It's not uncommon knowledge that a dog's senses are generally superior to those of their human counterparts. Known best for their incredibly keen abilities to smell and hear things we can't pick up, other already heightened senses have been genetically manipulated over the years through selective breeding. Once such sense is the sense of sight, for which an entire group of canines, the sighthounds, are named after. While some dogs are herders by nature and others have been selected simply to be our side-by-side companions for life, the sighthounds have assisted humans in hunting and protecting for centuries.
What is a sighthound?
Sighthounds are a classification of dogs that are known for pursuing prey over large distances. Built for speed, these fast, lanky, and strong dogs assist in hunting by "coursing" their prey, or, running them out of dense wooded areas and out into the open, where they can then be trapped or killed by people. Also referred to as gazehounds and windhounds, these types of dogs are of ancient breeds which originated in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.
Common characteristics of sighthounds
While the sighthound category of dogs consists of several different breeds, these canines to tend to have a few physical traits in common. One such trait is a slim, lithe build complete with a skinny waist and visible hip bones, which may lead some people to think that a sighthound is underweight. Because these hunting dogs are naturally built to run long distances, however, their body type is usually not one to be alarmed about, as long as their ribs aren't overly protruding and their bodies are flanked with hard muscle, according to the American Kennel Club. An overweight sighthound can experience physical discomfort or health issues, like joint pain, difficulty breathing, and mobility issues.
Additionally, one major defining characteristic sighthounds have in common is their ability to outrun just about any other type of dog. Built with pointy snouts, slender bones, and powerful hips which support strong, lean muscle, these dogs are aerodynamically built to run at fast speeds over long distances. Pair that with their wide set eyes designed to track even the slightest movements on the horizon, sighthounds are the preferred working dogs of many people, be that to assist in hunting wild game, like boar or deer, or to protect livestock from predators.
Types of sighthounds
Perhaps the most well-known dog breed of the sighthounds is the greyhound, which have been used to race for sport in the United States since 1919. Believed to be the same dogs depicted on Egyptian tombs as far back as 2900 B.C., greyhounds were more recently adopted by English aristocracy and used to hunt game like deer and hare. Sweet in temperament and bearing super soft, short-haired coats, greyhounds have gone on to become preferred house pets to many, with countless rescue groups dedicated to finding retired racers their forever homes.
Also known for their impressive coats are the Afghan hounds, which originate in Afghanistan and were brought to the U.K in the 19th century. Widely admired for their long, silky coats and breezy, confident gaits, Afghan hounds are now mostly used as show dogs, much like Borzoi hounds. Borzoi, originally called Russian Wolfhounds, were raised by Russian nobility hundreds of years ago, and were mostly used to hunt foxes and wolves. Similarly, Irish Wolfhounds, Deerhounds, Pharaoh hounds, Salukis, and Sloughis are classified as sighthounds as well.
While most sighthounds are big, barreling, and built for speed, some smaller varieties of these genetic marvels walk among us today. Italian greyhounds are by far the smallest of the sighthounds, and are believed to have been bred to hunt small game, like rabbits and rodents. Often mistaken for Italian greyhounds are the Whippets, which were initially bred to course prey, like other sighthounds, before eventually landing on the racetracks in England, where they were known as the "poor man's racehorse," according to the Queensland Sighthound Association.