Discussion on Azawakh coat colours

The official standard for the Azawakh originally drawn up in 1982 described its coat as follows:

"The coat varies from sand-white to brown, passing through all shades of fawn. The mask may be blackened. The coat allows a slight white blaze on the head and carries a white bib and a white tip to the tail. Four white socks are very desirable. Traces of white are compulsory on each of the four feet.

Limbs: pads are pigmented. On all four feet, nails can be more or less pigmented. However, a trace of black in at least one of the nails is required, except for sand-white coats where it is nonetheless recommended.

Faults: Brindle stripes; absence of white marks on each of the four feet and of trace of black in at least one nail, except for sand-white coats."

The standard was subsequently modified and the Azawakh's colour is now described as follows:

 

"Fawn with flecking limited to the extremities. 
All shades are admitted from light sable to dark fawn. The head may or may not have a black mask and the blaze is very inconstant. The coat has a white bib and a white brush at the tip of the tail. Each of the four limbs must have compulsorily a white “stocking”, at least in the shape of a trace on the feet. The black brindling is admitted.

Limbs: The pads are pigmented.

Faults: Coat not conforming to the standard. 
Absence of any white marking at the extremity of one or more limbs."

 

Discussion:

The description of coat and colours was drawn up at the time when the breed was recognised in 1982, based on the small number of dogs originally imported into France, and on the intention to clearly distinguish the Azawakh from the Sloughi with which it had originally been assimilated. 
The brindle was subsequently accepted, not without having ignited lively controversies. The requirement of a black nail was dropped, the grounds for which were, to start with, the concern to encourage a pigmentation that would be as dark as possible. Many Azawakhs have excellent black pigmentation of the nose, eyelids and eyes without having a single black nail (as is normal with white socks), or pigmented pads. I have never yet come across a single judge requiring to see the colour of pads on dogs presented in the show-ring... In my opinion, this is of no importance provided the pigmentation on the head is good and in line with the coat colour.

How to interpret the standard?

Coat colour can range from pale sand to dark fawn, with or without black mask and a white blaze. It must include a white bib, a white tip at the end of the tail and at least some white in the form of traces to each of the 4 limbs (some judges look for at least 1 white hair). Black brindling is accepted. Flecking is limited to the extremities.

 

Therefore, if we need to adhere strictly to the standard, it is necessary to exclude or penalise all Azawakhs that show:

- white bib extending under the chest as far as the belly 
- Socks that rise too high (no longer really confined to the extremity) 
- Absence of white mark on one of the limbs or the tail
- White markings on the neck together with collars or half-collars 
- A wide and/or long blaze 
- Tips longer than 2 or 3 cm... 
- Blue brindling 
- A bluish mask 
- Absence of black pads 
- Any colour not sand or fawn, from light to dark (eliminating).

 

This seems to me to be excessively strict for a rare and extremely old breed which needs all its representatives in order to survive and continue to exist over time !
What evidence do we have on the subject of Azawakh colours in it's region of origin?

Dr ROUSSEL's doctoral thesis from 1975: "Contribution to the study of South-Saharan Sight-hounds", Chapter VIII, pages 58 to 61 : Coat colouring: genetic survey

Dr ROUSSEL presents the loci that carry the genes present in the touareg sight-hound and also mentions the presence of black and piebald dogs.

Here is the summary of the genes responsible for coat colouring that he encountered in the Touareg sight-hound:

Loci determining the base colour

 

Loci affecting the intensity of pigmentation

 

Loci for Flecking

 

A Series (Agouti)
Controls the distribution of melanin in the hairs (striped hairs)

 

B Series (Black)

 

E Series (Extension) 
Distribution of black pigment compared with yellow pigment on the coat

 

C Series (Concentration)

 

D Series (Dilution) 
Intensity of colouring

 

S Series (Self) 
Presence of white in the coat

 

T Series (Ticking)
Spots

 

A = Black (rare)

aw = Wolf-Grey (rare)

ay = Fawn with Overlay

 

B = Black

b = Brown (Chocolate)

 

Em = Mask

E = Allows the genes at other loci to act

ebr = Brindling

e = Self-coloured fawn

 

C = Allows the genes at other loci to act

cch = Lightening of pigments

ccd =  acromelanic factor: depigmented extremities, very pale eyes (smoked)

 

D = Allows the genes at other loci to act

d = Dilution: Black gives Blue, Brown gives Beige, Fawn gives Sand

 

Si = Limited flecking

Sp = Irregular patches (piebald coat)

 

T = Coloured spots in white areas

 

Which gives us the following colours and combinations of colours identified on 200 Azawakhs by Dr Roussel in southern Sahel at the very beginning of the 1970s:
- Si and Sp: Individuals all showing white (at least in the form of traces through to piebald). No self-coloured coats (S).

- Base colours:

  • Black, Chocolate (or Brown), Fawn with Overlay (all shades from light to dark), Wolf-Grey

With the effect of E, all these colours can be self-coloured (e) or brindled (ebr) with or without mask (Em).

- With the effect of d, we obtain dilute base colours, as follows:

  • Blue, Beige, Sand, paler Wolf-Grey; with effect on eye colour and pigmentation that are also paler. With or without black or blue Brindling, with or without black or blue mask.
- With the effect of c, we obtain:
  • The same base or dilute colours but more "silvered" (Beige becomes Lilac for example), with the colour of the hairs being pushed towards the tips. Action on the iris of the eyes which is paler (smoked, pale blue, pale yellow).

- With the effect of T, spots of colour can be shown in white areas.

Edmond BERNUS' thesis "Nigerian Touaregs" from 1978 in which he mentions the colours of dogs present in the touareg camps:

"Each dog has a name which generally makes reference to its colour:
- Abarog = Cream colour
- Ireghi = White colour on the neck
- Azol = Dog with eyes that seem to be accentuated with antimony (tazolt), as in people
- Tadabert = Turtle-dove colour (nda: bluish sand)
- Azarghaf = Large dark patches
- Aghshi = Small patches like the African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus)".

In his study "Camel, horse, dog" Edmond BERNUS also says this:

"Like all domestic animals in pastoral societies, each hound has a name to which it answers. This name often relates to a physical characteristic, which in many cases makes reference to the coat. Among the Iwellemmedan Kel Denneg of Niger, one notices the following coat colours: edaber, pigeon grey, in reference to the turtle-dove (nda: bluish sand); azerghaf, piebald, bicoloured, which designates a breed of camels used by the Touaregs of the region to make up salt caravans towards Fachi and Bilma; egheri, copper red with white neck; abarog, solid colour, grey, cream; arshi, striped or spotted, in reference to the African Wild Dog (tarshit); azol, dog with eyes or mouth ringed with black, reference to the antimony (tazolt) used by the Touaregs, men and women: to emphasise the brilliance of their eyes."

Francis NICOLAS in 1953 mentions the literal translation of a Tamahaq d’Oullimiden description of their hounds: “their hair is short, their coat in some cases is red, the throat is black, the belly is white, some have white socks, others are completely white, even their nails are white”…
Mrs Ursula ARNOLD, in her article "Azawakhs in the countries of origin" published in the review "Unsere Windhunde" 2/89 on the subject of their trips in 1984, 1987 and 1988, gives the percentage breakdown of dogs seen as piebald with 6%, black with 2% and chocolate with 3%.
STRASSNER and EILES in their book "The Azawakh – The sight-hound of the Nomads in Mali", published 50 photos of Azawakhs that they had taken during their trips in 1986 and 1987 in the Azawakh valley, in the area between Ménaka and Anderamboukane. Among these, there are 5 images of piebald dogs, one of a cream dog as well as of 4 black mantled dogs.

The same observations were made during various trips by the ABIS association from 1992 to 2003 and 2007.

We can only regret therefore that the FCI standard does not accept all the colour variations possible in this breed (all in fact accepted in the Whippet), with the risk of seeing them disappear forever, although they exist and are present in the genes of its representatives. Certain of these colours are rarely encountered since they are determined by recessive genes (inhibited by dominant genes, symbolized by a capital letter, B for example) and only appear when the gene is present in double form on the allele. This is the case for most genes shown in lower case (a, b, e, d). These are part of the genetic make-up of our dogs and it is enough to mate two dogs that are carriers for the colour to appear on some of the pups.
A certain number of examples of Azawakhs born in Europe confirm this:
2 bluish sand pups (1 F blue brindle and 1 male bluish sand). The eyes are paler, dark grey to hazelnut in colour, in harmony with the base colour of the coat:

Their parents (sire is World Winner), below, are therefore carriers of dilution:

Some have a lot of white (medium flecking: Sp - or Si with modifying genes). Such dogs were usually culled at birth in Europe so as to conform with the standard for the Sloughi with which the Azawakh was assimilated during the 70s.

Aulad al Sahra's Damagaram, born in 1988

The Russian line, descended from a line quite different from the European ones

Here the T gene is in evidence, giving spots in the white areas:

A litter with a mix of colours including sand or cream (c gene?):

The same pup at 2 months

A litter with fawn pups and one bluish sand pup ("d" gene for "dilution"). One can see the greyer colour for the mask and edges of the ears:
"Tragedy is due to divergences and to lack of tolerance.... Glory to whomsoever creates greatness from difference and brings peace and reconciliation" – Timbuktu manuscript, by El Hadj Omar Tall, a Timbuktu scholar and guide in the 17th to 18th centuries.