Description of the AFRICANIS land race.
Compiled by Johan Gallant,
advised by the late Joseph Sithole.
Date of publication : 1
Copyright The Africanis Society of Southern Africa
The traditional dogs of
Southern Africa, together, make up what we could call a "land race". This land
race, because of natural environmental conditions and a certain degree of selection by
man, did evolve into different "ecotypes" with sub-varieties. The custodians of
the dogs emphasise on physical and mental aptness rather than on superficial external
homogeneity. However, they differentiate between types, not so much at birth, but rather
when the dog has reached adulthood and displays certain properties and abilities common to
a specific type.
Selective breeding on
specific features could split this heterogeneous land race into multiple so called
"improved breeds". To start with, one could differentiate between the sub
varieties as they are described in various communities and breed selectively within these
parameters. Further segregation could take place based on size, type of coat, colour, ear
and tail carriage, etc.
The aim of the Africanis
Society is to avoid such differentiation and to conserve the traditional dogs of
Southern Africa as an heterogeneous entity that has been forged primarily through
thousands of years of natural selection. Natural selection is still the best recipe for
creating individuals which are adapted to their environment, tolerant against parasites
and common diseases, and which are virtually free of hereditary disabilities. Conservation
of the "Africanis" is aimed at preserving this "acclimatised" gene
Not many primitive dogs -
as they occurred in ancient human cultures - are left. The "Africanis" has its
origin, and is linked to the sight- and pariah hounds which in pre-dynastic times were
introduced into the Nile valley from the Levant. With the consecutive migrations of Early-
and Later Iron Using people, they spread into Southern Africa where they became endemic.
Since their arrival as from the 6th century AD, they have played a social and cultural
role in the different societies to which they belonged. They mean a cultural and
biological heritage. Conserving the Africanis would also be conserving bio-diversity.
The description which
follows broadly applies to any primitive dog breed which originated in the Levant. Where
variables occur, they are respectively due to the predominance of graioïd features above
pariah particularities, or vice versa. These were the ingredients which seven thousand
years ago formed the corner stones of the proto-Africanis.
Description of fixed and
variable features :
(When after several
thousands of years of predominantly natural selection, variables still occur in certain
features, it only means that such characteristics are of no direct influence on the
physical and mental well being of the dog. Tampering with them to obtain fashionable
homogeneity would therefore simply be inappropriate).
Regions of Occurrence :
Southern Africa (Similar dogs occur further north in the lacu- strine region and beyond.
(In Swahili they are called Umbwa wa ki-shenzi or traditional dogs).
: Watchful companion in and around the homestead, able to work with livestock. Also a
hunting hound combining sight and scent with great efficiency.
Classification : Primitive Hound.
General Appearance :
- Medium-sized, slender built, dry and well
muscled. Gives the impression of a swift, enduring and efficient dog. When in good
condition the ribs are just visible.
Important Proportions :
- The length of the body measured from the
point of the shoulder angulation to the buttock slightly exceeds the height at the
highest point of the withers.
Demeanour and Character :
- Because the Africanis has for centuries
roamed freely in and around rural settlements, it combines attachment to humans with a
necessity for space and freedom of movement.
- The people to whom these dogs traditionally
belong do not tend to make body contact with them. However their settlements are seldom
deserted from humans, other dogs and livestock, ensuring adequate socialisation and
environmental adaptation. This also entails that the Africanis displays watchful
- They are well-disposed without being
obtrusive. When pushed around the Africanis can demonstrate reactive aggression.
- The Africanis displays unspoiled social
canine behaviour with a high level of facial expressions and body language towards
congeners and humans. Therefore, when approached correctly, it is easily trainable.
- Although it is a hound with a swift chase
response, it is able to live in and around the homesteads in the company of livestock
without ever harming it. This is a result of correct environmental adaptation and
- The rather demanding conditions, imposed by
its environment, have over the years induced the Africanis into an energy conserving life
- It has a steady nerve constitution but is
always cautious in its approach to new situations. In other words it displays a high
- During the hunt it is active and alert,
shows great eagerness and toughness.
- It is a great opportunist that easily adapts
to modern western lifestyle without however losing its natural need for space and a
certain degree of freedom.
- It has to be noted that the Africanis has
never been used to the western concept of dog obedience training. However, because of its
innate subservience and a high sense of attachment to pack leader, it follows its handler
in a natural way.
Head : Indicating
the Africanis ancient origins, its head simultaneously features particularities
found in primitive sight- and pariah hounds. Although the head is streamlined, elongated
and wedge shaped, it gives the impression of strength.
Top skull: Flat, moderately wide between the ears. Frontal furrow gradually becomes
less pronounced across the upper head until it disappears when it reaches the not
pronounced occiput. The top skull runs parallel to the ridge of the nose. Its skin may
wrinkle when the dog is attentive.
Fore face :
Muzzle : Prolonged wedge without exaggeration, about as long as the skull. Ridge is
Nose : Rather large, full, pointed, usually black. (Note: partly unpigmented noses are
sensitive to the African sun).
Lips : Usually black, clean with often a little bell in the corners. It seems to play a
role in facial expression
Teeth: Normally a full set of strong, healthy, white teeth meeting in a scissors or
pincers bite. (Dogs born in rural areas can show deteriorated teeth. This is
usually due to an onslaught of distemper at a very young age).
Eyes : Medium to large, oval, slightly slanting, colours range from yellow to
black. Often accentuated by a black rim and/or expressive eyebrows. Alert, mild and
intelligent expression. No entropion, nor ectropion.
Ears : Set on laterally, V-shaped, of medium size, carried erect or drooping in any
position. The most important facet is that they are mobile and linked to the dogs
awareness of its environment.
Neck :Clean, dry, well muscled and of medium length. Flexible - In stand and
alert, carried at approximately 45° to a horizontal line, on the move, the neck tends to
follow the bodys top line.
Body : Slender, slightly longer than high.
Withers : Tips of shoulder blades wide apart and just perceptible above the
Back (Thoracic part of the spine): Slightly sloping towards the anticlinal
Loin (Lumbar part of the spine): Strong, fairly broad, raises slightly to the first
Pelvic slope : Steep (±30-40°). Huckle bones are generally somewhat prominent,
always equal to, or slightly higher than the withers.
Croup : Short, sloping to set on of tail.
Tail : Set on half way between huckle bone and ischial protuberance, harmoniously
continuing the slope of the croup, reaching approximately to hock. The tail is closely
coated, medium thick, narrowing to the gently upward curved tip (The tip of an entirely
straight tail is prone to injury). Functionally mobile - carriage varies in function of
mood and/or environmental stimuli. A darker triangle at the upper outer part of the tail,
approximately one quarter from its onset, is often present. It indicates the place where
the caudal gland used to be.
Chest : Shallow, moderately broad, oval in shape, roomy. Ribs well arched, slanting
rearwards. Sternum not reaching to elbows. (Depth of chest - sternum to ground : ratio 1 -
General : The fore legs are straight, long, dry, with strong big oval bones.
Muscles and tendons are clearly visible. Seen from the front the upper part forms an
Shoulder blades: Wide apart, long and oblique, dryly muscled. Angle between
shoulder blade and upper arm is obuse (±120-130°).
Upper arm: Equal in length to shoulder blade.
Fore arm: Longer than upper arm.
Pasterns: Strong, slightly sloping.
Feet: Large, oval, strong, supple. Toes are well arched, neither splayed out nor
cat-footed. Pads are thick, hard and pigmented. Unpigmented pads and nails are
undesirable. The front paws larger in area than rear paws.
General: Hind legs are long and dry.
Upper thigh : Broad with well developed and dry muscles.
Stifle : Moderately bent - i.e. when standing normally with rear pastern vertical
to the ground, the front edge of the paw is directly under the rear of the buttock.
Under thigh : Long, with well developed and dry muscles.
Rear pastern : Longer than the front pastern.
Hind feet : As fore feet but slightly smaller. Extra 5th toes or rear dew claws
Gait :Walk, trot,
canter and gallop are common ways of moving. The Africanis normally uses the pace-like
walk or the pace in the slower rate of travel. He should be able to trot and/or canter for
long periods on rough terrain and in a hillside environment, going into gallop when real
speed is required. The trot is light and effortless, with moderate stride. Viewed from the
front or rear, the trotting movement reveals, as the speed increases, a natural tendency
for the limbs to converge towards a central line of travel (nearly single tracking).
Texture :Compact short coated, harsh and thick, very short on head and limbs. The
length and density of the undercoat varies with the seasons. Wire-haired dogs are
possible. A ridge on back: (symmetric or non-symmetric of indefinite length can occur).
Colour : Any colour or combinations permissible.
Skin : dark and loose to body. (In the event of a superficial injury, a loose skin
ensures that the damage remains skin-deep and that subcutaneous tissue and muscles stay
Size :For dogs and bitches usually between 50 and 60 cm at the withers, but even
2-3 cm smaller or bigger individuals can occur.
Note : Male Africanis have two
testicles normally descended into a tight carried and well protected scrotum.