Given I’ve been writing about Whippets here for nearly two years now, this post is long overdue. I’ve made many references about the hound family and referenced many Sighthound breeds in lots of my posts.
However… I’ve never discussed them in a post like this.
I’m addressing this now. So, whenever I talk about Sighthounds in any future post, I can point people to this page.
Hence in this post I’m going to talk in detail about the Sighthound group. I’ll explain what gains a particular breed entry to it and provide a guide to the different varieties of Sighthound.
Table of Contents
- What are Sighthounds?
- Physical Characteristics of Sighthound Breeds
- A Guide to Sighthound Breeds
What Are Sighthounds?
Sighthounds are a particular group of dogs primarily bred for their capacity to hunt. For centuries dogs were bred to develop specific traits to help catch certain prey.
Scent hounds were bred to enhance their capacity to catch prey over long distances. In this scenario a strong sense of smell and physical endurance are advantageous.
Sighthound breeds on the other hand were bred to develop skills to catch fast and agile prey over short distances. For this scenario, speed and a keen sense of sight are more desirable.
Along with powerful eyesight, Sighthound breeds also tend to share very similar physical attributes. These attributes enable them to run at high speeds while remaining able to change direction quickly.
Physical Characteristics of Sighthound Breeds
As a general rule, Sighthound breeds have a dolichocephalic head shape. Dolichocephalic heads are long and narrow, the noses especially appear long and slender.
Sighthound bodies tend to be very lean… in fact many people mistakenly believe that some breeds are underfed or malnourished.
Most breeds of Sighthound have deep chests, small waists, flexible backs and long legs. Their chest shape accommodates a heart that’s larger than non-Sighthound breeds, and helps to power their ability to run at famously high speeds.
Their body shape too helps to enable a running style that maximises speed. The double-suspension gallop as it’s called is a running style where the hind legs propel the dog forward into the air, subsequently followed by the front legs doing the same.
This results in the dog leaping in two suspended phases:
- The first phase sees the dog extend its front legs forward while the hind legs extend backwards.
- The second phase sees the front and hind legs pulled underneath the body as the dog propels itself forward.
Both phases result in the dog being airborne twice in each “step”. The double-suspension gallop is something all purebred Sighthound breeds and Lurchers adopt when running at full speed.
Find out more about how Sighthounds run in this article: How fast can Whippets run?
A Guide to Sighthound Breeds
The following are the breeds of Sighthound still in existence today. Many of them will probably be unfamiliar to you… as some were to me before writing this.
Alongside a short description of each breed, I’ll include photos that demonstrate the physical similarities between each Sighthound breed.
The Afghan Hound originates from Afghanistan where it was bred to be able to withstand cold temperatures in the mountains. They’re medium-large dogs, measuring between 25″ and 29″ at the shoulder and they weigh 40lbs to 77lbs.
They have long, fine coat hair and flowing locks on their heads… which means they require plenty of grooming! The can have coats in a variety of colours: blue, cream, fawn, gold, grey, red and white. However, they can also have multicoloured coats and have brindle markings.
Like most breeds of Sighthound, Afghan Hounds need plenty of exercise to help them use up their high energy but their naturally affectionate tendencies make them extremely popular.
A breed originally found in West African countries, the Azkawakh exudes the slim and refined elegant look that many Sighthound breeds share. Measuring between 23″ and 29″ and weighing 37lbs to 60lbs, they’re medium-large dogs.
Azkawakhs have short coats that can be a variety of colours from a golden sand to fawn, dark brown and red. Their coats can have brindle patterns and they can show a dark mask.
They are an extremely loyal sighthound breed, but without proper training and socialisation they can become territorial and wary of people.
The Borzoi is a Sighthound originating in 16th century Russia, where it was raised initially for hunting wolves! Borzois are one of the larger breeds of Sighthound, standing at up to 29” at the shoulder and weighing up to 110lbs.
They have thick double coats designed to help in sub-zero climates and so they require a high degree of grooming. Their coats, which can be straight, curly or wavy make them easily identifiable.
Although a large Sighthound, the Borzoi is nonetheless gentle and affectionate.
The Chippiparai is a Sighthound from the South of India, where like Greyhounds in the UK they were a favourite of royalty and nobles.
Chippiparai are usually between 22″ to 25″ high at the shoulder, with females tending to be shorter than males. They’re lean dogs with a build that’s typical of the other speed merchants in this list, in that they have long legs and an athletic body built for sprinting.
We know that Sighthounds can be a little aloof with strangers, but warm to them once they become familiar. Interestingly, Chippiparai apparently favour one master and while they may not be aggressive to strangers they often remain aloof.
Another Sighthound from Russia, the Chortai was also a favourite of the nobility. Described as a combination of Greyhound and Borzoi, the Chortai is a solid looking dog breed that maintains clear Sighthound characteristics.
Chortais measure between 24″ to 29″, with males being slightly larger than females. Consequently, they are a medium sized breed.
Prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, the Chortai was bordering on extinction but subsequent interest in the breed has increased its numbers.
One of my favourite Sighthound breeds, the Galgo Español is a very old and in my view a very distinguished looking breed.
The Galgo Español has a distinct similarity to the Greyhound… indeed it’s possible that Greyhounds have descended from Galgos through historical crossbreeding.
Galgos are somewhat smaller than Greyhounds though they’re taller than Whippets. They measure between 23.5″ and 27″ and weigh 50lbs to 64lbs and are medium-large dogs.
Additionally, Galgos have a slightly differently shaped head… it’s longer and more streamlined than that of a Greyhound or a Whippet.
Additionally, they make excellent pets as they’re very gentle and loving dogs. They’re also personable and get on well with people and other dogs… but as with all Sighthounds, cats may prove too much of a temptation for them to chase.
One of the most widely recognised Sighthounds, the Greyhound physique represents the perfect racing dog. Indeed, people bred Greyhounds for centuries for their speed, which can exceed 40mph!
A large dog breed, Greyhounds can measure 27″ to 30″ and weigh between 54lbs and 83lbs.
Originally from England, Greyhounds were highly prized by the ruling classes for their ability to course game. Indeed, in 11th century England, King Canute made it illegal for people outside of the nobility to own Greyhounds… which perhaps led to the popularity of Lurchers and breeds such as Whippets.
Greyhounds are gentle dogs despite their size, and they make excellent pets. Like Galgos and Whippets, they’re loving and personable though they can be a little reserved around people they don’t know.
The Irish Wolfhound is a breed of Sighthound from Ireland. As the name suggests, it originated in Ireland where it was valued for its speed and size.
The Wolfhound has a muscular and tall frame. Its coat is wiry and rough all over its body and it wears a distinctive beard!
Irish Wolfhounds are one of the largest Sighthound breeds, measuring 32″ to 36″ and weighing up to 180lbs. Their size made them useful as working dogs in farms, where they provided hunting and guarding skills as well as protection against wolves.
Nowadays wolves aren’t such a problem in Ireland! However, the Irish Wolfhound is so popular that it even features as the mascot of The Irish Guards.
By contrast to the Irish Wolfhound, the Italian Greyhound is one of the smaller of Sighthound breeds… the smallest in fact.
Raised in Italy, the Italian Greyhound is actually very old having its origins in ancient Rome.
Another personal favourite of mine, the “Iggy” as people call it informally, looks like a miniature English Greyhound or small Whippet! They measure between 12.5″ and 15″ at the shoulder and weigh at a maximum of 14lbs!
They’re tiny but absolutely adorable.
In terms of their physical characteristics they really do resemble Whippet puppies. They share the same elegant posture, deep chest, pinched waist and slender head.
They also share the same temperament of Whippets and as a result make very popular pets.
Find out about the Whippet Italian Greyhound mix.
Like the Chippiparai, the Kaikadi is another breed from India. Most people think of healthy Whippets as lean but Kaikadis are perhaps even more slight.
Although they’re small (measuring 15″ to 18″ and weighing up to 44lbs ) they’re extremely fast and alert. As a consequence, Kaikadis are often kept in packs for hunting small prey.
Like many breeds of Sighthound, the Kaikadi is a little reserved around strangers but completely loyal to its “family”.
The next Sighthounds breed on the list is also from India, though it’s a rare breed from Tamil Nadu, which is in the southern region. However, some claim the Kanni is actually a Chippiparai, only a different colour: Kanni have multi-coloured coats whereas the Chippiparai only have one colour.
Kannis are medium-sized dogs, having a height between 25″ and 29″ and a weight of 35lbs to 49lbs. Their coats are short and as mentioned may have different colour combinations, usually brown with black, cream, fawn, red or white.
Yet another breed of Sighthound from India, and also from Tamil Nadu like the Kanni. The Kombai is also famous for its hunting ability (aren’t all Sighthounds), and it too is medium-sized.
Komba tend to measure between 17″ to 25″ and weigh 15lbs to 55lbs.
It’s an athletic and strong breed, with a short single coat that’s often red or brown. They’re also intelligent dogs, and like Whippets they are affectionate, loving and loyal and they make excellent family pets.
However, unlike Whippets, Kombai make very effective guard dogs by all accounts!
Moving from India we head back to Italy. The Levriero Sardo hails from Sardinia and it’s one of the most rare breeds of Sighthound with numbers that are threateningly low, though there are efforts to save the breed.
Primarily bred for hunting, the Levriero Sardo is a medium-sized dog, measuring between 23″ and 28″ and weighing 37.5lbs to 55lbs.
It has a lean, muscular physique and a short coat that can be black, cream, grey or white. Their coats can have mixed colours, piebald or brindle markings.
The Magyar Agár is a sighthound breed from Hungary, where typically for Sighthounds it is famous for its coursing and hunting ability.
Magyar Agárs are elegant dogs that resemble Greyhounds, though the breed is perhaps longer and with a more solid bone structure. As such, they are not as fast paced as Greyhounds but they have more endurance and a better build for more uneven and rocky terrain.
They are medium sized dogs, measuring 24″ to 28″ and weighing 49lbs to 68lbs.
Another Sighthound from India, the Mudhol Hound is a very old breed that also bears a strong resemblance to the Greyhound. However, some believe they are descended from crosses between Salukis and Tazi.
Mudhols weigh between 48lbs and 62lbs and are one of the larger Sighthound breeds as they measure between 29″ to 35″.
They’re a fiercely loyal breed and very protective of their families, which makes them excellent guard dogs.
The Patagonian Greyhound (or Galgo Patagónico to use its Spanish name), is a Sighthound breed from Argentina.
The Galgo Patagónico likely came from crosses between working dogs and Irish Wolfhounds brought by British merchants in the 18th century who traded them for animal furs with local tribes.
In the years leading up to the 19th century, it’s possible that further mixing with other breeds of Sighthound, such as Greyhounds, Borzoi and Deerhounds, took place to create a breed with specific characteristics to make them more suited to hunting in the Patagonian region.
At one time, the Patagonian Greyhound would have likely been considered a Longdog but today it’s a Sighthound breed in its own right.
A Sighthound breed from Poland, the Polish Greyhound is somewhat different from the English Greyhound, though it too is a hunting and coursing dog.
Polish Greyhounds are heavier set dogs than Greyhounds and perhaps they’re marginally more muscular. They measure between 27″ to 32″ at the shoulder and they have a long muscular neck, ‘culottes’ at the backs of their legs and a brush-like tail.
While Polish Greyhounds have a short coat like English Greyhounds, they’re double-coat (they have a thick undercoat), which means they are able to withstand colder temperatures.
The Rajapalayam is a breed of Sighthound from India, like the Chippiparai, Kaikadi, Kanni, Kombai and Mudhol Hound. It’s name comes from the southern Indian town of Rajapalayam.
As India is such a large country it’s no surprise it has so many different Sighthounds!
Rajapalayams were famous as hunting dogs, and in this respect as Sighthounds they have the unique ability to hunt by both sight and scent. With this valuable combination, a Rajapalayam can track its quarry (often wild boar) independent of its owner.
With a classic Sighthound physique, Rajapalayams measure between 25″and 30″.
To the north of India now! The Rampur Greyhound is apparently a descendant of Afghan Hounds and Greyhounds… though Rampurs actually resemble short-coated Sloughis (see below).
Powerful and elegant, the Rampur Greyhound, like most Sighthound breeds, is a very fast runner and has an incredibly keen coursing ability.
The Saluki is a very recognisable dog breed, with its smooth or feathered coat… both equally silky! It also stands out for its feathery ears that hang down each side of its lovely face.
A breed that originated in the Middle East, Salukis appear to be related to Afghan Hounds, though they are both distinct “pure” breeds of Sighthound.
Measuring between 23” and 28”, Salukis are extremely graceful dogs… though they likely require attentive grooming!
Like the Irish Wolfhound, the Scottish Deerhound is a large, heavy boned Sighthound breed that can stand up to 32” at the shoulder.
Although it resembles the Greyhound shape and size, the Scottish Deerhound more closely resembles the Irish Wolfhound, which is one of the breeds in its lineage.
The Deerhound has a rough coat that helps it in the cold and wet climate of Scotland’s Highland and as its name suggests, it skills lay in stalking wild red deer in Scotland.
Although they sound similar, the Sloughi is not the same as the Saluki! A very old Sighthound breed, the Sloughi originates from the North African countries of Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.
Sloughis have short coats of smooth hair. They are a medium to large Sighthound breed with an athletic physique. They too have a natural ability to hunt prey such as foxes, gazelles and wild pigs.
The Sloughi is a somewhat aloof breed but one that has very strong bonds with its family.
The Taigan is a Sighthound breed from Kyrgyzstan in Russia, to the north-west of the Chinese border. Taigans come from a mountainous area where it’s prozed for its ability to endure fast pace at altitude.
Taigans are medium to large dogs with a lean and athletic build. Typically they measure 23” to 27” and weigh between 63lbs and 68lbs.
As you might expect from a breed that resides in the mountains, the Taigan has a medium-length coat that can be somewhat curly. It can also have longer fur around its ears, chest and tail like a Saluki, of which it’s probably a relative in some way.
One interesting fact about the Taigan is its tail, which spirals from around midway to the tip.
Like most breeds of Sighthound it can be aloof around strangers, but very loving with its family.
The Tazy is a Sighthound breed from Kazakhstan, a country that straddles Central Asia and in Eastern Europe.
Tazys are medium sized dogs bred for hunting rabbits and foxes, but in the past they were also used to hunt wolves. Unlike most Sighthounds, they are both fast over the short distance and have endurance for longer distances.
They have a very lean frame, long muscular legs and a short but soft coat. Their ears have feathery fur like the Saluki and Taigan.
Whippets are a medium-sized breed of Sighthound from Britain… and they are the reason for this blog!
Short coated, and easy to groom, Whippets look like young Greyhounds… indeed I’m often asked if my Whippet Misty is a Greyhound puppy. Of course they’re different breeds though they share many similarities, one being speed… both were bred for chasing!
Whippets are a little reserved like most other Sighthounds, but they’re extremely loving and make excellent family pets.
I’ll not over-wax about Whippets here, since there are masses of articles about them on this blog. However, if you want to know more about this lovely breed, you can start here: Information About the Whippet Breed.
So we come to the last in our list of Sighthound breeds… the Xigou (which sounds like “shee go”).
The Xigou is a very old breed, dating back 2,500 years ago, where they were bred, as you might expect, to catch small prey.
Xigou are large Sighthounds, measuring between 24” to 31” at the shoulders and can weigh between 44lbs and 60lbs. They have a lean, muscular build and a beautifully elegant appearance.
With a short, silky coat and feathering on the ears, tail, legs and backs of the thighs, they resemble Salukis, Sloughis, Rampurs, Tazys…. They have long, narrow heads, an arched neck, deep chest and slim waist just like a Sighthound should!
Like Taigans, their tail has a curl at the tip and sadly like Levriero Sardos and Chortais their numbers are dwindling.
Summary: Sighthound Breeds
There is a great variety of Sighthound breeds but they all share a very similar physical characteristics. Of course some are bigger, some have a rough coat, some have feathery ears but the physique is unmistakably Sighthound.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and welcome comments or questions in the form at the bottom of this page.
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