Sighthounds (or gazehounds) are unique from all other types of dogs, even competent hunters and trackers, due to the way that they spot and keep track of their prey. The eyesight of dogs is one of their least well-developed senses, and yet sighthounds can spot and home in on a potential prey animal from some distance away, track it visually, and hunt it down, all by sight rather than scent.
This superior sight hunting ability, the unique lean and leggy build of the sighthound, and the fact that they are the fastest of dogs with the strongest of hunting instincts make sighthound dogs quite unique, and their care and management must be undertaken accordingly. The term “sighthound” is a type designation, rather than referring to a particular breed. Several well-known and popular dog breeds fall into the sighthound category, but sighthounds do not have to be pure bred or pedigree to be identified as a sighthound at all.
If you own or are considering getting a sighthound as a pet, this article will teach you more about what makes a sighthound, and how to keep them happy and healthy.
A sighthound in its most basic form is a dog that hunts by sight, rather than using the more common canine skill of scent hunting. The eyesight of the sighthound is in fact generally rather keener than that of the average dog, but a large part of how they spot their prey in the first place is due to movement. While the sighthound can identify prey such as rabbits by their moving against the backdrop, if the animal in question was to simply keep still, the sighthound would stand a much smaller chance of spotting it at all.
An example of some sighthound breeds are...
A few other breeds that are not commonly seen within the UK are also classed as sighthounds.
Sighthounds do not have to be pure bred or listed above to be classed within the type; one of the best known sighthounds types that is not in fact a pedigree dog at all is the Lurcher. The Lurcher is a dog composed of the crossing of any pedigree sighthound dog with any other dog breed at all; so if your dog contains partial sighthound ancestry, then they will likely be classed as a sighthound as well. If your dog’s breeding is totally unknown but they tend to be on the leggy, slender side, have keen vision for movement and are fast on their feet, the chances are that they are a sighthound too.
There is some debate over whether various other pedigree dog breeds not mentioned, such as the Rhodesian Ridgeback, should also be considered as sighthounds despite their also falling into other type categories, as they are also relatively adept sight hunters too.
If often comes a surprise to people learning about sighthounds that sighthounds do not require multiple prolonged periods of strenuous exercise to keep them happy. While sighthounds are very fast on their feet and will enjoy the opportunity to go for a flat-out run, they are designed for short bursts of very high speeds, rather than prolonged endurance exercise. Providing that you can make provision for a couple of on the lead walks per day with the opportunity for a period of free running with plenty of space and freedom, your sighthound will generally be perfectly happy and not overly energetic the rest of the time! Sighthounds are particularly good at walking to heel, and do not have a great tendency to pull at the lead or be a pain to walk. You do not need to be a sprinter or an exercise junkie to keep a sighthound happy!
Sighthounds do, however, have an inbuilt tendency to chase small animals, and will easily be able to overtake them and finish the kill in the majority of cases. Where you allow your sighthound to run off the lead requires careful consideration; the area should be totally enclosed and not likely to be used by cats, nor prolific numbers of small wild animals. Many sighthound owners muzzle their dogs when they are off the lead, to ensure that if they were to pursue prey, they would not be able to kill it before you have the chance to intervene. It also means that you will need to keep your dog on the lead at all times when there is any possibility of smaller animals or small domestic pets coming within range of your dog, as they may well have a tendency to take off after animals that they spot when just walking normally.
Sighthounds are not among the biggest eaters, and while they enjoy treats, are not the most food-motivated of dogs, and do not have a marked tendency for begging or scrounging, unless they are insufficiently fed. Sighthounds are lean by design, and while they require high-energy foods to support the short bursts of activity they display when running flat out, generally their portions will not be huge, and should be tailored to the size and weight of the dog.
Sighthounds can, at first glance, appear to not be among the most personable and enthusiastic of dogs, and they are generally very quiet and laid back rather than demanding a lot of attention. However, they are also very loving and loyal dogs, and very affectionate with their owners. They greatly enjoy petting and attention, and will love to curl up on the sofa with you! They often like to stand leaning against their owners, letting you know that they are there! They are sometimes referred to as the couch potatoes of the canine world, and they very much like their creature comforts, such as comfortable beds and warm rooms.
Sighthounds are generally open and amenable to training, and not particularly hard to provide for. However, the sight hunting and chasing instinct of these dogs can pose a problem, and for many sighthound owners, teaching their dogs reliable recall and to abandon a chase can prove challenging and in some cases impossible. Sighthounds love company, and will greatly enjoy living with another dog, particularly if that dog is also a sighthound. Keeping sighthounds with cats can be challenging but not impossible; the dog must be introduced to cats safely when very young, carefully supervised, and taught to view the cat as one of their family and not to be chased. Even sighthounds that live with cats may still try to chase cats outside of the home.
Any sighthound owner should ensure that they have a good understanding of what hunting by sight means, and how strong this instinct is within these dogs. This is something that requires careful consideration and management, in order to keep other animals safe at all times when around your dog.