Regular readers may know that I have long taken a stance against closed studbook breeding registries, which I consider to be unscientific Victorian relics that are causing actual harm to “breeds” by decreasing genetic diversity.
Recently a perfect example has surfaced in salukis, where “traditionalists”— ie, people who want to limit the breed’s ancestry to about 40 dogs brought out of what is now Iraq and Syria by English diplomats in the early 20th century– have objected to the striped marking called brindle, common in dogs like mine from the eastern, Asian, and arguably ancestral region of their huge natural range (I have brindle dogs and may put in a pic or two later). Some say that brindle comes from greyhound, but I have seen a Chinese image from about 1100 AD that seems to show a brindle “tazi”– were there even real greyhounds then, never mind in China?
A saluki breeder has asked for everyone’s opinion on the “Brindle Question”, and by extension on the whole antiquated AKC breed definition. I answered, but Jess, of DesertWindHounds (which recently fissioned off Demonpuppy’s Wicked Awesome Art Blog as the dogs began to take over), did such a comprehensive thrashing of the anti- brindle, pro closed- book faction that I asked her if I could reprint it here.
(See this essay on her blog).
Jess Ruffner, take it away:
I am pro-brindle. Disclosure: I am also pro-landrace, pro-genetic diversity, and pro-open registries. I also keep and breed cross-breeds.
There is ample photographic evidence that brindle Salukis exist, both currently and in the past, in the countries of origin. The proximity of ‘Saluki territory’ and ‘Afghan territory’ (Iran and Afghanistan) and the movement of people and goods (including dogs) along the Silk Road almost guarantees that there has been an exchange of blood at some point. Brindle occurs naturally in Afghans and it is no stretch to assume it would occur in genetically related breeds like the Saluki as well. The Saluki and Afghan share a mutation that causes the grizzle/domino color, a mutation so far found in no other breeds, and the Ancient Dogs study grouped the Saluki and the Afghan using microsatellites in the nuclear DNA. They are quite obviously genetically related.
Of greater concern to me, is the assumption that Salukis in the country of origin remain completely static, that there is, and has been, no exchange of blood from one area to another, and absolutely no exchange of blood between ‘breeds’ at all. Especially since the Saluki was ‘discovered’ by the West. It is a serious mistake to consider the Saluki in it’s native lands to be a ‘breed’ as Westerners see it, existing only within a closed registry system. It is far more scientifically correct to consider the Saluki not a single breed, but a landrace with a wide range of types, occurring over a large area and adapted to a variety of climates, terrain and game. There will be variation in both the dogs and breeding practices, including what is considered ‘pure’ by the breeder! This is as it should be; native breeders are, of course, the ultimate arbiters of what they consider a saluki to be. If their criteria is different from that of the Western show breeder, who is right? To me, the native breeder, the one who uses the Saluki for it’s original purpose, is correct. If that breeder’s stock includes brindles, then brindle is correct. It is arrogant in the extreme for the Western breeder to point to the Saluki standard of any country and say “this is more correct” than the native breeder.
What is ‘pure’ anyways? If it looks and acts and produces offspring that look and act like Salukis, is it then a Saluki? How many generations of breeding define ‘pure?’ Three? Five? Twenty? It seems to me, that ‘pure’ in the Western context means the dog has a known ancestry for many generations and can be shown. Even if DNA evidence were to show that the brindle in Salukis came from another breed, you still have the question: how long does it take for the dog to be ‘pure?’ Is 99.9% pure still impure? Seems a silly contention, to me. And what if the genes show evidence of other breeds, evidence not visible due to color or pattern? What will the purity police do then? I can hear the heads exploding.
As something of an outsider (I have only been keeping Salukis for fifteen years, and I have no interest in showing them in conformation), I find it highly ironic that the Saluki standard is held up as ’embracing the variety inherent in the Saluki’, but this contentious arguing goes on regarding brindles. Very funny. Also quite hilarious is the fact that not only do Salukis have a great deal of genetic diversity, probably more than any other breed, they also have a way to increase that diversity, by registering COO dogs, and yet breeders quibble about something as cosmetic as color, based on a standard not even written in the countries of origin. Strange priorities.
In addition to Salukis, I own both Afghans and Azawakh. All brindle in the Western Afghan comes from a single imported bitch, Pushum. No doubt if Pushum had never made it to the UK, the Afghan standard would exclude brindle, even though there are photographs of brindles in Afghanistan. How lucky we are to have had Pushum! Azawakh are not quite so lucky. In it’s native Sahel, the Azawakh exists in a huge variety of colors, including parti-color; the FCI standard, unfortunately allows only light sable to dark fawn, with white required on all four feet. Brindling is acceptable. Like the Saluki, the Azawakh occurs across a large geographical area, and varies quite a bit in type. The FCI standard limits the gene pool for no good reason at all. I frequently hold the FCI standard up to show how pig-headed the ‘purebred’ dog community can be. How sad to see some in the Saluki community act the same way.
Steve again. See also this site. The way to really drive an AKC fancier of salukis or show Afghans to frothing at the mouth is to note calmly that every breed of Oriental sighthound can be found as coat type in one litter in a random peasant village in Afghanistan.