Tazy, Speedy Dog of the Steppes

Kazakh Dog Breed "Tazy" Runs Across the Steppes
A Tazy named Ahkbakai, meaning “White Paw,” lopes across the steppes. Tazy can run at speeds upwards of 30 m.p.h. PHOTOGRAPH BY RYAN BELL

“Faster,” Zhylkbybai Aga said to the driver. As the truck increased to 25 m.p.h., Zhylkbybai leaned out his window and called to his dog. “Ahkbakai!” The lanky dog loped alongside, exerting hardly any effort. “Faster!” he said, whooping the dog on.

My first impression of this dog, a Kazakh breed called Tazy, was that it looked like a gangly bag of bones. But now, in motion, the dog was a thing of beauty. The legs and hips worked like the pistons and connecting rods of a machine. The long ears, with their feathery hair, flapped almost like wings. The dog could run.

Zhilkabai Aga and His Tazy, Akhbakai
Zhilkabai Aga raises Tazy to keep up the tradition of his father, a renowned hunter who reportedly killed 1,000 wolves. PHOTOGRAPH BY RYAN BELL

The Tazy’s ancestry is unclear. It shares DNA with a cluster of similar-looking breeds from central Asia, the Middle East, and north Africa. In Kazakhstan, lanky dogs appear in 3,000-year old petroglyphs. And not far from where Ahkbakai now ran, dog bones were found in a Botai burial grave, a Copper Age civilization that kept domesticated dogs and horses.

During nomadic times, Tazy were prized for their ability to run down and kill wolves. The skill earned them special status in Kazakh culture, where it’s still considered taboo to merely refer to Tazy as “dogs.” They were treated like family members and allowed inside the yurt. And in ancient times, it’s been said that a Kazakh would trade 47 horses for one good Tazy.

The Tazy is well adapted to life on the steps.
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