Back to Basics: A Comparison of the Afghan Hound and the Saluki

To the casual observer, it may not be obvious that the Afghan Hound and Saluki are so closely related that in some cases it can be difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.

By Bo Bengtson | Posted: July 16, 2014 10 a.m. PST

Afghan Hound and Saluki Comparison
Two great winners: Afghan Hound Ch. Tryst of Grandeur and Saluki Ch. Sundown Alabaster Treasure with handlers Michael Canalizo and Karen Black. Both bitches were Hound Group winners at Westminster, and both were among the top 10 of all breeds in 1999. Photo Loving.

To the casual observer, someone who has watched Afghan Hounds and Salukis only in the show ring, it may not be obvious that these breeds are so closely related that in some cases it can be difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. They are clearly both Sighthounds, glamorous to the nth degree yet built for speed and the hunt, but one is swathed in the most extravagant — if oddly patterned — coat possible, while the other is adorned simply by silky fringes on the ears, tail and to some extent on the backside of the legs. Anyone can tell what’s what, right?

This may be a case when more knowledge actually confuses the issue. The picture isn’t nearly as clear once you have seen these breeds at home, at various ages and not necessarily in show condition, as well as top winners and well-bred specimens that may not be champions but play an important role in the most demanding breeding programs. There are Afghan Hounds in the best families, usually bitches, with so little coat that they could pass for Salukis to the uninitiated. There are Salukis, usually older males, that have heavy furnishings not only on their ears and tail but on their necks and legs, and fuzzy hair on their shoulders and thighs. Salukis can be smooth-coated — but, as you will be surprised to hear, so can Afghan Hounds, although it’s rare, and there is no provision for such dogs in the breed standard.

The more you learn, the clearer it becomes that our Western concept of Salukis and Afghan Hounds as two specific, independent breeds that should each be of a single ideal type is largely a convenience of modern dog show thinking. Variation in type has always been one of the charms of these breeds, the Saluki perhaps even more than the Afghan Hound, and the native dogs that still exist in large parts of Asia and the Middle East mostly look like a mix of the two. In fact, regional differences have given rise to several different breeds, mostly unknown in the West and not recognized by the FCI (or of course AKC), such as the Bakhmul, the Tazy and the Taigan. A couple of years ago I was judging a Borzoi specialty in Russia at the same time as a specialty show for Taigan was taking place in the ring next door. I was allowed to take a break in my judging to watch; the dogs looked to my untrained eye very much like a cross between an Afghan Hound and a Saluki. The Taigan is so far recognized only in Russia and Kyrgyzstan.

It all boils down to the fact that when Salukis and later Afghan Hounds were first established in the West, the foundation stock came from widely different areas. Salukis have a recorded existence of several thousand years, making them older than almost any other type of dog. There are ancient illustrations of dogs looking very much like beautiful, modern Salukis from as far apart as China and the Middle East, but they did not gain a permanent foothold in England until the late 1800s. The descendants of the dogs then brought in from lower Egypt later blended with imports from Sarona, a colony in what was at that time Palestine, to form the foundation that most of the world’s Salukis go back to. There have been occasional later additions to the West, such as two desert-bred imports from King Ibn Saud of Arabia in 1945, which helped found the famous Pine Paddock kennels of Esther Bliss Knapp in Ohio.

The obvious differences in modern Salukis are clearly a reflection of the past, with no one type universally considered as superior to the rest. This creates problems for many judges today who have a difficult time reconciling their need for type consistency with the reality as expressed in the very short and rather ambiguous breed standard.


The "Afghan Wars”

Afghan Hound
Ch. Thaon's Wannadance, a multiple BIS winner and BOB at the Afghan Hound Club of America National Specialty. Note the hip bones. Shown by Jay Hafford under judge Council Parker in 2003. Photo Ashbey.

The type differences between the early Afghan Hound imports were dramatic, but they differed from those of the Salukis in some respects. For one thing, Afghan Hounds came from a more clearly defined geographical area, although not only from Afghanistan but also from what was then northern India (today’s Pakistan). It was a question of just two types, with the battle for supremacy fought very publicly in the British dog press by the two camps in the 1920s. On one side were the admirers of the so-called Bell-Murray dogs, imported from India to Scotland in 1921 and widely touted as the first "real” Afghan Hounds in the West. (There had been several precursors, including the enigmatic Zardin, who reportedly won 52 "Foreign Dogs” classes at shows in England after being imported in 1907. He was a sensation at the time, invited to Buckingham Palace for an audience with the Queen and used as a model for the first breed standard, but he left no offspring to carry on the line.)

Ch. Jatara's Irish Krystl, among the top Hounds for three years in the late 1980s and early '90s. Shown by Jackie Harrington to one of many BIS wins. Judge Hans Brunotte, Canada. Photo Kernan.

Things really heated up when Mary Amps and her Ghazni hounds arrived from Kabul in 1925. These dogs were very different from the Bell-Murrays, and a clash was probably inevitable. To their advantage, the Bell-Murrays had greater size, more elegance and refinement, and longer heads, but they were also straighter in angulation, had less coat and more "aloof” (read: sometimes hostile) temperaments. The Ghaznis, on the other hand, were smaller and more powerful, less elegant in head but more outgoing, with bigger coats and greater angulation. Both sides called the other’s dogs imposters, the Bell-Murray group accusing the Ghazni dogs of being the result of a cross between "true” Afghan Hounds and the Mastiff-like native Powindah guard dogs, while Mrs. Amps shot back that the Bell-Murrays were obviously simply part Saluki "mongrels.” There could be no truce. The temperature at ringside was as frigid as in the Afghanistan mountains, and Mrs. Amps even resorted to employing a plainclothes policeman to guard her famous Ch. Sirdar of Ghazni against attempts to poison him at the shows.

As in most feuds of this kind, there was no real winner. Within a few years, the main combatants had left the scene, and the two types that had been so carefully kept apart were inevitably mixed. All modern Afghan Hounds go back to both Bell-Murray and Ghazni blood, and if they meshed more smoothly than expected, it may have had something to do with the fact, little acknowledged at the time, that there were a few Bell-Murrays that looked more like Ghaznis, and vice versa. The first all-breed BIS Afghan Hound in the US, Eng./Am. Ch. Badshah of Ainsdart, was sired by Sirdar out of a Bell-Murray bitch, and from him there’s just a short skip to the great kennels of the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, Crown Crest and Grandeur (the latter, under different ownership, continued with great success up until a few years ago).


Judging Today

So what has all this to do with judging Afghan Hounds and Salukis at today’s dog shows? For one thing, it ought to help put things into perspective to know that somewhere far back in their pedigrees, there is some connection between Salukis and Afghan Hounds. It is also useful to know that there is a historical precedent for the variations in type. In Salukis this is obvious to anyone who’s watching a large entry in the show ring, but even in Afghan Hounds, you can still, after many decades of interbreeding, on occasion come across a "pure” throwback to either Bell-Murray or Ghazni. The judge who doesn’t know the breed’s background will be dumbfounded; the one who knows breed history will at least know where this is coming from.

Looking at the breed standards, one immediate difference jumps out. The AKC standard for Afghan Hounds is 983 words long, the one for Salukis less than a third of that — just 325 words. Here are some key points.

General Appearance: "The Afghan Hound is an aristocrat, his whole appearance one of dignity and aloofness with no trace of plainness or coarseness.” That sums it up, with the addition that the breed should have "the appearance of what he is, a king of dogs...” The Saluki, meanwhile, is described in softer language: "should give an impression of grace and symmetry,” but also of "great speed and endurance coupled with strength and activity to enable it to kill gazelle and other quarry over deep sand or rocky mountains.” In other words, a creature of beauty that also looks like a hunting dog.

Head: Both breeds’ heads are long, showing "much refinement” (Afghan) and "great quality” (Saluki), which does not mean the heads should be too narrow, but rather that there should be chiseling and veining, with no loose skin. The Afghan head should be evenly balanced with the foreface, while the Saluki standard rather oddly describes the head as "long and narrow, skull moderately wide between the ears,” which to me sounds contradictory. I would certainly not like to see a Saluki with a skull that’s more narrow than that of an Afghan Hound. Neither breed should have a pronounced stop; the Afghan’s nose is black, the Saluki’s black or liver. The Afghan should have a level bite (with scissors bite not penalized), while there is no reference to the Saluki’s bite, except that the teeth should be "strong and level.”

Afghan Hound Westminster
Ch. Kabik's The Challenger, known as 'Pepsi' to countless fans, was No. 1 of all breeds in 1982 and took BIS at Westminster in 1983, owner-handled by Chris Terrell under judge Derek Rayne. Photo Ashbey.

Ears: Both breeds have long ears; the Saluki’s ears are described as "close to the skull and mobile.” I tend to think of Afghan ears as set slightly lower ("approximately level with outer corner of eyes”) than the Saluki’s, but there is admittedly no reference to this in the standards.

Eyes: The Afghan’s eyes are described as "almond-shaped (almost triangular),” the Saluki’s as "oval” and larger than the Afghan’s. The Afghan eye should be dark, the Saluki eye "dark to hazel and bright.”

Neck: No difference. "Long, supple and well muscled” is from the Saluki standard but could apply to both breeds.

Body and topline: The Saluki should have a "deep and moderately narrow” chest, while the Afghan has a brisket that’s "well let down, and of medium width.” Both breeds should have a slightly arched loin, with the Afghan Hound’s hip bones being "very pronounced.” The proportions of the ideal Saluki are not described, while the Afghan’s height at the shoulders should
equal the distance from chest to buttocks.

Saluki Westminster
Ch. Bel S'mbran Aba Fantasia winning the Hound Group at Westminster in 1982, owner-handled by George Bell under judge Anne Rogers Clark. Photo Ashbey.

Legs and feet: The Saluki is usually slightly less wide in front than the Afghan due to its narrower chest. Both have well laid-back shoulders, with great distance from elbow and pastern, but the Afghan has much bigger feet ("large in both length and width”); the Saluki’s feet are "of moderate length” with "toes long and well arched.” The Afghan’s feet should be "covered with long, thick hair,” while the Saluki should be "well feathered between the toes.” In view of the fact that both breeds are expected to be able to hunt on rough ground, strong feet are a natural prerequisite. Hindquarter angulation differs: The Afghan Hound has "great length between hip and hock” with "good angulation of both stifle and hock” (often emphasized by the coat), while the Saluki should have "stifle moderately bent.” Both breeds have low hocks.

Tail: The Saluki’s tail is one of its glories: It’s long, set on low and carried naturally in a curve, with long, silky feathering on the underside. This is not mentioned in the standard, and nobody thinks it’s attractive, but I wouldn’t penalize a slightly too-high carriage seriously, at least not in a young dog. The Afghan Hound’s tail, by comparison, is carried high with a ring ("donut”) or a curve at the end. It must never be curled over or rest on the back. Although it’s not a standard requirement, it will have some relatively sparse feathering on the underside. Neither the Afghan nor the Saluki must have a bushy tail.

Coat: The Saluki’s coat is soft and silky, with feathered ears and tail, feather between the toes, slight feather on the legs and back of thighs, and sometimes — as mentioned earlier — a woolly fuzz on thighs and shoulders. The Afghan Hound’s coat pattern is even more specific, with a short-coated saddle starting from in front of the shoulders (and often part way up the neck) and going along the ribs and the flanks in mature dogs. As the standard says, "this is a traditional characteristic of the Afghan Hound” and should not be achieved by clipping or trimming. Short hair on the head in front of the ears (except for the "mandarin whiskers” that may be present) is expected, and cuffs on the front and back legs are permissible. One detail that is often neglected, although specified no fewer than three times in the standard, is the topknot: The head "is surmounted [in the full sense of the word] by a topknot of long, silky hair.” This is also an outstanding characteristic of the Afghan Hound.

The Smooth Saluki should have exactly the same points as the feathered variety, with the exception of the coat, which has no feathering.

Size: The latitude in size in Salukis is large, and the difference between dogs and bitches is typically great. The average height in males is described as "from 23 to 28 inches,” with bitches "considerably smaller, this being very typical of the breed.” In other words, if you have a male that’s on the lower end of this ideal, and a bitch that’s "considerably smaller” than the male, she could be of a size that’s smaller than a Whippet, and still fit into the standard — but in reality most judges don’t have to face such extremes. The Afghan standard is more specific: Dogs should be 27 inches and bitches 25 inches, plus or minus 1 inch. It’s regrettable that an AKC judge is not permitted to measure, just as a matter of interest.

Color: This is currently a controversial subject in some Saluki circles. The standard mentions only white, cream, fawn, golden, red, grizzle and tan, tricolor (white, black and tan) and black and tan. So what do you do when presented with, for example, a brindle or a black-and-white particolor Saluki? Neither color pattern is mentioned in the standard, but they are not listed as faults either, so depending on his or her own interpretation, the judge may reward the dog or excuse it. The Afghan standard, again, is more unequivocal: All colors are permissible, although white markings, especially on the head, are undesirable.

Gait: The Saluki standard does not mention movement, but it is generally agreed that the action should be light, airy, yet powerful enough to suit a hunting hound. The Afghan Hound standard, surprisingly, does not refer to the great drive and extension that is often considered desirable in the breed; the gallop, which is never shown in the show ring, is described as having "great elasticity and spring” in the dog’s "smooth, powerful stride.” All it says about the trot is that the Afghan "can trot at a fast pace” on a loose lead, and "has the appearance of placing the hind feet directly in the foot prints of the front feet.” However, the following can only describe a top-class dog: "Moving with head and tail high, the whole appearance of the Afghan Hound is one of great style and beauty.”

Temperament: While the Saluki standard does not have a temperament paragraph, the "General Appearance” states that its "expression should be dignified and gentle with deep, faithful, far-seeing eyes.” You can’t have that if the dog is either cringing in fear or silly-happy and wants to lick the judge’s face. The Afghan Hound standard adds a crucial word to the "aloof and dignified” already mentioned above: The breed should also be "gay.” An unhappy Afghan Hound should never win top awards.

Happy judging!


From the July 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.


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Give us your opinion Give us your opinion on Back to Basics: A Comparison of the Afghan Hound and the Saluki

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Melian and Tiny   Etna, CA

9/13/2014 8:02:05 PM

A fascinating read. I love my salukis and I can definitely see that Afghans are cousins but not so close as this article is

One complaint I have is that saluki aren't allowed happy tails. Why is the afghan allowed to run with head and tail high but not the saluki? My salukis love running happily like

I love afghans too but I would also like to say that the personalities of the two breeds are quite different as well.

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