Sighthounds – General Description
Sighthounds, also called gazehounds, are hounds that primarily hunt by speed and sight, instead of by scent and endurance as scenthounds do.
These dogs specialize in pursuing prey, keeping it in sight, and overpowering it by their great speed and agility. They must be able to quickly detect motion, so they have keen vision. Sighthounds must be able to capture fast, agile prey such as deer and hare, so they have a very flexible back and long legs for a long stride, a deep chest to support an unusually (compared to other dogs) large heart, very efficient lungs for both anaerobic and aerobic sprints, and a lean, wiry body to keep their weight at a minimum.
The typical sighthound type also has a light, lean head, which is referred to as being dolichocephalic in its proportions. This shape can create the illusion that their heads are longer than usual. Wolves and other wild dogs are dolichocephalic, but most domesticated dogs have become brachycephalic (short-headed) due to artificial selection by humans over the course of 12,000 years. This change in head shape is closely associated with major neuroanatomical changes, but it is not clear whether these also lead to differences in behavior. Dogs with different skull shapes may behave differently, but this is not entirely consistent. It has been suggested that brachycephaly may be a neotonic trait, i.e., a retention of juvenile traits, because dogs have been artificially selected for traits such as cuteness, intelligence, and ability to be domesticated, all of which are stronger in juvenile dogs. Brachycephalic breeds are not typically selected for scent work because of poor sense of smell. Dolichocephalic breeds have a wider field of vision but small overlap between the eyes, and therefore poor depth perception in most of their field of view.
Sighthounds such as the Saluki have existed for at least 5,000 years, with the earliest presumed sighthound remains appearing in the excavations of Sumer dated approximately 7000–6000 BC. The earliest description of a sighthound in European recorded history comes from Arrian’s Cynegeticus, of the 2nd century AD. Although today most sighthounds are kept primarily as pets, they have been bred for thousands of years to detect movement, chase, capture, and kill prey primarily by speed. They thrive on physical activity. Some have mellow personalities, others are watchful or even hostile towards strangers, but the instinct to chase running animals remains strong.
Apart from coursing, open-field coursing, and hunting, various dog sports are practiced with purebred sighthounds, and sometimes with Lurchers and Longdogs. Such sports include racing, lure coursing, and other events.
Debate Around Breed Inclusion
There has been considerable debate in many quarters about what breeds are considered to be sighthounds. This is partially due to the fact that most Anglophone kennel clubs do not have a “Sighthound” group per se, where they are included in the larger “Hound” group. Nonetheless, the Old World (FCI) understanding of the sighthound is quite clear and well documented: sighthounds are gräoid (greyhound) shaped dogs, which owe their specific build to their recorded function of speed hunting.
While this debate may simply appear to be a matter of semantics, it is of deeper importance when categorizing breeds through a thorough understanding of their true history and function. The original and documented use of a breed is paramount in deciding its category as a hound, sighthound, working dog, toy breed, etc. It is also of practical concern where the sport of lure coursing is concerned, which is typically only open to breeds which may be considered to be sighthounds by the host breed clubs (in North America, particularly the USA) or the organizations that govern the sport (elsewhere).
For instance, the Canadian Kennel Club(CKC), the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA) consider the Basenji to be eligible for the purpose of lure coursing even though the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) does not. The Basenji is far from alone in this. The Rhodesian Ridgeback was actually classified as a Gun-Dog by its founding parent club for several decades, only to be changed much later. Since that time the Ridgeback has been mired in a perpetual “classification conundrum” and is actually an FCI Scenthound.
Other breeds that fall into varying gray areas include the Ibizan Hound, Pharaoh Hound, Portuguese Podengo, Peruvian Inca Orchid, Cirneco dell’Etna and the Thai Ridgeback. All of these breeds are recognized as eligible to compete in lure coursing trials by either the American Kennel Club and/or the American Sighthound Field Association, but may not be by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale.
Sighthound Breed List
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