Temperament and Health in the Shadow of Titles: What Are We Breeding For?

Ethical breeders of purebred dogs share the heart-felt goal of breeding to the applicable standard.  Many may define that, in order of importance, as conformation or type, performance, health, and temperament.  Not enough of us put temperament and health at the top of that list.  Good temperament and excellent health are minimum requirements that must be met before a breeder evaluates conformation, type and workability.

A breeder’s plans and intuition when breeding, necessarily incorporate pedigree research, knowledge of genetics, experience, beliefs, and risks. Every dog, no matter how good, has its faults as well as its strengths.  Consequently, every intentional breeding becomes a balancing act between unacceptable faults, or those that might be perpetuated or accentuated through a poorly planned cross, and faults which may be reduced or eliminated through good breeding.

Temperament is often overlooked in sighthound breeding.  In 2007, a Sloughi bit the field secretary at a lure coursing trial so severely that the woman’s hand required reconstructive surgery.    The incident was well publicized and indicates a temperament highly detrimental to the reputation of the breed.  Moreover, it reflects poorly on all of us who are involved with Sloughis.  I have been approached and questioned, on several occasions at lure tests and trials, by people who have encountered Sloughis who are aggressive toward humans, Sloughis that lunge if you make eye contact with them. I have also heard, still today, of Sloughis who are so timid that they cannot be approached without literally collapsing to the ground in fear.  Aggressiveness towards humans and extreme timidity are not correct temperaments.   Such behavior may occur in a dog with a past history of abuse, but those dogs should  be in the hands of experienced professionals who can help ameliorate a condition not inherent in the dog and those dogs should be rehabilitated before they put the safety of others at risk.  Using dogs known to have, or to pass, inherently dangerous and/or defective temperaments in a breeding program is the epitome of irresponsible breeding.

Similarly, a beautiful dog that is or is likely to be carrying genetic health problems should not be bred.

Excellent dogs that get shown a lot will acquire long lists of credentials, whether they be in the conformation ring, or on the performance field.  Unfortunately, the best performers and/or show dogs are not necessarily the best at passing desirable traits to their progeny. It is also true that many excellent Sloughis are never entered into competition because their owners are not interested in competing, or because of health or financial problems, or other personal circumstances.

Titles alone do not qualify a Sloughi for breeding, although they are often useful tools for the evaluation process.  Of course, only Sloughis who are excellent representatives of the breed standard in terms of conformation and type should be considered for breeding.  In addition, a Sloughi must also display its willingness to perform the work for which this breed was developed and preserved:  the pursuit of live game.  This willingness is an integral component of the temperament of a Sloughi.  Lure coursing and racing are not necessarily the best indicators of a Sloughi’s proficiency at hunting.  Many of us who are familiar with Sloughis who course live game know those Sloughis can readily differentiate between game and an artificial lure.  In addition, such Sloughis may deliberately act counter to lure coursing rules. Open Field Coursing provides the best formal evaluation of a Sloughi’s skill at sight hunting, but it is unavailable in most states, and it is unappealing to many owners because it involves the coursing of live game.  It may be that an owner’s observations of his or her Sloughi free coursing on long hikes is the best available method of testing a Sloughi’s willingness and propensity to course live game.  That willingness is the essential element of our breed’s temperament.

Temperament and health must be placed on equal footing with form and function.  A Sloughi is not a Labrador, but, in the United States or Europe, our Sloughis do not need to protect us from attack in the night by marauding tribes.  A Sloughi that bites indiscriminately has no place in our society and it endangers and jeopardizes the future of the breed.

We also do not want to entrench genetic disease in our limited gene pool.  Breeders need to take a hard look at the health issues behind their dogs before deciding to breed them.  In 2011, Addison’s Disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder that is potentially fatal, was confirmed in our breed.  Irritable Bowel Disease, another autoimmune disease exists in our breed.  Genetic diversity and genetic health are more important that good type or melancholic expressions.

In addition, we in the United States and Europe are fortunate that we do not have to rely on our hounds to put food on the table for us.  The real function of our Sloughis is to be loving family members who please us with their power, speed, agility, and intelligence and who delight us with their beauty, elegance and devotion.  As such, it is the responsibility of our Sloughi breeders to hold temperament and health at the forefront of every breeding decision and to refrain from producing puppies out of Sloughis with questionable or bad temperaments, or with questionable genetic health, regardless of how many titles come before or after their names.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. andreas says:

    I like the summary:
    Genetic diversity and genetic health are more important that good type or melancholic expressions.
    The two latter are both ‘things’ that people see and that’s often what they chose.

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