These dogs specialize in pursuing prey, keeping it in sight, and overpowering it by their great speed and agility. They must be able to detect motion quickly, 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. Sighthounds have unique anatomical and physiological features likely due to intentional selection for hunting by speed and sight; laboratory studies have established reference intervals for hematology and serum biochemical profiles in sighthounds, some of which are shared by all sighthounds and some of which may be unique to one breed.
The typical sighthound type has a light, lean head, which is dolichocephalic in proportion. This shape can create the illusion that their heads are longer than usual. Wolves and other wild dogs are dolichocephalic or mesaticephalic, but some domesticated dogs have become brachycephalic (short-headed) due to artificial selection by humans over the course of 12,000 years. Dolichocephalic dogs have a wider field of vision but smaller overlap between the eyes and therefore possibly poorer depth perception in some of their field of view than brachycephalic dogs; most, if not all, dogs have less visual acuity than their antecedent the wolf. There is no science-based evidence to confirm the popular belief that sighthounds have a higher visual acuity than other types of dogs. However, there is increasing evidence that dolichocephalic dogs, thanks to a higher number of retinal ganglion cells in their “visual streak”, retain more heightened sensitivity than other dog types to objects and rapid movement in the horizontal field of vision.
Sighthounds such as the saluki/sloughi type (both named after the Seleucid Empire) may have existed for at least 5,000 years, with the earliest presumed sighthound remains compared to a Saluki appearing in the excavations of Tell Brak dated approximately 4000 years before present. The earliest complete description of a sighthound, the vertragus and its work, in European recorded history comes from Arrian's Cynegeticus, of the 2nd century AD. Although today most sighthounds are kept primarily as pets, some of them may have been bred for as many as thousands of years to detect movement, to 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.
List of sighthound breeds
- Afghan Hound
- Galgo Español
- Hortaya borzaya
- Irish Wolfhound
- Italian Greyhound
- Khalag Tazi
- Levriero Italiano
- Magyar agár
- Mudhol Hound
- Old Croatian Sighthound
- Polish Greyhound
- Rampur Greyhound
- Scottish Deerhound
- Silken Windhound
Crossbred sighthound types
Breeds considered to be controversial, not having by origin a sighthound function
A number of breeds, or types of dogs, which do not hunt solely by speed and sight, as well as a number of non-hunting breeds, are currently being recognized as sighthounds, either informally or formally by kennel clubs, or lure and live coursing clubs. These include:
Kennel club classification
When competing in conformation shows, most kennel clubs including the American Kennel Club and The Kennel Club group pedigree sighthound breeds together with scenthounds in a hound group, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale groups them in a dedicated sighthound group, whilst the United Kennel Club groups them in a sighthound and pariah group.
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