Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Let's talk less common yet lovely: sight hounds.


I have at a few times in my life had the privilege to meet some of the less common dog breeds. Only those lucky enough to have lived with them seem to realize the character traits that make these breeds attractive. Yet every breed has someone, somewhere who works on rescue and rehoming when things do not work out with original homes. All animals have traits that make them desirable in one family and problematic in another.

In a previous blog I mentioned that hounds in general are sometimes misunderstood or thought of as loud. These are really character filled animals that love their family pack. Even less common than scent hounds are the sight hounds and I have known some wonderful animals in this category: Afghans, saluki, and borzois who would always be welcome in my home (this is not an exhaustive list of sight hounds but these breeds will be the focus today.)
We're fortunate today to have several pictures of a saluki from one of our blog readers who has testified to the loyal and loving nature of this breed (see the comments on "Heavenly Hounds.")


This is an ancient breed that once hunted with the ruling class of Egypt. The above lovely head shot shows the characteristic regal looks of the saluki.



The above picture shows the other side of salukis -- the soft, sweet dogs who are sensitive and often require gentle and consistent handling. And this pup's call name certainly suggests this side of his personality -- ladies and gentleman, descended from the companions of Pharaohs may I present - Fred! 

In general sight hounds are what I would call "soft" dogs, they do better with a kind and consistent person who doesn't need to raise their voice to communicate with their animal companions.

I have had several opportunities to spend time with sight hounds. Once I spent several weeks live-in sitting a saluki and afghan. These girls were very soft, sensitive girls. The saluki would become insulted and upset if anything was suddenly changed in her environment. This was in part her own personality; she lived with a single woman who arranged her world around the girls. The afghan needed to clearly understand what expectations were but once she understood she was very willing to comply.

On another occasion I ended up helping an acquaintance handle her borzois at a show (I was a behind the scene person.) I just fell in love with the boy I spent the most time with - Dorian. Calm, gentle, and trusting he was the epitome of a gentleman hound. All the borzois I have met have impressed me with their calm, gentle natures and this is certainly one of the breeds that I would be happy to find sharing my house some day.


This is a free stock photo of a borzoi in one of the breed colors I particularly enjoy. This picture bears a strong resemblance to one of the young female borzois I handled that afternoon at the show; I found her particularly lovely not just conformationaly but because she shared an enthusiasm for life, which this picture illustrates.


And while borzois and other sight hounds were bred for the primary purpose of moving quickly on hunts, devoted owners are spending time re-purposing these breeds' sense of loyalty and willingness to please.
I am aware of sight hounds who have completed their companion dog titles; different to work with than more commonly seen breeds like labs, shepherds or boarder collies, sight hounds are showing that they too can learn the ropes of obedience work.

Again, these are also breeds who from time to time end up in usually breed-specific rescues. If you are an adoption only animal owner who would be interested in one of these breeds I would suggest starting with breed specific rescues. Such rescues can be found through the organizing club for each breed. And again, every breed has someone out there who is devotedly carrying out rescue work on their behalf.

Sight hounds typically require exercise, gentle but firm handling, consistency. They do not respond well to sudden angry outbursts, sudden changes in routine, or shifting expectations from their humans. That does not mean they cannot be part of a dynamic family. I know of borzois for example who happily live with young, respectful children. These tend to be patient dogs -- remember, when hunting in the middle east looking for prey could take a long, long time. I have known of afghans who could in fact be somewhat stubborn. Overall though, these are dogs who want to please and work with people; people in turn need to be clear and consistent in what they ask for.
Sight hounds are dogs who will stay with their people through the hardest and harshest of conditions just for the sake of companionship.
If you are owned by or have known sight hounds, please share your experience here. I'd also love to hear from those working in any breed specific rescue.

4 comments:

  1. Beautifully well written article on my favorite group of dogs, the sighthounds, i have owned borzoil, whippets, bazenji, afghan hounds and saluki....they are all their own little packages....and VERY VERY rewarding as well :-)

    Karrie

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  2. I for one would love to hear more about the basenji! What a delightful, well built dog. And the yodels :)

    And whippets - what a perfect name for the breed. I once visited a pair who got running at such speed in their living room that they started to work their way from the back of couches and chairs onto the wall itself like those speed bikes in cages. Fast and sweet!

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  3. Italian Greyhounds are the smallest of the sight hounds and are the most devoted dogs I've met. Just like their bigger cousins, they are fast, agile and willing to chase anything that moves. They also want attention, cuddling, and warmth. They are delightful pets, but probably not for families with small children.

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  4. Thanks Iggy - I've heard that Itailian Greyhounds inspire some of the most devoted followers EVER. That says something about their personalities :) Would love to share a picture of two if you want to send one....

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