Written by FOTP Team
They’re lean, keen, chasing machines and some of the most popular pets on the planet. If you want to welcome a sighthound into your family, what do you need to know? Read on to learn about this group of graceful canines, which includes greyhounds, whippets, salukis and more.
Sighthounds are a group of hunting dogs. Scenthounds use their noses to track down prey, but for sighthounds, their eyes are their not-so-secret weapon. They can detect the slightest motion – and their strong prey drive means they instantly give chase!
They’re also highly intelligent, and, with the right training, can make excellent family pets.
Sighthounds are thought to be the first type of domesticated dog, originating from the deserts of north Africa or Arabia. Paintings of greyhound-type canines were even found in Ancient Egyptian tombs.
Over the centuries, these hounds spread throughout Europe, as hunting became an aristocratic sport rather than merely a means for survival. Packs or pairs of sighthounds would be set to chase after prey, with human hunters following on horseback or foot.
Nowadays, many states and countries have strict laws about coursing or hunting with dogs but dog racing remains a popular sport. So are sighthounds worth a wager as your new family pet? Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons.
If you’re going to run at top speed across the desert, you can’t afford to carry any extra weight. Think of elite runners or cyclists: there’s not an ounce of fat on them. It’s all lean muscle. And the same goes for this breed - that’s why sighthounds are so skinny!
Sighthounds’ long legs, flexible backs, and large lungs and hearts all contribute to their sporting prowess, too. They’ve got a far wider field of vision than humans do – nothing escapes their beady gaze!
As well as the physical characteristics above, sighthounds share a few behavioural traits.
They’re cool, calm, collected, clean and quiet. Many breeds are quite content to be left alone, making them a good choice for a busy family. Energy-wise, you can take them out for a run, then expect them to snooze happily on the couch for the rest of the day.
But if they spy prey while they’re out, they’ll take off in hot pursuit at lightning-fast speed! So as a responsible owner, you’ll need to put in the hours for recall training, and take care to exercise them in secure areas.
Sighthounds are sensitive to both the cold and criticism, so handle with care. They can sometimes come across as aloof, and some owners prefer fluffier pooches. But they’re loyal, gentle, and affectionate – and show their appreciation by leaning into you!
Now, let’s take a quick look at some of the most popular breeds of sighthound.
Elegant, large and gracious, greyhounds are one of the speediest land animals on the planet, with an acceleration rate second only to the cheetah! Whilst even an older greyhound will rarely pass up the chance to have a good run, they’re sprinters not distance runners, and after their daily exercise, they like nothing more than chilling on the comfiest piece of furniture they can find. Despite their high speed potential, they’re not high maintenance dogs, in fact, most are quite happy with a 30 - 40 min walk a day (but will happily accompany you on longer hikes when given the opportunity). They’re good-natured towards humans and other dogs – but that strong prey drive poses a problem around cats and other small furries. Train them well!
The smaller cousin of the greyhound, whippets share many of their traits, but in a more manageable package. They’re a little slower, require less exercise, and eat less, making them generally easier pets to own. That’s not to say they’re simple to train, though – just like greyhounds, they can be stubborn. Once they’ve spied prey, they’re likely to forget their training!
If you love the elegance of greyhounds but want a furrier friend for your family, consider a saluki. These silky beauties have feathered fur on their ears and tails, which streams out beautifully as they race along. Salukis are affectionate and great with kids – but notoriously hard to train. They suffer badly from separation anxiety and have a tendency to become destructive if left alone, so are best for families where someone is home most of the time.
The Spanish galgo looks similar to the greyhound, but smaller and even leaner - it’s actually more of an endurance athlete than a sprinter. It’s also a jumper, so make sure your yard fences are high and secure. Many are still used as hunting dogs in Spain today, with some brought to the USA by welfare organizations. Could you offer a rescued galgo a home?
Borzois were bred in Russia to hunt wolves. There’s not much call for that in modern-day America, but fortunately, they do make great pets, too! Their name means “swift” in Russian, which tells you a lot of what you need to know about these elegant creatures. You should also be aware that they’re even larger than greyhounds, so your food bills will be higher and space at a premium.
This breed is the epitome of the gentle giant. Don’t be fooled by the sight of a cute wolfie puppy: they take two years to reach their full adult size, which is almost three feet tall and around 120 pounds in weight. That has a significant impact on your wallet: food bills will be high, and you’ll need a spacious home and car as well. But they’ve got huge, loving hearts, too, making them a gigantic bonus to your family.
Last but not least, the lovely lurcher! These are actually crossbreeds, bred from a sighthound (often a greyhound) and a pastoral breed such as a collie. So while they share a lot of characteristics with the sighthounds mentioned above, they get a few from the pastoral side of their family tree, too. They’re loving, loyal and mischievous, making them a popular choice as a family pooch.
So that’s our guide to sighthounds. Could you see one stretched out on your couch, chasing squirrels in your yard, or treating you to that famous “sighthound lean” of affection? Whichever breed you choose, make sure you’re prepared to put in the hours training and socializing your pooch. And before contacting breeders, check with your local animal shelter to see if there’s a dog there that needs your love. Happy hound hunting!