Resembling a runway model, the leggy and elegant Azawakh comes to us from the Sahel region of Africa, which touches Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. He has long been a prized companion of the nomadic Touareg people. This rare sighthound is aloof with a complex personality, and he has the unusual characteristic of being protective. While he is beautiful to look at and quiet to live with, the Azawakh is not suited to every home.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

The Azawakh is intelligent and loyal. He must live indoors with his family, never outside with little attention. Puppies must go to their homes at an early age, and it's not easy to re-home an older Azawakh because he has difficulty adjusting. Before you get one, be sure you are willing and able to commit to him for life. Puppies need extensive socialization to new people, places and situations, and it should continue throughout the dog's life.

Unlike most sighthounds, Azawakhs have a protective streak and will bark at strangers. This is not a dog who will lead the burglar to the family silver.

Sighthounds such as the Azawakh are built for speed. His thin skin is stretched over a frame of muscle and bone. He should not be fat. Ignore people who accuse you of underfeeding him. He needs regular exercise to stay conditioned and is an ace competitor in lure coursing, a sport that involves chasing a mechanically operated artificial lure.

Like every sighthound, Azawakhs have a strong prey drive. He gets along with other dogs, but if you have cats or small dogs, they will not be safe around an Azawakh unless he has been brought up with them from an early age. Even so, it's best to supervise them when they're together and to separate them when you're not home. And the Azawakh who gets along with small pets indoors may forget that they are his pals if he sees them running around outside. He certainly won't have any qualms about chasing unknown cats or other small furry animals, so he must always be walked on leash.

The Azawakh can live contentedly in an apartment or condo as long as he gets a daily walk or run of at least half an hour. He's an excellent partner for joggers and runners and is then satisfied to be a couch potato for the rest of the day. Never permit an Azawakh to run free except in a safely enclosed area. An underground electronic fence does not constitute a safe enclosure, by the way. The Azawakh will run right over it, heedless of any level of shock.

Although he loves to run, the Azawakh is not a play-with-the-kids kind of dog. Choose a different breed if you have young children or very active children who want a dog as a playmate. For older children who like to spend their time playing video games or reading, however, the Azawakh can be a good companion, as long as someone in the family provides the exercise he needs.

This is not a breed that thrives in cold or wet conditions. With his thin skin and low level of body fat, the Azawakh needs an indoor environment with cushioned surfaces to rest his bones.

Azawakhs are proud and independent. They respond well to positive reinforcement techniques, but punishment or heavy-handed methods will cause them to shut down. If you are firm, fair and provide the right motivation, they learn quickly and easily.

Looking for a dog with an easy-care coat? The Azawakh has you covered. Weekly brushing of his smooth, shorthaired coat and regular nail trimming and ear cleaning are all he needs to stay clean and in good condition, plus the occasional bath if he rolls in something stinky.

Health Issues Common to Azawakhs

It is often difficult to evaluate the health of an extremely rare breed. Most veterinarians have never even seen an Azawakh, and there is little research being done into breed-specific problems. The Azawakh is overall considered to be a very hardy and healthy breed.

Like all sighthounds, Azawakh may be sensitive to anesthesia, and may have atypical blood work and other lab results. Reviewing the known ways in which the Greyhound differs from other dogs may assist your veterinarian in determining if your Azawakh has a health problem or simply an "abnormal normal."

Like all deep-chested breeds, the Azawakh is at increased risk of bloat, a condition in which the stomach twists on itself, cutting off blood flow. Bloat and torsion strikes very suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums and lip licking, trying to throw up but without bringing anything up, and signs of pain. Bloat requires immediate veterinary surgery, and most dogs that have bloated once will bloat again. That means it's wise to opt for the procedure known as "stomach tacking," which will keep the stomach from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure.

Some Azawakh suffer from some types of seizure disorders, for which there are no screening tests. They can also be affected by cervical vertebral instability (CVI), commonly called Wobbler's syndrome. It's caused by a malformation of the vertebrae within the neck that results in pressure on the spinal cord and leads to weakness and lack of coordination in the hindquarters and sometimes to complete paralysis. Symptoms can be managed to a certain extent in dogs that are not severely affected, and some dogs experience some relief from surgery, but the outcome is far from certain. While CVI is thought to be genetic, there is no screening test for the condition.

Although rare, Azawakhs are among the breeds in which cystinuria is known to occur. Cystinuria is a genetic kidney defect that leads to the formation of bladder stones that are very difficult to manage with diet or medication and often requires surgery both to remove the stones from the bladder and to repair urinary blockages. There may be no advance signs that the dog is forming cystine stones. Many veterinarians are unfamiliar with cystinuria and may mistake them for more common stones such as struvites. Urinary blockage is a life-threatening veterinary emergency.

Unfortunately, the current screening test for cystinuria is of limited use, as it frequently gives a false negative. It does not give false positives unless the dog is on a particular type of antibiotic at the time the urine sample is taken, however, so a dog that tests positive does, in fact, have the condition, even if he tested negative in the past or tests negative in the future. And there is no genetic screening test, so it's impossible to determine if a dog is a carrier or not.

Hip dysplasia is virtually unheard of in Azawakh, so if your dog is limping, painful, stiff or reluctant to get up or move around, look for another cause. There are a number of neck and spinal problems that can cause those symptoms, and the best place to get a diagnosis for any persistent muscolo-skeletal problem in an Azawakh is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon.

A good breeder will be able to discuss how prevalent all health problems, those with and those without genetic screening tests, are in her dogs' lines, and help puppy buyers make an informed decision about health risks to their dog.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Bloat Medium $1,500-$7,500

5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Azawakh Puppy

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You're more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to housetrain puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Find a good breeder who will match you with the right puppy and will, without question, have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. Start your search for a good breeder with the The Azawakh Club or the American Azawakh Association.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Often, health and behavior problems in dogs aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. In addition, Azawakhs can live as long as 14 years, so an adult dog will still be a part of your family for a long time to come.

Puppy or adult, take your Azawakh to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Azawakhs

Pet insurance for Azawakhs costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Azawakhs are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat. Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Azawakhs are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Azawakh is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.