The Southern Sighthounds:
Out of Egypt
by Tamara Taylor
This copyrighted article first appeared in Bloodlines, the official publication of the United Kennel Club. Please contact me for permission to use any part of this article. Having bred and exhibited two Afghans under the kennel name Patteran in the 1960s, I discovered what a special group the sighthounds and their owners are. I am deeply indebted to the sighthound owners who took the time to share their insights and experiences with her and whose comments have been the primary source of the section on disposition and behavior.
For the reader's convenience, I have included an index for this lengthy article. It is not a detailed index, but should help those who do not wish to scroll through the entire text looking for a particular breed or particular references. Likewise, there is a separate page for sources (which includes both print sources and links).
the Eastern Deserts
The Rhodesian Ridgeback
With The Celtic Tribes
The Irish Wolfhound
The Scottish Deerhound
The Italian Greyhound
Sighthound Disposition and
The Hunting Instinct
Coursing and Racing
Southern Sighthounds: Out of Egypt
|The first partnership between man and canine was quite possibly in the hunt. Hunting was, after all, a matter of necessity for both. Today we can still see what that early relationship might have been like when we look at certain cultures, such as those of the aboriginal peoples of Australia and Africa.|
Despite the varying status of dogs from age to age, and from culture to culture, hunting dogs have always held a special place. This is true for the dogs that hunt by scent, which historically were among the first dogs registered and exhibited in modern times. It is also true of the other hunting dogs, the dogs that hunt by sight. Today the Sighthound family is far ranging, with some of the best known breeds being the Greyhound of Britain, the Irish Wolfhound, and the Scottish Deerhound. However, the first Sighthounds were thought to be more Southern and Eastern in origin, gradually moving into Northern Europe and influencing the native breeds found there. Tracing their possible route is a lesson in history, if only a theoretic one.
As a group the Sighthounds are long-legged, lithe, muscular dogs. They balance speed and power with grace and agility. They are hounds in that they are hunters; however, they differ in important ways from the Scenthounds. First, they hunt predominantly by sight rather than smell. A second important difference is that these hounds were often expected not only to run the prey down but also to catch or even kill it.
The difference between the two hound families traces back into ancient history. The scenting hounds and the "gun dogs," such as setters, pointers, and spaniels, are thought to derive from the ancient mastiffs, often called "molossers" to distinguish them from the modern English breed known as the Mastiff. St. Huberts Hound, now extinct, is considered to have been a link between many of the modern hounds and earlier mastiff (molosser) ancestors.
The earliest art depicting the comparatively short muzzled, broad headed, powerful mastiff is seen in Assyria, where their pursuit of lions and wild asses are preserved in friezes from the Palace of Nineveh. Whether it originated in the Middle East or in Asia, the ancient mastiff is considered to be the archetypal mountain dog, heavy boned, often heavily coated, with a broad head with a relatively short, heavy muzzle, pendant ears and a pronounced stop.
|If the ancient mastiff represents the mountain dog, the
Sighthound is the ideal desert dog. Slender in build, fine-coated and thin-skinned, with a
moderately narrow backskull, a comparatively long, slender muzzle, and little stop. While
width is the defining dimension in the mastiff family, for the Sighthound, it is length.
Length of bone is seen throughout the Sighthound, from its muzzle to its tail. While the
overall mass of the Northern "mountain" dogs helps ensure adequate warmth in
cold climates, the lack of excess tissue and fat means that the lean Sighthound of the
South works less to cool itself in the heat of its native lands.
In fact, it is on the arid, open plains of North Africa and Arabia where the Sighthounds were first recorded and are thought to have originated. While the Assyrian artists depicted their powerful dogs, Egyptian artists depicted lighter built dogs coursing game such as hare, gazelle, and larger antelope. Much of our understanding of the early Sighthounds is based on these Egyptian records in art and text.
The Egyptians enjoyed coursing a variety of game with their dogs. The royal family maintained a kennel for its hunting hounds. The skeletal remains have been identified as those of Sighthounds (Houlihan). According to Wilkenson, a respected Egyptologist, the hunt then was much like it is today in countries where native Sighthounds are still coursed on game.
Attendants kept the dogs leashed until the game was spotted. Then the dogs were "slipped" (released) singly or in pairs. They chased down the game down, killing it or catching it. In the case of larger game, such as the horned oryx or markhor, the dogs held it at bay until the huntsmen arrived. The animal might then be killed or subdued, tied up and transported to animal "parks" where the wealthy kept wild animals, to be hunted, to be used to train dogs, or to be used in ceremonies. Wild animals are often depicted in Egyptian art wearing collars or tethers and even being prepared for sacrificial burial with their owners.
|All these aspects of daily life are recorded in Egyptian art throughout different time periods as are a variety of different dogs. As Ash points out, this similarity seen in the canine representations over hundreds of years would indicate that these are different types different breeds rather than simply individual dogs. However, rather than being native, these breeds may have been the result of importations from foreign countries, along with other exotic goods like ivory and incense from the south and cedars from the north.|
||There may be an additional explanation for the variety seen in the Egyptian canines. Egyptian art portrays domestic canines as well as wild animals in many hunting scenes. In fact, the Egyptians are known to have hunted with wolves, hyenas, cheetahs, and even lions. Given their interest in hunting, animal husbandry, and the exotic, some sources feel that the Egyptians crossed wild and domestic canids, making wolf-dog and fox-dog crosses. Other even more exotic crosses could have been made with wild canines such as the African Cape or "Hyena" Dog, the Indian Dhole and, certainly, the native jackal (Fiennes). Such crosses would help to explain the variety seen in the Egyptian dogs, as well as in our subsequent domestic dogs.|
Among these early dogs seen in Egyptian art are coursing dogs, Sighthounds, as well as breeds classified today as Pariah dogs, breeds that were initially only semi-domesticated and developed with little apparent intervention by man. The Southern Hemisphere, the home of the Sighthound, is also considered to be the home of most Pariah breeds, breeds like the Pharaoh Hound, the Ibizan Hound, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the Basenji, and the Canaan Dog.
|The early long-legged coursing dogs seen in Egyptian art and referred to as "gazelle hounds" by 19th century writers are thought to be the ancestors of many of todays Sighthound breeds. In fact, an amazing number of the dogs depicted by Egyptian artists are strikingly similar to breeds still seen today. The most unique in appearance is the hunting dog with very large, upright ears, much like the jackal-headed Egyptian god, Anubis. In at least one case, just such a "dog" is shown wearing a double collar. The purpose of the double collar could be to control a dog of unusual strength or ferocity or it could be merely decorative.|
This dog is portrayed on the tomb of Antefa II (about 2000 BC). The same form is seen again, as a statue, at the grave of Tutahnkhamon about 700 years later. This statue may represent Anubis or one of Tutahnkhamons own dogs. Other sources describe a "red long-tailed dog" that "blushed" with excitement at the hunt and a dog that "jumped with joy" upon sighting gazelles.
On the Mediterranean Isles
|Today a "red long-tailed dog" with distinctive large, upright ears is seen in several Mediterranean countries. Whether their ancestors originated in these countries or in Egypt is unknown. Just as the Egyptians could have gathered and surely developed new breeds of dogs, they helped spread them. As early as 2000 BC, parts of Syria were under Egyptian rule. About 100 BC, the Phoenicians sailed from that same region to found colonies in Africa, Spain, and Malta. They are thought to have carried with them their hounds perhaps Sighthounds like those of the Pharaohs, red-coated dogs with red noses, long tails and strikingly upright ears. Isolated on their Mediterranean islands, these Phoenician hounds developed into breeds we recognize today. While these dogs display traits identified with the Sighthounds, they are also considered to be Pariah dogs and included in the Sighthound and Pariah Dog group by the UKC.|
Two of these breeds are the Ibizan Hound and the Pharaoh Hound. The Ibizan Hound is from the island of Ibiza, off the coast of Spain. According to tradition, it arrived with the Phoenicians in about the 8th century. Although built like a Sighthound, the breed is reputed to use its senses of hearing and smell as well as sight while hunting. The Ibizan comes in two coat types: short and wire. They are red and white, in any combination. The Ibizan Hound was first recognized by UKC in 1979.
|The Pharoah Hound
On the island of Malta, the solid colored Pharaoh Hounds were used to hunt rabbits, becoming known as the kelb tal-fenek (rabbit dog) because of their ability. Like the Ibizan Hound, they are reputed to use both sight and scent in hunting; however, unlike the Ibizan, they have no variation (except from tan to chestnut) in color or in coat type.
On the island of Malta, the solid colored Pharaoh Hounds were used to hunt rabbits, becoming known as the kelb tal-fenek (rabbit dog) because of their ability. Like the Ibizan Hound, they are reputed to use both sight and scent in hunting; however, unlike the Ibizan, they have no variation (except from tan to chestnut) in color or in coat type. Only minimal white markings are acceptable in their short coat. In the 1920s, the breed was first imported from Malta to Great Britain though little came of these early imports. In the late 1960s more imports were made to Great Britain, Europe, and North America. The Pharaoh Hound was recognized by the UKC in 1983.
|The islands of Malta and Ibiza were not the only places where these distinctive dogs are seen. In the Mediterranean region, there are other closely related breeds rarely seen outside their own countries. On Sicily, in the shadow of Mount Etna, the whippet sized Cirneco DellEtna of Sicily greatly resembles the solid colored Pharaoh Hound. In Portugal, the Podengo comes in three sizes and like the Ibizan Hound, can be wire or smooth coated.|
|From the Eastern Deserts
Among the dogs portrayed in Egyptian art are some that differ from the "Phoenician" hounds found around the Mediterranean. These dogs have pendant or rose ears (carried flat against the head), and they often have silky feathering on ears, tail, and legs.
Examples of these dogs are seen at the tomb of Rechmara or Rehkma Ra (circa 1400 BC). These Sighthounds have plumed tails and the distinctive, almost hare-footed shape of a desert coursing dog, with longer middle toes.
|The Saluki and its Kin
They are thought to represent the Eastern Sighthound, the Saluki or Saluqi, still found in the Arabic peninsula and considered to be the Sighthound of the Bedouin tribes. There Sighthounds are still used with hawks in hunting native game. These hunting dogs may well have been imported into ancient Egypt from their native deserts, where they have long been associated with the nomadic tribes.
|Some sources credit these tribes with spreading their
Sighthounds west through Egypt, across Africa and north into what is now Syria, Iran
(Persia), Iraq, and Turkey. The Sighthounds in Africa today are smooth coated; however, in
more northern countries, the Sighthounds are often longer coated with feathered, silky
hair on their ears, tails, and legs. The coursing dogs of Afghanistan and Persia were
described by early writers as being heavily coated. This allows speculation that at least
some of their ancestors may have come with the ancient horse nomads from the eastern
Today some Sighthound fanciers, invariably from the U.S., Great Britain, and Europe, consider many of the Sighthounds found throughout the countries of the Middle East and North Africa to be, in effect, one breed the Saluki (or Saluqi). The difference in coat is seen as being of no importance for both short, smooth coats and feathered coats are found side by side on dogs in the Egyptian friezes and in the Arabian Peninsula today. This classification of a population into fewer groups (or breeds) is commonly called "lumping" as opposed to "splitting" a population into different groups.
Gail Goodman explains the rationale for this lumping of breeds in her authoritative book, The Saluqi: Coursing Hound of the East. According to this source, the Arabic concept of purity, asil, refers not merely to pedigree but beyond that to the animals appearance and to the animals behavior. Thus, while a Saluqi may not be arabi asil (pure Arabic), its owner may consider it Saluqi asil (pure Saluqi).
While this differs from most Western definitions of breed "purity," certainly breeders can take a lesson from the concept of asil, with its emphasis on correct behavior and, by implication, disposition. There is much to gain in seeing these traits as critical indicators of breed "purity," in addition to conformation and ancestry.
While throughout the Moslem world the dog "kelb" is considered to be an "unclean" animal, their coursing dogs or Sighthounds have always been valued and held in esteem. This is still true today. Similar to the Saluki exhibited in Western shows in both its feathered coat and its overall conformation, the Turkish Tazi is associated with the ancient Turkish Sultans. Although it is not recognized outside its native country, the Tazi is still held in high regard and is one of the native breeds being bred in private Turkish kennels. When loose, it often wears a light blanket over the back and loin to protect it from the elements. Some sources suggest that the Turkish Tazi may, in fact, descend from Sighthounds such as the Kirghiz greyhound, which came from the East with early Turkish tribes. Both the Tazi and the Kirghiz Greyhound are considered possible influences on the Turkish Akbash Dog, a livestock guarding dog that strongly resembles a Sighthound in conformation if not behavior.
|The Persian gazelle hound was reported by 19th century writers to have been more heavily coated, heavier boned, and larger than the hounds from more southern regions; however, today European and U.S. dog clubs do not recognize any Persian (Iranian) breed. In its native land, according to Miller, the Persians called their Sighthound "sag-i Tazi," which she translates as "dog from Arabia." The first "Saluki" imported to England were three dogs from Persia; however, there was little interest in the breed until after World War I. There is no doubt that the early foundation of the breed we now call the Saluki came from various countries although the Saluki is considered to be the Sighthound of the Bedouin. Among the coursing dogs of the Bedouin, both smooth and feathered coats are seen although Western standards call for a feathered coat. The Saluki was recognized by the UKC in 1956.|
|To the North -- The Afghan Hound
The name Tazi is applied to native Sighthound breeds in a number of countries in addition to Turkey and Iran. Another is Afghanistan. There, the Sighthound known by Western admirers today as the Afghan Hound is said to be the breed that accompanied Noah in the Ark. These dogs were imported into Britain, first under the name Baruzkhy Hound and then later as Afghan Hounds.
|In fact these imports were of two distinct types. The first was a "desert" type with sparse coat and a long-legged appearance.|
The second was called the "mountain" type and had heavier bone and coat.
These types were used to create the breed known today as the Afghan Hound.
|A third coat type is sometimes seen. It is a smooth coat. It
was this Afghan Sighthound, according to Dominique de Caprona, that was presented to the
French President George Pompidou by the Afghan royalty. Western breeders, who on rare
occasions have had smooth coated pups born in an otherwise "normal" litter of
Afghans, simply regard this to be an undesirable throwback or genetic aberration.
Recognized by the UKC in 1948 and known primarily as a show dog in this country, the Afghan Hound nevertheless can have a strong "prey drive," that desire to chase anything fleeing. The fact that the Afghan Hound excels in agility rather than speed also makes it well suited for the chase. Its "beauty shop" appearance belies its background as a hunting dog. In this country, an early pair of dogs reportedly was used quite successfully in the Midwest to hunt coyotes.
Afghans are not the only breed that has been used for this purpose in the Midwest and Western U.S.. Without a doubt, many of the first UKC registered Sighthounds were used for hunting predators. This may help explain why some of the Sighthound breeds were recognized so early by UKC. Modern coyote hunters still use Greyhound or other Sighthound crosses to hunt coyotes As their ancestors before them, they are expected to run down, catch, and quickly dispatch their prey. Sighthound owners who enjoy coursing or racing their dogs are capitalizing on that same chase instinct.
Recently the "desert type" dog of Afghanistan has been "rediscovered," imported into Europe, and given a provisional standard under the name "Khalag" (Sullivan 38).
|In Russian -- The Borzoi
The Russian Borzoi, or Wolfhound, was reportedly the result of a Russian noblemans importations of Sighthounds from Arabia. When they could not survive the fierce winter weather, a second importation was made. These dogs were crossed with heavier coated native dogs. Some sources suggest that these native dogs were flock guardians. This is one account of the beginning of the aristocratic Borzoi, which became renowned for its skill in wolf hunting, a sport that took on much pageantry in Czarist Russian.
According to Miller, the word "Borzoi" was generic label meaning "hot-tempered" and "swift" in Russian and was applied to a diverse group of Sighthounds found throughout Russia just as the term "Tazi" was applied to Sighthounds found in the countries south of Russia. Some of the Russian dogs were long-coated; others were smooth or nearly so. These dogs, like the other Sighthounds, were used primarily by the upper classes to hunt native prey, such as the hare, fox, and wolf. In the case of wolves, a pair of Russian Wolfhounds was expected to run down the wolf, catch, and hold it until the hunter could arrive to finish it off or to capture it and use it to train young dogs.
The Russian Revolution brought an end to the wolf hunts with their pageantry, described by an American in 1903 and recorded by Miller. A typical hunt included matched horses, matched livery for all the servants and retinue, and even matched dogs. These "colors" served much the same purpose then as racing colors do today.
|By the mid 1800s, the Russian Borzoi had been imported into Britain and France. In both countries, the breed was regarded as an exotic creature and was often housed in zoological gardens. Although the breed was used in the reconstruction of the Scottish Deerhound, it remained an oddity until the Duchess of Newcastle took interest and formed the Borzoi Club of England in 1892 (Miller). With that, in a land with no wolves, the Russian Wolfhound became popular in the show ring and in the drawing room, gradually becoming taller and leaner and more heavily coated. In 1914, the Borzoi was recognized by the UKC under the name Russian Wolfhound.|
|The Chart Polski and the Chortaj
The early smooth coated Sighthounds found throughout Russia were very possibly the predecessors of the Polish Sighthound, the Chart Polski, and its Russian counterpart, the Chortaj. First described in the 1600s in Poland, the breed was not known as the Chart Polski until the 1800s. The Polish word "Chart" (pronounced "hart") means Sighthound; "Polski" means Polish.
|Compared to the English Greyhound, it is larger and more rugged, with a harsher coat. The longer hair on the Chart Polskis thighs and tail form "culottes" and "brushes" of varying lengths. It is reported to be both protective of its master and, on ocassion, dog aggressive. These traits are not typical of the Sighthounds; however, an earlier infusion of flockguardian blood, as in the early Russian Borzoi, could explain those traits. Another atypical trait of the Chart is the movement of its hindlegs at a slow trot. The legs may converge (cross), and this is called "knitting" or "lacing." Recognized in 1992 by the UKC, this breed is still rare in the U.S.|
|In Africa -- The Sloughi|
|To the south, in Africa, two short-haired Sighthound breeds have been recognized, each associated with a different tribal group. The first is the Sloughi, the coursing dog identified with the Berber tribe and found in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. Larger and heavier boned than the silky haired Saluki of the East, the Sloughi is found throughout Saharan Africa though considered to be Moroccan in origin and is called the national dog of that country.|
|Originally used to hunt native ostrich, hyena, jackal, as well as hare, fox, and gazelle, the Sloughi is larger and heavier than the Arabian Saluki but is said to equal it in speed. In its native environment, the Sloughi often serves not only as a hunter but a guardian of the herds as well. This function sets the African Sighthounds off from those of other regions. A club for native breeds was established in Morocco and the Sloughi is registered there as well as in Algeria. It has also been recognized in the West. The United Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1995.|
Named for the valley of Azawakh, the Azawakh is identified with the sub-Saharan Taureg tribe of Mali. The Taureg themselves were closely related to the Berbers, thus, their two breeds of Sighthounds, like the people, are thought to have originally been virtually the same. However, over time, marked differences began to be evident. The Azawakh differs from the Sloughi in conformation, speed, and temperament.
The Azawakh is distinctive in its height at the withers (being taller than long), its lack of arch in the loin, and its lack of excess fleshing. It is relatively small boned with small feet. Its extreme tuck-up in the flank emphasizes its depth of chest when viewed from the side. The Azawakh is a unique combination of refinement and power, a dog whose refined appearance belies its speed and strength.
|In its native land, Wilcox and Walkowizc report that the Azawakh, like the Sloughi, is respected not only as a hunting dog but also as a herd guardian, protecting herds of goats, sheep, and camels against predators such as jackals and hyenas. Because of its isolation and the culture in which it was raised, the Azawakh is termed "the most pure of Sighthounds" by some. It has been recognized by a number of registry bodies, including the United Kennel Club in 1993.|
|As with their more northern cousins, no one will ever know the
origins of these African Sighthounds. Their ancestors may have traveled overland with
caravans from the land of the Pharaohs, or they might have developed simultaneously yet
separately from the hounds of the Pharaohs, or their ancestors may have arrived with the
Phoenician traders to undergo changes when crossed with native dogs.
Certainly the latter is what happened in the case of the Rhodesian Ridgeback. Because of its modern development, this member of the Sighthound and Pariah Dog group can be traced with more confidence than many of the other breeds in this group.However, the imported ancestors did not arrive with the Phoenicians, but with the Europeans who moved to South Africa. Nicholson and Parker give a full accounting of the breeds development. They begin with the Boers who came to southern Africa and brought with them their love of hunting and their hunting dogs. These dogs were subsequently crossed with the indigenous, ridge-backed dogs of the local natives, the Khoi-Khoin or Hottentots. These nomadic people had slowly migrated south from their origins in the southern Sudan and Ethiopia, once a part of the Egyptian kingdoms, bringing with them their dogs. The result was the cross between European hounds and native dogs was the Boer Honde. By the late 1800s, hunters had begun to select for dogs that would "bay lions." The result of that selection is the Rhodesian Ridgeback.
|Today both the Boer Honde and the Hottentot dog are extinct. However, an engraving of a hunt scene in Dr. David Livingstons book Missionary Travels in South Africa (1857) includes a Hottentot dog with its distinctive ridge of hair along its topline. This ridge is seen as proof of the influence of the Hottentot dog. Additional proof was found in archeological digs where well-preserved remains of Hottentot dogs were found. In one case reported by Nicholson and Parker, the coat was so well preserved that it could be described as "short, dense, and red-gold in colour." Those adjectives describe the coat of the modern Rhodesian Ridgeback. Like the Sighthound Pariah Dogs of the Mediterranean Islands, the modern Ridgeback is said to hunt using scent and sight.|
|With The Celtic Tribes -- The Irish Wolfhound|
|No discussion of Sighthounds can take place without including
the dogs now so associated with the British Isles the Irish Wolfhound, the Scottish
Deerhound, and of course, the Greyhound, the prototypical Sighthound.
How Sighthounds could have spread westward and northward from sites in the Middle East, Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula is not difficult to imagine. However, the southern Sighthound seems to have also traveled northward through what is now France and crossed into the British Isles. To trace this journey is to trace the history of the Celtic tribes.
Originally from central Asia, different groups of Celts migrated southward and westward into what is now Europe and the Middle East. By 1650 BC the first Celtic tribe reached Ireland, to be followed by another, the Picts, who settled in Scotland as well as Ireland about 800 years later. In 500 BC yet another tribe, the Brythons, came. By the 4th century BC, Celtic tribes had occupied Rome, and by 300 BC tribes from Gaul (France) had overrun Greece and Asia Minor (Turkey) and been defeated.
The Celts may have brought their coursing hounds with them from their mid-Asian homelands, or they might have acquired them from Middle Eastern and Egyptian sources or even from other sources. One thing is certain, however. Whatever the sequence of events, the Celts became known for their powerful dogs, known at different times as Celtic greyhounds, wolfdogs, or wolfhounds. In the 2nd century AD the writer Arrian, who owned a Celtic Greyhound, wrote a detailed description of the "Celtic swift hounds," describing their appearance and their use for coursing game. He described two kinds of Celtic dogs: "Segusii . . . (which) are shaggy and ugly to look at (and which) . . . do not bark" and the "Vertragi . . . (named for) their great speed." He also wrote that their coats could be of any color, adding that they "had no equal in speed" (Fiennes). McBryde tells us that in 391 AD seven of these dogs were sent to Rome as tribute, and "all Rome viewed (them) with wonder."
|Whatever the source of the original Celtic Wolfdog, at some point, the influence of a giant Neolithic (late Stone Age) dog of Britain and Ireland enters the picture. Archeological sites in those countries indicate the existence of a domesticated dog with estimated heights from 24" to 30" as early as 7000 BC (McBryde). The Celts might have encountered this giant dog before their arrival in the British Isles or after. Whatever the sequence of events, the Irish Wolfhound, "bigger of bone and limme than a colt," played an important role in early Irish life and literature and, no doubt, influenced other Sighthounds of the British Isles. The breed itself nearly followed its prey, the huge Irish Elk and the wolf, into extinction.|
|Efforts in the late 1800s lead to its re-establishment. In
that process, out-crosses were made to other breeds(among them the Great Dane, the
Scottish Deerhound, and the Russian Borzoi) to restore desirable traits.
Today its size and affable disposition make it popular among those who feel comfortable with a "giant" sized dog. It was recognized by the UKC in 1921.
|The Scottish Deerhound|
|The Scottish Deerhound or staghound is thought to be have been closely related to the Irish Wolfhound if not the same breed until about the 16th century. In fact, certain lines retained the size and structure of the Irish dog and were used in that breeds restoration. Bred to hunt deer singly or in pairs, the rough-coated Scottish Deerhound was known for its sense of smell, its speed, and its strength.|
|As with many of the Sighthounds, its ownership
was often restricted. Because large game eventually was found only in the Scottish
Highlands, its ownership became limited to the Highland Chieftains, a fact which lead to a
decline in population. With the disintegration of the clan system, the disappearance of
their Sighthound seemed eminent.
|However, the breed benefited from the patronage of people such as the well-known painter Landseer and Sir Walter Scott, who described his Deerhound bitch, Maida, as being "the most perfect creature of heaven." As in the case of its Irish counterpart, the Scottish Deerhound was saved from extinction with judicious crosses to other Sighthounds. It was recognized by the UKC in 1949.|
|As larger game began to become extinct, the smaller, lighter
weight, smooth-coated Greyhound, possibly Arrians "Vertragi," was not
affected as were the Irish and Scottish Sighthounds. While the smooth coated dogs on the
Egyptian friezes appear to have pendant ears rather than the soft, bent "rose"
ears of the Greyhound, it has never been doubted that this Sighthound springs form the
same source as its Eastern cousins.
In England, there were certain crosses made on the coursing dogs to improve different traits. For example, the Greyhounds skin and hair are noticeably finer than many of the other Sighthounds, thought to be the result of crosses made in the 1700s to the slick-haired, rose-eared Bulldogs of the time, dogs that were higher stationed and quite different from the breed known today by that name.
Not as large as the two other Celtic breeds, the Greyhound itself was the epitome of the coursing dog, so much so that the synonym for "Sighthound" is "Greyhound." In silhouette, we see its rectangular shape, deep chest, tucked up flank or "waist", powerfully muscled hindlegs, and muscular loin. With small variation, this is the silhouette of the Sighthound. All other breeds can be defined by their variation from the pattern set by this one. No other breed is more efficiently or effectively designed for speed.
|Depicted in early art chasing the stag and coursing the hare,
the Greyhound was important early in hunting in the British Isles. As we see in other
breeds, it was identified with upper classes. In 1016 AD, the Laws of Canute declared that
only "freemen may keep greihounds." Other laws declared that any greyhound kept
within so many miles of (the kings) forest had to have its "knees cut" to
keep its owner from hunting with it.
Just as for the Thoroughbred horse, in time, racing, the "sport of kings", became the domain for the Greyhound. With that, the future of the breed became fixed and proved the adage "no good dog can be a bad color."
While we are not sure how the Greyhound traveled to the British Isles, once established there it flourished. There is evidence that, in turn, it was exported and influenced other breeds in various countries, for when it comes to straight speed, there was no match. So it remains today. The breed was recognized by UKC in 1914.
|Small versions of the Greyhound have been depicted in art throughout the centuries. In Egyptian art, they are seen sitting under chairs at the table. They are seen on Greek vases, in French tapestries, and in later European art. They differ from the Greyhound only in size. Today two breeds meet this description. They are the Whippet and the Italian Greyhound.|
The Whippet is the larger of the two and was developed and popularized in Britain. In fact, it is the Lancastershire miners of Northern England who are particularly identified with the breed, "the working mans greyhound" or "the poor mans race horse." Some authorities feel the modern Whippet is the result of introducing terrier blood (perhaps Manchester or Bedlington) into small Greyhound lines, with crosses to Italian Greyhounds to refine the resulting dogs. Today there is no trace left of any possible terrier influence.
|The Whippet is as graceful as any of the Sighthounds and excels at sprinting, short distance runs. Whippet races were reported to have been as heavily wagered as those of the Greyhound. While the breed is still coursed, it has gained in reputation as a family companion and is often the first introduction people have to the Sighthound clan. It was recognized by the UKC in 1935.|
If someones first introduction to Sighthounds was the Italian Greyhound, they would have a good idea, on a small scale, of what a Sighthound is. The "IG" or "Iggy" as its fans call it, is smaller than the Whippet and shown in some registries as a "Toy" dog. It is truly a "toy" Greyhound in conformation. Like the Whippet and the Greyhound, it is thin skinned and fine haired, making it susceptible to chilling and giving it a dislike of windy, rainy, or cold weather.
|Graceful and sweet dispositioned, Italian Greyhound are rarely kept singly; that is, their owners rarely have just one of these sociable little dogs. The breed is shown in UKC in the Sighthound category and was recognized in 1948.|
|Sighthound Disposition and Behavior
Just as the Sighthound breeds share origins and conformation traits, they also share certain disposition and behavior traits as well. When asked what has endeared their breed to them, most Sighthound owners will talk about disposition. Mary Alderman of JAAMA Kennels, says her two UKC Champion Whippets, Doodlebug and Despina, are typical of the breed. "They are loyal companions and do well in both single and multi-pet environments." However, she warns that the young dog, without an outlet for its boundless energy, can be a "wild child" with the ability to leap onto tabletops and counters if so motivated.
Whippet owners describe their dogs as sweet and gentle with people. Seth and Lee Hayes of El Kandahar Kennels, own a number of Sighthounds, including multi-titled Whippets, and describe that breed as "loving to snuggle" but at the same time "more apt to kiss than some people might want." A rescue owner, Sue McGrath, says of the familys whippet, Abigail, "She loves company. Slumber parties are like heaven for her: a floor covered with warm bodies, sleeping bags, blankets and pillows. It doesn't get any better than that for a whippet!" Sandra Truitt of Renaissance Afghans also owns Whippets. "Ive decided to name my next Whippet Velcro because they are such cling-ons. They want continuous human contact unlike the more independent Afghan. On the flip side, they are often called the worlds best kept secret perfect house dog. They are clean, generally housebreak themselves, and respond well to gentle training."
The smaller Italian Greyhound is, likewise, gentle and affectionate and very much a lap dog as are many toy dogs. Its size, however, makes it a more appropriate companion for a family with no or older children. Not because of its disposition but because of its small size, the gentle IGs are not good pets for small children. It has a dislike of rainy or cold weather, a dislike often shared by the whippet and some of the larger dogs as well. This can result in a dog that is difficult to housetrain . A number of IG owners recommend using an inside litter box and a strict routine in training.
The much larger Pharaoh Hound is both reserved and affectionate according to Robin and Frank Lutwinas, Tanaga Kennels, who have both Pharaoh Hounds and Rat Terriers. Switching from Doberman Pinschers to Pharaoh Hounds, she has appreciated the independence of her Sighthounds, saying "I enjoy the fact that they do not have to be by my feet every minute of the day, but they can still be lovable and show affection. All of my Pharaohs know how to climb on our laps to get their backs scratched."
Sandra Truitt, Renaissance Afghans, says of her dogs, "they are extremely friendly and sociable with people and other dogs of all breeds. They have the stable personalities and good manners that are so important for companion animals."
The Chart Polski is described as being very attached to their owners and accepting but watchful of strangers. Lynda and Roman Mulczynski of Bursztyn Chart Polski describes her Chart Polskis as being "protective but not aggressive." She also recommends a firm, fair hand in training and socialization to bring out the best in this breed that she describes as being "generally sociable and good-natured."
Kathy Bentzoni, Kosmos Chart Polski , seconds the importance of socializing the Chart Polski because of their protective nature. "The type of temperament described by some of the livestock guarding breed owners is similar to what we sometimes see in our breed. They are more like a guard dog in a Sighthound body than some of the other breeds." Her observation lends credence to the theory that in some areas the early Sighthound was the result of crosses between Asian Tazi or Saluki type dogs and the indigenous flock guardians.
Kathy owns Greyhounds as well, and comments, " The Chart Polskis are much more cunning than the Greyhound and will quickly learn how to open any cabinets, drawers and doors in your house. In addition, they can be willful."
Greyhounds are typically smaller boned and finer coated than the Chart Polski. They are quiet, calm dogs that make good house dogs, walk beautifully on lead with no pulling, and are simply poetry in motion. Greyhounds coming from racing kennels or from off the track are usually very social and miss the company of other dogs when placed into a single dog situation. They are not usually protective by nature, nor do they typically engage in the rough play seen in the Chart Polski. "Greyhounds are good companions," says Pamela Benus. " Once they are adults, they are willing to lay on the couch or go running depending upon what you want to do."
The Chart Polski is not the only large Sighthound with a protective disposition. Dominique de Caprona and Berndt Fritsch of Shi'Rayan Sloughis, describes the Sloughi as being "sensitive, affectionate, and totally loyal, but independent with their people and suspicious with strangers." What first attracted her to this exotic breed was its expression. "The Sloughi has a beautiful melancholy expression. At the age of twelve, I fell in love with their looks in one of my fathers many books about North Africa. Two years later, I got my first Sloughi, and since then I have always had them."
Like the Chart Polski, the Sloughi, as well as the Azawakh, doubled as flock guardians, protecting the sheep and goat herds from the very predators they were used to hunt. This guarding instinct is not shared by most other Sighthound breeds. The giant sized Irish Wolfhound, in fact, is described as one of the ten least protective dogs in a popular book on dog intelligence.
It is true that Sighthounds in general are not known to be inclined to bite or snap at people. However, the hunting instinct is still present in these breeds. This means that, unless a dog is well socialized, cats or even small dogs can be viewed as "fair game." The instinct to chase means that control is important at home and away. For the Sighthound, that control equals safety.
Secure fencing is one requirement for Sighthound owners. Robin Lutwinas enjoys coursing her Pharaoh Hounds, but the instinct to run and chase requires a good fence at home, preferably a double fence. Her husband Frank recommends electric or invisible fencing in addition to traditional fence. The Whippet with its small size is able to squeeze through fences that "seem" secure, warns Sue McGrath. Dominique de Caprona describes the Sloughi as being "a born chaser with very keen vision, a very fast and driven hunter -- not to be left unattended in a yard, let loose around game, or near roads."
Sandy Truitt adds, "Being a true Sighthound, the Afghan should never be off-lead or running at large. Their keen eyesight and high prey drive for a moving object will immediately put them in high gear for the sport of the chase. In this mode they are oblivious to all else, including cars, weather, obstacles, and you, too!"
An important reason for secure fencing is the safety of the dog, for a Sighthound intent on something may endanger itself. Pharaoh Hounds are intense and, when something takes the attention of a Pharaoh Hound, it can be hard to divert it, says Robin Lutwinas. The other Sighthounds share that single-mindedness and can be equally blind to possible danger.
Sighthound owners would all benefit from Aldermans advice to remember that their dogs are very much "hounds with a strong prey drive and the instinct to give chase whenever presented with the opportunity." Thus, at home secure fencing high enough to prevent jumping and deep enough to prevent digging under is a must. Away from home, a good leash and an attentive owner are one key to the Sighthounds safety.
Another key is training although the Sighthound breeds are not often seen competing in the obedience ring. Their admirers describe these dogs as being "independent;" their detractors call them "stubborn" or even "stupid." Sighthound owners agree that it is not a lack of intelligence that makes them difficult to train. As one breeder commented, "A real problem is that they are intelligent, sometimes too intelligent." Lee Hayes has put advanced obedience degrees on a number of her Sighthounds, and observes, "The Sighthounds are extremely intelligent and quick to learn. The problem is that most people try to train them like other breeds. A Sighthound gets bored very quickly and then starts thinking up novel ways of responding!"
The Afghan Hound, often portrayed as the "blonde" of the dog world albeit often with a black mask, suffers most from the unfair reputation of being "all looks and no brains." Again Pat Truitt is one breeder who has proven those critics wrong. She has put CDs and CDX degrees on her conformation champions, and has had five Afghans that were certified Therapy Dogs. However, she admits that the Afghan owner must be patient and that a sense of humor helps. "The Afghan is a notorious clown and often a thief. Because of their independent ways, they can be a challenge to train, especially in the housebreaking department."
Pamela Benus has put UKC CD degrees on two of her greyhounds. She currently has put a beginning level agility title on her Whippet, Lore, already a UKC Champion in the show ring. Pam observes that the Sighthounds are intelligent and even trainable if they are not drilled over and over again. The key to training with the Sighthound breeds is keeping them from losing interest.
That last statement may explain why many of the Sighthound owners are becoming involved with lure coursing and even racing. There is no greater reward for a dog owner than to see a dog doing what it was bred to do. What Sighthounds do best is give chase whether on the coursing field or on a track.
As coursing dogs, these breeds chase but do not by nature retrieve. This helps earn them low scores on many "canine IQ " lists, for retrieving is one common measure used for establishing "canine IQs." Most people can accept a dog that does not "fetch." However, Sighthounds are notoriously immune to the request "come." This is one command that needs to be reinforced with these breeds.
The instinct to chase can translate into a dog that is capable of dashing away in a split second, sometimes intent only on whatever caught its attention and heedless to potential dangers, such as traffic. In situations like this, the command "come" does not always work. That is why Sighthound owners often teach "down" or "stay" to their dogs. They then can go to their dog and retrieve it.
The Sighthounds are often described as "aloof." Again, their owners often define this as meaning the dogs are quiet and not pushy. These traits describe the mature dog rather than the puppy or adolescent. Rather than demand their owners attention, they wait for it -- perhaps confident that it will come.
Throughout history, in countries as diverse as Russia, Saudi Arabia, the British Isles, and Africa, the Sighthound has been identified as a special dog, with privileges and, at times, even ownership requirements. The aristocratic Sighthounds seem to realize this even when we do not.
Francie Stull and her www.AnimalStamps.com provided most of the stamps which were used to illustrate this article. Look for stamps of your favorite dog breeds on this site.
Sighthounds have a special place at the Stulls Kristull Ranch, which has been the home of the Kristull Borzoi since 1970. The Stulls have earned Championship conformation titles on over 200 Sighthounds, the majority homebred. These were mainly Borzoi, but their menagerie over the years has also included Afghan Hounds, Salukis, and Scottish Deerhounds. Today, the Borzois are retired, and the Stulls have turned their attention and genetic education to a miniature longhaired Sighthound, the Silken Windhound. The long-coated Silken Windhound has the personality and charm of its larger relatives in a small, elegant package. At Kristull Ranch, the Silken Windhounds keep rare and endangered Caspian horses company.
These pages are copyrighted and maintained by Tamara Taylor. If you wish to use any material from these pages, please request permission by email: email@example.com. These pages were last updated Jan. 2001.