Creating The Working Dog: The History Of The Sighthound
We all know that dogs are valuable to us because of their instincts, but if you give it enough thought, it is easy to become a bit overwhelmed by just how the dog arrived at its current state of mental agility. How on Earth did we go from domesticating a wolf to creating an animal that has the physical ability, instinct and inclination to perform a very specific job?
How much did nature play a part in this process, or was it blind luck that landed man with a four legged companion who was able to hunt, fetch, track, protect or even guard?
Over the next few issues of K9 Magazine, Desmond Fellows will be looking at the different types of jobs that dogs do, or have been asked to do in the past, and how we got them to that stage of ability and inclination. Going right back to the advent of that certain type of dog, we'll examine why and how man identified the latent talent and what process he followed to arrive at the final result.
In this issue, we look at the history of the Sighthound.
The Sight Hound is believed to be the oldest type of dog on Earth, which makes it a perfect dog to start with. Popular Sight Hounds include, the Greyhound, Saluki, Whippet, Borzoi, Irish Wolfhound and Scottish Deerhound. Its main role was to use its sight to spot movement and then to hunt down and either kill or capture the quarry.
The Sighthound is one of three types of hound and is believed to be representative of the first type of domesticated dog. It is a relative of the Scent Hound, which uses nose power rather than vision to perform a specific task. The third type of hound is ostensibly a dog that displays equal prominence of both sight and scenting ability, this is a debatable topic of classification, but the Basenji is often considered to be a member of the third type.
All hounds were originally bred and developed for hunting, with the original specimens originating in Africa, or possibly Arabia. The Sighthound's strongest instinct is to react to movement on its periphery. If you look at a sight hound, you'll notice that it has a slender head and its eyes are placed fairly wide on, enabling it to see a wide panorama. This is linked to the fact that the Sighthound was originally bred in areas with wide, open land, such as desert, which required good long distance and peripheral vision.
To man, the presence of the slender head would have signalled good hunting ability, which is why the dogs with the longer heads would have been favoured.
The Sighthound's other dominant instinct is to chase. Some were more inclined to work alone whilst others functioned better in packs, therefore some have stronger social instincts than others. Similarly, some were used to chase and kill whilst others were simply used to chase and capture.
Almost all Sighthounds are fast, lean and athletic, with the Greyhound and Irish Wolfhound breeds providing two excellent examples. Sighthounds do display a range of sizes and builds, but almost every type of Sighthound demonstrates a physique for speed, speed and endurance or endurance alone, which is almost always lean and strong.
The slender head and long nose is a typical characteristic of the Sighthound. the degree to which the dog displays the typical characteristics of its type depends on the breed, the genetics and the activity level of the dog. For example, the average Greyhound will typically be extremely lean, exhibiting an extremely low amount of body fat, whilst a Rhodesian Ridgeback will almost always be of sturdier and more substantial proportions.
Coat density and colour would almost definitely be a result of environment, determined by temperature and other factors such as presence of sand or water. The coat type will most likely have been retained for many generations until man's interests dictated that it changed.
Development Of The Sighthound
The Afghan Hound is thought to represent the early domesticated dog. This is not to say that the Afghan Hound is a direct descendent of the wolf, simply that the first uniform type of dog to exist as far as historians can agree is that of a lean, agile, fast hunting dog adept at crossing desert land to catch prey.
Do you own a Sighthound? Can you see their history in their daily habits? We'd love to hear from you!