The field is wide open. An animal runs out from the brush at a speed far faster than human hunters can manage. Luckily, they’ve brought their prized hunting dog: the sighthound.
Sighthounds are an ancient and remarkable category of dog breeds. These dogs hunt using their sense of sight and are built with sprinter’s bodies to chase quickly after prey. There are over twenty sighthound breeds, but the most well-known are Greyhounds.
Some people don’t even know that so many other Greyhound-like dogs exist! Sighthounds are all quite similar in temperament and frame, with the main differences between these breeds being their size and coat.
In this article, we’ll do a deep dive into what sighthounds are, how to care for them, and a little about each sighthound breed.
What are Sighthounds?
Sighthounds are in the hound group, meaning that they are hunting dogs. As the name suggests, sighthounds hunt using their sense of sight.
These dogs are ancient. Their remains have been found mummified in Egyptian tombs, and Egypt wasn’t the only place that they’ve been cherished by royalty—it’s actually quite common to see in the history of these lovable pups!
In Russia, a breed of sighthound called the Borzoi was used by the aristocracy to hunt wolves. Sighthounds have also been used to hunt coyotes as well as smaller prey animals.
They were bred to chase prey across vast fields or desert, rather than hunting on crowded grounds where prey can more easily hide.
Their lithe bodies are perfect for sprinting, but aren’t built for endurance. After reaching top speeds of over 40 miles per hour on the hunt, they’re ready for rest.
In your everyday life, this means that after a burst of play or a zoom around the yard, your pup will be content to lounge on the couch.
It’s important to keep these dogs leashed or well-contained, as they’re prone to sprinting off after small animals or other moving objects that catch their eye.
It’s difficult to impossible to train reliable recall to most sighthounds. Their independent streak may make them harder to train in general, although they can pick up other commands well given some patience and positive training methods.
Most sighthounds are best suited to experienced dog owners. Some breeds, such as the Silken Windhound, are better suited to first-timers.
Like all pups, sighthounds should be fed a quality dog food that lists meat as the first ingredient.
It’s important not to feed these dogs too much. While they appear almost too skinny to some people at healthy weights, their frames aren’t suited to extra weight and it can cause health problems for them.
Sighthounds are also prone to bloat, a deadly medical problem for dogs. Owners should know the signs so that they can seek veterinary care immediately if their dogs start showing symptoms.
To help avoid bloat:
- Adopt from a reputable breeder (never purchase a puppy online or at pet stores)
- Avoid foods containing soybean meal or that list oils or fats in the first four ingredients
- Split your pup’s daily food intake into at least two meals
- Use bowls with “fingers” made to slow down eating
- Feed your dog in a quiet area away from people and other dogs
- Keep their stress down as much as possible, especially around feeding times
- Consult with your veterinarian to see if it’s worth performing surgery to reduce your dog’s risk
Sighthounds aren’t a high-energy breed. When not exercising, they’re typically fairly calm.
However, they do need a lot of exercise to stay healthy and happy. Most breeds require at least one long walk daily as well as opportunities to sprint in a safe, enclosed environment.
Ensure the fences in your yard are high enough to keep your dog in. This is especially important for the larger breeds with high jumps!
Speaking of jumps, sighthounds love to participate in ethical dog sports such as dog agility. These are a great outlet for their energy as well as their natural instinct to chase.
Always keep sports positive, allow your dog to stop when they like, and use only positive reinforcement techniques during training.
Competition isn’t inherently bad, but it can result in mistreatment or even abuse if done wrong. This is the case when it comes to dog racing, typically associated with Greyhounds.
The Greyhound racing industry is about profit, not ethical treatment of dogs. Many Greyhounds are bred each year, and unprofitable pups are often neglected or even killed. The lucky ones find their way to rescue groups where they are then adopted out to loving families.
These friendly dogs do well around people, but may be timid. Socialize them to a variety of people to get them out of their shell.
They sometimes have difficulties around smaller animals due to their strong prey drive. This includes cats and other dogs.
If you live in a multi-pet household, it’s best to adopt an older sighthound that’s been raised with other pets. You can also purchase a puppy and introduce them carefully to other animals at a young age.
The above also goes for young children. Also remember that in addition to socializing your dog to kids, it’s essential to teach your children how to interact with dogs.
Never allow them to roughhouse or handle your pup harshly, and never leave any dog and child unattended.
Some smaller breeds can be kept successfully in apartments, but it’s typically not recommended due to their strong desire to run.
It’s best for these dogs to have an enclosed back yard with a tall fence to keep them inside. This way, they can sprint around to their heart’s content.
This is absolutely essential for large or giant sighthound breeds in particular.
Grooming your standard sighthound is fairly simple. The short-haired breeds are low-maintenance and need to be brushed only once a week.
Longhaired breeds such as the Borzoi or Afghan Hound need to be combed once a day in order to keep their coats healthy and free of painful mats.
Sighthounds of any breed will also need their teeth brushed, nails trimmed, and ears cleaned regularly as is standard for any dog.
Training sighthounds can be tricky, especially for inexperienced dog owners. It’s important to keep your expectations realistic and to use positive reinforcement methods.
For instance, your dog will likely never be able to wander around in open areas unleashed. It’s difficult to train their hunting instincts out of them, as they’ve been bred to chase since ancient times.
Never use dominance training techniques or punishment when training a sighthound or any other dog. These techniques promote fear and aggression, not a respectful, healthy relationship.
Instead, keep training sessions short and positive. Bring your best rewards to the table, and try to always end on a positive note.
Stopping when your dog has gotten something right, followed by a tasty treat, keeps training fun for both of you. Short sessions prevent you and your dog from becoming tired or frustrated with one another.
Dogs also have fairly short attention spans, especially when young! If your sighthound is continually getting distracted by that squirrel racing around in the treetops, try training indoors where you can better control the environment.
You can then slowly teach your pup to perform these tricks outdoors and in different settings.
The most important things for sighthounds to learn are:
- Socialization (learning to adapt to a variety of experiences including going new places or meeting new people and dogs)
- Bite inhibition
- Basic commands such as sit, down, and stay
- Leash training
- Potty training
If you adopt an older dog from a rescue or shelter, chances are that they’ll already know at least some of these things. Puppies will need to be taught from scratch!
Sighthounds need routine veterinary care starting with their puppy vaccines and spay or neuter surgery.
Throughout their lives, they should be brought in for a check-up once a year.
If you ever notice that your dog is acting strange or unlike themselves, schedule an appointment as this is typically one of the first signs of illness.
Many sighthound breeds are quite healthy. Each breed has its common health risks, however, and these dogs are no exception.
One thing to watch for, as we discussed above, is bloat.
Symptoms of bloat include:
- Excess drooling
- Swollen stomach
- Stretching with their rear in the air
- Pale gums
- Fast heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
It’s important for sighthound owners to educate themselves on the symptoms so that they can catch bloat early. Left untreated, a dog will die—possibly within hours.
Another thing to watch for in sighthounds is their sensitivity to anesthesia. You’ll have to ensure you choose a veterinarian who knows what they’re doing when it comes to any surgery your dog may need.
Afghan hounds hide much of their classic sighthound shape beneath their sleek, silky hair. Their tails end in a cute, upright curl.
It’s thought by some that the Afghan hound is the oldest dog breed in the world!
Azawakhs are West African sighthounds bred to hunt gazelle. They’ve also been trained as guard dogs.
They have a fine, short-haired coat that is easy to manage.
Borzois were first bred in 1600s Russia. They needed agile dogs that could hunt in harsh winter conditions for the aristocracy’s grand wolf hunts.
Borzois are a giant, longhaired sighthound with curly fur. They require more grooming maintenance than most others.
The Chippiparai is an Indian breed. These mid-sized sighthounds hunt small prey such as hare.
This large sighthound breed is from Ukraine and Russia. They are rarely seen outside of these countries and are thought to have been bred down from other, now-extinct sighthound breeds.
Spanish Greyhound (Galgo Español)
Galgos Español, or Spanish Greyhounds, were bred a bit differently to their English counterparts. They run slightly slower than English Greyhounds, but for longer stretches of time.
Unfortunately, like their English counterparts, Spanish Greyhounds are often abused due to dog racing.
Greyhounds are the most well-known sighthound in America today. These dogs were bred in ancient Egypt for hunting, but are perhaps better known today as racing dogs.
Fortunately, Greyhound racing is decreasing in popularity—now banned in over 40 states, there’s hope that soon we’ll put this abuse behind us.
The Irish Wolfhound is a giant sighthound breed with lots of muscle. Their wiry fur is double-coated, with a soft undercoat beneath the surface.
As the name suggests, this breed originated in Ireland and was a cross between native British and Middle Eastern hounds.
Italian Greyhounds are frequently cited as miniature Greyhounds, and that’s basically what they are! These pups weigh in at just 7-14 pounds.
The breed dates 2,000 years back and originated in what are now the countries of Greece and Turkey.
The Kanni is a mid-sized sighthound native to South India. These dogs are remarkably similar to Chippiparai, but are classified differently by the Kennel Club of India due to coat coloration.
The Kombai is another Southern Indian breed. They are hunting and guard dogs with stockier frames than many others in the sighthound family.
The Magyar agar is a Hungarian breed used for hunting. They are fairly short-haired, but their fur grows a bit longer in the winter, making them more suited to the cold than many other short-haired sighthounds.
The Mudhol Hound goes by many names, but officially just two: Mudhol Hound and Caravan Hound. The Indian National Kennel Club calls it the former, while the Kennel Club of India refers to it as the latter.
These pups are used for guarding and hunting, and even serve in the military!
Patagonian Greyhound (Galgo barbucho)
The Galgo Barbucho, or Patagonian Greyhound, is much furrier than the English or Spanish Greyhounds. These dogs were bred from a variety of others, mostly sighthounds, in order to make a hunter suited to the area.
The Polish Greyhound is much more protective than most sighthounds, with territorial guarding instincts. As with many of the foreign dogs on this list, it’s difficult to find this breed in the United States.
The Rajapalayam is also known as the Indian Ghost Hound, named after its white fur and country of origin. These pups look a little Labrador-like in the face, but keep the traditional sighthound body structure—just adding some more muscle.
Rampur Greyhounds originate in India and are a short-haired breed. They are typically used for hunting.
Salukis are ancient dogs, bred in Egypt before the pyramids were even built! They are short-haired, but can be “feathered.” Feathered dogs have longer fur on their ears and tails.
The Scottish Deerhound is a shaggy breed that gets its name from its origins: hunting red deer in Scotland.
The Silken Windhound is a newer American breed meant to look and act like a miniature Borzoi. Its long fur and typical sighthound demeanor certainly achieves this, though they tend to be easier to train than many other sighthounds.
The Sloughi is also known as the Arabian Greyhound. Their limited coat colors blend in well with the African deserts they were bred to hunt in.
The Taigan is a long-haired dog native to Kyrgyzstan. This rare breed is currently being brought back from near-extinction.
The Tazy is another endangered breed that is hopefully on the mend in Kazakhstan. They look much like a feathered Saluki: short haired with longer fur on the ears and tail.
Whippets are small sighthounds historically used for racing and rabbit hunting. Though not as fast as larger breeds, they are the fastest sighthound of their size, reaching top speeds of 35 miles per hour.
Xigou dogs have a feature unique to other sighthounds: the downward slope of their muzzle. This old Chinese breed dates all the way back to the Tang dynasty.