Sighthounds – Everything you need to know
With an unmistakable appearance that’ll be sure to take your breath away, sighthounds are a type of dog that boast an extraordinarily unique beauty. Hunting dogs at heart, these breeds are speedy, slick and are equipped with impeccable vision.
Sighthounds is the collective term for beloved breeds such as the Greyhound and Whippet, but also lesser-known breeds such as the Borzoi and Sloughi.
What is a sighthound?
Sighthounds, also known as gazehounds, are a group of canines unlike any other in the dog world. As their name would suggest, their sight is second to none. They rely on this keen vision and their extreme speed to hunt fast-moving animals such as hare and deer.
Refined breeding processes mean that sighthounds have acquired all the necessary traits to accompany humans on hunts. Eyes placed wide apart allow the sighthound to have a great peripheral vision that’s up to a 270-degree range, which is much greater than what we humans have. There’s no point trying to sneak up on a sighthound!
Dogs using sight to hunt is quite unusual, as they typically don’t have the best eyesight, especially long distance. Most hunting dogs rely on their scent and extreme stamina levels.
Sighthounds are distinctive as they’re equipped with vision that can quickly identify movement, so once their prey moves even an inch, the sighthound will be off in a flash. However, if their target was stationary, they could likely avoid being hunted down.
Sighthounds have a streamlined body shape to accommodate for speedy sprinting. All the breeds under the sighthound category exhibit the same type of body, an elongated head, a slender waist and a lean physique.
It’s an incredibly unique body shape that isn’t typical of most breeds, but it’s definitely one that you’d recognise anywhere.
What breeds are classed as sighthounds?
- Italian Greyhound
- Afghan Hound
- Irish Wolfhound
The list doesn’t end here, many more breeds are classed as sighthounds. Another breed that many people categorise as a sighthound is a Lurcher.
Although a very pup-ular pooch, the Lurcher surprisingly isn’t recognised by The Kennel Club as an actual breed. It’s actually a crossbreed between a sighthound and a Terrier or herding dog.
A brief history of sighthounds
The sighthound is an ancient type of dog, often speculated to be one of the oldest in the canine world. Appearances of sighthound-like dogs can be traced back thousands of years and have been working alongside people for hunting purposes from the very beginning.
Boasting a long, extended facial structure (this is actually described as dolichocephalic, essentially the opposite of brachycephalic, which refers to flat-faced breeds like Pugs and Bulldogs) and far apart eyes, the sighthound has a massive peripheral vision.
This form of dog was incredibly desirable, so sighthounds were selectively bred by humans to accentuate this bodily structure, meaning they’d be great for hunting on wide expanses of land.
To humans, if a pooch had a long, slender head, that meant they would be excellent hunters. This is where the desire to own a sighthound began.
We don’t know which sighthound breed was the first to emerge, some people believe it was the regal Afghan Hound whereas some speculate that it was the Saluki or Greyhound.
The Greyhound is definitely one of the most recognised and commonly owned sighthound breeds. Their rise to fame began when they were favoured in Victorian England as racing dogs.
Many sighthounds look like they were based on the form of a Greyhound, especially the Whippet who is essentially a miniature version. Whippets were bred to be a more affordable version of the Greyhound even nicknamed the ‘poor man’s racehorse’ at one point.
Throughout the years, humans have polished and perfected the sighthound to be useful assistants and athletes.
Nowadays, even though the appearance of the sighthound is almost identical to ancient times, the use for them has changed dramatically. Hunting has declined, which meant breeders refined the temperaments of these breeds to become desirable pets for modern day pooch paw-rents.
All about the sleepy sighthound
Speedy, fast, and agile are all words commonly used to define sighthounds. However, people that own a sighthound themselves are more likely to use the descriptions of, sleepy, lazy and laidback.
These pooches are serial snoozers.
Despite their quicker than lightning speed and racing background, most sighthounds don’t actually require much exercise. A daily walk is enough for most.
However, if they see something worth chasing, they’ll be halfway across the field before you even realise they’ve left your side. Some can reach a remarkable speed of 40mph and it’s truly impressive to watch. But as soon as you return home, your sporty little sighthound will retire for a long nap. A nap that will probably last the entire day.
Even though most sighthounds are relatively lazy and are happy to curl up in a ball on the sofa, Salukis and Irish Wolfhounds don’t manage well in confined living spaces, they require a fair bit of space to stretch their long limbs. The Irish Wolfhound is actually the tallest of all dog breeds, making it definitely the biggest sighthound!
Graceful and unique, the mere appearance of a sighthound is enough to turn heads. However, they offer so much more than just a pretty face. If you’re looking for an affectionate, laidback and low maintenance pooch, a sighthound might just be perfect.
They fit in well to family life as they’re polite and gentle, and they’ll no doubt capture your heart in an instant with those expressive eyes and unconditional love.
Are there any things I should know before getting a sighthound?
If you’re considering getting a sighthound, there are a few habits you might want to take note of.
Of course, they were bred for hunting and they’re excellent at this job. However, this does mean they have an extremely high prey drive. Without proper training you may find yourself stuck in a field with your pooch nowhere to be seen as they’ve chased after another animal!
Issues with this can also arise if your household consists of both a sighthound and a tiny dog breed. Smaller dogs could be mistaken for prey by the sighthound, leading to an endless cycle of the poor little pooch being chased.
Sighthounds are notorious for counter surfing too, so ensure any food is kept out of reach as most will do anything to snaffle a snack. It’s also advised to get a tall bin, even your old rubbish can become a tasty treat. Since most sighthounds aren’t used for hunting anymore, they’ve got to put those lanky limbs and long necks to good use in some way!
Extreme weather can be an issue for the sighthound. They store minimal levels of fat on their lean bodies, and many have very thin coats, meaning they’re extremely susceptible to the cold weather. A sighthound would much prefer to be snuggled up on a nice cosy bed than going for a run in the rain.
Although sighthounds have a few silly little habits, they’ve got a captivating paw-sonality that’ll make you forget all the annoying stuff, making you find these traits endearing rather than irritating.
If you’re thinking about adding a furry friend to your family, a sighthound is definitely one to consider. Not only do they carry a dignified, majestic appearance, they’ve got a lovable and laidback personality that’ll have you falling in love instantly. Be careful though, once you’ve got one, you’ll probably want another!
- Pharmacogenomics of poor drug metabolism in Greyhounds: Cytochrome P450 (CYP) 2B11 genetic variation, breed distribution, and functional characterization Scientific Reports, 10, (69), 2020, doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-56660-z