What is an Afghan Hound?
Afghans come from the hound group, or to be more exact are from the Sighthound family, of which all extremely fast, greyhound-like coursing dogs are a part.
The Afghan dog stands from 26 to 28 inches at the withers, while the bitch stands 24 to 26 inches tall. Males weigh approximately 60 pounds and females weigh about 50 pounds. The most arresting feature of the elegant Afghan is his coat, which is long and silky everywhere on the dog, except on the face and back, where it is short and glossy.
The Afghan excels as a broken field runner, and the breed’s agility, endurance, tenacity and cunning are legendary. Afghans can double-suspension gallop at speeds of at least 35 to 40 mph and turn on a dime, can take a broad jump of 20 feet and can leap 7 feet straight up from a standing position.
While the greyhound can take credit for being the oldest Sighthound breed, the Afghan and Saluki are not far behind. In fact it is a chicken and egg question as to which of the two latter breeds came first.
Unfortunately, any information regarding the Afghan’s antiquity has been lost in the mists of time. Without question, both breeds are thousands of years old and in the beginning were interbred to produce the best animal for the climate and terrain to be hunted.
The western world discovered the Afghan during the 19th century when British soldiers brought the first specimens back with them to England. Originally there were two types of Afghan: The heavily coated, close-coupled mountain hound and the lean and elegant desert type, carrying less coat. Desert and mountain types were interbred, producing the Afghan we know today.
Afghans were bred by the peoples of Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India to course game across mountainous terrain. This regal hound is a premier hunter of leopards; his historical prey, but they will bring down or hold at bay just about anything that will run from them.
They were owned by royalty and tribesman alike and their main job was to protect the villages, to put food in the dinner pot, or simply to provide outdoors entertainment for nobility. As hunters, Afghan Hounds were held in very high esteem. While the royal hounds were kept kenneled, village dogs were semi-feral and were well acquainted with fending for themselves.
Falcons were often flown with the dogs when coursing antelope. Dogs were run in braces or alone on all prey, depending on the strength of the individual dog. There are some eyewitness accounts of Afghans running down leopards solo, seizing the cat by the neck above the shoulders and biting through the spine for a kill.
Today’s Afghan is usually kept as a pet, as coursing live game with dogs is no longer in vogue. In some countries is totally outlawed. Afghans are the darling of the dog show world and with their flowing locks and aloof attitude they are hard to beat as showmen. Some lucky Afghans have owners who take them lure-coursing, a sport that simulates the hunt for Sighthound. When an Afghan actually decides that he like obedience, he can perform with the best.
No they are not. The Afghan is a free thinker. This was a necessity in a dog bred to course big cats. Afghans can outrun just about anything on rocky and uneven ground, and were often left to themselves in the “catch.” While an Afghan is very intelligent and cunning, he will use this to his own advantage. The trick is to make your Afghan think that whatever you wish him to do is really his own idea, and then to praise him for being so smart. Afghans do not take to harsh training methods and if treated roughly, will often simply refuse to EVER do that exercise again. The Afghan can be selectively deaf when asked to do something that he deems to be beneath him. They can also be breath-takingly creative when doing obedience, much to the chagrin of competitive owners.
Afghans come in all colours but spots, but white or white markings, especially on the face, are frowned on. The most common colours are black, black and tan and black-masked red. One of the Afghan’s most engaging points is the rainbow he can come adorned in! Aside from the usual colours, there are delicate blue-greys, striped brindles of all hues, navy blues, silvery creams, and various combinations thereof, all with or without masking. One of the most unusual colours is “domino,” where the dog’s face colour is lighter than the body coat with a darker reverse mask beginning over the eyes, like a Mickey Mouse cap effect. In all colours, the eye rims, lips and nose leathers must be dark in pigment. Mere words pale beside the kaleidoscope of colours that Afghans can wear.
While an Afghan is very much at home on the couch watching TV, he needs a great deal of exercise or he will become bored. A bored Afghan can do an unimaginable amount of very unusual damage to a house and its contents. This cat-like hound will open drawers and remove all of your underwear for a good chew, climb on the dining room table to go after a squirrel outside the window or steal tonight’s supper off the top of the fridge. With their powerful jaws they can gnaw through a chair arm in very little time. A good-sized fenced yard is a necessity, as the Afghan can trot at speeds of up to 12 mph for hours on end and not even breathe hard.
No, they are not. Although it depends very much on the individual pup, as a rule the lordly Afghan doesn’t like being told what to do. Up until six months of age Afghans can not be expected to be perfectly clean, as they are not mature enough to hold on for extended periods of time. When training any Afghan, patience and gentleness are required. A good sense of humour helps too.
Yes, grooming is a chore that must be attended to weekly without fail. Afghans require weekly baths and brush-outs to prevent that spectacular coat from becoming a sorry, tattered mess. The coat pattern develops naturally. Pups are often far from what a new owner expects, as they do not resemble long-coated adults.
Afghan pups are born smooth-coated. The thick, soft puppy coat grows in slowly. At about one year of age, the steadily lengthening adult coat begins to show itself and the puppy coat begins falling out, sometimes taking until the dog is three years old before completely gone. This is the time when coat care becomes a nightmare, as the puppy coat tangles and mats in the burgeoning adult coat.
Some pet Afghans find themselves clipped down at this stage, as the owner simply gives up. Adult Afghans are more susceptible to shedding in the spring and fall, after illness and un-spayed bitches will lose coat after every season.
Conscientious breeders will always explain the intricacies of good coat care and all give new owners grooming lessons. Ill-kept Afghans are prone to parasites, abscesses and skin diseases, so meticulous coat care is extremely important.
Unfortunately they do, but are less prone to these than some other breeds. Hip dysplasia, juvenile cataracts, hypothyroidism and enzyme deficiencies can be found in the breed. In general, the breed is a healthy one.
Afghans can run the gamut from overly brave to downright shy, and this can occur even amongst individuals born in the same litter. Socialization is very important to this breed, as they can become quite feral if left to themselves. In general, Afghans can be very stand-offish and are sometimes wary of strangers. Their high-handed and lordly attitude makes them good deterrent dogs. They will choose their own friends, very much like cats will. Around his best buddies, the Afghan shows his comical, stubborn and almost frighteningly intelligent side.
With their high prey-drive, Afghans will pursue and dispatch anything that runs from them and should never be allowed to run at large. If brought up with a feline friend, the Afghan can be quite reliable with the household cat, but will still chase anyone else’s.
In general, Afghans are a quirky and unusual breed, but there is one part of the Afghan’s nature that is often overlooked. Afghan Hounds are thieves at heart and will filch anything that takes their fancy. They can be quite innovative at getting into areas their owners want to keep them out of, and their ability to whisk food or articles away from right under the owner’s nose is almost magical. The intelligent owner must child-proof his home thoroughly and keep one step ahead of this furry Houdini.
When an Afghan finds himself in a stressful situation, quite often he will simply go to sleep until the whole business is over. Another sure sign of an excited or worried dog is a drippy nose.
It is almost impossible to keep an Afghan off the upholstered furniture. They seem to think that this is their rightful place. They have been known to push their owners out of bed. To the true Afghan fancier there is no substitute for this gentle, entertaining, frustrating and most kingly of dogs.
For a large breed, the Afghan lives a long time. 12 to 14 years is not unusual, and healthy 18 year old animals have been known. Afghans suffer from many of the same geriatric complaints that other breeds get, such as failing eyesight and hearing, and arthritis. Cancer and heart disease take their toll on the breed as well.
When children are a part of the picture, it is wise to teach both Afghan and child mutual respect and how to behave around each other. Afghans are a touch-sensitive breed and possess instinctive lightning fast reflexes. They are also calm and patient, and possess a great deal of common sense. When an Afghan becomes tired of attention, he will simply make himself scarce, retiring to a place away from the crowd for a nap.
As Afghans are more of a tall, streamlined type of dog, they eat far less than their size would imply. Afghans need a high quality dry dog food, with plenty of vegetable oil to keep looking and feeling their best. It is also necessary to protect those long ear fringes with snoods. These stocking-tube type hats hold the ears back from the dish and the fastidious Afghan doesn’t soil his hair.
A current and popular book caused great consternation for Afghan owners around the world when it rated the Afghan dead last in its “working intelligence” list. Working intelligence has nothing whatever to do with the actual “smartness” of any breed.
Those breeds developed to work closely with man will, of course, be more amenable to training than the clever Afghan, whose job was to tackle dangerous prey on his own, relying on his own wits to see him through to live and hunt another day.
The Afghan experienced a hey day back in the late sixties and early seventies. From that time until this, the breed has fortunately dropped in the popularity poll and now sits around the sixtieth spot, both in Canada and the United States. For a breed with the need for a very special type of owner, that’s not bad.
There are many excellent books available on the breed. Most libraries stock one title or another but for true-life, hands-on experience, it is suggested that potential owners attend local dog shows and talk to fanciers.
The Afghan Hound Club of Canada, a national club whose secretary, Debbie Hodgins, may be contacted at PO Box 60, Hanley, Sask., S0G 2E0, Canada exists not only to serve old-time fanciers but to help out those new to the breed.
Our American counterpart, the Afghan Hound Club of America may be reached through Ms. Norma Cozzoni at 43W612 Tall Oaks Trail, Elburn, IL 60119, USA.