by   David Hancock

It would have made our understanding of the gazelle hounds of the Middle and Near East a great deal easier if the Persian hound had been called the Saluki and the North African hound the Sloughi. But then the Arabs would have laid claim to the Saluki and the blurring of the Sloughi and the Azawakh from further south in Africa, made more likely. Probably lost to us too are the 'in-betweeners' like the Tesem of Egypt and the Sudanese 'greyhound' breeds of Dinka, Shilluk and Bisharin. Wars and boundary changes can do enormous harm to breeds of dog. Early portrayals and descriptions of the Saluki in Britain usually referred to them as Persian Greyhounds and they were more often considered to be hounds for use with the hawk, rather than sighthounds pure and simple. Gazelle hounds, as a name, would have suited them admirably. Wherever there's a desert with free-roaming gazelle, then a highly-efficient gazelle hound would be utilised by local hunters to course them.   

  In 1835, Zillah, a black and tan Persian Greyhound was on show at the Regents Park Zoological Gardens. Forty years later a light fawn bitch called Tierma won a prize at a Kennel Club show. But it was not until half a century later that the first breed club held their founding meeting, leading to the breed becoming recognised in 1923. The first challenge certificate winner in the breed here was Sarona Kelb, bred in Damascus and owned by Brigadier General Lance. He also bred the first champion, Orchard Shahin, daughter of  Sarona Kelb. He and his wife also organized coursing for the new breed in 1925. They were concerned that the Saluki might become purely a show dog; they strove to preserve its original function and it was noticeable, in its early years, that all the show winners looked as though they could run. I give The Saluki or Gazelle Hound Club’s members full marks for their work in striving to retain a sporting hound throughout most of the 20th century.

Before the invention of the high-powered rifle, hound and hawk had a vital role in hunting fast-moving gazelles; it may now be an indulgence for contemporary hunters but for nomadic tribesmen in testing terrain and an unforgiving climate such a hound could be the difference between eating or starving. When I was working in Jordan, it was quite clear to me that the respect shown to their hounds by the local Bedouin was marked and quite admirable. I saw too a big difference between these hounds and the Salukis of our show rings, however handsome the latter always were. The leg-furnishings, the muscularity of the loins and the length of the back being the most apparent differences. There are distinct similarities between the physical needs of a deerhound and a gazelle hound; the Scottish Deerhound has to course a comparable quarry but over very different terrain and in far less testing temperatures. The deer in Scotland run over rocky broken ground, nearly always with plant growth on it; the gazelle in the desert run over looser sand and bare rock but usually flat terrain, although the pursuit mainly takes place whilst the gazelle is being harried by hawks.

A hound that has to run fast over broken ground needs superb feet, strong but slender limbs, great extension fore and aft, dependable power from the loins, a deep chest to allow lung room and immense agility. A hound that has to pull down bigger quarry needs massive drive and determination, a strong muzzle and great athleticism in the chase. Terrain and climate apart, there is a great deal in common between any deerhound and any gazelle hound. In the two pedigree breeds of Scottish Deerhound and Saluki you expect similarities in their respective Breed Standards. The Deerhound has to be a minimum of 30 inches high and weigh around 100lbs, the Saluki has to be 23-28 inches at the shoulder; the extra height desired in the former seems a show ring requirement not a field benefit. The early show Deerhounds were sometimes passed down by sportsmen who found the bigger hounds cumbersome and therefore limited in the field. The show Saluki has to have 'sufficient length of loin'; the show Deerhound has to have a loin that is 'well-arched and drooping to tail'. Both these sporting breeds surely must have a powerfully-developed, hard-muscled loin in order to act their role.           

As far as gait/movement is concerned, the Deerhound has to have it 'Easy, active and true, with a long stride'; the Saluki has to have it 'smooth, flowing and effortless. Light and lifting, showing both reach and drive without hackney action or pounding'. There is no stress on the ability to race over extended distances with enormous power. Both these distinguished breeds are long-distance steeple-chasers or they are nothing. I would expect the necessity of ample lung-room to be stressed; it is not. I would expect such a coursing hound to have its sheer determination in the chase and its massive perseverance in the pursuit really prized. It is not. With under 140 newly registered Salukis and only just over 200 newly-registered Deerhounds recorded in 2016, both these canine athletes are going to disappear in the next half-century. Each deserves to survive but to a more functional and role-respecting word picture.