The group of dogs known as Sighthounds includes some of the oldest known breeds. The first
description of such animals appeared in the 2nd Century A.D. and the Saluki is believed to have been in existence as a breed for almost 5000
Originally bred to detect prey by its movement - and to give chase and bring down prey with bursts of speed up to 40 mph,
Sighthounds today are most often family pets though some breeds are used in competitive trials.
Most dogs in this group have laid-back personalities but a few are not friendly to strangers
and may act as watch dogs for their family. In appearance, these animals are sleek and streamlined, with light, lean heads. The shape
of the head is crucial as it allows the dog a full range of stereoscopic vision. No part of the head interferes with the sight field.
In Sighthound breeds that have been adapted to pet status, the head shape seems to change and reduce the vision range though the reason for this
is not known.
Running is instinctive to these dogs and as pets they must be controlled by fences or large open spaces or leads. A rapidly moving small
animal or object will cause a sight hound to immediately give chase and this instinct is so strong that training cannot reliably overcome it.
Physical activity is important to these canines but a quick run a day is often sufficient exercise. Between runs, these dogs are not
usually hyperactive or nervous - more often they are couch potatoes. An excellent example are greyhounds who will chase a lure around a
track at blazing speeds yet adopted as a pet will be happy to spend most of its time on a comfy pillow. Surprisingly, a greyhound is good
as an apartment dog. Though large, they are quiet and undemanding as pets.
Historically, wealthy landowners hunted with greyhounds and common workmen hunted with lurchers. The lurcher is not a
breed but a mix of breeds. Usually, a lurcher is a dog that is part sight hound and part working dog.
There is no generally accepted size for lurchers but the common trait desired was for a quiet dog. Lurchers originated with Gypsies
in Europe and were later bred in Ireland and Great Britain. A great lurcher would find game by sight and catch the game without
making the typical noise associated with some hounds. Quiet was important as the dogs were most often used to poach game from private
Owning a sight hound would cause problems for the working man as the assumption would be that he was a poacher. Why else would he
have such a dog? For this reason, the lurcher was bred to have the Sighthound ability but to also have a higher intelligence and an
appearance of a working dog. Crossbreeding with collies was popular as it produced a highly intelligent dog with a longer, rougher
coat. Often a terrier would be added to the "mix" of breeding to add even more intelligence.
High prized lurchers were those that would watch a herd of sheep during the day...and poach a rabbit for the family's dinner. Lurchers have
their own following now and have risen above the disreputable image of the past. They are often used in lure coursing and racing
competitions and make excellent family pets.
Longdogs, on the other hand, are cross breeds of Sighthounds with the intention of combining the best qualities of both breeds. Greyhounds
are often one of the two breeds combined – for their acceleration and speed. Common longdog crosses are Greyhound and Whippet,
Greyhound and Deerhound and Greyhound and Saluki. In each case, the goal is to retain the speed and focus of the greyhound while
adding the endurance and weather resistance of another Sighthound breed.
Coursing was practiced by all levels of society and for many years was a structured chase of live mammals such as rabbits, foxes, deer, jackals,
wolves, coyotes, antelope and gazelle. In England competitive coursing uses two dogs running together while in the U.S. a team consists of
three dogs. Coursing is usually "lure coursing" with a lure designed to imitate a live mammal and with strict rules on the behavior of that
lure. The term “coursing” is used only as a noun and refers to the chasing of game.
For a coursing competition the lure must change direction a certain number of times to imitate prey. Dogs are trained to be "lure focused"
so that they will follow that lure no matter which way it goes. Sighthounds will follow a lure instinctively but training is needed to
require them to stay with the lure rather than trying to cut it off by taking a shortcut.
Training for lure coursing starts early and continues to keep Sighthounds excited about chasing the lure. Though many hounds will take
naturally to lure coursing, others will need a significant amount of training. The more intelligent Sighthounds cannot be trained to follow
a lure as they will often take shortcuts and thus be disqualified from competition.
Greyhound races are a form of lure coursing and betting on the dogs is a popular pastime. An unfortunate side effect of the activity is the
mistreatment of many of the dogs and the discarding of dogs when the racing career is over. Greyhound rescue organizations abound and the
word is out: Greyhounds, whether raced or not, are excellent pets in a home. Families with one greyhound will often adopt a
second or third as they are easy dogs to be around.
Hounds have a devoted following yet sadly many of them lead poor quality lives. Hunting lore and old wives tales
abound about what makes a good hound and this misinformation causes unnecessary suffering. There are many hunters who see their
hounds only as a tool for hunting in spite of clear evidence that these dogs make great pets.
It is not unusual for hounds to be caged in creates that allow them only space to lie down or turn around day after day. Hunters will
say it keeps the dog "sharp" - though how an unexercised, bored animal can remain sharp is a mystery to dog lovers.
Another common cruelty is feeding a hound only every other day "to keep him hungry for the hunt". Gradually, the plight of hounds is
changing but change comes slowly. In rural areas particularly, laws protecting dogs from cruel practices are slow to be enacted and
even slower in enforcement. Most change occurs because of intervention by an increasingly educated public unwilling to tolerate these
cruel tactics. As hunters realize that well exercised and well fed hounds have more endurance and focus, it is hoped that these
cruelties will be mistakes of the past.
The most commonly known breeds in the Sighthound category are:
There are many more Sighthounds on some official listings as most countries seem to have their own version of Greyhound or