Called the King of Dogs, they are the stars of the show ring across the UK. Their long stride and coat that seems to float across the floor attracts many new owners who would like a larger dog. Behind the fluff is a dog with a long history and unique character that needs a patient and calm owner.
Genetically the Afghan is one the oldest breeds in the world, with genetic markers linking back to the first dogs. They developed from the sight hounds that lived in Egypt and Afghanistan. These dogs evolved to rely on speed and sight to identify and catch prey. They were quickly domesticated as hunting dogs, with many strains developing including the Afghan. The hunting dog soon spread with the trade routes, appearing in ancient writing and images across the East. Owned by Pharaohs, the Afghan also became associated with Noah and the Ark, with the narrow nosed dogs plugging holes in boat making their nose permanently wet.
When the original hound spread to Afghanistan, they slowly developed over time. Some grew accustomed to the mountains, some to the grass low-lands, whereas others developed hardiness in the deserts. The Afghan developed in the mountains, their long hair protecting them from the cold and wind. Their speed made them perfect hunters of hares, gazelle and birds. They also hunted with men on horseback, and birds of prey.
It wasn’t until the 19th Century that the breed you recognise today was brought to Europe and America. As the British moved through India they also attempted several unsuccessful wars in Afghanistan. Officers and those connected to the Imperialist administration noticed the hunting dogs of the tribesmen and started to buy or take them as pets. A few were brought back to England and shown in the growing Kennel Club shows. They were highly prized as show dogs for their sleek beauty and silken coats, so became very popular with many breeding lines still tracing back to those early dogs.
Afghans are now highly successful show dogs, winning best of breeds at many of the top shows. One of the fastest breeds, they are also used in lure coursing. The first dog ever successfully cloned was also the Afghan named Snuppy, born in 2005.
A lot of tests have been done to find the smartest dog, and unfortunately Afghan Hounds nearly always finish bottom of the table. These tests are all based on obedience training which Afghans can be very slow to learn, sometimes due to their own stubbornness. They prefer to be independent, a trait that was extremely useful when hunting as they could outwit their prey to keep it in one place before their owner arrived. Many owners liken them to cats, who will ignore commands until they are ready. Sometimes they may choose just to disobey. As with obedience training, they can also be very difficult to house train. Owners will need to get a crate to keep them in at the start and teach them slowly – this breed needs a lot of patience.
As with all animals, they will have different personalities. Some will be incredibly goofy! As a loving, independent dog this can make up for their lack of tricks.
Afghans are very playful and will want to play in your house when they aren’t sleeping on your couch or bed. For a large dog they need sensitive handling and a calm household. They are not aggressive but need to be gently managed to understand you are the pack leader. They tend to do well with older children, and can live with other dogs. Small dogs or pets can bring out the hunting instinct in them, with anything small moving fast attracting their attention as possible prey.
They are very affectionate and loyal to their family. They will pine when you are away, and tend to be shy of new people.
Like other sight hounds such as greyhounds, they require long walks every day. Otherwise they can become incredibly bored and destructive in the house. If you feel through the long coat of the hound, or shave them, you will find a body that is lean and meant for speed. The tail also hangs in a low loop like a whippet to give them balance. They love to run fast over long distances, and if distracted will chase anything they see. As a result most are kept on a long leash if being run over open land. In the heat of the moment, they will not listen to you calling them back. Those owners with their own land fence a large area so they can run free safely. Fences must be tall as they can jump very high. Like other sight hounds, when walked they will then sleep often.
This breed has very long fine, silky coats. It can suffer from matting, as well as collect a lot of dirt and grime. To stop matting, your hound must be brushed regularly – this has to be done wet however as it will split and break if dry brushed. If you are looking to show your dog then you will need to wash them once a week. For pets it needn’t be so often, but you will need to learn how to do it yourself if you cannot afford a professional groomer. Being a large dog, it will take a long time to groom. Most owners find a pin cushion brush works best when grooming out knots or dirt.
As they have very long hair on and around their ears, they can end up dragging their ears in food and water bowls. Some owners tie the hair back or cover them in a snood before they eat to make sure the ears stay clean.
Although they are only average shedders, those who do not like cleaning up hair should probably avoid this breed.