Dog Breed Category: Understanding the Sight Hounds

Sight hounds have dolicomorphic heads.
Sight hounds have dolicomorphic heads. | Source

Dog Breeds: What Exactly are Sight Hound Dogs?

Sight hounds, also known as gaze hounds, are dogs that were selectively bred to hunt using their sight and speed. Unlike scent hounds which use their noses and are blessed with good endurance, scent hounds use their eyes more than their nose and sprint with speed for brief periods at a time. These are the fastest canines on earth, capable of reaching speeds of just over 40 miles per hour.

Their skills were fundamental for their main objective which was to pursue fast prey, keeping them in sight and then engaging in their main specialization; hunting them down courtesy of their agility and speed. Their keen eyesight blessed them with the uncanny ability of detecting fast motion of prey such as deer, gazelles and hare. Breeds classified as sight hounds according to the American Sight hound Field Association include the following:

  • Afghan Hound
  • Azawakh
  • Basenji
  • Borzoi
  • Cirneco dell'Etna
  • Greyhound
  • Ibizan Hound
  • Irish Wolfhound
  • Italian Greyhound
  • Pharaoh Hound
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Saluki
  • Scottish Deerhound
  • Sloughi
  • Whippet

Some of these breeds are pretty common, while others are quite a rare sight in the United States. You may be fortunate to see the occasional rare specimen at a dog show.

Physical Appearance

The body of the sight hound seems to have been crafted in such a way as to allow these dogs to do exactly what they were bred for. Their back is very flexible and their long legs allow a long stride. The chest is very wide since it must store a very large heart and very efficient lungs purposely crafted for phenomenal sprints. The body is agile and lean and the dolicocephalic head seems to give these dogs quite an aerodynamic appearance. Their eyes appear to have a larger number of of retinal ganglion cells allowing them to be particularly sensitive to rapid movements. Sight hounds are believed to have originated in North Africa and Arabia. This explains why they are fine-coated and thin-skinned and do best in the winter with a coat on. The lack of tissue and fat allowed sight hounds the capability to cool themselves well despite the heat of their native land.

Behavior and Temperament of Sight Hounds

Sight hounds are a category of their own and they behave much differently than other dogs. Because they have been selectively bred to hunt by sight, this requires owners to take a different twist when it comes to keeping and training a sight hound dog. A fenced yard and a leash are imperative with these fellows! Of course, no generalizations can be made with these dogs, as there are always variables.The following are some behavior quirks and characteristics of these dogs.

  • A Need for Speed

Being bred for hunting fast-moving prey, these dogs are often scanning the horizon for anything that moves. However, unlike very active types of dogs; sight hounds offer the advantage that after sprinting, they may tire easily. So don't be surprised if owners of Greyhounds tell you that their dogs are a bit on the lazy side, and that after their exercise needs are met they'll be most likely laying on the couch for a good part of the need. However, as mentioned, you cannot really generalize with these dogs, as there are many variables. For instance, the Sloughis and Saluki are capable of running all day if given the opportunity.

  • An Independent Streak

Sight hounds, unlike many Velcor dogs who follow you everywhere, are quite independent thinkers. When out in the yard, they may spend countless minutes just exploring and amusing themselves chasing anything that moves. When in the house, they often not underfoot , asking continuous attention as other types of dogs often do. Yet, they do often form a strong bond with their owners. However, there are always exceptions to the rule. Many report Italian Greyhounds to be a bit more on the clingy, Velcro side.

  • Training Challenges

The recall, that is, coming when called, is something you'll need to work a lot on. Once this type of dog sees a rabbit or a cat, he'll be long gone and care less about your desperate attempts to call him back. Some may not be too food motivated, and may do better with a stuffed animal on a string used as a lure for training.

  • Strong Prey Drive

If you are planning to add an adult sight hound to your home, consider that if you have cats or other small dogs, your sight hound may seem them as prey. It's best to purchase a puppy from a breeder who has raised the litter in a home with other cats and small dogs for a good start. Also, consider that while a young puppy may accept cats and smaller dogs in the home, the same won't necessarily apply to cats and unknown dogs seen outside.

  • Snuggling Sleepers

As mentioned, once these dogs' exercise needs are met, these fellows will most likely curl up and go to sleep. Many sight hounds have an uncanny ability to curl up in the smallest spaces and many like to sleep under blankets. If your sight hound has short hair, he may easily feel cold in the winter and seek out ways to warm up.

  • Picky Eaters

Some sight hounds may be on the picky side when it comes to eating. To make mealtime more enticing and to stimulate prey drive, it can help to place their food in a Kong Wobbler or a Buster Cube.

Training Tip: What Type of Collar to Use with a Sight Hound?

These dogs are blessed with muscular necks but their heads are very thin. Because of this conformation, a regular buckle collar may not work for these dogs. Indeed, in dogs with necks wider than their heads, a regular buckle collar may just slip off. In this case, you may want to try a martingale collar which won't tighten around the dog's neck as a choke collar does but will effectively prevent it from slipping through the neck.

Some common and rare types of sighthounds

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Comments 9 comments

Suhail and my dog profile image

Suhail and my dog 3 years ago from Mississauga, ON

I always wanted to have Salukis and Afghan Hounds in my household, but it is their behaviour and temperament that you have described very nicely that makes me think and think and think lol.

Very informative hub. It has brought some more aspects about their requirements that I was not aware of.


Larry Fields profile image

Larry Fields 3 years ago from Northern California

Hi alexadry,

One of these days, when I'm more organized, I'd like to adopt an adult rescue dog. If I didn't have to worry about logistics, a Vizsla (a versatile hunting dog) would be my first choice. But they tend to be a very active breed. And that could be a problem on the majority of days when I'm not out hiking.

Probably a 40mph couch potato, like a retired racing Greyhound, would be a more practical choice.

You mentioned a martingale collar, which I'm not familiar with. Would some kind of a harness be just as good?

You've written another great hub for dog aficionados--even the closet ones, like me. Voted up, interesting, and shared.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

Alexadry,

This is a very interesting and useful hub which I wish I had read before having an Afghan Hound years ago. My wife received him from a friend and we had the dog "Foreigner" for almost 4 years. We never had any trouble with him, and he was a very good watchdog. The problem is that he went after anything that suddenly moved causing him to bite two people. He bit the first neighbor kid while we had him in a chain fence. The kid, I guess, came to the fence and was teasing him. The second person was my sister who he bit when she moved her hand to pet him. I remember taking him in a car for 17 hours and never having any problems while he was riding. I stopped and walked him a lot, though. Voted up and sharing.


alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

Hi Suhail, these doggies are wonderful, but yes, they pose quite some unique challenges. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for the votes up Larry. Some sight hounds have even managed to squirm out of a harness, of course, there are exceptions though. The martingale was crafted with these doggies in mind.


alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for stopping by, commenting, voting and sharing your story of your Afghan hound Paul.


Suhail and my dog profile image

Suhail and my dog 3 years ago from Mississauga, ON

And then there is problem with lifespan of a dog breed that I like so much. Irish Wolfhounds only live for about 7 years.


alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

That's even shorter than Rottweilers (which I own)! Sadly, large size comes with a price :(


Suhail and my dog profile image

Suhail and my dog 3 years ago from Mississauga, ON

I was watching a program on them. Rhodesian Ridgebacks are best sight hound breed for a person like me who is wanting to develop a dog team for long distance hiking. They have good running, protecting and hunting skills that can be put into a good use while out there in the woods.

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