What is a Sighthound?

Kate Barrington
by Kate Barrington
Look over there… it’s a sighthound! Many of your favorite breeds fall into this category. Let’s get to know the sighthound and what this dog can do.

There are hundreds of different dog breeds out there, and each one is unique in its own way. But many of these breeds exhibit similarities in terms of appearance and temperament which is why breed clubs like the American Kennel Club (AKC) group them into categories. One of these categories is for sighthounds, also known as gazehounds.

What Exactly is a Sighthound?

By definition, a sighthound is simply a dog breed that hunts primarily by sight and speed rather than by scent. Because sighthounds hunt by sight, they need to have the speed and agility to keep up with their prey in order to keep them in sight. Sighthound breeds typically have lean bodies, long legs, and a flexible back – they also have deep chests to support their unusually large hearts and lungs. To help you picture the typical sighthound body, here is a list of breeds that are categorized as sighthounds:

  • Afghan Hound
  • Azawakh
  • Basenji
  • Borzoi
  • Greyhound
  • Hungarian Greyhound
  • Ibizan Hound
  • Irish Wolfhound
  • Italian Greyhound
  • Pharaoh Hound
  • Polish Greyhound
  • Saluki
  • Scottish Deerhound
  • Silken Windhound
  • Sloughi
  • Whippet

Sighthounds are some of the oldest dog breeds on the planet with dogs of the Saluki and Sloughi type having existed for at least 5,000 years. The earliest written description of a sighthound type dates back to the 2nd century AD and the earliest remains of a presumed sighthound were found in excavations dating back to 7,000 BC.

The Greyhound is one of the oldest sighthounds as well as one of the most popular breeds in the world. Many sighthounds exhibit an appearance similar to that of the Greyhound – especially the Whippet which looks like a miniature version of the breed.

What is it Like Living with a Sighthound?

When they are in the field and on the job, a sighthound at work is a sight worth beholding. But at home, sighthounds tend to be docile and sedate. Some sighthounds are capable of reaching speeds of 40 miles per hour or more but, as pets, many are perfectly content to laze the day away on the couch.

What is interesting about many sighthound breeds are that they adapt well to apartment or condo life – they do not require a great deal of indoor space. You must, however, make sure that your sighthound gets enough exercise each day to meet his needs. There are also some exceptions to the rule – the Saluki, Afghan Hound, and Irish Wolfhound tend not to do well in apartment-style living.

Here are some other important things to know about sighthounds, their personality, and their needs:

  • A sighthound will be a high-speed, short distance sprinter. Don’t be shocked if your dog suddenly darts off for a quick run.
  • Objects that move quickly will entice your sighthound to go for the chase. Remember, these dogs are known for their instinct to hunt down prey, so consider this aspect of their personality when you are coming up with games that they can play for exercise, as well as what toys will keep their attention and entertain them the most.
  • Like all other dogs, your sighthound will need to get plenty of physical activity in daily, but they generally don’t need a ton of exercise. Instead of focusing on how long your dog plays, focus on the type of play that he’s getting daily, ensuring that the activity will allow him to be happiest and in his element.
  • These dogs love having people and other dogs to play with them, but they can also be content just playing on their own. Give your pooch a large enough space to run around in, and give him toys to chase. He is sure to be a happy camper!
  • Even the biggest sighthound breeds enjoy a nice, comfy dog bed to lie down in, so give your pooch quiet areas where he can relax and spend time with you.
  • Speaking of spending time with you, it is important to note that these canines will not only form strong bonds with their humans, but also with other dogs. So if you have more than one dog in the family, your sighthound is likely to become best friends with them.
  • Bear in mind that a toy dog might not be the right choice if you have a sighthound and you are thinking about expanding your canine family, or if you have a toy dog already and you are thinking about getting a sighthound. That’s because those little dogs might end up triggering your sighthound’s hunting instinct, especially if the toy dog moves around quickly. It isn’t worth the risk of your sighthound hurting your little dog.
  • In terms of grooming, your sighthound will have similar needs to other breeds, whether your pooch has a short coat or a long one. Those with smooth, short coats tend to really like being rubbed by their owners with a hound glove. Those with longer hair, on the other hand, will need a bit more attention when it comes to their grooming routine.
  • Sighthounds can be a little picky when it comes to eating, so you might need to be a bit creative. In addition to feeding him a meal twice a day, there are other steps you can take to ensure he’s getting adequate nutrition and calories. For example, puzzle toys into which you can place some kibble are great because they let your dog “hunt” down his food. You can also feed your dog some food and treats during training sessions.

When Sight Leads To Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior In Dogs

As amazing and incredible as sighthounds are…their strengths and gifts of being so sight-focused can be a curse, too. In fact, a curse that could lead to obsessive-compulsive disorder if you’re not careful.

For many sighthounds, seeing flecks of light or shadows sets off their prey drive and that’s how they take off and…well, hound so well.

But for some, that can become an obsession. A light may shine or a shadow may be cast and your dog may go after it. They may be reinforced to simply go for the shadow based on your reaction. Or, you may be entertained by the shadow chasing and decide to continue the escapade by creating more light/shadows. (We’re not judging, but think of every time you laughed as a dog or cat chased a laser light!)

Sighthounds who are overreactive or prone to this obsessive-compulsive behavior will literally chase and go after every reflection they see. Every shadow that looks like it could be prey. Every sunlight reflection off your cell phone. You get the picture…windows letting light in can turn into all-day obsessions where they can’t take their focus off of anything other than finding the light and keeping after it.

The thing is–for sighthounds, chasing by sight causes their endorphins to go pumping and that of course makes them want to keep that going. That’s how the compulsion develops and can really not be great for your dog.

In fact, it can be dangerous as it can lead to other anxiety conditions and you want to nip that in the bud. It’s one thing for them to be out in your yard and see the shadow of a bird and run off after. It’s another for them to see the light dance off the chandelier in your dining room and then eat pieces of the wall as they attempt to catch the light. Sometimes, a veterinarian may recommend serotonin boosts, or even anti-anxiety medication. Trainers like to start with Noise Aversion Therapies first, as they seem to be pretty effective for many sighthounds.

Consider Adding a Sighthound to Your Family!

For the most part, sighthounds are easy to care for. They have short, easily maintained coats and they tend not to be hyperactive or strong-willed. These dogs thrive with a daily routine and they tend to form very close bonds with their owners. They are people pleasers at their core, and for domesticated dogs, they mostly use their sight-driven prey instinct out of habit and an effort to make you, their human, proud.

If you are looking for a reserved and gentle dog breed – particularly one that does well with kids – a sighthound might be the right choice for you. Just remember that they’ll need good exercise, a consistent routine they can count on, controlled opportunities to ‘see and chase’ and lots of grace when they get ‘in the sight zone’.
Kate Barrington
Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor's degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.

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