General Information and Representative Breeds
Sight hounds – surprise, surprise - hunt by sight rather than by scent. Dogs categorised as sight hounds have excellent vision. As well as keen sight, they have the speed and stamina necessary to run down their prey. Because of their tendency to chase anything small and furry, quite a few end up in pedigree dog rescue kennels or dog rehoming kennels.
Some of the sight hound breeds are the Afghan hound, saluki, borzoi, greyhounds, whippets, Irish wolfhounds and Scottish deerhounds. Although differing in many aspects, most of these breeds are lean and long with long, lean heads, long legs and deep chests.
Hounds began to be classified by the way in which they hunted ie sight hounds, scent hounds, around the mid 1500s.
Aside from excellent vision, sight hounds have other characteristics which suit them for their specialised way of hunting. These are elegant dogs, most of which were once owned by pharaohs, emperors and royalty.
Sight hounds have long, narrow heads and long necks. The lean, muscular body is also long. A deep chest gives plenty of room for heart and lungs, essential for an animal which is expected to run down its quarry. The legs are long and powerful, giving good reach in front and strong impulsion from behind.
The feet of a sight hound are distinctive. A longer-than-usual middle toe makes the foot appear longer and helps give them a firm footing. The dogs are agile. All these qualities combine to give the sight hound the necessary requisites to hunt and run down its prey.
Although a sight hound hunts primarily by sight, it also uses scent and perhaps its hearing in the chase. Once it has spotted its quarry, it then must have the speed to overtake it and the agility to catch it once they catch up with it. They need a flexible back, long stride, deep chest and unusually large heart, very efficient lungs and a lean wiry body.
The official term for the light, lean head is dolichocephalic. Wolves and wild dogs share this trait whereas many domesticated dog breeds have become 'short-headed' or brachycephalic due to selective breeding by dog breeders over the millennia. The extreme brachycephalic example is the pug and bulldog. Dolichocephalic breeds have only a small overlap of vision between the eyes and thus poor depth perception generally although they have a wider field of vision.
Sight hounds have existed for at least 5,000 years Arrian's Cynegeticus from the 2nd century AD has a description of a sight hound. This is the earliest European description of such a dog. Most sight hounds today are kept as pets and it is important to realise that their deep down genetic instinct is to detect movement then chase, capture and kill. The instinct to pursue anything that runs from them is very difficult to control and almost impossible to eradicate. Sight hounds thrive on activity. Coursing, hunting, racing and lure coursing will all give these dogs outlets for their natural instincts.