The Saluki, also known as the Royal Dog of Egypt, is the oldest known breed of domesticated dog. Excavations of the Sumerian Empire had produced carvings that date back in excess of 8000BC. It is a matter of record that in 1200BC., the great Pharaohs of Egypt used Saluki in the hunt. So fond of these dogs were they that many mummified Saluki have been found in ancient tombs in the Upper Nile Region. We also know that as lat as 329BC., when Alexander the Great invaded India he found Saluki there too. We are also told that where the word ‘dog’ appears in the Bible, it means ‘Saluki’. In the Mohammedan religion the dog is considered unclean, the exception being the Saluki who, the Moslems believe was a gift to them by Allah for amusement and benefit. In fact the phrase, “a gift from Allah for amusement and benefit” appears in the Koran. In the Arabic language the word for ‘dog’ is ‘kelb’ which means ‘filth’. The Saluki, on the other hand is “El Hor” meaning “The Noble One”, or “El Baraha”, meaning “The Blessed One”. Two other names are “Gift of Allah” and “Eyes of the Prophet”.
The Arabs being a nomadic people rely on their Saluki to provide them with meat for the pot. The women and children rear the puppies until they are old enough to begin their formal training, which will last about two years. They start off by hunting desert rats and eventually graduate to Gazelle. Their main prey is the Dorcas Gazelle, which is of similar size to our Impala and also carried a pair of very deadly horns. The Saluki who originate in Persia are usually bigger and heavier and their natural prey is the Wild Ass. There is a variance of five inches or approximately 12.5 cm. in the Breed Standard to cater for the different ‘origins’.
The Saluki who hunts in the desert area is of lighter build and smaller size. This is to enable him to be carried out to the hunting field on the back of a horse. If we think that the Arabian horse stands 14.1 to 14.2 hands high, carries both rider and dog, we realise how important it is that the dog be light in weight. The style of hunting was as follows. Horses carrying dogs and riders would leave the encampment early in the morning before it got too hot. The hunting party would consist of mounted men, some horses carrying both riders and dogs and some of the men flying hawks from their wrists.
As soon as the falcons spotted the game, the Saluki would be lowered to the ground, and following the flight of the hawks would take up the hunt. We are also told that a Saluki would not chase the herd at random, but would select a certain animal, cut if out of the herd and then run is down and kill it. As a reward for a clean and successful kill the Saluki was always given the heart of its victim. If we stop and think that now the horse has to carry the dog, the man and the carcass back to the camp we realise that not only must the desert bred Saluki be light, but the horse must also be exceptionally strong. On the other hand the Saluki who lives and hunts in the mountainous areas has a different function to perform. He has a different terrain to negotiate and a different prey to hunt. He is therefore a heavier, bigger dog. Bearing in mind that his prey is the large fleet Wild Ass, or Gophur, his style of hunting is different. Again, early morning would see the hunt start out. Teams of two Saluki would be placed around the area designated as the hunting ground and as the hunters drove the prey towards the dogs, they would take up the chase working in relays. It is important here to stress that although we have this 5-inch variance in the size of the Saluki, the conformation, movement and characteristics of the bred remain identical. It is also important to realise that the Saluki particularly the desert type, has a deep rooted affinity with horses and medium sized birds. Anyone watching the breed out on a walk, or better still, on the beach will soon realise just how keen the instinct still is.
We owe the careful preservation of the breed to the Arab tribesmen who placed great store on keeping the breed absolutely pure. Only the swiftest and strongest were allowed to reproduce and as a result we are today blessed with this inheritance. Pedigrees, which would include the colours and hunting abilities of more than 60 ancestors, were remembered in detail, never written down. The Saluki is still so treasured that in the late 1960’s when a bitch was brought through Iran an escort of eight armed and mounted tribesmen accompanied her. In the country of origin, when a good Saluki dies friends come from far and near to share the grief. A Saluki amongst the Arabs is never sold, only given as a gift from a friend to a friend, which is the highest form of compliment from one person to another. Saint Paul is quoted as saying, “One Saluki differs from another only in glory”, and we must assume that Christ and His Disciples knew Saluki as seen in Tintoretto’s painting, “Christ washing His Disciples Feet”.
Many civilisations have risen, flourished and floundered in the Middle East, which is also the cradle of three of the world’s most influential religions. As civilisations developed, so did the art, literature etc. Tutankhamons tomb held mummified Saluki and the paintings on the inside walls depicted Saluki hunting. In 1948, in Iraq, at the Tel Abu site, 200 new tombs were discovered by professor Seton Lloyd, and in one of them was a body of a 15 year old boy. From scientific tests and calculations these tombs were ancient at the time that Abraham left the city of Ur as described in the book of Genesis.
After the Crusades the returning Knights brought Saluki to Europe. It was then accepted that if a Knight had been to the holy Land, he would bring a Saluki home as proof of his Crusade. Again aft World War I and World War II, we see the start of the Sarona and El Nablous strains in England. There is evidence that the Saluki was known in china in the 15th Century. A painting in Harvard university Museum of Art, dated 1452 and signed Tsun-Te depicts two Saluki, one of whom is wearing a jewelled collar. There are also other paintings in China dating to the 10th Century showing the Saluki being carried on the front of horses, gifts from King to Kin, all along the Great Silk Road, which is one of the oldest trading routes in the world.
As regards the way the Saluki is fed and raised by the Bedouin’s the Hon. Miss Amhurst is quoted as saying, “The Natives give great attention to the rearing of the Saluki. They bring them up for a year on sheep’s milk which is said to make them especially swift.” After the age of a year they are fed with the hawks. This would mean that they would get the sheep’s entrails and the desert rats that the hawks would hunt.
After the age of two, their diet is supplemented with rice and dates. Dr. Trainer, A Vet who visited the Sinai area after the Six Day War reported that the Saluki were living on dates, milk and the very occasional piece of fatty mutton, but all “were in perfect health and showed not the slightest sign of under nourishment or rickets.”
In the desert, as the bitches whelping time draws near, she will leave the safety of the tent and go a little way from the encampment, where she will dig a long tunnel-like hole, which her master will help her excavate. When the whelps are born her master has no communication with them until they are approximately 6 weeks old. All he does is leave food and water at the entrance to the den. The bitch fends for herself during and after the birth of the puppies, When, in the bitches mind they are big enough to start looking after themselves, she leads them out of the hole and into her master’s tent. The Bedouins believe that the first whelp out of the hole is the best of the litter. This is perhaps another reason why today’s Saluki is of such strong constitution. Once in the tent they are raised by the women and children. In times of extreme hardship when there is no game to be found the women suckle the Saluki to keep them alive and in so doing. To be able to find meat for the family.
Due to the isolation of the people of the desert, a stranger was always regarded with suspicion, but never sent on his way without being fed. When a stranger arrived at the Bedouin camp, the Saluki were hidden under the women’s skirts. This was to prevent the stranger from seeing them and coveting them. To this day Saluki are wary of strangers and still will attempt to hide behind legs, etc.
The modern day Saluki is little changed. He is till a dignified animal, who between bursts of energy (usually once or twice around the garden at high speed) will alternate his time between his ‘night-bed’, usually yours, and his ‘day-bed’, your couch. He is a delightful and empathic companion, a clean dog in the house, but can also be hell on wheels if ignored. He does not take kindly to being confined and is a consummate escape artist. He will live happily with other animals as long as he feels that he is accorded his royal due. A Saluki is a work of art, running, hunting machine perfected by centuries for doing a vital job – supplying his master with food. His perfection has ensured that today we have a dog of strong constitution and sturdy frame, which although no longer needs to hunt for the pot, still has that ability and awareness.
Today’s Saluki owner is part of a long line entrusted with safeguarding this noble and ancient breed. It is their responsibility to ensure that the breeding programmes are carefully planned bearing in mind the thoughts and ideals of the Arabs who for so many years preserved this breed despite the changes that civilisation has brought. It is a challenge – but one I’m sure will be taken up; to preserve the Saluki, the Companion of Kings, and pass that trust on to future generations.
In doing that, we would do well to consider the following, which is how the Bedouin assess a Saluki.
The snout, or muzzle must be long and narrow. This for breed.
2. The girth at chest must be deep – the deeper the better. This for staying power.
3. The girth at waist must be fine. This for speed.
4. The hock must be well let down. This for speed.
5. The width between the top of the thighbones measured on the back must be good,
at least the width of a mans hand including thumb. This for speed.
6. For the rest, the dog with two hair warts under the chin is better than that with only
one, and the one having three or four hair warts is very good.
In closing I would like to give you this quotation from Henry V. “He trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; ……… he is pure air and fire; the dull elements of earth and water never appear in him”.
CH. & KUSA NATIONAL CH. ROARINGWATER SHAHBAAZ
SBISAm.Can.Ch.Clarinda Sunna Sarea Bashir F.Ch.