The ideal dogs for desert climates are designed by nature, humans or both not only to survive but thrive in the world's hottest environments. Some of the hardiest trace their lineages back to times before dogs were fully domesticated, living in their natural environments like semi-wild animals. Common features include slim, muscular builds, short coats and sometimes unique physical characteristics. Today, these ancient breeds have taken places as honored members of the international community of pedigree dogs.
Saluki: Royal Dog of Egypt
The lean, leggy, elegant Saluki, also known as the Persian greyhound and the royal dog of Egypt, is one of the earliest domesticated breeds, portrayed on artifacts excavated from ancient Babylon and Egypt. Nomadic Bedouins used Salukis, capable of outrunning and bringing down hare and gazelles across the hot sands of the Sahara Desert, as hunting dogs. Recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1927, these smooth-coated sighthound, ranging in size from 23 to 28 inches at the shoulder, often have feathering on legs, ears, shoulders and tails. Salukis make excellent pets and companions for active people who are prepared to meet their exercise requirements. This breed's chasing instinct is sometimes misdirected at cats, and the dogs enjoy digging.
Canaan Dog: National Breed of Israel
So-called "primitive" or aboriginal dogs have eluded the process of being subdivided by humans into the astonishing array of dissimilar-looking breeds we know today, thus retaining their original form. A case in point is the Canaan dog, used in Biblical times by ancient Israelites to guard camps and flocks. After the Romans dispersed the Israelites more than 2,000 years ago, these dogs took refuge in the Negev Desert and lived there, mostly undomesticated, for centuries. In the 1930s, Dr. Rudolphina Menzel, realizing that only the fittest would have survived such harsh conditions, began breeding and training them to serve as guard dogs, land mine detectors, messengers -- even guide dogs for the blind. Today, those desert dogs, recognized by the AKC in 1996, are Israel's national breed.
The Basenji: An Ancient African Breed
The basenji, another primitive breed, has its origins among a number of tribes whose members were called pygmies by Europeans in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The basenji is the only "barkless" dog, but he's far from mute, vocalizing in "yodels, crows, chortles, howls, growls and some [sounds] which are simply beyond description," the Basenji Club of America website asserts. Recognized by the AKC in 1943, this dog's furrowed brow lends his face an expression of concern that belies his unapologetically mischievous nature. Still used today to help African huntsmen flush out and chase prey into concealed nets, basenjis are smart but headstrong. They need plenty of exercise.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback: "Lion" Hound
The ancestor of the breed now known as the Rhodesian ridgeback was a native African hunting dog whose most distinctive feature was a cowlick extending along the length of his spine. In the 16th and 17th centuries, when Europeans began colonizing southwestern Africa, they began interbreeding this dog of the Khoikhoi people with European breeds they'd brought with them, including mastiffs, Great Danes and greyhounds. Their objective was to create a family dog who could guard livestock, hunt wild animals including lions, keep predators at bay; withstand temperature extremes and, if necessary, go 24 hours without water. The cowlick, which survived the breeding process, inspired the name. The Rhodesian ridgeback was recognized by the AKC in 1955.
- American Kennel Club: Saluki
- Vetstreet: Saluki
- American Kennel Club: Canaan Dog: History
- The Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States: Rhodesian Ridgeback Historical Information
- Vetstreet: Basenji
- The Canine Information Library: Primitive Dogs
- The Basenji Club of America: Introducing Basenjis
- The Basenji Club of America: Origin and History of the Basenji
- American Kennel Club: Rhodesian Ridgeback: History
- Encyclopedia.com: Khoi
- Image Source/Stockbyte/Getty Images