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Cirnechi dell'Etna
Cirnechi dell'Etna

How Many Sighthound Breeds Are There?

Could there be 50 different kinds of Sighthound?

         Everybody knows there are just a dozen or so Sighthound breeds, right? Watching the Hound Group being judged at a regular American Kennel Club show, you will see the established Sighthound breeds, long-legged and aristocratic, lined up somewhat incongruously next to mostly very different-looking other Hound breeds. First come the Afghan Hound and the Borzoi, then the Greyhound, Ibizan Hound, Pharaoh Hound, Saluki and Scottish Deerhound, with the Whippet at the end. At many shows these days there will also be a Best-of-Breed winning Azawakh, Cirneco dell'Etna and Sloughi in the Hound Group; they are still considered "rare" breeds but have gradiated from the Miscellaneous class to the regular Group competition. Eleven Sighthound breeds … but that's pretty much it, isn't it?

         Not by a long shot. If you have visited shows hosted by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) in Europe, you may have noticed several additional breeds competing on equal terms in the Sighthound Group over there. Come to think of it, they also consider the Italian Greyhound as a Sighthound, although it competes in the Toy Group in the English-speaking world. On the other hand, Ibizans Hounds, Pharaoh Hounds and Cirnechi (that's the correct Italian plural of Cirneco) dell'Etna are not classified as Sighthounds by FCI but compete in a different group. 

         And what about Basenjis and Rhodesian Ridgebacks? They are eligible for lure coursing titles with both AKC and the American Sighthound Field Association, so obviously they may be considered as Sighthounds as well. Even the Portuguese Podengo Pequeno, which really does not in any obvious way resemble a Sighthound, is often also considered a part of this group. 


         Trust me, this is still only the tip of the iceberg as far as how many breeds there are that may be considered as Sighthounds. I have been working on a list of Sighthound breeds for some time and came up with at least 50 different breeds or varieties that could conceivably qualify — although I'm not sure that "breed" is really a correct term for some of them. In a few cases it has not been possible to establish that these dogs, although unquestionably of Sighthound type, in fact constitute an independent breed that's officially recognized by the kennel club in its own country. It's all pretty confusing. 


         Part of the problem, of course, is that we have no scientifically acceptable way of classifying the existing dog breeds into different groups. The AKC fully recognizes 190-plus breeds but divides them in groups differently than kennel clubs in many other countries do. There is no real consensus of opinion; what makes sense in one part of the world is not necessarily considered logical elsewhere. The fact that AKC still does not officially recognize an independent Sighthound group, the way most other countries do, is a clue that we're on thin ice …


         Whether you consider a breed to be a Sighthound depends largely on how "pure" you feel a breed has to be in order to qualify. Greyhounds and Salukis are the most typical ur-Sighthounds: all the rest are to some degree the result of long-ago (well, sometimes not so long ago) crosses with other types of dogs. However, for the sake of convenience, let's agree on the six breeds that are recognized almost everywhere as Sighthounds — the Afghan Hound, Borzoi, Greyhound, Irish Wolfhound, Saluki, Scottish Deerhound and Whippet. They all have many physical and mental characteristics in common and were all primarily created for the same purpose: the coursing of game by sight. (Forget that the Irish Wolfhound is basically a recreation of the original and that many judges seem to forget that they according to their breed standard should be not just of great size and commanding appearance  but "Greyhound-like" as well …)

         The Italian Greyhound presents an interesting dilemma. It's clearly a Sighthound by appearance in every respect except size, but it was created to be a companion dog in the boudoir, not a hunting dog on the coursing field — although I.G.s can be killer coursers when given the chance. The Italian Greyhound is, quite simply, a Toy Sighthound.

         Ibizan Hounds (Wire or Smooth) and Pharaoh Hounds were moved from the Sighthound group by FCI years ago because it was felt that, although they have many obvious Sighthound characteristics, their mode of hunting is not strictly by sight. Oddly enough both Ibizans and Pharaohs are still eligible to compete at Sighthound shows in some FCI countries (e.g. in Scandinavia and Germany), in spite of the fact that all-breed shows held under FCI rules list them as belonging to Group 5 (Spitz and Primitive Breeds).

         So far this adds up to 15 Sighthound breeds — or 17 if we count the separate coat varieties (Smooth and Feathered in Salukis, Smooth and Wire in Ibizan Hounds). Speaking of coats, we might as well include the Silken Windsprite, which is not a recognized breed according to either AKC or FCI, although they are sometimes shown in national (as opposed to international) competition in Europe. Their origin is generally considered to be a relatively recent cross between Whippet and Borzoi, perhaps with an added dash of Shetland Sheepdog blood. There is also the Silken Windhound, which in spite of its name is not identical to the Windsprite: both are clearly Sighthounds and each has its own "parent club" in the U.S. Whether we will see either of them at AKC shows in the future is uncertain, however.

         The FCI has 13 breeds in the Sighthound group. In addition to some previously mentioned (Afghan Hound, Saluki, Borzoi, Deerhound, Irish Wolfhound, Greyhound, Whippet and Italian Greyhound) there are a few breeds that are basically geographically based variations on the "common" Greyhound — although some fanciers maintain that these rare breeds are actually the progenitor of the better-known English breed: the Magyar Agar from Hungary, Chart Polski from Poland and Galgo Espanol from Spain. (The spelling may vary a little from country to country.) All these breeds exist in the U.S. as well, although they are still rare.


Magyar Agar

         In the U.S., all the breeds mentioned above may compete in ASFA lure coursing, as well as several others: the Basenji, Cirneco dell'Etna, Ibizan Hound, Peruvian Inca Orchid, Pharaoh Hound, Podengo Pequeno, Portuguese Podengo, and Rhodesian Ridgeback. Of these, the Ibizan, the Pharaoh, the Basenji, the Cirneco, the Ridgeback and the Podengo Pequeno are all fully recognized by AKC. Most people consider them as at least honorary Sighthounds. 

         What ASFA calls Podengo Pequeno, incidentally, is officially known as the Portuguese Podengo Pequeno, now established at AKC shows, while the medium-sized and large varieties are still in the Miscellaneous class. All come as either (to quote FCI) "Smooth- and short-haired" or "Long- and wire-haired." The Peruvian Inca Orchid is popular at rare-breed shows, but so far only seen in the Miscellaneous class in AKC competition; whether it can be considered a "real Sighthound" or not remains doubtful. ASFA does not include a listing for the Thai Ridgeback, which is still known to AKC only in their Foundation Stock Service (which means that the breed as yet does not even qualify for Miscellaneous status). Thai Ridgebacks can be shown at FCI events, however, and must logically be considered to be at least as much Sighthounds as their African cousin. (Not that everyone agrees on this, however.) 

         There is also the Podenco Canario, which is recognized by FCI but rare even at the biggest shows in Europe and apparently non-existent in the U.S.

         That all adds up to about 35 breeds or varieties, counting all the possible size and coat variations. Just how many additional Sighthound breeds there are depends on how seriously you take the claims of foreign kennel clubs and fanciers for breeds that are not — yet? — internationally recognized.

         When I was judging in Russia a while ago, for instance, there was a separate classification for breeds approved by the Russian Kennel Federation but as yet not by the FCI. Five of these were classified as Sighthounds: the Hortaya Borzaya (a Russian version of the Polish Chort, or Chart, mentioned above), the Tazy (a Kazakh nomad's hunter, similar to the Saluki), the Taigan (a thick-coated, Afghan-like dog from Kyrgyzstan), the Bakmull (a Russian type of Afghan Hound) and the South-Russian Stepnaya (closely resembling its internationally known relative, the Borzoi).

         In India, the Caravan Hound is a long-established breed and often successful at shows hosted by the Kennel Club of India. However, as far as I know it is not shown in any FCI country in the West. The Rampur Hound was shown in India already a century ago, but is now rare and possibly compromised genetically after crosses with English Greyhounds. There are other Indian breeds, such as the Rajapalayam, the Chippiparai, the Kanni, the Pashmi and the Mudhol Hound — all of them of obvious Sighthound type. The distinction between these breeds is not always clear to the outsider, although some are obviously strongly influenced by heavier and more aggressive breeds. The Combai from South India is sometimes referred to as a Sighthound; it was used for boar hunting, is described as having a "savage temper" and being more powerful than a Rajapalayam, which in turn is said to have much heavier bone than most Sighthounds, although with the same body structure.

         China has its own Sighthound breed, the Xigou, which usually resembles a banana-nosed Saluki but comes in at least three regional types: Shaanxi Xigou, Shandong Xigou and Menggu Xigou. The breed is sufficiently popular for there to be specialty shows with sizeable entries for Xigou in China, but whether the breed competes at the newer, Western-style dog shows that are organized under the FCI umbrella is not known.

         In Australia there's the Kangaroo Dog — a cross between Scottish Deerhounds, Greyhounds and various local dogs that made the offspring supremely efficient for hunt under rough conditions. It is not recognized by any kennel club and has always been bred purely for hunting, not for show. (The Kangaroo Dog is smooth-coated; a rough-coated variety is the Australian Staghound.) The same, of course, goes for the Longdog (a term denoting a cross between any two Sighthound breeds) and the Lurcher (a cross beween a Sighthound and a different type of dog, usually a Collie or other Herding type dog): both are bred purely for performance and not recognized as breeds by any kennel club.


         This is all, of course, quite far from the "pure Sighthound breeds" we started out with — although Lurchers are in fact shown at field fairs in Great Britain. (I remember attending one a long time ago that had at least 200 entries.) If nothing else, it must be obvious by now that the generic Sighthound (Greyhound, Tazi) type of dog that's been known for at least a couple of thousand years has given rise to a much larger number — at least 50 — of varying Sighthound "types," if not breeds, than is generally known, in many different parts of the world. 

         I am sure there are additional Sighthound breeds that I may have missed. More information is always welcome. Please send an email to sighthoundreview@impulse.com.

Reprinted from 2014-4 SR; what's above is an edited, updated version.

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