Azawakh in Djerma

January 29, 2009

The word “Azawakh” comes from the Djerma language, but it has nothing to do with dogs.

In Djerma azawa means north. Azawagh or azawad means land of to the north. The word the Djerma use for what we call the Azawakh dog is hansi or hanso (I’ve also seen it spelled hanshee and hanshii).

The really fascinating thing is that there are three gender forms. One for dog and two for bitch. The Djerma have a different conjugation of the word dog for a bitch who has given birth and one who has not.

  • hansi daŋ: dog (male)
  • hansi way: bitch [has not given birth]
  • hansi nya: bitch [has given birth]

A little bit of digging revealed that this is a feature of the Djerma language. For all livestock there are three gender forms: one for male, one for female-that-has-not-produced-offspring and one for female-that-has-produced-offspring.


  • goroŋgari (rooster)
  • goroŋo way (hen)
  • goroŋo nya (hen)


  • yo mali (camel bull)
  • yo way (camel cow)
  • yo nya (camel cow)

This must be a culture with a deep tradition of animal breeding.


This comment on The Old New Thing really cracked me up. I love it. My phrase of the day is now “stupid-seeking missiles”.

9 out of 10 “viruses” todays arent [sic] computer viruses in the classical sense. They are what I call “stupid seeking missiles,” which can only hit stupid people…

These Stupid Seeking Missiles scream “Click-on-me!!”, “Run me or else!!”, and other such stuff. Essentialy [sic], they spread precisely because somebody trusted it when they shouldn’t have.

There have been quite a few hits on my ravings over Azawakh color genetics. Seems a popular topic, so here are some more in-depth resources on dog coat color genetics on-line.


In 1887, Joel Asaph Allen posited a biological rule that warm-blooded animals in colder climates tend to have shorter limbs than the equivalent animals from hotter climates. Christian Bergmann, posited a similar rule in 1847. Bergmann’s rule is that the body mass of warm-blooded animals increases in colder climates.

Azelouan 110 degrees Farenheight

Azelouan 110 degrees Fahrenheit

The mechanism behind these phenomena is thought to be temperature regulation. Warm-blooded animals have to maintain a narrow core body temperature range or they die. Surface area to volume ratio is a critical factor in heat transfer. A low surface area to volume ratio tends to retain heat while a high one tends to radiate heat into the environment. This effect is the reason that car radiators and the heat exchanger in an airconditioner have huge surface area.

Surface and Volume

Shape controls the ratio of surface area to volume. A sphere is the shape with the minimum surface area for volume while a flattened pancake has close to the maximum surface area for volume. This is oranges burst when you squeeze them. As the orange flattens, its volume stays constant but the skin must stretch. Eventually you exceed the elasticity of the skin and the orange bursts.

Another example is a stack of 8 sugar cubes (1cm x 1cm x 1 cm). If you stack the cubes 2 x 2 x 2, then the volume is 8 cubic cm and the total surface area is 16 square cm. If you stack the cubes in a 1 x 2 x 4, then the volume is still 8 cubic cm but the total surface area is 22 square cm.

Azawakh Morphology

Azawakh are medium-sized hounds in the range of 40-50 pounds. That makes them the same mass as a Norwegian Elkhound but about 7 inches taller. That’s Allen’s rule in play. An English Greyhound is of roughly similar height to an Azawakh but weighs 20-30% more. This is Bergmann’s rule in play.

To use a car metaphor, the Elkhound has the same size engine but a much smaller cooling system and the Greyhound has the same cooling system but a much larger engine. The flat, dry musculature, long legs and high tuck of the Azawakh are all adaptations for heat tolerance.

More Azawakh Color Genetics

November 26, 2008

Or Yet More Wrong Rules in the FCI Standard

Last time, I took a spin through coat color genetics in dogs and tool a look at some of the things in the Azawakh standard that don’t fit. I left out some finer points of discussion involving genes that convert black pigments to  brown and/or blue.

Let’s start things off with some quotations from the FCI Azawakh standard and then we’ll take a look at whether they make any sense.

Nose: Nostrils are well opened. The nose is either black or brown.
Eyes: Almond shaped, quite large. Their color is dark or amber. Eyelids are pigmented.
Coat: … Black brindles are allowed.
Eliminating Faults: …

  • Light eye: i.e., bird of prey eyes

Although these are color rules in the FCI Azawakh standard are outside of the discussion of the coat, the loci that control these traits also affects coat color.

The Liver Locus, B

  • B – normal black
  • b – black pigmentation converted to brown

The default color for noses in dogs is black. Brown noses are controlled by the the B or Liver locus. The recessive allele of this locus affects the production of eumalanin, converting all black in the coat to brown (aka liver). Saddles, shading, brindling and nose pigmentation are all converted from black to brown. Recessive B (bb) also causes amber eyes. When liver is expressed, anywhere there is black in the body of the dog it is converted to brown. It is impossible for a bb dog to have black anywhere in its coat.

Recall that brindle is controlled by the K or black locus. The dominant black K gene does not occur in Azawakh but the semi-dominant k(br) allele does occur as well as the k, non-black, allele. Any dog that has a k(br) gene will be black brindled, but if it also has recessive bb, then the bridling will be dark brown.

The amendment that added brindling contains a mistake. At the very least, it must be changed to allow black or brown brindling.

The Dilution Locus, D

ABIS has surveyed a few blue Azawakh in the Sahel and there have rarely been blue Azawakh born in the West.  This can be expressed as either blue brindling or blue mask or both. Blue is controlled by the D locus.

  • D – normal pigmentation
  • d – dilute pigmentation

The recessive d allele primarily affects the production of eumalanin pigment, causing it to shift from black to blue. It also has a slight effect on red phaeomelanin pigment causing it to be less red.

The D locus can interact with the B locus. If a dog is both recessive liver (bb)  and recessive blue (bb), then it will have Isablella black. Weimeraner’s are isabella colored.

Blue causes amber eyes.

Blue also affects nose pigmentation. In a blue dog, the nose cannot be black, it will be blue. In an Isabella dog, the nose is isabella which looks like brown with some blue tattooing.

Amber But Not Light Eyes?

I cannot understand what the difference is between amber and light eyes.  Very light eyes occur in isabella dogs which must be both recessive for B and recessive for D, an excruciatingly rare combination in Azawakh. Most likely amber is caused by the expression of recessive B (liver). In a liver dog, there is no genetic difference between a dark amber and a lighter amber. These are just chance differences in development of pigment producing cells. Both are caused by the bb combination, which is allowed. Also, how light is light? When does amber become “bird of prey”? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

The light eye eliminating fault prohibition should be stricken.

A Re-Rewrite

Last time, I made a whack at rewriting the coat color rules. I mostly left out the discussion of dilution and brown loci. I need to update my rewrite to account for those loci.

Nose: Nostrils are well opened. The nose is black, brown, blue or isabella (blue + brown).
Eyes: Almond shaped, quite large. Eye color is any shade of brown or amber. Eyelids are pigmented.

Color: The base coat colors are forms of sable ranging from ivory to red and may be grizzled. Brindle markings may be present. Mask may be present. Mantle or saddle may be present. White on the extremities, with or without ticking, may be present including Irish marked and particolor patterns. Black markings may occur in the liver brown form, the dilute blue form or the combination blue + brown (isabella) form.

Eliminating Faults: …

  • Light eye: i.e., bird of prey eyes
  • Absence of any white marking at the extremity of one or more limbs.

Azawakh Coat Color Genetics

November 25, 2008

Or Why the Color Section of the FCI Standard is Indefensible

“Color: Fawn with flecking limited to the extremities. All shades are admitted from clear sand to dark red. The head may or may not have a black mask and the list is very inconsistent. The coat includes 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 tracing on the foot. Black brindles are allowed.”

There are a number of known genetic loci (places) that control coat color in dogs. What we know about the genetics of coat coloration cannot be reconciled with the FCI color standard.

Sable Base Color

Azawakh have a base color of sable, also called red by many people. There are two main loci that control blackness or the lack thereof. The dominant black gene is at the K locus, which also controls brindling.

  • K – dominant black
  • k – recessive, allows the A locus to control base color
  • k(br) – k(br) is the brindle gene. k(br) is recessive to K but dominant over k.

Black dogs are almost unknown in the Sahel. Selection works very well at removing dominant traits and we know there is a strong cultural bias against black animals because animist tradition teaches they are evil. Also the desert climate may exert strong selection pressure against K. The dominant black gene almost certainly does not exist in the Azawakh population.

Because K is not present, the base coat color of Azawakh is controlled by the Agouti locus. Agouti is largely about controlling the production and timing of black eumelanin pigment in the coat. When coat does not produce much eumalanin it allows us to see the inherent red, phaemlelanin, in the coat. There are five Agouti alleles.

  • A(y) – sable red
  • a(w) – agouti (grizzle)
  • a(s) – black saddle or mantle
  • a(t) – black with red extremities
  • a – recessive black

In the Agouti series, the dominant allele is A(y) which is the basic red Azawakh. However, I believe that all 5 alleles exist in the general population. The a(t) and a alleles are rare because puppies that are black or mostly black would be culled, but because they are recessive it is difficult to remove them from the population entirely.

The “chinchilla” or C locus controls dilution of the red pigment, phaemlelanin. There are 4 alleles:

  • C – dominant, normal red pigment
  • c(ch) – chinchilla (yellow)
  • c(e) – extreme chinchilla (lighter yellow)
  • c(P) – Platinum (ivory)

The C locus is not very well understood. It is clear that the intensity of redness is controlled in recessive red dogs, like Azawakh, is controlled by the C locus. The C locus is thought to be a location of co-dominance, meaning that the recessive genes partially express when present. Different combinations of alleles from the C locus allow a range of redness from redk like an Irish Setter, to ivory, like a Samoyed. Clear sand is not specific, but it sounds like a very light yellow perhaps from a combination like c(e)c(P) or c(ch)c(P). If c(P) exists in order to create the “clear sand” color combination then c(P)c(P) is also possible, if rare. That dog would be pure white. How can one recessive combination of genes be allowed but another one is forbidden?

White Extremities

With the exception of whiteness due to red dilution at the C locus, white develops from the extremities. The locus that controls the “height” of whiteness is S, spotting. The dominant allele is S which is no white. Like the C locus, S is an example of incomplete or co-dominance.

  • S – no white
  • s(t) – Trim. Very small amounts of white on the tips of the toes and tail tip.
  • s(i) – Irish pattern (like a border collie)
  • s(p) – particolor pattern
  • s(w) – extreme particolor (linked with deafness)

There is a huge problem with the standard in that it calls for an unstable color pattern. It requires either a heterozygous dog that carries one irish pattern gene or just random luck during development.

The most dominant allele is S, which is no white. However, dogs that are homozygous S (SS) can still often express a phenotype with a white bib and a trace of white on their toes and the tip of their tails. This white expression has no genetic basis! It is just a residual white pattern caused by pigment cells not spreading fully to the extremities during fetal development.

The classic white socks and bib pattern is probably requires heterozygosity in the form of s(t)s(i) or perhaps Ss(p) because if you have s(i)s(i) then you’ll have a classic Irish marked dog with a white collar which is now forbidden in France.

Think about this for a minute. Let’s say we have two dogs with just the right white socks and no collar marking. They are both Ss(i). First of all, it’s just luck that they don’t have a significant white spot on the neck but more importantly, their color pattern isn’t stable when crossed. 1/4 of the puppies will be s(i)s(i), one quarter will be SS and half will be Ss(i). Because of the residual white effect, some of the SS puppies may well be within the standard. Dogs that are s(i)s(i) may also fall within the norms and not have a white spot on the neck just by luck.

A standard that asks for white on the extremities but tries to avoid an Irish marked pattern is indefensible genetically. Also, eliminating the non-white SS dogs from the breeding population will tend to select for homozygous recessive Irish marked, s(i)s(i). That’s exactly the pattern we see playing out. The dogs in Europe are becoming more consistently Irish marked.


The dominant ticking gene, T , is also clearly present.

  • T – ticking
  • t – no ticking.

The ticking gene is dominant over non-ticking. Ticking or roaning is small spots of the base color on white areas. Ticking usually expresses on legs, muzzle and chest.  I have heard that in Europe some consider this “dirty markings” and select against it, but why? The oldest examples of Azawakh and many champion Azawakh had ticking in their white. Most Azawakh have small red “freckles” in their chests and socks.


There are also dilution genes which can yield blue brindle and have some other effects, but since this is already too long I’ll save that for another post.

A Modest Rewrite

The color standard should be changed to match the reality of the genetics in the native population. I’d recommend something along these lines:

Color: The base coat colors are forms of sable ranging from ivory to red and may be grizzled. Brindle markings may be present. Mask may be present. Mantle or saddle may be present. White on the extremities, with or without ticking, may be present including Irish marked and particolor patterns. Black markings may occur in the dilute blue form.

Eliminating Faults: …

  • Absence of any white marking at the extremity of one or more limbs.

Over the weekend, I read an article on the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and California’s Proposition 2 november ballot initiative in the NY Times Magazine. The gist is that duing the November 4 presidential elections in California people will be voting on whether to limit the confinement of farm animals.

The official summary of the law is this:

  • Requires that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.
  • Exceptions made for transportation, rodeos, fairs, 4-H programs, lawful slaughter, research and veterinary purposes.
  • Provides misdemeanor penalties, including a fine not to exceed $1,000 and/or imprisonment in jail for up to 180 days.

It sounds reasonable, right? Everyone can agree that animals should not be treated cruelly, but let’s remember that it is already illegal to keep animals in a cruel manner. The law is redundant and it is also potentially dangerous. It is no accident that they are targeting California rather than Iowa with this measure. Iowans would be more likely to realize that the purpose of farrowing pens is to protect piglets from being crushed under the sow, for example.

The real purpose of this law – which was drafted by the HSUS and the Farm Sanctuary and is endorsed by PETA among other Animal Rights groups – is to to take a step toward changing the legal status of animals from property to sentient entities embued with natural rights and from there to equate animal husbandry with slavery and eliminate domestic animals. Does that sound paranoid?

Here are some eye opening quotes.

“We have no ethical obligation to preserve the different breeds of livestock produced through selective breeding …One generation and out. We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding.”
Wayne Pacelle, President of the HSUS

The HSUS president wants to give domesticated animals so many rights that it is impossible to keep them. Free to be extinct. Others Animal Rights leaders are apparently self-loathing and would just as soon see humans extinct for the good of the animals.

“The life of an ant and the life of my child should be accorded equal respect.”
Michael W. Fox, Sr. Scholar at HSUS

“I am not a morose person, but I would rather not be here. I don’t have any reverence for life, only for the entities themselves. I would rather see a blank space where I am. This will sound like fruitcake stuff again but at least I wouldn’t be harming anything.”
Ingrid Newkirk, PETA

A little know provision of this law is that it grants vigilante authority to any group of greater than 20 citizens that form a non-profit anti-cruelty corporation.

Under California Corporations Code Sections 10400 – 10406: “Corporations for the prevention of cruelty to… animals… may be formed under the Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation Law… by 20 or more persons, who shall be citizens and residents of this state.”

Be very skeptical of Proposition 2.

Rather than enacting punitive new laws that create a vigilante poultry police, we should be looking at the insanity of our Farm Bill which has destroyed the family farmer in favor of a corporate-owned mass production system that basically converts petroleum into food. It is because of our bizarre farm subsidies that we live in an insane world where a Big Mac with fries and a Coke costs less than a head of broccoli.

Lamarck and Darwin

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was an 18th century French naturlist who developed the first coherent theory of organic evolution. That is to say, he developed a testable scientific theory of how organisms evolve into other oganisms through time without divine intervention. Lamarck incorporated into his theory the common belief of the day that organisms can inherit the acuired characteristics of their parents. He belived in something he called l’influence des circonstances or the Adaptive Force which causes organisms to adapt to changes in their environment. Those acquired adaptations are then passed on to the offspring of the organism through sexual reproduction. 

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Charles Darwin

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Charles Darwin

Under Lamarck’s theory, for example, a blacksmith could develop a right arm that was stronger and larger than his left arm. The son of the blacksmith would inherit this characteristic and develop it further and so on and so forth until you get a race of blacksmiths with one giant arm. This is nonsense. An organism cannot pass on acquired traits to its offspring.

In the 19th century, Charles Darwin, showed that evolution can happen without the deus ex machina of an invisible adaptive force. A population of organisms has random variation in traits. All of the organisms cannot survive and reproduce. Only some of the animals successfully reproduce themselves (for whatever reason) and, in the case of species that reproduce sexually, only some of the possible mating combinations occur. This Natural Selection operating on the population is the engine that drives evolution, rather than an Adaptive Force. The other feature of Darwinian evolution is “descent with modification” or the idea that sometimes the offspring in the new generation have a characteristic not found in the parents. We usually call descent with modification  mutation. Mutation and differential reproductive success are the forces that drive evolution.

The thing is, though, that Lamarckian inheritance is very intuitive to people. I often observe people speaking about selection and evolution, especially with respect to purebred dogs, in Lamarckian terms without realizing that they are doing it. Whenever we think about how purebred dogs have changed through time, we need to stop and remind ourselves that animals cannot transmit acquired characteristics to their offspring. We change the characteristics of breeding populations only by selecting which specimens will breed forward to the next generation. Nothing else matters.

Evolution is driven by differential reproductive success. Traits acquired during the life of an animal cannot be passed on to their offspring.

Azawakh is not Tamasheq

Azawakh or azaouak comes from the Djerma language. It means “Land of the North”. The Djerma are a considered to be a branch of the Songhai people, but they may were actually assimilated during the Songhai Empire in the 16th century. Many Djerma were displaced from what is now a Fula region, Lac Debo in Mali. They eventually settled well East of Lac Debo near Niamey in what is now Niger. The Azaouak Valley is almost directly to the North of Niamey.

Young pair of Azawakh.

Young pair of Azawakh.


Not Just a Name for Dogs

In addition to being the name of a breed of dog, Azawakh, is a strain of Zebu cattle characterized by long lyre-shaped horns and a hump. The cattle are thought to have arrived in the Sahel around the late 7th century BCE. Other names for these cattle are Bororo, Tuareg, Adar, Tagana and Azawaje.

I have the sense that both breed names were synthesized by Europeans in the post-colonial period of the last century. Neither Azaouak (meaning a breed of cattle) nor Azawakh (meaning a breed of hound) is used by any local people. Both words are really a shortening of a phrase:

  • Cattle of Azawakh
  • Hounds of Azawakh

If I Have More than One are they Azawakhs?

No. The Plural of Azawakh should still be Azawakh. Remember that Azawakh is the name of a place, the Azawakh Valley or the Land of the North. When we use the Azawakh as a breed name, it is really just a shortening of hound of Azawakh. Where the hound of part is understood. The plural is hounds of Azawakh. The hounds of part is still understood even if you don’t say it. It would never be hound of Azawakhs nor hounds of Azawakhs.

As another illustration, consider if we replace Azawakh with Canada. We now have an imaginary breed of animal called Canada. Can you imagine calling a pack of them Canadas?

The other option would be a construction like Azawakhians or Azawakhans, which just seems horrifying.

The plural of Azawakh should remain Azawakh.

For all one of you reading along, last time we established that while in modern English “hound” can mean “dog”, it has an ancient connotation of “noble hunting animal”. This time ’round I want to look at the most common English words for “coursing dog”: greyhound, gazehound and sighthound.

The eye of a retired NGA greyhound.

The eye of a retired NGA greyhound.

Sighthound, gazehound and greyhound are all composite nouns:

  • sight + hound
  • gaze + hound
  • grey + hound

We’ve already established that hound means “hunter”. What do the prefix modifiers mean? Sighthound and gazehound are synonyms. Sighthound is just a more modern form. Gaze is a somewhat archaic word for “to look”. It originated in 14th century Middle English (Anglo-Saxon) as gasen.

  • Middle English (Anglo-Saxon): gasen [to look]
    • English: gaze


  1. a hound that runs or courses game by sight rather than scent

synonyms: gazehound

I don’t like these two words because they don’t make very much sense. All hounds can see and use their eyes to hunt. There is a natural suite of hunting motor patterns in canids:

  1. orient (track)
  2. eye (stare)
  3. stalk
  4. chase
  5. grab-bite
  6. kill-bite

These behaviors occur in order. Foxhounds and Beagles will definitely eye and chase a fleeing prey animal. Greyhounds will definitely sniff around excitedly at deer spoor hoping to find the critter to chase. I don’t like the term sighthound. It’s lame and it creates a wrong impression of the behavior of these animals. In modern times large swaths of society are divorced from any sort of real-world experience with hunting. I have a hard time believing that people were really so confused in the 16th century that they believed that cursorial dogs hunt only by sight.The interesting thing, though, is that the word gazehound exists at all. It is so wrong and there was already a really good word in English for a coursing dog: greyhound.

According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, gazehound was coined between 1560 and 1570 in modern English. The word greyhound is at least a thousand years older and has its roots in Old English and Proto-Indo-European.

Why are greyhounds called grey? They are most commonly fawn, not agouti grey. The grey in greyhound has nothing to do with color. It derives from the Proto-Indo-European word for “shine” or “twinkle”.

  • Proto-Indo-European: g’her [shine, twinkle]
    • Old English: grig
      • Middle English: grig [lively, bright, fair]


  • Middle English: grighund [lively, bright, fair + hunting dog]
    • English: greyhound

Basically, greyhound means a particularly lively and good-looking hound; perhaps the flashy hound that runs faster than the others and is most often successful with the take.

Why did someone decide to invent the word gazehound in the mid-16th century if they already had such a nice word in greyhound? I don’t know, so it’s time to go off the deep end into more-or-less pure speculation.

The early and middle16th century was the reigh of Suleiman the Magnificent who presided over a great expansion of the Ottoman Empire. So what? Under Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire expanded into germanic territories of modern Austria, Hungary and the Balkans as well as pretty much all of North Africa and Greece. English traders could not possibly have avoided interaction with Turkish culture and perhaps been exposed to their hunting dogs (which I’ll just refer to as saluqi for convenience).

In her book Gazehounds: the Search for Truth, Connie Miller suggests that the real origin of the prefix in gazehound is not gaze but ghazal. Ghazal is Arabic/Persian/Urdu for gazelle. I think she’s close but even better is the Turkish: gazel. Saluqi are hunting dogs that can take gazelle. Rather than gaze + hound the original coinage might have been gazel + hound. It’s easy to see how the ‘l’ could be dropped in correspondence and retelling. What Elizabethan Englishman ever heard of a gazel? I like to think that sighthound is a derivation of a giant malapropism.

On the whole, I find a lot of charm in the word greyhound and none in sighthound nor gazehound. Perhaps I should not be irritated when people stop me on the street walking my Azawakh and ask me if he is a greyhound. They are very fair and lively dogs.

Sub-adult Azawakh play-chasing an Azawakh puppy.

Sub-adult Azawakh play-chasing an Azawakh puppy.