Guest Post: Jess vs the Breed Box

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.

Is this a mongrel??

20 thoughts on “Guest Post: Jess vs the Breed Box”

  1. Nice article. You might be interested in a very similar "debate" in the world of Basenjis where brindles were disqualified until someone actually went to the Congo and found them everywhere. Of course, they also found that this landrace dog was common, not rare, and that is existed across a very wide area. Sound familiar? If so, see this piece >> that sums up the entire history of dogs in one breed. Of coure, the same article could have been written about Salukis or Afghans or any ancient breed. Even a Lhasa Apso!


  2. Good essay Patrick– exactly!

    (Though I somehow doubt the Lhasa apso is actually ancient, never mind physiologically "primitive" like the basenji or tazi (saluki + Afghan + ?) complex (;-))

  3. Steve: it was great to have part of this conversation in person last week and to meet all your various hounds and hawks. The question of white in vizslas is one example of how 'breed standards' can be so arbitrary; the question of whether vizslas should run and hunt like All-Age field trial Pointers is another. I have seen plenty of vizslas that were entirely golden-rust, but whose heads, size, and temperaments seemed to convey a much older origin. And I have met several true all-age vizslas who maybe had more chest-white than I like, but who looked and otherwise acted like the fabulous companion dogs we love. And for my part, here's where it comes out… I prefer the look of an all-rust vizsla and I don't need an all-age dog of any kind.

    all best

  4. Why do humans obsess about pedigrees instead of phenotypes?

    Breeds originally started when we bred for type – but now, even when modern type devolves into a sort of lewd parody of the original – breeders mindlessly focus on pedigrees rather than outcrossing to regain a healthy functional type.

  5. Sorry to be long responding– Blogger comments were down. Smartdogs, right– though in dogs like mine I'd emphasize function, which leads to type (which you imply).

    Andrew, also right– within my functional dogs I too have esthetic preferences!

    Those all- age dogs sound like too much for anything but Sage grouse…

    May post some pix of you and the boys. And stop by if you can– applejack was (is (;-)) excellent!

  6. Steve, you're right of course about the function / type issue. Since the only dogs I've ever owned were of various sorts of working breeds (hunting, herding, molossian) I tend to forget that there is any reason other than health and function to breed a dog.

  7. Gah, warn us when a link leads to a site with a horrible MIDI in the background, I nearly had a heart attack. =P

    And of course, bravo on exposing the ignorant silliness of the show fancy, once again. =P

  8. Unfortunetely, the above Basenji information is not quite correct. AKC people wanting to open the studbook and introduce new bloodlines to the Basenjis in America(a very good idea that few AKC breed clubs do, and the Basenji people are to be commended for that, not ridiculed or villified) did go back to Africa(and still are, periodically), and DID find lots of Brindles, which were not a previously accepted coloration, but they DID accept brindles soon afterward(I have one myself now! Apparently the well-camaflouged brindles are favorites of the native Africans) for which they should also be commended. But alas, though Basenji types USED to be common throughout Central Africa, the true Basenji type–quite unique from other domestic dogs in its primitive characteristics–i. e. the once-a-year primitive dog heat cycle, and its "barkless" tendency, etc.–is being lost due to the swamping of the gene pool by the developing of the area and influx of "foreign" dogs. Even though many of these village mongrels(pariah types) have a SUPERFICIAL resemblance to Basenjis, they are more fully domesticated, and in crossbreeding with the Basenjis, the Basenjis primitive characteristics are being lost. The same thing is also happening with another fascinating primitive type, the New Guinea Singing dog. And also to Dingoes in Australia. So true examples of real primitive Basenjis ARE NOT common as mentioned above, and enough concern has arisen to where canine behaviourists besides just show people are concerned, and trying to establish breeding groups to preserve these primitive dog characteristics for continued scientific study purposes. But I think the AKC breed club that spent the time, effort, and money to open their studbooks should be applauded, in hopes that other AKC breeds will see the light and do likewise(don't hold yer breath, though). It is a start in the right direction, at least……L.B.

  9. Nice article Jess! and nice reply to the other blog 🙂 It made me so mad I had to reply as well. I always wonder, if Afghan Hounds, Tazy, and Sloughi all come in brindle, why can't Saluki, when they are all basically different variations of the same breed? And there's the fact that you find brindle in COO Salukis. I for one love the color brindle, in all dogs, and I would love to someday have a brindle Saluki as long as it was a type that appealed to me. I don't think I'd get a show Saluki, even if it were brindle 😛

  10. Yeah, what is it with the anti-brindle faction amongst conformation show people? Another breed that used to allow brindle, but then got dropped as "non standard" by the AKC was the Rhodesian Ridgeback–not that brindles don't still regularly pop up in litters, they just are disqualified in the show ring now. And WHY has to just be someone's political descision–no practical reason at all. Ridgebacks are a fairly recent(historically, that is) composite of breeds, including Greyhound, Mastiff, Bulldog, and Great Dane(among others)–all of the mentioned breeds have brindle coloration as an accepted color by their respective show conformation people, and it used to be accepted with Ridgebacks, then someone decided it wasn't acceptable, and apparently had the political clout to get it changed. This kind of superficial silliness is NOT the way to produce better dogs!….L.B.

  11. All fine…brindle…so what? I think if you consider a bit more deeply,both the historical context of just what a Saluqi was according to eastern definition, as well as the current context of the breeding criteria now (in those COOs) you might understand the question. Not, can a Saluki be brindle. Substitute merle for brindle. what sort of questions would that bring up for people? No one is saying a Saluki cannot carry brindle. That would be a pointless statement. And maybe the whole debate is pointless because the standard doesn't even prohibit brindle,this is a backlash from the larger fancy (like them or not)since the issue is being forced my a majority of one. and not for a care to the good of the breed, only IMO, for the good of one. Debating the color or pattern is not the issue at hand. ( Also, don't know how many pictures you have seen of crossbred dogs in COO's, but you cannot judge a dog by it's color!) And this is the whole purpose of the SPDBS…like it or not…pro registry or con. And the repercussions jeopordize that entire registry. If the fancy at large has a loud enough outcry…the AKC, can refuse all of them. And for what? the whims and desires of one endlessly arrogant and powerfully willed woman. I don't care about the fancy, or the color of a good dog. But the question is being posed by and to the SCOA…not to 'joe hunter'.

  12. Merle is neither here nor there. It is not a color historically associated with the SalukiTaziAfghanTaigan complex and thus has no meaning in this argument at all. I could make the argument that Domino did not exist in the Afghan hounds that were originally imported into the West (supposedly one of the Ghazni dogs was Domino, no photographic proof, of course.) It certainly wasn't common until Tanjores Domino, a dog born after the bottleneck in UK and European dogs caused by WWII. It's definitely not common in COO dogs in that area. Do you think there might a bit of Saluki in those Western dogs? Especially considering that it's the exact same mutation in both breeds. Hmmmm.

    You should know that you cannot judge a dogs breeding by it's appearance. After a few generations you cannot tell if there's something else in the woodpile. Which brings me to my next point:

    You are deluding yourself if you believe this is just about the COO dogs. The COO brindles are only an excuse, since there are plenty of people who consider all COO dogs to be mutts anyways. As long as the COO advocates stay in their corner and remain no competition for the serious conformation addict they can be ignored, and their weirdly colored dogs, too. This is really about a show breeder, not only coming in with an off-color dog of very suspect ancestry, but winning big with it. The COO dogs are simply caught in the crossfire. You are also deluding yourself if you think there aren't plenty of people who have already seen through the 'look over here' distraction of the question of brindle in COO dogs to the real heart of the matter. Hopefully those people will have some chutzpa in regard to the brindle issue.

  13. I think your theory goes something like this: there are enough historical references of brindles in Salukis to show brindle is legit. there are also even more photos and written recent evidence of the mass influx of greyhounds (or other) into the breeding of Salukis in the middle east. Wealthy breeders introduce whatever they like whenever they like. And they will tell you that. the kind of environment that shaped the original imports (including the imports from COO's in central Asia), are no longer at work for the majority. they may still hunt, but it's much more than that. I think you cannot ignore the recent imports of previously rare color patterns with undocumented pedigree info, other than they were all imported through one source in Germany. You also, should not ignore the fact that for this one source, business is booming. I'm not speaking from any kind of sour grapes…good for them, especially in this economy. But anyone who ignores the human factor in the aspect of dog breeding is the one who I think is delusional. If there were independent sources, maybe…sorry, Steve's doesn't count since his is from central Asia. what I'm saying is, I agree with everything you are saying EXCEPT that I think you have not taken into consideration the forces at work today in even producing the COO's in Asia. I mean seriously, do you think the sheepsheads in China are the result of some undiscovered population of ancient sighthounds? Or where do you think there exists a population of dogs…in this modern world, that are not subjected to modern ideas? I can think of very few. but for sure, the Salukis coming out of the middle east would not be one.

  14. Can't speak by experience for anything but my dogs but I theoretically have brindle in my Asian dog six generations back, and I have pix for three- Soviet times, when Kazakhstan was both isolated and insulated from Westerntrends– and I got Lashyn almost eight years ago, before any brindle "fad". Not to mention all the old Asian art of brindles fairly recognizable as saluki types- oldest confirmed so far 14th century.

    Also– maybe– the isolation of villages outside of the "near", culturally Arab Middle East can be startling to a wasterner who han't been there.

    Finally, I always thought Chinese "sheepheads" are just a weird genetic "founder effect" in the Chinese saluki population, cut off in its isolation. There is an excellent example of a Xian tomb painting ca 700 AD that shows it clearly–can post if anyone is interested.

    Other than my dog and the painting's existence, just mild opinions– make of them what you will.

  15. AHHHHH, EXACTLY! Previous rare colors with no pedigrees behind them! Why, why, why is no fuss being made about blue Salukis! Or agouti or whatever you want to call them. What about black and blue? Iran is right next Afghanistan, blue is common in Afghan hounds, why no fuss? Why only a fuss about brindle (also common in Afghan hounds)?

    And actually, anonymous, if you have read my article AND my comments, you would see that I do make note that dogs in the countries of origin are NOT static, there in all likelyhood is/has been/will be cross-breeding going on. My question is, when do the dogs become 'pure' again? Because it's delusional (I love that word) to think there was no cross-breeding in the West, either. If you apply the original meaning of 'breed', does the dog look like/act like/produce offspring like it's supposed to, these brindle, blue, black and blue, and agouti dogs are Salukis.

    AKC considers the dog 'pure' after three generations. Three. Not after a hundred years of closed breeding and countless generations. Just three. Regardless of whether SCOA DQs brindle, regardless of whether they decide to stop accepting dogs from SPDBS, they will be registered over seas, and they will be imported into the US, and AKC will register them as long as they've got three generations behind them. Like it or not. There will be brindles registered as Salukis.

    I don't see your German breeder who's raking in the cash selling brindle dogs worrying too much about brindle being DQed in the US.

  16. I know this is a very old post but I think I just fell in love with Jess reading this! 😛

    I have a Saluki. She is Brindle. She was abandoned and nearly starved to death but ended up at the dogs trust where I met and adopted her.
    I discovered she wasn't the only abandoned young Saluki that year, a boy was also found, yup a brindle . He didn't end up at the same charity or I would probably have homed them both.

    My girl Freya is playful and bouncy and funny and so clever. I've spoken to our vet and he insists she is Saluki not a cross. His words were "she's rarer than rocking horse poop" and he thought she is amazing.
    If you want brindle Saluki photos search #FreyaWoof and you should find her.

    It makes me livid she was abandoned and is mental scarred by that, just because her colour is "undesirable". Well I don't care what kennel clubs think, she is real, not a mongrel, and a perfect example of her breed. (except injuries caused whilst stray – none serious, but her bent/broken tail is the only obvious flaw)


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