The 21st century brought with it a new phenomenon to the Nordic countries - the desert bred Saluki, also known as the COO (country of origin) Saluki. What is it all about? What is a COO Saluki and how does it differ from the Western bred Saluki? Why do people acquire COO Salukis?
The Western Saluki lines are founded on Salukis imported from "the desert" or the countries of origin (in other words, desert bred/COO Salukis) roughly 50-100 years ago. Consequently all Western Salukis descend from those initial country of origin (COO) imports. The term "desert bred" and its equivalent "COO Saluki" however refers to direct imports from the COOs and is also used of such imports' offspring and grandkids, even greatgrandkids, whose pedigrees represent pure COO lines without known Western influences. When COO lines have been bred in the West longer than that we usually speak of desert/COO descent Salukis, although lines bred in the West for 4-5 generations could perhaps be considered quite Western. Sometimes Salukis that are part Western, part - 50% for instance - COO, are referred to as COO Salukis, though perhaps there too a better term would be "desert/COO descent Saluki".
The term "desert bred" thus refers to Salukis bred in the countries of origin, though in actual fact of course the terrain in those countries is not just desert - the area the breed originates from is vast and covers not only the Middle East but also North Africa and Central Asia and beyond, and so naturally encompasses very varied terrains, from sand and rock deserts and steppes to sown areas and mountain lands, all traditional hunting grounds of the Saluki.
So, the desert/COO Saluki is not a new or separate version of the breed - Western and COO Salukis are the same breed throughout - the term merely tells us that the dog in question is a direct COO import or a direct descendant of such an import. The size variation of COO Salukis is the same as that of their Western counterparts, and both populations have both smooth and feathered hounds. FCI registered COO Salukis can participate in the same shows and coursing and racing events, in the same classes, as Salukis bred from Western lines, and they can be bred together.
Some COO Salukis can have strange-looking ears, due to the fact that they have been cropped. Saluki ears are often traditionally cropped especially in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, though one can run into cropped Salukis in other COOs as well. Sometimes the entire ear leathers are removed, or just one of them - other times half or 1/3 of one or both ear leathers is removed, causing the Saluki to have prick ears. This is an ancient tradition and the reasons given for it vary - for beauty, for alertness, for speed; to prevent the ears from being injured during the hunt; or as marks of ownership. Salukis are never cropped in the West, whether from Western or COO lines.
So do not COO and Western Salukis differ at all? There are differences, but such comparisons are by necessity generalizations, as all characteristics overlap and exist in both populations - naturally enough, since they are one and the same breed. The differences therefore are not absolute, but instead a question of which characteristics appear to be more prevalent in one population than the other. The reason a characteristic is more prevalent in one or the other is in turn the result of different breeding goals and methods. In the COOs the emphasis is on the hound's function - that the Saluki hunts and hunts well, and that is the foundation of all breeding choices: mating the best possible hunter with the best possible hunter to achive superb hunters, as Salukis in the COOs still hunt as they have for millennia. Hunting is the only reason for keeping Salukis in the COOs, while in the West they are primarily companions.
Naturally there are other breeding criteria in the COOs as well, such as pedigree, but then too a good pedigree is one of good hunting Salukis. Conformation is taken into account as well, but again in the context of the hound's function, looking for traits that are typical of good hunting Salukis. Temperament is important - the Saluki must be friendly to its people, obedient and cooperative. It is expected to live peacefully with other animals and livestock, yet be fiery and relentless on game, and to guard its owners property. And function, not just the hunting instinct but hunting ability, is paramount. So, the basis and goals of Saluki breeding in the COOs and the West differ as a whole, or at least the emphasis and expectations differ, making some traits more common in one population than the other, though overlaps occur.
COO Salukis have the same temperamental traits as Western Salukis, but in a more concentrated form. They are more intense - passionate, loyal, fiery, loving, cooperative, smart, charismatic and endlessly energetic. COO Salukis are bred to work with their masters, and it shows - they relish close contact and doing things with their owner - it is generally more ingrained in them and can be seen especially when free running. Which does not mean that recall is necessarily 100% whenever the owner wishes, certainly not when game is sighted!
In appearance too COO Salukis are often more primitive, perhaps lacking in Western glamour, and very purposeful, looking like what they are - hunters. I am again generalizing strongly, but COO Salukis often have broader skulls and shorter muzzles, broader fronts, shorter and more compact bodies, less angulation, stronger feet (with more mobility of the toes), shorter tails, and less feathering. Light-colored eyes and "curly" tails are more usual in COOs than in Western Salukis, the earset is often higher, and the incidence of really small Salukis tends to be higher among COO Salukis.
Their unexaggerated conformation leads to more utilitarian, less flashy movement, with less length of step - in COO Salukis the efficiency of the movement at the trot comes from an energy-saving lightness and a dancing lift rather than tremendous reach and drive. I often say that COO Salukis are like arrows: so completely formed by their function, without excess glamour yet so beautiful precisely because they are so moderate and functional - strong, athletic, timeless. The entire being of the COO Saluki, inside and out, is primitive and purposeful - all it is it is thanks to its original function, hunting.
The above are the reasons some of us acquire COO Salukis. As breeders we are of course also looking for new blood and a strenghening of those original qualities, and there too COO Salukis are precious. As dog owners we value the primitive aspects of these hounds, that make them such fascinating companions - and that teach us so much about this ancient breed and its relationship to man. It is a rewarding exploration.