The term “sighthound” is used to refer to dogs that locate and hunt for their prey by sight, rather than by scent and sheer persistence, as is the usual case for dogs! Sight hunting is rather unusual in dogs, as dogs do not have particularly keen eyesight, and a great part of how the sighthound homes in on its prey involves detecting movement; were the unfortunate prey animal in question to stay perfectly still, the sighthound would generally fail to spot them!
If you are wondering what constitutes a sighthound and the plusses and minuses of owning one as a pet, read on to learn more about sighthounds.
“Sighthound” is not a breed designation, nor does it refer to any particular breed of dog. A range of dogs (both pedigree and mixed breed) are classed as sighthounds, as is any dog that inherits the sight hunting instinct from its ancestry within one of the sighthound breeds and types of dog.
The dogs that you might see within the UK that fall into the sighthound category include:
Sighthounds of all varieties can make amazing pets for owners of all types, from young families with children to retired single people. Sighthounds are very loving and affectionate with people, and tend to be very appreciative of kind ownership, bonding strongly with their owners and generally having a laid back and calm approach to life.
One of the most obvious traits that all sighthounds share is the ability to get up to a high-speed gallop very quickly, and maintain a very fast run for a short period of time. However, sighthounds are generally fairly sedentary the rest of the time, and the larger sighthound breeds such as the Irish Wolfhound and the Greyhound have something of a reputation for being couch potatoes!
Sighthounds enjoy walks and safe play and running off the lead in enclosed fields and land, but are not as demanding in terms of their exercise requirements as other dogs with a reputation for loving to run, such as the Siberian Husky or the Border Collie.
Sighthounds tend to be on the light and slender side comparatively to their height, and are not among the most costly of dogs to feed. A balanced diet is of course important, as is tailoring the dog’s diet to match their exercise provision.
One issue and inherent trait of the sighthound that all owners should be aware of, is their instinctive ability to hunt and chase. Sighthounds will pursue smaller animals such as rabbits, hares and other small wildlife, and even on occasion domestic cats. This means that the owner of the sighthound must go to great lengths to ensure that their dog does not pose a danger to other animals, something that requires ongoing consideration.
While it is important to try to train the sighthound not to pursue smaller animals and to work on their recall skills so that the dog will return when called, in the majority of cases it is impossible to train this inherent instinct for hunting out of the dogs entirely. Sighthounds are fast, and can generally outrun most smaller animals, and when they catch up with their target they will instinctively catch and kill it. It is not always impossible to train sighthounds out of hunting behaviour, but it should be assumed by the potential owner that they might have to simply work out how to prevent chasing and potential catching by other means.
Sighthounds should always be walked on the lead in any public places or where the area is unknown and cats or other unsuspecting potential prey might be present, and your garden must be properly secured in order to prevent escape or the dog going off to pursue something they have spotted.
It is important to find an enclosed area such as a dog park or safe enclosed fields where you can allow your dog to run freely off the lead without posing a threat to smaller animals. Many sighthound owners muzzle their dogs when loose off the lead to ensure that should their dog spot and target prey, they will be unable to kill it, and this is something that you should also consider.
Some sighthounds such as Greyhounds, Whippets and Lurchers can be prone to developing foot corns as they get older, a condition that is unique to sighthounds for reasons that are currently not clear. Owners of sighthounds should keep an eye on the condition of their dog’s feet, and learn the signs and problems associated with foot corns in sighthounds.
Sighthounds are often available for rehoming as adult dogs from a wide variety of organisations, including the usual dog rehoming shelters and organisations, and special charities and enthusiast groups that deal with the rehoming of ex racing greyhounds and other sighthounds. In Ireland and some areas of the UK, some whippets and lurchers get a raw deal, being used to deliberately hunt for prey and treated as a disposable working dog, or even being used as bait dogs for dogfights.
If you are considering taking on a rescued sighthound, this can be a great way to find a new dog, and give a dog another chance at life. Watching a shy, scared sighthound come into their own with love and appropriate care can be highly rewarding.
It is worth bearing in mind, however, that rescued dogs require rather more care and consideration during their first few months with you than other dogs, in order to help them to settle into a new environment and learn that they are safe and loved. Sighthounds that were trained and used for hunting will find it very difficult to learn that this behaviour is not desirable, and you should account for this when considering a rescued sighthound as a pet.