What is a Sighthound?
Sighthounds belong to the Hound Group, a classification of dog breeds created to track and capture prey. Dogs that fall under the Sighthounds category were bred to hunt by sight and speed. For this reason, they are popularly known as ‘Ferraris of the dog world.’
Meanwhile, the Sighthound’s counterpart, the Scent Hound, specialises in tracking and hunting through his sense of smell.
The Sighthound breeds can spot prey from far away and pursue it over large distances. They aid hunters by coursing the prey or chase them out of dense woodlands to an open area where they can be caught in a trap or slain.
Some Sighthounds can reach speed of over 40 mph, whilst others have a 270-degree field of vision. The unique hunting abilities of Sighthounds earned them the nickname Windhounds and Gazehounds.
Origins of the Sighthound dog breed
The Sighthounds are some of the most ancient breeds around the world. Saluki and Sloughi types of Sighthound breeds have existed for around 5,000 years. The origins of Sighthound are thought to have begun in the Middle East and Africa.
The Sighthounds are swift hunting dogs that lived in wide-open deserts. They were primarily bred to chase and hunt prey using their amazing sight and speed.
The earliest written description of the Sighthounds dates back around the 2nd century AD. The very first remains of what is believed to be a Sighthound dog existed around 7,000 BC. It was discovered during an excavation.
Various ancient art and literature depicted canines with thin sharp heads, long narrow bodies, and tall thin legs. These were the distinctive appearance of Sighthounds.
Life in Egypt
The Sighthound dogs were greatly valued by the nobility in Egypt, especially the Pharaoh. One of Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s treasure, a golden flabellum, portrayed a scene of a Sighthound aiding his master in hunting an ostrich.
The Sighthound breeds were also used as hunting dogs and guard dogs by Egyptians against vicious predators. These lithe canines accompanied their owners in hunting down lions and chasing away hyenas.
The Sighthounds became a part of the country’s timeless myths in Greece. Some believe that they were the dogs that hunted and slain Aktaion. He was the man turned into a stag by Athena after he watched her bathe. This tragic tale was depicted in the Selinus Metope in the Temple of Hera at Poseidonia.
Another Greek art in the def form of an amphora, a Greek vase, showed Ajax and Achilles together with a Sighthound. An Attic Amphora dating back around 540 to 530 BC also depicts a Sighthound.
It was made by Exekias, and he portrayed Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Zeus, returning to their mother after some adventure. Pollux is shown to be welcoming a Sighthound to his embrace.
Harsh Survival in Rome
The high-speed Sighthounds became a part of Roman society too. However, these dogs did not fair well as they were used as mass ritual sacrifices.
The Sighthounds were also used in gruesome entertainment. These dogs were either tortured and killed by gladiators in the arena. After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, the Sighthounds continued to live on.
Popular Racing Dogs
The Sighthounds became a favourite of the British nobility in the Middle Ages. The dogs participated in coursing games, which started under the reign of Henry VIII. However, it was not until the Elizabethan era that the rules for coursing were organised. This was soon followed by the establishment of associations and building tracks for canine racers.
The Sighthounds spread through Europe over the years and became excellent hunting and coursing companions. Since the dogs work together with humans but at a distance, they are strong independent thinker that need little to no guidance.
Common Characteristics of Sighthounds
Whilst each Sighthound breed has his own distinctive appearance, every one of them also shares a few common traits. The Sighthounds have lean and lightweight bodies and lanky and long legs. Their backs are notably flexible.
These Sighthound qualities allow nimble and quick movements and short bursts of speed when hunting down prey. They also have a dominant extinct to chase due to their hunting dog background. Their running speeds can range from 30 to 45 mph.
Sighthound dogs also possess deep chests, which protect their large heart and lungs. Their unusually enlarged respiratory and cardiovascular system plays a big role in their hardy endurance during long runs.
Another typical Sighthound characteristic is having slim long snouts that give them a visual streak. This allows them to detect subtle movements across wide-open lands. Their narrow heads provide their lateral eyes a keen field of vision sideways and in front of them.
This characteristic makes Sighthound dog breeds such as the Greyhound sport a field vision of over 270 degrees. It is a far cry from a human’s 180-degree field of vision and slightly superior to other dog breeds that possess about 240 to 250 degrees.
Why are Sighthounds so skinny?
Sighthounds are naturally skinny canines with slender physiques, visible hipbones, and slim waists. Oftentimes this gives an impression that they are underweight. However, their lean aerodynamic bodies are simply a result of developing fleet-footed hunting dogs. Thus, there is no need to be alarmed by their distinctively skinny bodies.
Fattening up Sighthound dogs can lead to trouble. That’s because these dogs were bred to have lanky builds for thousands of years. If they start gaining too much weight, it places more pressure on their joints and muscle tissues. As a result, overweight and obese Sighthounds are in danger of mobility issues, joint pains, and breathing problems.
Why are Sighthounds so sensitive?
Sighthound breeds are more sensitive to changes in temperature compared to other dogs. It is because their lean bodies store low amounts of fat. This makes body heat regulation a bit difficult for them.
To prevent Sighthound dogs from freezing during cold winters, provide them with thick doggy sweaters and booties. Think about investing in heated beds and self-warming pads as well. Using a hot water bottle is a good alternative. However, wrap it in layers of cloth to avoid scorching their skin. Make sure that your home is well-insulated and provide blankets for warmth.
The Sighthounds are at risk of heatstroke during summer. Avoid this from happening by taking them out for walks during the coolest parts of the day. Usually, this is around early mornings and evenings. When playing outdoors, check ahead of time which areas have enough shade to protect them from the sun’s heat.
Sighthounds with light-coloured or thin coats can suffer from sunburn. So consider buying sun cream that is specially formulated for dogs. Never forget to provide fresh water throughout the day. Creating frozen doggy snacks also helps in cooling them down.
Most Sighthound breeds are sensitive to drugs. Their blood system is different compared to other dogs. Thus, they metabolise medications differently. The liver of Sighthounds absorbs drugs slowly, and it takes longer for the chemicals to dissolve. In turn, it causes adverse effects such as hyperthermia.
Barbiturates are deadly for Sighthound breeds. Application of some flea treatments can lead to negative side effects. The same goes for certain anaesthesia for surgeries.
However, anaesthesia like propofol, methohexital, and the ketamine-diazepam combination is safe for them. With that said, always check with the vet before administering any medications on your Sighthound dog.
Do Sighthounds make good pets?
The Sighthounds may be hard-working hunting dogs, but they are also content to be couch potatoes at home. As family dogs, Sighthounds are very affectionate around their human companions. Some are welcoming towards strangers, whilst others can be distant and timid.
Socialising your Sighthound during his puppyhood will allow him to mature into a friendly and approachable dog.
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Keep in mind that Sighthounds have a high prey drive. They may not be the best canine companions for families with toddlers. However, they can bond well with older children. If you plan to have another dog at home, avoid toy dog breeds as they can trigger the Sighthound’s instinct to chase.
Pair your Sighthound with dogs the same size as him or preferably a fellow Sighthound. It is observed that Sighthounds are more quickly to form strong bonds with dogs from the same breed group. A Sighthound could live harmoniously with a cat if they grew up together.
However, Sighthounds may view other smaller animals as a fair game. If you have pet rabbits, hamsters, birds, and mice, give this a thought before getting a Sighthound dog.
The Sighthound dog breeds are relaxed and laid-back family companions. They can live in apartments and condominiums provided that their daily exercise needs are met. However, they thrive best in homes with a decent-sized backyard or garden. They need enough space where they can run around freely.
A Sighthound needs at least an hour of physical and mental stimulation a day. Short 20-minute walks are enjoyable activities for him. Since his hunting instinct strongly urges him to chase down anything that moves, it is best to avoid letting him go off the lead. Only allow him to run free if he has mastered recall.
When playing with a Sighthound, incorporate games such as hide-and-seek, obstacle, and fly ball to challenge and sharpen his cognitive ability. Some Sighthounds love to dig, so provide a digging spot for them in the backyard or garden. These dogs are quick to dart after something they see as prey, so always check the fences if it is secure to keep your dog from escaping.
The Sighthound dog breeds do well in various dog sports. They particularly excel in lure coursing, racing, and agility.
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Unlike the Scent Hounds, the Sighthounds are not big eaters. Hence, they are less likely to beg or scavenge for food. The challenge that Sighthound owners often face is their pickiness during mealtimes. Encourage your dog to eat his meals by sticking to a strict feeding schedule.
Do not feed table scraps to your Sighthound, as doing so will make him prefer to eat these instead of his regular meals. Also, if you allow him to eat treats regularly, the same aftermath may happen. As such, table scraps should be kept out of his food bowl, and treats should be given sparsely.
Another idea is to place your Sighthound’s kibble in a moving dog puzzle toy that he can chase and catch. This will turn his simple meal into an interesting game. Always monitor his food intake and weight to ensure that he maintains a healthy body weight.
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Sighthounds with short coats are easy to maintain. They only require weekly brushing with a hound glove. It is a different case for long-haired Sighthounds since brushing their fur requires more attention. The length of their coat makes it very prone to mats and tangles. Thus, their brushing requirements may range from a few times a week to daily.
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How to train a Sighthound?
Training a Sighthound can be challenging, as he has an independent nature. Therefore, he is less likely inclined to follow his owner’s commands compared with other dogs.
A Sighthound has a low attention span and can get easily distracted. Many Sighthound owners attest that their dogs will suddenly bolt off during training. This may happen when the dogs get bored or something catches their eyes.
Sighthound dogs often get a bad rap for their wilfulness and lack of care. However, they are still highly intelligent dogs that are quick to learn.
Sighthound dog owners just need to put more time and effort into training these dogs. Using positive reinforcement and rewards-based method is the ideal way to motivate these dogs.
Sighthound breeds are quite sensitive to their owners’ voices. So, praise your dog whenever he successfully carries out a command. Let him know that he did well. Correcting him only requires a short verbal reprimand in a low tone. Never shout or yell at your dog, as it will make him feel confused and lose his trust in you.
Training your Sighthound helps form a strong dog-owner bond. However, physically, or verbally hurting him does the exact opposite. He may become wary of your presence. More than that, he can even develop behaviour problems including aggression. For this reason, harsh punishment and training methods are greatly discouraged.
What dogs are Sighthounds?
List of Sighthound dog breeds:
This type of Sighthound hailed from Afghanistan and is originally bred as a coursing dog. The Afghan Hound’s long locks of hair set him apart from other dog breeds.
This Sighthound is named after the Azawakh Valley found in Africa. The Azawakh is a rare dog breed that was used as a watchdog and protector of livestock.
Another type of Sighthound is the Basenji, which is a hunting dog native to Africa. He is known to yodel instead of bark and has a catlike personality.
The Borzoi is a Sighthound that was created by the Russian nobility. He is also known as the Russian Wolfhound, which specialises in hunting hares, wolves, and foxes in vast plains.
The Cirneco Dell’Etna is an ancient coursing sighthound that is native to Sicily. The breed lived in isolation on the slopes of Mount Etna for millenia. He was later used to hunt rabbits and birds.
The English Greyhound is one of the oldest sighthounds in the world. He is also on top of the list of the fastest dogs.
Another type of Sighthound is the Ibizan Hound, which was first created in the Mediterranean isle of Ibiza. He is a rare dog breed that is mainly used to hunt rabbits.
The Irish Wolfhound is a Sighthound that hailed from Ireland, as his name implies. He is one of the largest dog breeds made for hunting wolves and boars.
The Italian Greyhound’s existence was first discovered around Turkey or Greece. He is the smallest of all Sighthounds created for hunting small game and vermin.
The Lurcher is a mixed breed produced by crossing a Sighthound with another purebred dog—usually a herding or terrier dog. He is often used for hunting and has become a popular dog in the UK.
The Pharaoh Hound is a hunting dog coming from Malta. Not only is he a Sighthound, but a Scent Hound too, making him an excellent hunting companion.
Despite the Polish Greyhound’s name, this Sighthound’s origins are unknown. He is also called Chart Polski and was developed to hunt deer, wolves, foxes, and hares.
The Portuguese Podengo is a Sighthound from Portugal. He is a pack breed that mainly hunts for rabbits.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is an African hunting dog formerly known as the African Lion Hound. This Sighthound is an excellent hunter and a trusted home guardian.
The Saluki is of Middle East origins and is greatly prized in the Arab world. Tradition dictates that this Sighthound is not allowed to be sold but is only given as a gift of gratitude and honour.
The Scottish Deerhound is dubbed the ‘Royal Dog of Scotland.’ He is a large Sighthound whose main purpose is to take down the Scottish roe deer.
The Silken Windhound is a fairly new breed that was developed by mating a Whippet and a Borzoi. He is an intelligent coursing dog with a laid-back nature.
The Sloughi, also known as the Arabian Greyhound, is a North African Sighthound. He is a reliable hunting dog and guard dog with a reserved personality.
The Whippet is a rabbit hunting dog first created in England. He is also an excellent racing dog and a watchdog.
Sighthound rescue centres in the UK
Do you think it is time to open your home for a lovely Sighthound? If you are thinking of adopting one, here are some Sighthound rescue centres that you can check out: