Elegance, thy name is Saluki

The Saluki is a dog of form, function, and unsurpassed grace in the field


Tall and graceful, the Saluki looks fragile to the untutored eye, but those who know the breed can attest to its speed, endurance, and single-minded focus on the critters of the field.

Categorized as a hound, this dog is about as far from the flop-eared, broad-muzzled Bassets, Beagles, and Bloodhounds as a dog can be. Its cousins are the Greyhounds, Afghan Hounds, and related breeds from the harsh deserts and mountains of the Middle East and Asia Minor, not the scent hounds of Europe and the British Isles.

Like the origins of many breeds, Saluki beginnings are lost in the mists of unrecorded history. Unlike most other breeds, however, the Saluki can lay claim to an ancient heritage from the Cradle of Civilization itself and perhaps to the honor of being the first breed to be developed to work with man.

According to the Saluki Club of America: “What is accepted as fact is that the Saluki has been associated with the Middle East since antiquity, and that in pre- and recorded history it has been used for hunting. A rich visual record of the breed goes back at least 5000 years. At archaeological sites in many areas of the Middle East, ancient images of Salukis have been found on seals, in tomb paintings, mosaics (and) sculptures, and on household objects. The breed was held in great esteem, called “el hor” (The Noble) by the Arabs and was bred as carefully as the famous Arabian horses, with speed and endurance in mind.”

The Saluki’s speed and endurance aided in the hunt for gazelles throughout the Arab world, a talent noted by this Arab boast: “My Saluki will catch gazelle and bring them down even if they should gallop over the stars.”(1) The Saluki was held in such high esteem by the ancients that the dogs were mummified when they died. Today, they remain treasured in nations that consider other dogs to be unclean.

Although the Saluki became established in the US in the early 1920s and was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1927, the breed remains rare in this country. Figures from AKC show 415 individual dogs registered in 2001, placing it 109th of the organization’s 150 breeds and varieties. Eighty-four litters were registered that year; both individual and litter registrations increased slightly from 2000 but are still far below the numbers recorded for the top 20 breeds.

The breed standard

The Saluki head is long and slender with long ears, large dark or hazel eyes and strong teeth that meet in an even or scissors bite. The neck is long, supple, and well-muscled; the chest deep and narrow; and the body well-muscled without being coarse. Galloping and jumping power comes from the slightly-arched loin, strong, wide hips, and low hocks.

Saluki feet are long; the arched toes are well-feathered for protection. The tail is long and curved, and in long-coated dogs, is well-feathered.

The coat is smooth and silky with a slight feathering on the legs and the back of the thighs; the ears are covered with long, fine hair. Coat colors are white, cream, fawn, golden, red, grizzle (2) and tan, tricolor (white, black and tan) and black and tan.

Dogs are 23-28 inches at the shoulder and weigh 40-70 pounds; bitches are at the smaller end of the range.

The general picture is one of grace, beauty, intelligence, keen awareness of surroundings, and gentle disposition. Although he may look like he’s starving, his slender body is that of a fine-tuned athlete, not a malnourished or neglected pet.

The Saluki as pet

This breed makes a lovely pet as long as it gets sufficient exercise and is kept confined when not on a leash.

Bred to hunt swift gazelles in desert terrain, the aristocratic Saluki can run like the wind, catch and kill all but the fastest quarry, and, because he is both prey-driven and independent, is likely to do so despite the most diligent obedience training. The call of the wild is strong in this breed, a fact that should never be minimized.

A Saluki’s yard must have a fence at least five feet high if he is to be kept confined. Otherwise, off-leash exercise should be provided in a fenced tennis court, an arena, or an off-leash park that has a fence of sufficient height. Underground fences are inadequate to contain this dog if he sees something to chase outside the boundary.

A Saluki’s keen eyesight can spot a squirrel at quite a distance, and the dog is clever enough to sneak out the door to give chase.

Other than its penchant for running and chasing, the Saluki is a gentle, companionable pet without being clingy or cuddly. He is good with older children but dislikes rough handling and the boisterous and sometimes awkward play of toddlers and pre-schoolers. His keen awareness of his surroundings can make him sensitive to sudden noises or touches. Long-lived, he can bring a family 13 or more years of enjoyment and affection.

He sheds a bit, and he needs a soft bed to sleep on (yours or his). Once-a-week combing of the silky hair on the feathery coats is sufficient, and smooth-coated Salukis need only a rubdown.

Saluki puppies must be socialized so they will become confident adult dogs. They can be obedience trained but should never be trusted off lead in an open space, for even a squirrel or cat will cause them to ignore your pleas for them to come. According to the Saluki Club of America, the number one killer of Salukis is cars, not disease.

Other activities that can be done with the Saluki are agility training and competition and lure coursing.

Salukis have the sighthound sensitivity to anesthesia and chemical pest control, so surgery or medication should be carefully considered. Digestive upsets and skin allergies can be a problem for dogs that are stressed, so socialization and confidence-building take on special significance for the breed. Genetic diseases affecting the breed include some neurologic diseases, skin diseases, thyroid disease, a heart abnormality, and several eye diseases. Breeding stock should be checked annually for eye disease and certified by the Canine Eye Registry Foundation.


1. National Geographic Book of Dogs, page 171.
2. Grizzle is a mixture of black or red hairs with white hairs.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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