A Whippet: characteristic long legs, deep chest, and narrow waist of a sighthound

Sighthounds (also called gazehounds) are a type of hound dog that hunts primarily by sight and speed, unlike scent hounds, which rely on scent and endurance.


The dolichocephalic head proportions of a typical sighthound

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 hares, 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.[1]

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 domestic dogs have become brachycephalic (short-headed) due to artificial selection by humans over the course of 12,000 years.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

A Saluki


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 of a male with a shoulder height around 54 cm, compared to a Saluki, appearing in the excavations of Tell Brak dated approximately 4,000 years before present.[5] The earliest complete European description of a sighthound and its work, the Celtic vertragus[6] from Roman Spain of the 2nd century C.E., comes from Arrian's Cynegeticus. A similar type, possibly a moderately sized male sighthound, with a height of 61–63 cm, of approximately the same historic period, the Warmington Roman dog is described from a well-preserved skeleton found in England.[7] Sighthound type "gracile" bones, dating from the 8th to 9th century CE, anatomically defined as those of a 70 cm (28 in) high "greyhound", were genetically compared with the modern Greyhound and other sighthounds and found to be almost identical with the modern Greyhound breed, with the exception of only four deletions and one substitution in the DNA sequences, which were interpreted as differences probably arising from 11 centuries of breeding of this type of sighthound.[8][2] Population genomic analysis proposes that true sighthounds originated independently from native dogs and were comprehensively admixed among breeds, supporting the multiple origins hypothesis of sighthounds.[9][3]

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 of prey, then chase, capture, and kill it 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.[10]

Apart from coursing and hunting, various dog sports are practiced with purebred sighthounds, and sometimes with lurchers and longdogs. Such sports include racing, lure coursing, and other events.

List of sighthound breeds

Crossbreed 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 formally or informally[12] by kennel clubs, or lure and live coursing clubs. These include:

Kennel club classification

When competing in conformation shows, most Anglophone kennel clubs, including the American Kennel Club and The Kennel Club (UK), group pedigree sighthound breeds together with scent hounds in a Hound Group,[13][14] the Fédération Cynologique Internationale groups them in a dedicated Sighthound Group,[15] whilst the United Kennel Club groups them in a Sighthound and Pariah Group.[16]

See also


  1. ^ "Clinical pathology of Greyhounds and other sighthounds" S. Zaldívar‐López L.M. Marín M.C. Iazbik N. Westendorf‐Stingle S. Hensley C.G. Couto Veterinary Clinical Pathology Volume 40, Issue 4, first published: 24 October 2011
  2. ^ Roberts, Taryn; McGreevy, Paul; Valenzuela, Michael (July 2010), "Human Induced Rotation and Reorganization of the Brain of Domestic Dogs", PLOS ONE, 5 (#7): e11946, Bibcode:2010PLoSO...511946R, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011946, PMC 2909913, PMID 20668685
  3. ^ Miller, Paul E.; Murphy, Christopher J. (December 15, 1995), "Vision in Dogs" (PDF), Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 207 (#12): 1623–1634, PMID 7493905, retrieved 2012-12-24
  4. ^ McGreevy, Paul; Grassia, Tanya D.; Harman, Alison M. (December 2004), "A strong correlation exists between the distribution of retinal ganglion cells and nose length in the dog", Brain, Behavior and Evolution, 63 (#1): 13–22, doi:10.1159/000073756, PMID 14673195, S2CID 24772865
  5. ^ Clutton-Brock, J., 1989. A dog and a donkey excavated at Tell Brak. Iraq, 51, pp.217-224.
  6. ^ https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ac/Bronzen_beeldje_hazewindhond_ForumHadriani_015501_RMO_Leiden.jpg [bare URL image file]
  7. ^ Schoenebeck, J.J., Hamilton‐Dyer, S., Baxter, I.L., Schwarz, T. and Nussbaumer, M., (2021). From head to hind: Elucidating function through contrasting morphometrics of ancient and modern pedigree dogs. ‘’The Anatomical Record’’, 304(1), pp.63-77. [1]
  8. ^ SVOBODOVÁ, H., BARTOŠ, M., NÝVLTOVÁ FIŠÁKOVÁ, M. and KOUŘIL, P., (2015). Genetic analysis of possibly the oldest greyhound remains within the territory of the Czech Republic as a proof of a local elite presence at Chotěbuz-Podobora hillfort in the 8th–9th century AD. SbNM B, 71, pp.17-24.
  9. ^ Li, Wu-Lue, et al. "Multiple origins and genomic basis of complex traits in sighthounds". Molecular Biology and Evolution (2023): msad158.
  10. ^ Fogle, Bruce (2000) [1995]. The Encyclopedia of the Dog. Dorling Kindersley. ISBN 0-7513-0471-9.
  11. ^ "Estándar GALGO BARBUCHO PATAGONICO" [Standard PATAGONIAN BARBUCHO GREYHOUND]. Kennel Club Argentino (in Spanish). Retrieved 4 November 2022.
  12. ^ Bengtson, Bo. "How Many Sighthound Breeds? Would you believe more than 50?" Sighthound Review Vol. 5, Issue 4, Winter 2014–2015
  13. ^ "Hound Group". American Kennel Club. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  14. ^ "Hound". The Kennel Club. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  15. ^ "Group 10: Sighthounds". Fédération Cynologique Internationale. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  16. ^ "Breed Group Designations". United Kennel Club. Retrieved 24 December 2019.

Further reading