Every time one sees an Afghan Hound, one cannot but be charmed by its aristocratic look and the easiness and fluidity of its movements. But one must also never forget that this elegant breed had had its hard times before becoming a star of the rings. That’s why the Afghan deserves more than a pretty coat and light moves.
21st century’s Afghan Hounds don’t have much in common with the pioneers of the breed, the Bell Murray and the Ghazni. Indeed the latter, before being imported to Great Britain by Mrs Amps, were rustic dogs coming from Afghanistan via India. This fancier had realised her first importations directly from Kabul thanks to her husband, who was Major in Afghanistan.
From Kabul to the British Islands
the breed experts admit that Mrs Amps return to a native country in 1925, which allowed the apparition of the Afghan Hound in the European world of dog fancy. Picture of Sirdar of Ghazni, a celebrity, the first great champion of the breed. Under the affix of Ghazni, a reference to a city located halfway between Kabul and Kandahar in the South East of the country, Mrs Amp launched the breed in Europe. She started an important kennel in Penn, in the Staffordshire. However, the number of dogs ordered quickly exceeded what she was able to produce. She also favoured the creation of the first breed club in the UK, the Afghan Hound Club, and the recognition of the breed by the Kennel Club. Two years later, the breed made its début at the world famous Crufts Dog Show. This year, the Kennel Club registered 20 births. The year after, 75 puppies entered the stud book!
Let’s not forget the other pioneer of the selection, Major Bell Murray, who imported his Afghans directly from their native country. These dogs had a different morphology and general type than those of Mrs Amp. They were at the origin of the second most influent bloodline in the UK. British breeders, and then the first continental breeders, all began with dogs issued from the crossing of those two stocks. Vera Shaw, in her Encyclopaedia of the Kennel (1913), wrote: “The Persian GREYHOUND usual colours are Usual colours are fawn, black , and white.” And to quote Lt Cdr Dennis J Smith, who’s being there slightly ironical: “It is this ravaged land and rancorous history that gave birth to our wonderful hounds.”
So many queries
Many experts still recognise that, despite the fact the breed has recently celebrated its 80 years of controlled selection after centuries of wandering and working use, the Afghan Hound’s history keeps many secrets. A few months after the beginning of the military operations in Afghanistan, which put the country downer than what it already was, Australian breeder Lyn Schelling Watson asks one question: “What is today the situation of the Afghan Hound in its country of origin? If there still exists a typical and healthy stock, with characteristics which cannot be found in modern stock, will some breeders be able to import new bloodlines to renew the gene pool of the future generations?”
Today’s stock is indeed issued from a limited pool of studs, which can – thanks to artificial insemination or frozen semen – fecundate on the same day a bitch in Sidney and one in New York City.
Picture of the bitch BIS Ch. Aries Gay Abandon, bred by Christine Anderson-Smith, whose kennel ARIES is famous throughout the whole world.
According to another Australian breeder, Patricia Egan, chairman of one of the several Australian breed associations: “the limits of today’s gene pool may have consequences on the future of the breed.” She also says that the breed has never been more attractive than it is now, with state of the art ways of conditioning the coat. But she above all thinks that the breed has much more than that to offer. “The heads are beautiful, the size and the structure are excellent, and the movements are spectacular. But there are also many things, which have disappeared, and that we’ll never find again in the stock.” A possible allusion to the qualities of the first imported Afghan Hounds, their rusticity, their character and behaviour.
It all began with Zardin
1907, Zardin is the typical Afghan Hound in England. It was the model for the writing of the breed standard in 1925. This dog thrust the breed on the front of the British canine scene. Handled by Captain John Barff, Zardin caused an epiphany in the rings, and was even invited at Buckingham Palace. Breed judge Keith Thornton (Karnak Kennel) points out that: “The head makes the Afghan”. True, but fortunately the dog cannot be limited to this morphological specificity. In Afghanistan, the fate of the Greyhounds – plural, because there were different types in the country – was varied. They were sometimes used for hunting, sometimes for guarding goods or herding the animals, but they were above all utility dogs. The coat, its colour, or more generally speaking their look, were of little interest for their owners.
Zardin was the link between those Hounds, and those used to create the new breed. This Afghan origin of the dog marked the minds of many fanciers. The name of their kennels is quite significant of it: in Belgium, one of the pioneers of the breed had simply chosen “De Kaboul”. In the UK, a famous kennel in the 50’s, that of Dr Porter, was called El Kabul. The first pedigreed Afghan to go to Australia came from this kennel. It was in 1934, and it was the bitch Farkhoonda El Kabul. In Switzerland, there was also the Of Peshawar Kennel. And there’s no room here to quote them all! Dr Capra is more than laudatory when he writes: “The aesthetic beauty of the Afghan Hound comes from its perfect shapes, which are essential for its function, and in the same time are so beautiful to see, that they seem to have been modelled by the wind.” One of the very first French breeding was called “Des Ailes”, i.e.: Of the Wings. The first breed club was created in France in 1939, the FALAPA.
On the wings of fashion
Those wings of fashion were very fast one, as very quickly the demand boomed, the production became less controlled, and it happened what had to happen… The British paid for this in the 60/s. the number of births are symbolic of the craze for the breed at the time: 273 registrations at the Kennel Club in 1960, 2,800 in 1970 and 4,890 in 1974. 20 years later, the figures had been divided by five! Currently, regular imports allow the English to keep on sticking with today’s type. Nowadays, the fancy for the Afghan Hound goes on. At the East of England Afghan Hound Club Championship Show, 273 dogs were entered, but then it was an import which won, Exxos Gamboy.
In France, the breed also began to become famous. Picture of CH Licence to Thrill de Tchekana, a European tenor handled by Philippe Gallardo. Two major kennels, a few importations from Scandinavia and the USA changed the “British” type, a sudden craze, and the same phenomenon that had happened in the UK hit France too. From a few births in the 60’s, the breed boomed anarchically. The demand boomed, but fell again at the beginning of the 80’s. In figures: 1,620 registrations at the French Kennel Club in 1983 – the Afghan is a fashionable breed and is number in its group ahead of the WHIPPET and Borzoi. 10 years later, there were only 335 births, whereas the French Kennel Club had registered more than 11,000 Afghan hounds during the past 11 years. The production steadied itself till 1997, then decreased again. Nowadays, around 3,000 registered dogs are living in France.
There are only a few deeply implied breeders, but the French selection never was so good as it is now all around the world. Picture of Martial Robin, a few minutes before his dog made the Best Of Breed at Crufts 2002. the Afghan Hound no longer is everybody’s dog, and things are probably better this way. Our modern and quick way of life might be one of the reasons for this change of fashion. The Jack Russel and the Golden now have taken the place that was that of the Afghan 20 years ago in many urban households. A dog that requires a careful and regular grooming – a beautiful coat is rarely a simple gift of nature – is no longer fashionable. The BERGER DE BRIE, the BOBTAIL and many other longhaired breeds, where appearance came before the rest, have gone through the same thing, and around the same time as the Afghan Hound.