Caring for sighthounds
Sighthounds have specific needs, particularly when it comes to exercise. If you have a sighthound, or are considering welcoming a sighthound to your family, it’s important to think about how you can meet those needs.
About sighthound breeds:
Sighthounds love to run, occasionally setting off on very fast sprints that leave you behind! Physically, your sighthound has an athletic, slender and streamlined shape with proportionally long legs and a long, narrow face with close-set, forward-pointing eyes. Although generally quite placid and relaxed indoors, your sighthound is constantly looking out for moving targets to chase outdoors – it’s all part of the fun for such a fast-moving dog!
Examples of some typical sighthound breeds in this group include:
- Afghan Hounds
- Ibizan Hounds
Sighthound exercise and play
Sighthounds are the short-distance, high-speed sprinters of the canine world, which is why your dog loves to take off suddenly. They hunt by sight and are spurred to chase fast-moving objects. Surprisingly, they do not need a huge amount of exercise; it is the type of exercise, rather than the duration, that is important.
Greyhounds, for example, are sometimes known as the ‘60kph couch potato’ as their short, intense bursts of running are broken up by hours of content snoozing! Two 20-minute walks a day can be enough for these dogs, provided they can run free in a safe, flat area with no nearby roads to pose danger.
Despite their hunting tendencies, your sighthound should be a pleasure to exercise and can easily be trained to walk to heel. Make sure to keep a good hold of their lead though, as a surprise cat encounter, passing cyclist or jogger can trigger their chase instincts without warning. Your sighthound might run flat-out, their enthusiasm making them deaf to your calls, until the chase comes to a natural end. Your sighthound probably isn’t being mischievous, just doing what they’ve been bred for - so teaching a good recall is essential to prevent unexpected adventures!
Comprising some of the fastest dog breeds, it’s no wonder sighthounds are happy to run around and chase things by themselves! Sighthounds enjoy exploring the garden and will happily amuse themselves chasing birds, falling leaves, or other fast-moving objects. Neighbourhood cats are also a temptation, even if your dog is otherwise very friendly with the cats they shares their home with – another good reason to work hard at teaching a reliable recall.
Sometimes sighthounds will also create their own ‘prey’, tossing or flinging balls and toys into the air and then chasing and pouncing on them as they land and roll. Leave a variety of safe toys in the garden for them to play with like balls and safe, indestructible large chews. They may also enjoy more destructible toys like crumbly, consumable chews or soft toys, but remember to bring them inside during wet weather.
Many sighthounds enjoy digging too, so place some treat-filled toys around the garden, ideally in their own dedicated ‘plastic ball pit’ digging area. This should be in the sunniest area of your garden and out of bounds for children, giving your dog their own space.
Two or more sighthounds often enjoy games of ‘cat and mouse’ with one another, which can be really fun to watch, too.
Playing with you
Finding safe, suitable places for fast dogs to exercise away from your own garden can be difficult. Some breed organisations hire Greyhound race tracks for fun racing days, and watching Afghans or any sighthounds sprinting around a track at full speed is quite an unforgettable sight! Find a safe, dog-friendly beach or nearby field to exercise, play ‘fetch’ and practise recall training - all great forms of sighthound exercise, too. Why not buy a ball-thrower to increase your throwing distance and give your dog more of a chance to reach top speed?
Sighthounds can also be quite cat-like in their play, stalking, chasing and pouncing on their toys. Attach a toy to the end of a length of rope and then encourage your dog to chase it - you could even attach the rope to the end of a solid pole, such as a broom handle, to make a more robust canine version of a cat’s fishing-rod toy.
Sighthounds can appear less openly affectionate than other breeds, but they usually form close, loving bonds with their family. They might not be as overtly affectionate as a tail-wagging, present-carrying Labrador, but that doesn’t mean the attachment is any less; a Whippet’s temperament may seem not as enthusiastic next to a Retriever’s, for example but that’s because they have a sighthound’s unique personality! Your dog will enjoy physical contact with you and may prompt you to stroke them by leaning against you, or enjoy sleeping with their head on your feet or lap (which keeps you warm, too)!
However long their coat is, sighthounds take pleasure in regular grooming. Many sighthound breeds are short or smooth coated, and enjoy the sensation of being rubbed with a hound glove, whereas some long-haired dogs in the group, such as the Afghan Hound, require considerably more attention. The experience should be a pleasant, relaxing one for both of you, and it will help to strengthen your bond.
Your sighthound by nature craves comfort and lovely, comfy beds between those hectic bursts of energy. Even large sighthounds can curl up surprisingly tightly into a dog bed; or if you want to make your own, an old duvet folded to the right size is just as comfy for your dog.
Your sighthound can form close bonds with other dogs, although toy dogs might trigger their hunting instincts if they act too much like fast-moving toys. As some of the fastest dogs, don’t be surprised if your sighthound becomes overenthusiastic and wants to give chase! Cats and even house rabbits can all live happily in homes with sighthounds, but it very much depends on whether they have been raised together and how carefully they are introduced and supervised. If you want a sighthound puppy and have cats, make sure your pup has grown up with cats in a breeder’s home to give you the best chance of a successful introduction. Even then, a good deal of careful training and vigilance are required once the pup arrives home. Be very careful if considering taking on a rescue sighthound if you already have cats or small dogs, and perhaps seek the advice of a behaviourist on referral from your vet to help you introduce them.
Sighthounds are usually very quiet dogs. Larger breeds, including retired adult racing Greyhounds, tend to snooze for a lot of the time which usually means they adapt well to many different home environments, as well as making great pets. As long as they have sufficiently intense bursts of exercise, and view an indoor kennel as a safe place to relax, they will be happy and enjoy just being in your company
Your sighthound probably isn’t food-motivated unless they are hungry from a lot of exercise; in fact, some sighthound can be quite ‘picky’ about what they eat. However, as they are motivated by fast-moving toys that they can chase and catch, you can make mealtimes more interesting by putting half of their daily dry food allocation in ‘throwable’ or ‘rollable’ toys that dispense food. Use another 10% as rewards when training, especially when teaching your sighthound recall. The remaining amount can be split into two meals and presented in a bowl; it’s helpful for your dog to remember that you are a provider of food.
If your dog has wet food, use other more convenient treats as rewards in training, but be careful to include them when calculating their daily requirements. As long as you are following daily feeding guidelines (which you’ll find on their dog food packaging) overall each day and monitoring your dog’s weight to keep them in ideal body condition, don’t worry if the resulting amount you put in his bowl looks small, and certainly don’t add more! Provided your dog has their daily food allocation and you are providing a complete diet, they will have all the nutrients and energy they need to stay on top form!