I haven’t done a “breed of the week” in a while. I’d meant to make it a regular thing, but you know how it goes: the best laid plans and all that. I think it’s time to start talking about various breeds again, and this time around, the topic is going to be the Afghan Hound, as a tribute to my canine friend Gus, who died tragically this week (See When Dogs are Involved, Cops Shoot First, Ask Questions Later).
Afghan Hounds come specifically from the Sight hound family of very fast dogs. The dog typically stands anywhere from 26 inches to 28 inches at the withers, and weighs about 60 pounds. The bitch weighs approximately 50 pounds, and stands 24 inches to 26 inches. Afghan Hounds have hair that is glossy and short on the back and face, and silky and long everywhere else.
Afghan Hounds are superb runners, and possessed of endurance, agility and tenacity that are nothing short of legendary. The Afghan Hound can run at a speed of 35-40 miles per hour, jump 7 feet straight in the air from a standing position, and can also manage a broad jump of an incredible 20 feet.
As to color, there is a lot of variety; you will not find a spotted Afghan Hound, but you will find just about everything else. The commonest colors are black, red with black mask, and black and tan. There are also navy blue Afghans, blue-greys, creams, brindles and stripes, with masking or without. If you are planning on showing your Afghan Hound, though, you do need to know that the lips, nose and eye rims must be dark. White anywhere on the dog is considered to be undesirable, and is particularly undesirable when it appears on the face.
The Greyhound is the oldest of the Sight hound breeds. The Afghan Hound is either the second or third oldest; no one really knows whether the Saluki came first, or the Afghan. Sadly, because the breed is so old (thousands of years), a lot of information has been lost.
What is known, though, is that the Afghan Hound found its way to the Western world when British soldiers brought them to England in the 19th century. There were originally two basic types: the mountain Afghan which had a very heavy coat, and the desert Afghan, which was leaner and had a lighter coat. Interbreeding of the two types has led to the development of the Afghan Hound as we know it today.
The original purpose of the Afghan Hound was multifaceted. People in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan used them to chase game animals through the mountains. These remarkable dogs could take down pretty much anything that they pursued, even leopards. Afghan Hounds were also used to protect homesteads and villages. Royalty used them in conjunction with falcons when hunting antelope too. Royal dogs were kept in kennels and fed regularly, while village dogs were usually a bit feral and accustomed to hunting or scrounging food.
Today’s Afghan Hound
With very few exceptions, hunting large game using dogs is no longer done.In fact, in some jurisdictions, it is illegal. So now, Afghan Hounds are mainly kept as pets or for showing. One sport that is popular with Afghan Hound owners, though, is lure coursing, which makes use of a mechanical lure to simulate what Afghan Hounds would once have done on the hunt.
Afghan Hounds are not easy dogs to train, and this causes some owners to believe, incorrectly, that Afghans might not be overly bright. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Afghans are very good at thinking for themselves.This goes back to their original purpose, when they had to run over uneven, rocky ground in pursuit of prey. Humans, obviously, cannot run 35-40 miles per hour, so often, the Afghan Hound had to be left on his own to bring down a large animal. That required a pretty fine brain.
The thing with Afghan Hounds, though, is that they are very independent, so if you want your Afghan to do something, rather than using coercive training methods, you would be better off to let your dog think that what is being done was his idea all along, and then praise him for being such an amazingly smart dog – because he is a smart dog. In fact, he’s smart enough that if you handle him harshly, he’ll remember what exercise he was doing when you punished him, and he might decide that he is simply never going to do that particular exercise, ever again.
Afghan Hounds prefer to get a lot of exercise, and if he is not properly exercised, he will become bored. And the trouble with bored Afghans is that they can be very destructive. With Gus, Cherylle and Denise had to walk him several times a day, otherwise shoes, furniture, and just about anything that wasn’t nailed to the ceiling would become fair game. Of course, once he got all that energy out of his system, Gus was quite content to cuddle up on the sofa during the evenings.
House Training the Afghan Hound Puppy
Most puppies are pretty easy to house train. Afghans, on the other hand, not so much, and this is simply because, as I suggested previously, they often dislike having someone tell them what to do. Additionally, as is often the case with mid- to large-size dogs, until they reach about six months of age, they will have trouble controlling their bladder consistently. So, make sure to take a consistent approach, and be gentle and patient; remember that if you treat your Afghan harshly, he may become perverse.
If you are wondering if grooming an Afghan Houndis difficult with all that hair, I have to tell you that it can be. Ideally, you should brush your Afghan every day. If you feel you don’t have time for that sort of commitment, then you have to do it at least once a week. Your Afghan should also have a bath once a week. If not consistently cared for, your Afghan’s coat is going to become a total mess.
Now, if you’ve gotten an Afghan puppy, you might be looking at him in satisfaction and thinking “It looks as though this little one’s hair is going to be a bit short – maybe grooming won’t be all that hard.” The fact is, though, that Afghan puppies are born with smooth coats, and they don’t really look much like Afghan adults.
Once the puppy is about a year old, the coat will begin to lengthen, and he’ll start to lose his puppy coat. This can take up to three years, and once the adult coat has totally grown in, that is when taking care of the coat can become complicated. The puppy hair is going to mat up and tangle in the emerging adult coat, so you will have to groom extensively.
Some Afghan owners just give up at this point, and have their dog clipped. I think this is a shame, though.The Afghan’s long, flowing coat is so beautiful. However, if not properly cared for, your dog could end up with abscesses, parasites and other skin problems, so coat care is very important.
For sizable dogs, Afghans eat less than you might expect. You should, however, make sure that you offer high-quality dry food that contains vegetable oil. As a matter of cleanliness, you might want to fit your Afghan with ear snoods at feeding time, in order to keep his ears out of the food.
In general, Afghan Hounds are very healthy. They can develop juvenile cataracts, enzyme deficiencies, hip dysplasia and hypothyroidism, but they are actually less prone to these problems than many other breeds.
You could end up with an Afghan puppy that fears nothing, or one that is very shy. The temperament of the sire and dam are not reliable indicators of what you will end up with, and even puppies from the same litter can have very different personality traits.
One thing is certain, though – it is very important to socialize your Afghan to people and other animals. This is because of their natural independence. Most dogs will be friends with just about anybody, but an Afghan has to decide that he likes you, and then he will allow you to befriend him. Afghans are a lot like cats in this regard.
Oh, and as to cats, if your household has a cat, the puppy will almost certainly live compatibly with the cat. It is important, though, that you not allow your Afghan to run lose, because he will consider anyone else’s cat fair game. Afghans have a very strong prey drive, and will usually chase anything that decides to run away from them, so if you have children, teach them how to behave around the dog. And if you have children visiting, make sure that they know the rules as well.
For that matter, visiting adults should know how to treat the dog respectfully as well. Afghans are extremely sensitive to touch, and have very fast reflexes. However, they are also patient, calm and sensible. Most of the time, when an Afghan Hound is getting more attention than he is happy with, he will simply leave the room.
A Few Quirks
Afghans are a bit of an unusual breed; they are highly inventive when they want to be someplace that you would rather they not occupy. It’s a good idea, too, to pick your battles; Afghans are notorious for getting on the furniture, and realistically, I don’t see much of a problem with that. You can always use slipcovers.
With Afghan Hounds, you will also need to “dog-proof” your home. These dogs are notorious thieves, and if you leave something unattended, they’ll probably take it.
When an Afghan Hound is worried or stressed, there can be a couple of symptoms – he might just go to sleep, figuring that things will have leveled out once he wakes. He might also develop a runny nose.
Afghan Hounds actually live quite a long while for a larger breed: 12-14 years is common, and Afghans have even been known to live to 18 while still enjoying good health. As they age, though, they may develop the same geriatric issues as other breeds: impaired hearing, failing eyesight, arthritis, and an increased risk of heart disease or cancer.
Another Word on Intelligence
If you do a lot of Googling, as I do, you may often come across the Afghan Hound at the bottom of certain lists. One of these lists would be “working intelligence,” where the Afghan often ends up at the very bottom. Don’t despair, though – “working intelligence” really has nothing to do with how smart your dog is. Because the Afghan Hound was bred to hunt down game on his own, he is not accustomed to working closely with humans, and that may mean that you just need to devote a little more time to training.
The Final Word
Afghan Hounds experienced a great deal of popularity in the 1960s and ’70s. Today, though, they hover around 60th spot in terms of popularity in the US and in Canada. So, if you do decide that you would like to have an Afghan, you can be assured of having a unique dog. Provided that you are willing to commit to regular grooming, you will have a beautiful dog. And finally, if you don’t mind (or perhaps you appreciate) a few little quirks, you will have a wonderful companion that can be a great deal of fun.
Denise tells me that if she ever has another dog, it will have to be an Afghan Hound, and she would prefer a boy like Gus. In the meantime, though, she needs time for her heart to heal, and time to work past the trauma of losing Gus in such a horrible manner.
RIP, Gus. You were a good boy and a credit to your breed.