THE VIRTUAL SPECIALTY
THE VIRTUAL SPECIALTY 2003
Evaluating the Sloughi
|Needless to say, attempting to evaluate dogs
from photos is a task one takes on with due caution and more than a small
amount of trepidation. It is often the exception instead of the rule
that the amateur photographer especially is able to capture the truer physical
‘essence’ of any particular dog, and at best, one can only comment on physical
attributes as they lend themselves to a brief glimpse frozen in time.
That being said, I should probably first state that what I look for in a well-put-together Sloughi is, in many ways, the same as I look for in any hound which is designed to be enduringly fleet of foot and capable of fulfilling the purposes for which it was originally intended. In my estimation, this has several ramifications for the Sloughi in particular: The Sloughi should exhibit both strength and refinement in a harmonious balance. The animal which is too delicate in structure is not well suited to the rigorous demands of a desert hunter and guardian, and the dog which carries an over-abundance of substance and/or size in general is equally at a disadvantage in performing its missions in the regions of the world from which it has sprung. The Sloughi has been designed to be, first and foremost, a functional dog of athletic and ‘courageous’ proportions, built to withstand the rigors of a harsh, arid environment. As is typically the case, breed standards can only serve us in alluding to idealized qualities which are, other than with specificity to actual measurement, always open to various degrees of interpretation and most often with referential comparison to other races of dogs. For example, the breed standard states that the Sloughi’s general appearance should be “of a very racy and elegant dog.” While such a statement might indeed be helpful to the novice observer in differentiating the Sloughi from other non-sighthound breeds in a general way, within the context of the Sloughi population itself, it might in fact lead one to prefer/select dogs which exhibit an ‘extreme’ degree of refinement ( what is “elegant”?) or a type not in keeping with its indigenous roots (“VERY racy”?), with such terms being meaningful only to the degree that they reflect an indigenous population designed to function effectively in its specialized environment. In this respect, the Sloughi should not be a dog of ‘filigreed’ or highly stylized elegance, or one built exclusively for (short-lived) ‘racing’ prowess. The typical Sloughi is of a more ‘Spartan’ type. In attempting to assess a Sloughi’s conformational fitness, there are first, in my estimation, some fundamental requirements which override the many finer details of the ‘ideal specimen’.
Standing naturally, the Sloughi
should typically exhibit, in adulthood, a basically square format, with
a preference to being slightly taller than long. A properly strong
running gear demands that the long legs should be strong and in good alignment,
without excessive angulation in any regard, and placed well under the body,
with a thoroughly integrated compactness/tightness of structure in which
the dog does not appear especially angular, loose, or ‘pieced-together’
whereby the various anatomical features do not fit together harmoniously.
A rather common structural ‘fault’ in many modern sighthounds is a “pillarized”
front assembly in which the shoulder appears to be set too far forward
on the body, often creating a relative absence of forechest, among other
things, with the upper arm also forming an extended vertical line (insufficient
‘return’ of/hyperextended upper arm) from the point of the shoulder to
the ground (being often also accompanied by pasterns which are too straight/vertical).
All too often, this type of “supporting” (vs. “working”) structure is also
seen in conjunction with a structuring of the hindquarters in which excessive
angulation appears in correlation to excessive length and/or poor connectivity
especially of the second thigh. In a ‘show stack’ in which the hindquarters
might be significantly extended behind the dog, the “hock” (an often-used
misnomer for the metatarsus) should NOT be able to form a vertical line
to the ground as is exhibited in many ‘modern’ hounds. In front,
the pasterns should also not be either let down excessively or knuckled
over. The feet should be tight, well knuckled up, and not too long, and
it goes without saying that the back and loin must be strong and flexible;
not too long, and fully capable of freely and powerfully facilitating the
required collected and extended phases of the double-suspension gallop.
There are several finer points in evaluating the Sloughi which the observer may find at odds with the breed’s current standard. Let it suffice to say here that the most recent revision of the FCI standard, a point of reference here, still leaves several things to be desired, and one would do well to at least read the “Remarks on the Standard” contained on this site as a starting point to some further clarification. From my personal perspective, a standard which neglects, overrides, rejects, or poorly elucidates qualities/characteristics handed down from indigenous populations is of limited usefulness. The qualities inherent to the traditional tribal populations are the ‘true standard’. Here, one might take note of certain “faults” and/or apparent contradictions and question their authenticity and intent as well as their greater significance for the breed. Among them can be questions concerning correct/acceptable size/proportions, topline/withers, underline, rib cage, eye color, presence of white, ears, etc. One can only hope that some of the rather contradictory statements in the current standard, such as those regarding topline for example, reflect a rather unsatisfactory attempt to accommodate the diversity which is inherent to the breed. Through my own placements and comments on the various dogs assembled here for this initial ‘virtual specialty’, I’ll attempt to clarify some of my own interpretations of the acceptable/preferable range of that diversity.
Part of the challenge and difficulty of ‘judging’ (and describing) the Sloughi stems from the fact that there is that (desirable) diversity of acceptable ‘type’ within the breed which has been handed down to us by the native breeders and also subsequently by the western enthusiast. One might say that a significant portion of the process of selecting a “good specimen” involves the ability to determine how well the various features of a particular dog fit with its overall type. Not all Sloughis are created from the same mold, nor should they be. A possible hazard for the modern breeder may involve the ‘melding’ and/or ‘reassembling’ of incongruous types/characteristics. Generally speaking, there has been a bilateral division of ‘types’ in the breed, referring to ‘mountain’ and ‘desert’ strains if you will. Such distinctions are possibly useful in a very general way, but more than likely thoroughly inadequate in keeping the ‘typical’ Sloughi within our field of vision. It would be my hope that the modern breeder would strive to preserve the many exceptional qualities given to us in this breed within a reasonable and functional total package reflecting indigenous types. The notion that one should necessarily be attempting to “improve” such a breed is fraught with obvious dangers and arrogance, while maintaining the best of what is given is the more admirable goal when dealing with an established race long proven to be perfectly well adapted to its purpose. To pretend that any breed is immutable over time is surely also pure folly, and thus the significant challenge to the modern fancier.
The dogs assembled here for
this first ‘virtual’ Sloughi event are representative of many of the exceptional
qualities handed down to us over many generations of both tribal and western
breeding. Having gone through some very lean years of sparse populations,
it is encouraging to see not only quality but diversity having been maintained
for future generations to nurture. This collection is especially
promising in also reminding us that the fabulous array of Sloughi pigments,
most often very underrepresented in European-based breeding in the past,
is still very much alive and being cultivated in contemporary specimens.
My applause goes out to those dedicating themselves to nurturing and preserving
such fine hounds for future generations to cherish and enjoy.
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