that he is so bonded to me is an odd paradox. He thinks I’m the best person in the world, but he is very much is his own dog.

This is the true appeal of a dog like this.  You don’t get one hoping to have an obedient servant. You get one hoping to become its partner, its human.

And I have become one, and for no other reason than I take him out and run him during these formative months. He was not initially going to be mine, but he made his decision about which of the household he preferred.

So it is a strange thing to have a dog like this. This is a different quality of dog than I am used to.

 

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Half Kazakh vs. All England

Streamer the saluki pursued by Poet the whippet. Streamer is half desert-bred saluki and half tazi from Kazakhstan. He’s a saluki by DNA and by common sense and maybe by the UKC.

Kazakh vs. all england

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We got a big snow last night. The dogs enjoyed frolicking in the aftermath.


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The boys

Poet (whippet) and Streamer (saluki/tazi) out mafficking about on a sunny November Afternoon.

poet streamer 1

poet stremer 5

poet streamer 4

poet streamer 2

poet streamer 6

popo 1

popo

 

 

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