Silky tresses flowing, the Afghan Hound in America is a high society dog, at home with Rolls Royces, fashionable furs, cashmere sweaters, and Cartier jewelry. Far-removed from his birth in rugged Afghanistan, the dog brings a regal appearance and attitude to every space he occupies, every relationship he joins, and every job he does.
The Afghan is a study in contradictions. Beautiful in an aristocratic way, the breed is at heart and by heritage a sighthound, bound to course after cats in the yard, rabbits in the park or gazelles in his homeland. By appearance an ornament and by nature a guardian of the hearth, the Afghan's demeanor runs the gamut from jittery to dignified to merry.
There's no doubt that the Afghan is an ancient breed, a sighthound rising from the mists of time among the nomadic peoples of the Middle East. The mountain tribes that developed the breed to hunt large and small game were a conglomeration of people with a variety of customs and cultures. Much of the breed history has been lost as warlike factions led by the likes of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan overran the country from time to time and Mohammedans labeled the animals as repugnant and impure. There is evidence that the dogs were of two basic types reflecting the terrain and climate in which they developed, but isolated tribes had their own varieties that differed by color and coat description.
The desert dogs more closely resemble the Saluki, a thin, short-coated sighthound. The mountain variety of the breed is shorter in height, longer and thicker of coat, and chunkier of muscle. The American show dogs resemble the mountain type dogs.
True to his mountain heritage, the Afghan Hound is a tough, agile dog capable of climbing rocky outcrops and dodging around and over boulders. His large feet give him great support for twists and turns as he trails large game and dodges the hoofs and teeth of cornered animals. He is well-suited for cold, wet, windy climates. Swift enough to outdistance mounted hunters, the Afghan is of necessity a courageous hunter and an independent thinker, capable of holding large prey at bay until the hunter arrives.
Although there is some evidence of Afghan Hounds outside Afghanistan after the Indian-Afghani border wars in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, an English officer stationed near Kabul was the first documented Western breeder of the dogs. Afghans from his Ghazni kennel went to England in 1925, and the breed made its way to the US a few years later. Zeppo Marx of the famous Marx Brothers was an early fancier; he and his wife imported two dogs from England that eventually became the foundation of Pride's Hill Kennel in Massachusetts and the keystone of the breed in America. The American Kennel Club recognized the Afghan Hound in 1926 and the Afghan Club of America became an AKC member club in 1940.
The Afghan Hound Standard describes the dog as an aristocrat with a proud carriage, silky top-knot, prominent hipbones, large feet, peculiar coat pattern, and somewhat exaggerated bend in the stifle joint of the rear leg. Males should be 27 inches at the shoulder and bitches 25 inches; a deviation of an inch in either direction is acceptable. Males should weigh about 60 pounds, females about 50 pounds. (By comparison, the Akita is approximately the same height and weighs about twice as much.)
The dog is truly elegant, without a trace of coarseness in structure or coat. His head is long and refined with a slight convex or Roman appearance. His skull is crowned with a flowing headdress that blends in with the long ears and gives the appearance of smooth, satiny well-groomed hair. As tall at the shoulders as he is long in body, the dog is a picture of atheltic power well-clad in a unique coat. Fine, silky hair covers his hindquarters, flanks, ribs, forequarters, and legs in a thick blanket, and short hairs cover his back from the withers to the tip of his tail. The coat is not trimmed; the saddle of short hairs is natural.The tail has a curve or ring on the end, but is not carried over the back.
The Afghan can be any color from the pale cream or gray to deep black. The brindle pattern -- light stripes on a dark background or dark stripes on a light background -- is acceptable as are light markings on dark dogs and dark markings on light dogs. However, all-white dogs are frowned upon, and white markings are undesirable.
As lovely as the Afghan is while standing still, it is his movement that takes the breath away. His stride is powerful and seemingly without effort; his flowing hair softens the image of strength and provides style and flair. Handlers of this breed get a workout in the show ring as the dogs extend themselves in a smooth, fluid trot for the judge. In motion, the Afghan is a work of fine art, an ethereal natural wonder, a joy to behold.
The Afghan puppy, however, looks like it belongs to another breed or is of mixed parentage. The long muzzle, slender legs, silken coat, natural grace, and royal manner are nowhere in evidence; instead the puppy has a short, broad muzzle; a fluffy coat; and a wild, carefree attitude. Gradually, his muzzle, legs, and coat lengthen, his gait looses its puppy awkwardness and his promise becomes clear.
The Afghan is not an easy keeper. His coat must be brushed regularly to remove dead hairs and prevent mats and tangles. Puppy coats need brushing as they lengthen, so youngsters must be accustomed to grooming from the moment they enter the family. Somewhere between his 10th and 18th months, the Afghan loses his puppy coat. The process takes a month or more; during this time, the dog should be completely examined daily for tiny tangles that can grow into large mats in short order. As the dead hairs fall, they catch in the remaining hairs and form tangles next to the skin. If the tangles are not combed out, they thicken into nightmarish blobs of hair that can cause skin irritation, require long grooming sessions, and may even need to be cut out.
Slicker brushes are effective tools for removing these tangles from the skin out. Brushing or combing the coat from the outside into the skin can further twist hairs into the developing mat.
Generally healthy, the Afghan has a low incidence of hip dysplasia, can suffer from cataracts, and has the sighthounds' sensitivity to pesticides and anesthesia. Some breeders fear the effects of anesthesia on their dogs and so do not x-ray breeding stock for joint degeneration.
The dog has a tremendous need for exercise and should be walked a mile or two each day. Although he is strong, independent, and intelligent, the Afghan is often shy and sensitive to harsh correction so must be trained with care. Jerks on the leash and shrill commands are out and gentle guidance and firm discipline are in. Obedience training boosts his confidence, intensifies the owner-dog communication, and controls his boisterous behavior.
The Afghan can be a wonderful companion, well-matched to an elegant lifestyle. However, many people are drawn to the breed's appearance without understanding its need for grooming, exercise, and gentle training, and the Afghan Rescue Committee winds up with dogs abandoned because they continually run away, refuse to obey their owners, or have the audacity to have a matted coat. Before choosing an Afghan, buyers should carefully consider the time they have available to care for this exquisite canine companion.
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